Monday, February 28, 2011

Ice Cream Day

Today was my Grandpa V's birthday.  Every year, everybody in our family honors his memory by going out for ice cream with someone they love.  It's a pretty great way to celebrate a life well lived, if you ask me.

My grandpa really liked to take people out for ice cream.  The family joke is that he always wanted to take his kids and grandkids out for ice cream one at a time, supposedly to enjoy individual time with each of them, but also because he got to have ice cream way more often that way!  The man knew the value of a win-win situation.  And he loved him some banana splits.

So tonight after dinner, David and I drove up to Dairy Queen in memory of Gpa V.  I had a Butterfinger blizzard and David had a double fudge cookie dough blizzard (David's sweet tooth could match Grandpa V's for sure).  We talked about visits we'd made to see Gpa V after he moved back to Iowa and I told David about some of my favorite visits to see my grandparents in Arizona.  Grandpa would let Brandon and me drive around the retirement community in the golf cart and our vacations were always full of swimming pools and matinee movies and board games and trips to the zoo and lunch at the clubhouse.

And plenty of ice cream, of course.

Just chilling.  Looks like I could have cut back on the ice cream a bit, huh?
 Grandpa looks quite dapper.  I look like I'm wearing a Pollyanna costume, but really I just liked that dress.

Dancing at my wedding.
Happy Birthday, Grandpa V.  Thank you for giving us such sweet memories.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Calendar Year

I went to the grocery store today and was momentarily shocked to see Easter candy instead of Christmas candy.

After dropping out of life for nearly three months, it can be a bit jarring when you drop back in.

And this isn't a rant about preempting holidays to the extent that by the time they arrive you're tired of celebrating them.  It's just that time keeps on going, no matter how politely or vehemently I tell it to stop.

I remember having a conversation with a friend back in January, when I was already feeling panicky about time moving on.  Because, obviously, everything should have stopped when Eliza died.  It can't just be my world that was shattered.  No one else gets to move forward either!  Let's all freeze in place and we'll just let the vines creep up around us, fairy tale style, until I can figure out how the hell to fix this.

My friend said, "Well, I know it's hard to keep going.  But I think it would be worse if you were truly stuck in that moment forever."

Oh my friend.  With all her stupid wisdom.

So time has kept trudging forward.  But I, for one, have made a small, personal protest.  At some point in December, I gave in and bought a 2011 calendar for the kitchen.  Because I used to be the kind of person who loved keeping track of things and making plans and I would enjoy sitting down sometime in late December at the kitchen counter with the old calendar and the new calendar and flipping through to write down birthdays and other annual events and reminiscing with David about all the fun stuff we'd done the year before.  (So cheesy, so true.)

In 2011, there will be no fun.  There will be no plans.
That is my protest:  I don't write on the new calendar.

It is as blank as the day it came out of the package.  January was a blank.  February was a blank.  March?  Blank.  If we don't write anything down, maybe it will be like it never happened.

I do not want to make plans that do not include my baby.  And so...  I do not make plans.

Of course that doesn't really work.  FINE.  I grudgingly make plans because some obligations are inescapable and occasionally I do feel compelled to be somewhat social and my therapist thinks our upcoming trip to Florida is a great idea.  Whatever.  But I will NOT write said plans on my calendar!  Take THAT, stupid world, still turning.

In Elizabeth Edwards's book Resilience, she quotes part of a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that set me to pulling my volume of The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay off the shelf, to read the poem in its entirety (What?  Doesn't everyone have that book on their shelf?  Well, you should.  In fact, I should add her poetry to my list of Books for the Bereaved to Read).  Anyway, the poem in question is called Interim and it's a heartbreaking poem about surviving the death of a loved one.  Edwards quotes these lines:

How easily could God, if He so willed,
Set back the world a little turn or two!
Correct its griefs, and bring its joys again!

Hell to the yeah.  Get on it, God.  We're waiting.


Still waiting.

It's wistful thinking, of course.  Crazy talk, even.  Nobody's God works that way.

But I know what it is to dread the change of seasons, to feel a stab in my heart when I look at a display of Easter candy.  Because every step I take away from December, every calendar square that moves me farther from the 6th of that month, well, don't you see?  It's going to be harder and harder to turn back time and bring her back to me.  In fact, we should hurry up and have that happen right about now because it's only going to get trickier.  More and more complicated.  The longer I have wait for that kind of miracle, the less likely it's coming.

The truth is that the more time passes by, the sooner I have to accept that the world is not going to be set back "a little turn or two."  Its griefs will not be corrected and whatever joy is brought to me will always be tempered by the loss of one perfect baby girl.

So I guess that's why I'm still not writing on the calendar.  Because maybe if nothing of any real importance occurs between then and now, then maybe we could still turn back the world and I could come home from the hospital holding a baby instead of a memory box.

It would only take a little turn or two.  Is that really too much to ask?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pulling No Punches

I'm not sure I really understand that idiom.  Do you want to pull punches or not?  What does that even mean?  Is it good or bad?  What made me think it should be the title of this post?  No clue.

I offer you today's jumble of thoughts on various topics:

* I got this book (title escapes me, book in other room, I am lazy) of daily meditations to work your way through grief.  Everyday for a year.  I was highly skeptical.  It's actually really good even though the cover art is uber lame and yes, I do judge books by their covers.  I hate that reading it in the morning makes me feel a little better.  I hate that the book knows I don't want to feel better.  I hate that it says peaceful and helpful things about holding on to love and letting go of grief.  I hate that I need this book.

* Yesterday I got a bill from the lab that did all my bloodwork in January.  My insurance declined to pay for any of it.  It is very expensive.  So today I called my insurance company.  The woman who took my call sounded bored as she explained that my plan does not have coverage for "routine" bloodwork.  Oh really?  You think this was routine?  Long story short, I burst into tears and said my baby was stillborn and the bloodwork was not routine and then the insurance lady tells me how sorry she is and then goes on to say that her baby died when he was 8 days shy of his first birthday and she just passed the anniversary on February 17th and even though it happened five years ago the pain is still very fresh for her and then I'm crying harder and trying to tell her that I'm sorry for her loss, too, and then she suggests that I take a deep breath and have my spouse make these phone calls.  Then she gave me the claims address and told me to have my doctor submit a medical note explaining everything so my claim will be reviewed.  I guess I should feel relieved that I may not have to pay this bill.  But all I can think about is how bizarre it is that the world is so full of people who are this fucking sad and before we lost Eliza, I had NO IDEA.

* We've been watching Dexter since one of my students lent me seasons 4 and 5.  Dexter's sister has a mouth like a sailor and I think it's kind of awesome.  Basically I want to drop the f-bomb all the time.

* Little Mac is still carrying on with her crazy antics on a daily basis and last night I caught her on video, flipping out, chasing her tail, and barking and growling maniacally at David as he harassed her by hiding behind the love seat.  Unfortunately, David does not want me to post the video.  Evidently he feels it might harm his professional reputation for him to be on the internet, teasing a small white dog by crawling on the floor and popping out from behind the couch while she goes berserk.  Or maybe he doesn't want me to post a video of him wearing a wife beater and pajama pants? But also on the video you can hear me talking to Little Mac in the voice I reserve for talking to the dogs and I sound pretty ridiculous so maybe it's just as well we don't let this thing go viral.

* Today I have to go to the bank, the dry cleaner, the library, and Target.  In another life, that would have been a sort of fun morning, busily running errands and crossing things off my to-do list.  In this life, that list sounds mostly do-able, except when I think about having to take a shower and get dressed and walk out the door and then it all just sounds too hard and I'd rather just continue my latest and most pressing project of shaping the couch cushion to my bony butt.

* Related:  I may need an intervention because I cannot stop watching the Dr. Oz show.  Even though he kinda creeps me.  And the show is a glorified 7th grade science class, catering toward the whims of middle-aged women with its emphasis on diarrhea and yeast infections and delightful gifts for audience members in the way of electronic toothbrushes.  I'd rather watch Ellen.  I mean, she's hilarious and her wife was on Arrested Development.  Win-win.  But instead I find myself watching Dr. Oz and being totally creeped.

* I'm thinking about posting a blog with recommended reading material. Not just the kind of how-to grief manuals, but also why sad people should read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and also Little Women.  I may work on this.

* Under the guise of "teaching," I have my students watch and analyze an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.  I use an episode from season 2, in which Buffy attends a frat party and nearly gets sacrificed to a giant demon snake in the frat house basement.  This semester, none of my students had ever seen the show before.  (Oh, how terribly young college freshman are.)  But teaching it has really been fun.  It makes me want to re-watch more of Buffy (available on Netflix instant queue) because Buffy experiences a devastating loss in season 5 and the grief that she feels, and her struggle to continue to keep up with her responsibilities while mourning her loss, well, let's just say I can obviously relate.  Even though her responsibilities consist of slaying vampires and fighting demons, and mine consist of grading papers and running errands today.  Not so different, really.

* I have six more papers to grade.  My attitude used to be to get them all done as quickly as possible.  Get the pain over with, don't keep dreading it.  But my former motivations are lost on me, so I drag this on.  And on.  And on.  I pledge to you, Internetz, that I will grade these papers before David gets home from work today.

So now I'd better get myself going.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Reprieve

I'm still working on finding moments of joy in which I can delight instead of cringe.  I'm still seeking a way to incorporate Eliza into my life without crying.  I haven't found it yet.

Still, despite my best efforts at times, laughter has a way of prevailing.  Even when we think it shouldn't.  And sometimes I'm bold enough to seek it out.

I had jotted down the name of this website when a friend mentioned how funny she found it and today I clicked over.  Suffice it to say, it did not disappoint.  I may have laughed so hard I snorted.  Terrible, unthinkable things happen in this word everyday.  And auto-correct is still funny.

I can't decide if my favorite autocorrect is the guy whose recent break up had made him love dick instead of love sick, or maybe the girl who suggested to her friend that they paint their feces with team colors.  Or the well-meant text from a reassuring friend who knew everything would be all right: "I feel it in my boner."

Dick jokes and poop jokes.  Clearly, I have the sense of humor of a fourteen year old boy.

Perhaps this is why Monica's phone autocorrects my name so that when she types "Brooke," it suggests "Arnold."  My alter-ego.

* * *

If you are in a more mature mood, or less inclined than I to snort over poop jokes, let me suggest something more serious...

Hot Guys Reading Books

So these guys aren't funny, except that the whole concept is kind of hilarious.  The truth is that guys do look hot reading books.  I'd be tempted to post David's picture here, but since fantasy baseball season is starting, he's not reading anything but fantasy baseball magazines (yes, they actually publish these and evidently people like my husband purchase them).  This is what makes a nerd despair over marrying a jock.  (I assure you that he's actually very nerdy in his own way.  And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.)

The geek-lover in me kind of has a crush on the guy pictured reading Roland Barthes.  Oh yesss.  Semiotics and reader response.  Hott.  But, I bet he doesn't throw a baseball or plant a garden or bathe a wild hyena of a dog or cook dinner or solve mysteries like who is clogging up toilets in the elementary school's girl's bathroom with the skillz and sexiness that my husband does...

* * *

And if you are kind of a nerd yourself, you might like this:

Unnecessary Quotes

This is currently my idea of "cerebral" humor.  It's sort of fitting because unless I'm talking with another person who has been through this, I kind of want to qualify everything that's positive.  Put quotation marks around it to indicate how questionable it is to feel anything besides miserable.  We're just doing our "normal" routine around here.  I had a "good" teaching day today.  How am I?  Fine.  That is, "fine."  Every good thing, every ordinary thing, is couched with loaded meanings, underlaid with grief, requiring air quotes.  Even laughter.

But still, whatever emotional baggage I'm carrying, the fact is funny typos and misplaced punctuation can make me laugh. 

* * *

And so can fat cats in cardboard boxes.

Meet Maru.

My brother introduced me to these videos when he visited in January (BTW we remain bed bug free so you can like totally visit.  No, seriously!).  He suggested that Little Mac, what with her penchant for chasing her own butt and biting at her tail in a rather hysterical manner on at least a daily basis, might be a good candidate for her own You Tube following.

I file this idea away with "Projects I'll Do When Getting Through the Day Isn't So Effing Exhausting."  I'll keep you posted.

* * *

So there are a few of my recent distractions.  Have you found a no-fail source of laughter, even in the darkest moments?  Do tell.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Grief Observed

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

This is how C. S. Lewis opens his book, A Grief Observed.  That opening line made me catch my breath.  I am still stunned every time I read or hear the words of someone whose sadness matches mine (no matter how many blogs or books I read, it's still a bit of a shock each time).

I have been reading a lot of books about grief.  Most recently, I bought Lewis's A Grief Observed.  This is the same C. S. Lewis of Narnia fame, the guy who started out as an atheist and moves through agnosticism to ultimately end up being Christian.  It's a short book, essentially it's the journal that he kept after he lost his beloved wife to cancer.  He married her knowing she was sick, knowing that their time was limited.  But that is not to say that it made her loss easier, the fact that it was not unexpected.  Losing a spouse is not the same as losing a child, but (as I've written before) I think grief is more alike than it is different.  As a Christian philosopher, he faces the same struggles and doubts and agonies that I think most us who have any experience with grief have also faced.  Far from relying on his faith as a solution to this problem of grief, he speaks honestly of its shortcomings:

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly.  Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively.  But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.

His grief for his wife is palpable.  And religion is little consolation because no matter what our spiritual beliefs, we all know that what happens after this life is not the same as this life.  Maybe you can argue it's better, but it's Not.The.Same.  And all we want--we who have lost babies we love so much--is to recapture the past and get it all back, in all the messy, earthly reality of motherhood.  Any other version of events is no consolation because unless we have a lifetime with our babies here, nothing we might have will ever be quite enough.  And that is something that no religious faith can change.  This isn't a crisis of belief; it's just the reality of it all.

Lewis feels this too, despite his intense and learned faith: 

For that is what we should all like.  The happy past restored.  And that, just that, is what I cry out for, with mad, midnight endearments and entreaties spoken into the empty air.

* * *

I appreciate Lewis's willingness to express feelings that I had never wanted to acknowledge or admit even to myself.  Like this:

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don't really mind so much, not so very much, after all.  Love is not the whole of a man's life.  I was happy before I ever met H.  I've plenty of what are called 'resources.'  People get over these things.  Come, I shan't do so badly.  One is ashamed to listen to this voice, but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. 

Before I read this, I hadn't even realized that I was doing it, too.  I try, sometimes, to convince myself that this isn't such a bad thing.  "It could be worse..." my brain starts to say to me.  And my imagination goes crazy thinking about everything I still have to lose, even though I felt that all was lost when Eliza died.  Thinking about how it could be worse?  Well, that way madness lies.

And yet, I'm glad to know that there is someone else who has tried (and failed) to absorb such a loss by saying "Well, maybe this isn't such a terrible thing."  It's a futile attempt to feel better, and a desperate one.  Also, (if you're wondering) it doesn't really work.  But that doesn't stop me from trying, and then feeling ashamed of it.

* * *  

Many people talk about the death of a child as an amputation, of cutting off a part of oneself, burying it in the ground, and trying to continue without it.  Lewis felt much the same after the loss of his wife.  He offers the analogy of a wounded man whose leg is cut off: 

After that operation, either the wounded stump heals or the man dies.  If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop.  Presently, he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg.  He has 'got over it.'  But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man.  There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it.  Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different.  His whole way of life will be changed.  All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off.  Duties too.  At present I am learning to get about on crutches.  Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg.  But I shall never be a biped again.

This metaphor is all too real for many of us, who would have gladly given a leg, an arm, our lives, to bring back a child.  Instead, we did sacrifice the part of ourselves that made us whole and happy and we are left with nothing to show for it except a crippling grief.

One would think this is enough suffering, right?  Acknowledging one's one-leggedness is surely a recognition of the permanence of grief.  And yet, we the bereaved are a group who becomes quickly attached to the masochism of our sadness.  Lewis articulates the anxiety about surfacing from grief that many of us can relate to after a certain passage of time:

Still, there's no denying that in some sense I 'feel better,' and with that comes at once a sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one's unhappiness.

We've all felt this, haven't we?  Shame follows laughter.  A momentary distraction has guilt on its heels.  Lewis pushes this further, and asks what is behind it.  What gives us this perverse desire to be a martyr to misery? 

Partly, no doubt, vanity.  We want to prove to ourselves that we are lovers on the grand scale, tragic heroes; not just ordinary privates in the huge army of the bereaved, slogging along and making the best of a bad job.

I hate this.  I know I'm vain enough to wish even now I didn't have a muffin-top in my pre-pregnancy jeans, but I bristle at the idea that my grief is driven by vanity.  At the same time, I get why it could be true. 

Online communities for bereaved parents have been an incomparable source of comfort and consolation, and without the wisdom of those women who are experiencing this same great loss, my grief would have been even more overwhelming.  At the same time, the comments there have sometimes made me question my own grieving process.  I have to keep in mind that these communities are a place that many of us turn to when we are at our lowest, darkest points.  And what we end up posting is probably not an accurate reflection of what we feel most of the time.  I know grief can be complicated by depression, illness, and stress.  But even though I know all of this, sometimes I question myself when I read comments from women who are 11 months out, 2 1/2 years out, 4 years out, who write about their grief as though it is as shocking and vivid and unescapable as ever before.

Am I sad enough?  I wonder.  Even though I wake everyday feeling hungover from grief, even I still have to make myself eat, and even though I've cried everyday for nearly three months, I wonder if it's enough to honor the extent of my loss.  I think sometimes that I don't feel as lost as this woman who is writing about her grief, and her baby died over a year ago.  What does that say about me?

Believe me, I know it's not a competition of grief--I don't want to suggest that--these communities are kind and welcoming and compassionate and eager to acknowledge that everyone grieves differently, that hope is still attainable.  But when I read about someone else's pain and love for their child, if I'm not feeling overwhelmed by my own grief, I suddenly kind of want to be.  As though love can be measured by the sustainability of grief.

I want my pain to be measured on the grandest of scales.  I want to prove my love for my baby by being the most tragic bereaved mother of all!  I am more like Miss Havisham than you are!  Maybe I should become the crazy lady with a towel baby...  These thoughts are ridiculous.  But, yeah, I get it.  And if it is vanity, well, I'm just glad I'm not the only one who has felt such a thing. 

To be sure, Lewis doesn't think it's vanity alone that drives us to hold on to our sadness:   

I think there is also a confusion.  We don't really want grief, in its first agonies, to be prolonged:  nobody could.  But we want something else of which grief is a frequent symptom, and then we confuse the symptom with the thing itself.

I think this is precisely what I was experiencing when I wrote before about wanting to slide back into the depths of grief just when I feel myself surfacing.  I can't quite shake this idea that I can only feel close to Eliza if if I am a sobbing wreck of a person.  The truth is that what I want is my baby, I want her back, it's all I want.  Given that, I can see how easy it is to confuse my love for her with my grief for her, so that now, in my effort to feel close to my baby, I cling tightly to sadness instead.

Lewis suggests, instead, a counterintuitive truth:

For, as I have discovered, passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them.  this becomes clearer and clearer.  It is just at those moments when I feel least sorrow...that H. rushes upon my mind in her full reality, her otherness.  Not, as in my worst moments, all foreshortened and patheticized and solemnized by my miseries, but as she is in her own right.  This is good and tonic.

I consider this possibility and wonder if--and how--it can work for a baby who never really lived, who never really had a "full reality," whose otherness exists mostly in my imagination.  How can I remember her in her own right, when she never took a breath?

A dear friend of mine wrote to me recently of some of her happy memories of my pregnancy.  Everything from cute maternity outfits that I wore to conversations we had about birth plans and breastfeeding.  Most of the time, I avoid thinking about those happy moments in my pregnancy.  They seem stupid, naive, idiotic.  But maybe my friend is right--maybe someday I will be able to think about my pregnancy with a gentle nostalgia instead of a savage pain.  Maybe that time won't just be the ignorant calm before the storm but will be gentle moments I spent with Eliza, when we both were truly happy.  Maybe those moments will be the ones that bring Eliza back to mind the way she should be remembered--with a smile (even if it's a rueful one, even if it's often complicated by tears).

This seems like a great idea.  Like Lewis, I want to feel close to her apart from sadness.  Let me get right on that:

I will turn to her as often as possible in gladness.  I will even salute her with a laugh.  The less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her.

A brilliant plan, right?  But Lewis is human enough to admit how fucking impossible that is (although he, for one, is very polite and British in his admission):

An admirable programme.  Unfortunately it can't be carried out.  Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again; the made words, the bitter resentment, the fluttering in the stomach, the nightmare unreality, the wallowed-in tears.  For in grief nothing 'stays put.'  One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs.  Round and round.  Everything repeats.  Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

This is what people call "the ebb and flow" of grief.  Are we circling back or moving up?  Who can tell?  When will it end?  Lewis wonders too, about the lasting freshness of this pain:

How often -- will it be for always?--how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"?  The same leg is cut off time after time.  The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.

For those of us who have lost a child, this sensation is all too familiar.  Does every day get slightly better?  Maybe.  Sort of.  But then how to account for that night last week when the memories of the hospital came back to me with a horrible vividness?  What about that moment upon waking this morning when my stomach was so filled with dread I could hardly take a deep breath?  What about the despair that hit me driving home from work yesterday, when I suddenly realized that my obituary will read "Preceded in death by one daughter, Eliza"?

(The downside of a vivid imagination is that it will always find a new and creative way to torture you.)

How do you recover from a grief that blindsides you, trips you up, and settles on you like a heavy blanket when you're already down?

* * *

Despite our best efforts to cling to the one we love, despite our vanity and confusion, despite the great and undeniable pain that comes from such a loss, even the most acute grief begins to subside eventually.  But that is not to say that grief can be tidily wrapped up and put away finished.  In the last chapter, Lewis admits that there is no "final chapter" to grief, that there is no "ending" to his book and so he must choose an arbitrary stopping place:

The other end I had in view turns out to be not a state but a process.  It needs not a map but a history. ...  My jottings show something of the process, but not so much as I'd hoped.  Perhaps ... changes were not really observable.  There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition.  Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight.  When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.

Someone else I know compared grief to the change of seasons--a particularly apt metaphor for those of us in the Midwest who lived under inches of snow and ice for months, had a reprieve with temperatures in the 60s and 70s over this last week, and now are looking at gray days in the 40s.  Spring doesn't happen all at once.  It's gradual and it moves backwards and forwards. It comes unbidden, existing before you even realize it.  And sometimes, unfortunately, just when the days have been filled with enough sunshine to convince the trees and flowers to bloom, you get a late frost that kills everything.  And you think maybe that should be the end of it.

But it's not.  The world goes on and gets warm again. Because even when it seems like all hope is lost, and should be lost, spring is relentless.  Resilient.

The question is how to honor our grief without prolonging it, how to convince ourselves that moving forward does not mean leaving behind the ones we've lost.

If I can just find an answer to that question, maybe someday I will be able to find Eliza also in my laughter instead of only in my tears.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I've been drowning in this grief for weeks--two and a half months, really--and I am finally experiencing the sensation of surfacing.

It doesn't last long.  But I emerge more and more frequently, long enough to feel the sunshine and get a gulp of oxygen before the tide of grief drags me back under.

Today the last of the snow could not withstand the onslaught of 74-degree temperatures.  I walked the dog--a long walk.  We must have wandered for an hour, far from our usual stomping ground, but still in the familiar city neighborhoods, anchored by Catholic schools and churches.  And I felt it at the time.  I was surfacing, relaxing, living.  Living without her.

It is kind of annoying, how good exercise makes me feel.  It's irritating to realize the extent to which I am at the mercy of my brain chemicals.  Stupid endorphins, able to make me feel better in spite of everything.

A few weeks ago, I bought a yoga groupon.  I realize now that buying it was kind of a leap of faith.  Eventually I'll feel good enough to use this.  At the time I bought it, I still wasn't leaving the house by myself.  And now?  I'm thinking about going on Sunday to the "Restorative Yoga" class.  It's supposed to be all meditative and shit.  I would have never imagined that I would be the sort of person who meditates (even though it is supposed to be good for you in all kinds of ways).  At this point, though, I'm willing to try anything that might bring me to the surface a little longer.

Today I surfaced long enough to realize how freaking lucky I am to only be teaching three days a week and working at the learning center on Saturdays.  It is such a gift to have time to myself--time to break down, time to read, time to breathe, time to recover from this loss.  I am so lucky that David has a good job and that I already completed my degree because I know I'd never finish that dissertation if it weren't already done.

Last night we watched the season premier of Survivor (I used to roll my eyes at this show, but David got me addicted and now I'm all Russell!  Boston Rob!).  For the longest time, watching TV took all my energy.  I mean, seriously.  Sitting on the couch and focusing on the television while mouth-breathing was pretty much the extent of my capabilities.  But last night, I watched TV while also looking at a magazine and I even tore out a picture of a skirt that I think I could copy.

So part of me surfaced long enough to assume that some day I'll revisit the fabric store and pull out my sewing machine.

I still spend many, many waking hours below the surface.  It's dark and scary and hard to breathe down there.  But sometimes it feels like that's where my baby is and that's why I need to be there.  Because when I lost her, that's where I was, and only by returning there, where things are the absolute worst and everything hurts more than I can possibly stand and tears are running not just down my face but all the way down my neck and my chest is heaving and I'm choking and curling up in a ball, only then could I possibly get back to her, to that last moment I had with her.  Sometimes I can't help it--I go back there because that's where I have to be in order to be close to her.

I know, I know that's not true.  I know it doesn't work that way.  But sometimes I still feel like it does.

So surfacing is a complicated thing.  It feels good, don't get me wrong.  It felt great today, to feel the unseasonably (unreasonably) warm sunshine as I walked the dogs.  It feels good to escape by reading novels again, finally able to get out of my own head long enough to follow a narrative, finally able to muster up enough feeling for something outside myself in order to care about a narrative.

It feels good to think about things besides this terrible sadness.  And yes, it also feels disloyal somehow.  Such a betrayal to go on living without her.  But I imagine what I would say to myself if I were outside of this.  If I were my own friend.  And I would say, "Oh, honey.  You have been plenty sad enough.  Don't begrudge yourself a few moments of relief.  I mean seriously."

So, yeah.  I'm surfacing.  Every once in a while.  Choking and sputtering and resisting.  But coming up for air all the same.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

i carry your heart

(Let me first say that this post was inspired in part by a baby boy named Julius.)

So there's this poem by e. e. cummings that goes like this:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud 
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

It is a poem that has changed in meaning for me since I had and lost Eliza.  I've always thought it was a beautiful love poem.  I suggested it to Monica to include in her wedding because at the time I thought it spoke nicely to the improbability and magic of a long-distance relationship spawned on the internet.

Now Eliza is gone and nothing means what it used to mean, including this poem.  I'm left to go on without her, forced to settle for the completely unfair scenario of carrying her in my heart instead of in my arms.  As an unexpected side effect of this loss, my eyes have been opened to all of those who grieve alongside me.  I have suddenly become aware of the fact that there are enough bereaved parents in this world, that it could very well be the love we have for our dead children functions as a kind of gravitational force, powerful enough to keep the stars apart.

"i carry your heart" will always be the poem that was read at Monica and Johnny's wedding, but now it is also a poem about losing a baby and yet carrying him or her with you forever.  And, for me, it's also poem about the community of bereaved parents that I have found online.  These are communities constructed by people who feel compelled to share their stories and sometimes their deepest secrets--the fears and hopes and sadnesses that we hesitate to speak to anyone who might not understand.  They are safe places for confessionals and cries in the dark, but they only work as such because they are also forums of consolation, allowing bereaved parents the opportunity to comfort others walking this path, allowing those who are further out from their loss to do some good and share their love in the name of the children they've lost.  Some of those communities are linked on my sidebar, and the comments and conversations and kindness and commiseration that I've found there has been immeasurably comforting (although not always so remarkably alliterative).

I carry all of these stories.  I carry them in my heart.  And sometimes the pain of it is almost too much.  It's absolutely overwhelming to discover how many women have been in my place, how many children are missed and loved by their parents.  It is a heavy burden to bear.

I have had two friends specifically say that they wish they could carry a slice of this grief for me, that they wish they could absorb some of this pain.  I was moved by their words and it's a sentiment that I truly appreciate.  I wish I could really take them up on their offer.  Because sometimes this grief does feel like more than anyone can bear alone.  The support of these friends means a lot to me.  But they can't really carry this pain for me.  No one can.

Except maybe someone else who's been here.

I think that maybe these online communities exist so that we can help to carry each other's burdens.  It's by no means easy and really not much of a relief.  It's as though instead of carrying 100 pounds of your own grief, you've parceled it out so 50 of those pounds are being carried by 50 other people.  But in return, you're carrying a pound of each of their griefs as well.  So your burden isn't really any lighter, but still you share the work of carrying it.  And somehow that makes a difference.

It is a community of grief.  A club no one wants to join.  The price of admission is far too high and there actually aren't any perks to being a member except that when you are awake at 3am and you feel all alone in the world and the only thing that you want is to turn back time and change the course of history and hold your healthy baby in your arms, you can cry while knowing that other people out there are crying with you and for you.

Because if you've lost a baby too, then I also carry your story.  I carry it in my heart, right alongside my love for Eliza.  And when I look up at the stars, I know the deepest secret that nobody should have to know:  the love we have for those babies is, in fact, the wonder that's keeping the stars apart.

Monday, February 14, 2011


This post has no real theme.  Mostly it's just to let everybody know that I haven't been entirely lost to February.  We were granted a reprieve over the weekend, when the temps got up into the 50s and even though I have taken this cold snowy winter as a gift that keeps everyone indoors under a blanket, we walked the dogs in the sunshine and it felt pretty good.

I wore my polka dot wellies which embarrassed David but there were a lot of puddles and slushy snow patches and some icy patches on the shadiest part of the sidewalk so the wellies served me well.

The dogs got filthy dirty, especially Little Mac, who walks low to the ground.  So when we got home we decided it was B-A-T-H time for her.  Bathtime has always been an ugly and traumatic experience for us when it involves Little Mac.  She growls, she shrieks, she bites.

Yesterday was no exception.  She drew blood twice, biting David's forearm and his hand.  I abandoned the effort to take a phone call from my doctor and worried briefly this might be a battle to the death.  But it wasn't.  Mac emerged clean and lavender scented and I treated David's wounds with hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin and bandaids.

How dare u bathe me?  I will cut u.  With mah teeth.

David ran to the grocery store later and when he returned, Mac bounded up to him, all happy greetings.  David was a little less eager to forgive, but we just take Mac for what she is.  Psychotic personality issues and all.  So he petted and sweet talked her, even with the bandaids on his hand.

* * *

I talked to my doctor yesterday about my blood tests results.  Everything is normal except for one gene mutation, cutely abbreviated MTHFR.

"It's nickname is the Mother Father gene," my doctor explained.

"Oh, really?" I said, "Because I had another nickname for it."

He paused, then chucked and said, "Yeah, I figured."

I had already researched the MTHFR and there are a few different variations of it.  I have the one that is most common (30% of Caucasians have it and don't ever know it) and it's also the one that doesn't affect blood clotting.  Typically when people have MTHFR, especially in combination with another clotting factor, it can be very problematic and can cause pregnancy loss.  But the version that I have really only affects the absorption of folic acid and, unless it is in combination with other factors, it does not offer an explanation for pregnancy loss.  My doctor said that we can't assume this is what caused Eliza's death and we will never have an answer.  I was taking folic acid in the form of a prenatal vitamin even before I became pregnant and continued throughout my entire pregnancy.  And obviously some people have perfectly healthy babies without taking vitamins or having any kind of prenatal care.  So this doesn't solve the mystery.  It just gives us an extra precaution to take next time.  Extra folic acid and a baby aspirin to be on the safe side.

I told him that safe sounds good to me.

* * *

I picked up David's Valentine gift on Friday.  Nothing really exciting--a pound of chocolate covered strawberries from Chocolate-Chocolate-Chocolate.  And yes, I expected him to share with me.

We had a nice low-key weekend, eating chocolate covered strawberries but also cooking some healthy meals.  My appetite is still pretty off so I have decided I need to be sure that I am eating real food.  This is the new goal for the remainder of February.  Eat healthy.

With chocolate covered strawberries for dessert, of course.

* * *

Another parent offered me their condolences at the learning center.  It was the first time I was able to say thank you and keep working without crying.

Earlier that day, though, I had an encounter that did make me tear up.  A mother at the learning center didn't say a word to me, but just gave me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek.  She left right after that, but I could tell she was crying and I couldn't help but get all teary too.

Still, there was no running to the bathroom to sob, so this was an improvement.

* * *

It's a sunny Monday.  And David left a Valentine card for me this morning that had a pug dog on it which is funny because my mom also sent us a card with pug dogs on it.

I am still sad.  It's still heavy and congested feeling in my chest.  I still miss Eliza more than I thought it was possible to miss someone.  I miss the weeks she should have stayed in my belly.  I miss the baby she was.  I miss the little girl she would have been.  I hate that we were robbed of her and that she was robbed of life with us.

I feel like I am moving forward in a way that I know is good and necessary and positive.  And I hate that feeling.  I don't want to move away from her.

I read this quotation on another blog the other day, and it was like someone else knew the words that I needed to hear.  I needed that promise that I will never leave her behind.  That moving forward, I can still bring her with me:

"My heart panics, but when it catches up with reality, everything becomes clear: she is still with me, she is still gone. No more, no less. Wherever I put my heart and my energy now, it is because of her and what she has made me. She can’t possibly be left behind."

Thursday, February 10, 2011


When I was in college, Dar Williams came and performed on campus.  I still have no idea how our tiny little school got her to come put on a concert just for us, free to students.  There must have been some connection in our student life staff or something.  Or maybe we just got lucky.

I went to the concert because it was free and because I have always had a soft spot for hippie music ever since I realized Simon and Garfunkel were actually voicing to my post-adolescent angst somewhere around eighth grade (Because, at thirteen, I was a rock and an island and clearly needed a bridge over troubled water.  Obviously.).  I thought Dar Williams was awesome--not quite as edgy as Ani Difranco (A concert I stupidly missed in college because my boyfriend at the time bought two tickets but then we got in some huge fight and he gave them to me but refused to go with me and I refused to go without him because I would NOT stoop to actually USING the tickets that HE had purchased or something like that and I ended up giving the tickets away to the guy who worked in the mail room on campus in some dramatic play of self-sacrifice and dignified resistance that was obviously a little misguided.  I can't tell you for the life of me what the fight was about, but suffice it to say that we were star-crossed lovers from the start, and not in the happily ever after way, but in the "this will probably end up in some form of murder/suicide or maybe just the inevitable dramatic break up followed by much mutual blame and belated remorse but it's totally worth it because you are a really good kisser" sort of way.  Ah, college.  Such a magical time.) but even without being as gritty as Ani Difranco (who can resist a good song with the F-bomb in its lyrics?), Dar was cool and smart, all whimsical melodies and witty rhymes.

Anyway, I was not all that familiar with Dar Williams before that free concert (the aforementioned college boyfriend once called my taste in music "eclectic" but really I just liked whatever they played on alternative radio, especially REM and Pearl Jam, with Tori Amos and Ani Difranco thrown in for good measure), but that evening Dar Williams completely won me over.  In fact, I pretty much had a total girl crush on her and I kind of wanted to be a free spirited, guitar playing lesbian with long hair and long skirts and clever lyrics (for the record, I'm not sure whether Dar Williams is actually a lesbian but that really made no difference to me).

My favorite song I heard that night was "The Christians and the Pagans."  I bought her CD that has that song on it, and I still listen to it.  In fact, I put it on tonight while I was ironing David's clothes.

The Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.

It's a catchy little ditty and the thought of people embracing spiritual differences always warms my heart.  (Hmm...  Not so different than I was at age twenty, after all.)  But tonight I hit shuffle on the ipod and the song that came on first was "February."  It felt...  appropriate.  Sort of painfully appropriate. Before Eliza, I would have told you that this song is about a couple having a big argument, almost breaking up, and getting back together.  But tonight it just made me think about kind of grief that threatens to put a wedge between even the best of friends because the pain is so isolating it can make you feel totally frozen inside.

I threw your keys in the water, I looked back
They'd frozen halfway down in the ice.
They froze up so quickly, the keys and their owners,
Even after the anger, it all turned silent, and
Then everyday turned solitary
So we came to February.

First we forgot where we'd planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that we'd planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether,
and I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through February? 

You know, I think Christmas was a long red glare,
Shot up like a warning, we gave presents without cards
And then the snow,
And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
And we'd drop to sleep exhausted,
Then we'd wake up, and it's snowing.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, "That's a crocus,"
And I said, "What's a crocus?" and you said, "It's a flower."
I tried to remember, but I said, "What's a flower?"
You said, "I still love you."

The leaves were turning as we drove to the hardware stores,
My new lover made me keys to the house,
And we we got home, well we just started chopping wood,
Because you never know how next year will be,
And we'll gather all our arms can carry.
I have lost to February.  

(I really recommend you listen to Dar sing it here.  Trust me.  She's awesome.)

I like the conclusion of the last stanza.  It's only cautiously hopeful.  Because you never know how next year will be.  But still, they're preparing for next year together.  They're gathering all the wood (and I think all the hope) their arms can carry.

The weather here in December, January, February has been so bleak and cold and snowy.  Winter in St. Louis usually offers snow and ice but with plenty of sunshine and mushy meltiness in between--often getting up into the 60s before dropping a couple more inches of snow.  This winter has been different.  Darker.  Colder.  Deeper.  And much snowier than usual.  I suppose it's kind of depressing, but frankly I like it just fine.  It matches my mood.  It's a good excuse not to leave the house.  To put up a protective barrier of baggy sweaters and warm scarves.  And I really don't think the weather could make me feel any worse than I already do.

Well, that's not entirely true.  I actually think if it were nice outside, it would feel like a greater betrayal.  If I had to sit in my house and hear the neighbors splashing in their pool and barbecuing, I'm not sure I could stand it.  This is much better.  Cold and solemn and respectful.

I have lost to February.

I do feel like maybe I have lost to February.  For the shortest month of the year, it's awfully long and dark.  I wonder sometimes how we'll make it through this month.  But, as the song promises, there will eventually be crocuses again.  And if I can't remember what flowers are, I think I can count on David to remind me and to love me still. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Grieving Out Loud

I recently watched this video of a reading done by a woman who lost her son, Kai.  She doesn't blog, but wanted to share her words with the rest of us so she posted it online.

I was hesitant to watch it at first.

I was afraid it made upset me.  Or that it might be totally cheesy (which also would have upset me).  That she might dare to speak of silver linings, that there might be talk of angel wings, that she might insist that this would all make sense some day in the grand scheme of things.  That she might seem peaceful or resigned, while I am still raging and spitting and sobbing in the darkness. 

(Incidentally, I should add that I may have given angels a bad rep here.  Although I don't like the idea of my Eliza being an angel, I have no beef with angels themselves.  We were given two beautiful Christmas ornaments with angels and Eliza's name on them, and I like them very much.  One of them I didn't even pack away with the Christmas stuff--I wanted to keep it out on display.  We even gave David's grandmother a charm in the shape of an angel with Eliza's name on it for her birthday.  I don't mind the symbolism of angels at all.  I just don't want Eliza to literally be one.  This is an important distinction to me.  Maybe this seems irrational or at least unreasonable.  Well, it is what it is.)

At any rate, it's true that Kai's mom is not raging and spitting in this video.

Nor is she offering trite cliches or vague promises.  She voices a pain that is all-too-familiar to me, but she also offers the steadiness of someone who is a bit further out from her loss than I am (she lost Kai last June, on his due date).  Her tribute to this experience is honest and beautiful.

She is mourning, but she is also healing.

And I think her words helped me heal a little, too.

Ceil, Word Off 2011 Starlight Theatre, Terlingua, TX from sally martin on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Good days are followed by bad days.  Yesterday was a good day, full of distractions, focused on teaching, on grading, on an engrossing new novel and a disappointing college basketball game (David did not find it disappointing.  We are a House Divided.).

Today the weight of it all is impossibly heavy again.  The very things that offered me hope yesterday--the idea of another baby sometime in the future, a card from my mom, David's solid reassurance, plans made with friends--all of them seem so fleeting and far away.  The risk of hoping for future good things is not worth what I can only imagine will be the inevitable disappointment to follow.

A website where grieving mothers voice their pain and offer each other support doesn't feel like a refuge today.  Instead, I feel burdened and overwhelmed by everyone else's pain.  Weighed down by the vast injustice of all of it and desperate in my wish to somehow fix this--not just for me, but for everyone.  For Otis's mom, and Kai's, and George's and Olivia's and Lily's and Julius's and Amos's and everyone because it is so fucking unfair and it hurts so much I don't know how any of us are dragging ourselves through the day.  Or why we bother.

And I know yesterday was better than this.  I know it was because I lived it and I felt ok and although there was some crying (in my "new normal" there is always some crying), it was the kind of crying that feels like relief instead of just coming out like the only sound I can make while being gutted alive.

Gosh, that sounds dramatic doesn't it?  It's horribly true, though.  And writing it made me feel a little better.  Naming the experience is somehow satisfying, like if I could just put into words exactly what it feels like then I could control it a little bit more.

A friend of mine has an anonymous blog.  So she can write just how she's feeling at any given moment, she explained, without having to worry that her mom will come over on a suicide watch.

I get that.  Because sometimes writing is like a purging of the pain and once it's out there, it's easier to breathe.  But I don't want to make other people even more upset with my words.  I don't want to make people worry.  Because sometimes I have this strange sensation that the fact of the experience is actually worse than the experience itself.  Once I put the facts out there, and name the experience somewhere outside myself, it's a little easier to go back to just existing.  The writing of it is somehow sadder than the living of it.  I'm not sure that makes sense.  I'm not sure it's always true.  But sometimes it is.

And even though it always helps to get comments and e-mails from people who read the words and say "I'm sorry" or "Me too," the truth is that just getting the themselves words out there, even without hearing back from anyone, is a kind of relief, like sucking out the poison from a festering wound.

Yay for the vivid similes today, huh?

I heard a story recently of a woman who was depressed after the loss of a child.  She has other children, but the death of her oldest child was just more than she could bear and after years of appearing to take it all in stride while surreptitiously self-medicating, it recently became all too obvious that she was suffering from intense depression.  I heard this story and my heart ached for that woman.  I thought about how easily that could be me.  If I didn't have my parents and my brother.  If my relationship with David were different.  If I didn't have my closest friends.  If I weren't in therapy.  If I hadn't become connected with other women who know what I'm going through.  Those ifs feel so fragile--such a thin remove between her experience and mine.  I felt so terribly, terribly sorry for her because I understand her suffering and I know exactly how it feels to think that it's all too much and that nothing in the future could be worth the pain of getting through this moment.

I said something of the sort to the friend who was telling me this story.  How sad I was for this woman, how I hope she can find some help, how I understand the intensity of her sadness.  My friend didn't speak to any of that.  "Her poor children," she said, shaking her head.  "And her husband.  I hope she can get the help she needs."

Oh, yeah.  The fallout.

This woman's family hadn't even registered on my radar of people to feel sorry for.  Probably because I'm too busy feeling sorry for her...  and myself.

Despite the fact that my grief makes me selfish and small, I do realize that the fallout from Eliza's death is not limited to me alone, or even to just David and me.  My parents are grieving for a granddaughter they'll never know and probably for me too, the irreparably damaged daughter.  I don't want to make them worry, I don't want to amplify the pain of my friends and family who loved Eliza and miss her too, and who also miss me--the person I used to be before all of this happened. 

I know there are other people who are hurting over this not just because they would have loved Eliza and they miss what she would have been to them--granddaughter, niece, BFF-once-removed--but who are hurting mostly on my account.  Because they see how this is tearing me apart.  Because they are sad for me and they can't make it better and they want to offer me something to fix it--distraction in the form of shopping or dinner or weekend at the lake, a promise of future children, a promise of a glitzy eternal life where I'll see my baby again. Some days these things truly help.  Some days nothing could possibly help.

On a good day I feel like a survivor who knows that life is still worth living even if I don't have what I wanted most of all.  I feel like I can live out cliches about weathering storms.  Maybe I could be like old Anne of Green Gables, eventually smiling again even though she had to bury her first child, even though the smile is different than it was before.

But on a bad day--like this day--I do feel like I am irreparably damaged.  That this "new normal," whatever it looks like, is flawed and broken and however I define "happy," it will never be what it meant before.  And--worst of all--that if it can't be what it was before, it's not worth having.

And I'm overwhelmed with the hurt and the injustice of it all--not just for me but for so many other mothers who wanted and loved their babies and for no good reason are forced to figure out what happens now.

When this painfully intense sympathy meets the bottomless well of self-pity, well, you know it's not going to be a good day.

On days like this, I want to ignore the fallout.  I want to curl up selfishly in my cocoon of grief and not try to choke back tears.  I think I'm entitled.

But I do hate that my pain makes other people hurt, too.  So I drag myself out of bed so that David's forehead wrinkle won't get deeper when he looks at me.  I talk about my sadness in therapy.  I read books.  I eat dinner.  I take deep breaths and make myself sit up straight.  I wrestle my sadness into words in an effort to manage the power it has over me.

The truth is that I have good days.  And then there are bad days.  "That's the ebb and flow of grief," my therapist says, nodding wisely.

I happen to hate the ebb and flow of grief.  Particularly when it threatens to drown me.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

When Bad Things Happen

At the recommendation of my therapist, I read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner.

It is an excellent book, and if you want to talk to me about God, I suggest that you read this book first and then get back to me.  Because the God that Kushner discusses is the only sort of God I want to believe in.

Kushner's book is in large part about grief, and is dedicated to his son who died at the age of fourteen.  But I almost didn't read his book because this is the epigraph:

And David said:  While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me and the child will live.  But now that he is dead, why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.  (II Samuel 12:22-23).

A month out from Eliza's death, this was not a sentiment that I could relate to.

Fasting and weeping?  My child was no longer alive, but that was exactly what I was doing.  Maybe I couldn't bring her back again, but I had no interest in going on without her.  So fasting and weeping, it was!  It's not like I had much of a choice, honestly.  I had no appetite and I couldn't stop crying.  To me, this was the only response that was even remotely adequate to the death of a child.  What was Kushner (a bereaved father himself) thinking, opening his book with this story of King David asking for food after he learned his son was dead?  Feasting because he knows he can't bring back his child and has to go on living without him?  What a jerk.  What a stupid, horrible story.

I didn't see how a book with this Bible verse as epigraph would offer me anything I wanted to read.

But I read it anyway.

And in the final chapter, Kushner writes that when he first decided to write the book, he clearly pictured the front page, with a dedication to his son Aaron, and a very different epigraph.  This epigraph was Bible verse also about King David and the death of another child, but with a very different response.  This verse reads, Absalom, my son!  Would that I had died instead of you! (II Samuel 18:33).

Oh, hell yeah.  This was more like it.  This was how I felt.

And Kushner explains that this was how he felt too, when first facing the death of his son Aaron.  It took a year and a half before his perspective shifted, and when he finally wrote the book, he decided to change the epigraph, choosing one that reflected not a suicide wish but an effort to go on and have a meaningful life, to make meaning out of the tragic loss of his son.

Now I'm two months out from the loss of my daughter.  Intellectually, I understand this.

Emotionally, I'm just not there yet.

* * *

A couple of weeks ago, I got a beautiful letter from a woman I've never met, who just happens to be crazy enough to marry my cousin Casey (haha but seriously).  She wrote, among other lovely things, her belief that some day I will find joy again, "and when you do, it's a tribute to Eliza that you are living, smiling, and going on in her honor."

This was a such a lovely sentiment.  It brought me to tears.  How I wanted it to be true!  And yet.  The idea that I could go on and have a meaningful, happy life?  Insane.  The idea that I could do so and that it would be a tribute to Eliza's memory?  Doubly insane.  And really too good to be true.  Surely the kind of optimism that is no longer in the realm of possibility for someone whose child has died.

But this is precisely what Kushner's book says is possible.  And his son died.

So, yeah.  I'm not quite there yet.  I'm still all about the weeping and the fasting and the gnashing of teeth.

But even in the darkest moments of the darkest days, right alongside the pit in my stomach that never, ever goes away entirely (no matter how distracted I might be temporarily), there is the quiet assurance that some day I too will find not a reason for Eliza's death (there could never be a good enough reason as far as I'm concerned) but a way to make her life meaningful in my own life.  That I will be able to continue to live a good life and that my ability to do so will not be a betrayal of her memory, but a tribute to her.

I squash this and I ignore it and I doubt it.  And still, this quiet assurance persists in spite of itself.

* * *

And sometimes I think about this:

My grandma and grandpa on my mom's side were one of those adorable and inspiring couples who remained truly in love their entire lives.  Even after my grandma died, when my grandpa talked about her, you could just hear the love in his voice.

After my grandma died, my grandpa moved back to his hometown.  Several of his friends had remained in town or returned to small-town living after spending a good chunk of their retirement warmer climates.  One of those local friends was a beautiful, classy woman named Maxine.  And eventually, my grandpa started dating her.  Maxine is one of those women who is kind and smart and well dressed and perfectly groomed and wears beautiful jewelry.  These are things she has in common with my grandma.  But, of course, she is not my grandma.  She doesn't laugh with the same kind of wild abandon that my grandma did, for one thing.  Her laugh is more of a polite giggle.  But she is perfectly lovely in her own way.  And even though we all loved my grandma and missed her, we were happy to see my grandpa seeing someone else.  We were glad to see the joy that Maxine brought to his life--and it was true that she brought a sparkle to his eye and a bounce to his step.  Allow me to illustrate:

One summer we were visiting him and on our way to dinner, David and I were in the backseat of his car.  Grandpa was driving and Maxine was riding shotgun.  Grandpa picked up this stretchy beaded bracelet that was in the cup holder of his car and passed it back to David.  "Oh, look at this.  Maxine dropped her bracelet in the park," Grandpa remarked casually, "And I happened to find it!"

A number of things went through my mind, as David inspected the bracelet.  I was marveling at the chances of Maxine losing a bracelet in park and my grandpa happening to find it and recognize it and return it to her.  I was also confused because the bracelet looked pretty cheap (plastic, really) and not like the sort of thing Maxine would typically wear.  I was also wondering why it was still in the cup holder of Grandpa's Buick, but I was mostly distracted by Maxine. "Oh, stop it, Bill," she said giggling like crazy, her cheeks turning bright pink as she playfully swatted him on the arm.  Puzzled, I looked at David who was grinning from ear to ear.  He passed me Maxine's bracelet.

It was a cheap, stretchy beaded bracelet with plastic letter beads that spelled out the word "S*E*X*Y."

I was mortified.  My eighty-five-year-old grandpa had found some tacky bracelet on the ground at the park that said "S*E*X*Y" and was pretending it belonged to his octogenarian girlfriend and was joking with me about it.  No wonder Maxine had turned bright red!  It was totally hilarious and embarrassing.  And kind of awesome, because I hope when I'm eighty-something that I'm lucky enough to be with a guy who still thinks I'm sexy.

When my grandpa passed away, my family gathered together for his funeral services.  There was a lot of talk about how much he loved my grandma and the wonderful life they had together, but also about how much Maxine had meant to him and how we had all grown to love her and how we truly appreciated the loving care she showed my grandpa in his final months.

My great-aunt Beth (also known as "Aunt Beth the Great") is my grandma's youngest sister.  She had idolized my grandpa back when he was a dashing Air Force pilot in World War II, engaged to her eldest sister, and he had always treated her like his own baby sister, buying her treats at the drugstore and giving her Air Force wings to pin to her dress (making her the envy of every other kid at her school).  So time passes and decades go by, but some relationships never change.  In my grandpa's eyes, Beth always was and always will be, a little sister. 

In this case, it meant that there came a time when the eighty-five-year-old man sat down with his seventy-year-old sister-in-law to let her know that yes, he was seeing someone, but that he hoped she would understand that Maxine could never replace her sister in his heart.

Aunt Beth the Great told me that story after my grandpa died, when we were packing up his apartment.  She laughed (a generous guffaw much like my grandma's) as she related the serious concern my grandpa had expressed, wanting to get his little sister-in-law's blessing on this new relationship that had unexpectedly taken a potentially dark time in his life and made it sparkle.  "I told him I was happy for him!  That's the mark of a good marriage," Aunt Beth said to me.  "When you love someone so much that after you've lost them, you want to look for love again."

We all saw that my grandpa and Maxine were lucky to have found each other, and to have brought each other so much happiness in the time they had together.  And even as we recognized this, none of us ever could have doubted for a moment the love my grandparents had felt for each other during their long and happy marriage.  My grandpa's relationship with the sexy Maxine did not diminish that love; it honored it. 

* * *

Right now, I'm still wondering why it couldn't have been me instead of Eliza.  Would that it had been me, instead of her, you know?  Right now the only thing that could make me happy is to have her back with me.  Unless I can have my baby here with me, where she belongs, there's no fixing this or making it better.

But even as I weep and fast and gnash my teeth and shake my fists and curse the world and everyone in it, I can't entirely ignore that quiet assurance, deep in my gut, that says some day it will get better.  I will get better.  Love will come into my life again and light up the darkness and make it sparkle.

Lord knows I'm not there yet.  I still have a lot of doubts as to when (and sometimes, yes, if) it will happen.  But alongside these doubts, I am clinging to the faith that some day I will get there.  Some day, I will laugh without feeling guilty or conflicted about it.  Some day I will no longer walk around with the weight of suppressed tears in my chest.  I will be able to look forward to the future.  I will be truly grateful for the many good things I still have in my life.  I will love another child.  And one thing I know for certain is when I do these things, that love--all of it--will be a tribute to Eliza.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Practically Perfect

David is practically perfect.

And I mean that in the sense that he is absolutely practical about everything.

I suppose in every relationship there is really only room for on drama queen, and frankly I'm glad that it's not my husband.  But still he can be such a damn realist that it annoys me.  Even though I love him and I need him to be realistic about things.  It's still annoying.

For example:  the nursery. 

It was not nearly completed when Eliza was born.  The crib and dresser and chair were in place, and we'd hung two shelves but nothing was on the walls, nothing was in the closet, the room was filled with baby gifts still in their gift bags and clothes still in shopping bags.  All of that was about to happen in the next two weeks, after the semester was over, before Christmas.  I was going to get all the finishing touches for the nursery and do all the laundry and finish my Christmas shopping and clean the house and spend the rest of December just relaxing and looking forward to the baby. 

But we all know that none of that happened.

Just a day or two after we were home from the hospital, we packed everything away.  Items that we borrowed were returned to friends who stopped by to express condolences and offer casseroles.  Unopened crib sheets, unwashed clothes, unread baby books, everything got packed up for storage.  My mom and dad went to Target to buy a bunch of plastic tubs to hold everything.  Then they went back to Target and bought more plastic tubs to hold the rest of everything (Baby Eliza was already highly accessorized).  David put all of her things in neatly organized and labeled plastic tubs and then put all of those in the garage.

Maybe it was easier to do it then, when we were still numb.  It couldn't hurt us more than we were already hurting.  And it gave us something to do, something to keep us busy.  David and my dad took apart the crib they'd put together just a few weeks before and my mom and I carefully wrapped it in plastic and then it was stored in the garage.

My parents had been sleeping on the futon (now known as the Lair of Bed Bugs, thank you Brandon) and this way we were able to put the guest bed back up in that room and give them a real bed. 

Later, I read online about bereaved parents who hadn't touched the perfectly finished, unused nursery.  Weeks or months out, the room stayed unchanged.  Grief-stricken mothers wrote about sobbing on the floor of the nursery, or gently touching the little clothes that their baby would never wear. 

These stories scared me--eleven months from now, would I still feel like this?  Would it really still be this hard?  And also, if I was able to pack away my baby's unworn clothes, did that mean I didn't love her as much as these mothers loved their babies?

I tentatively posited these questions to David.  "You know, some parents leave their baby's room just as it is.  They don't pack everything away.  They go in there and think about their baby.  Maybe we should have done that."

David didn't miss a beat when he replied, "Well, those people probably have more than two bedrooms."

You see what I mean?


Sometimes I think it is a little easier to cope when things just have to be done.  I still haven't been to the grocery store by myself, but I know one of these days it will have to be done and I will do it.  Not because I want to, not because I'm no longer missing Eliza, not because I'm stronger or better or whatever.  But just because it's one more thing on a list of things that have to be done.

Part of me still wants life to stop.  I still want to stay in bed all day and cry and cry and cry.  I want to have no appetite.  I want to immerse myself in the dizzy darkness of grief and never ever come up for air.

But part of me lives with a very practical husband who seems to know for sure what I still have trouble believing:  that we will see better days.  Eventually.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I thought that I'd been sad before.

I am nearly eight weeks out from Eliza's death and I am already realizing that some of the shock has worn off.  Some of the sharpest raw edges have already softened a little.  The blinding darkness, the paralyzing pain, these have already lightened enough that I can go out in the world without shattering completely.  This surprises me even though I realize it's inevitable.  I know it would be impossible to live in that immediate state of grief forever.  I will begin to accommodate her loss into my life in order to keep living without her.  I feel it happening already, no matter how much I hate it and want to resist it.

And, make no mistake, I do hate it.

The thing is, the terror and fear and anguish I felt after her sudden, shocking loss is slowly being replaced by something else.  A deep, quiet, pervasive sadness.

So maybe life isn't black and jagged anymore.  Maybe it will turn gray and the edges will soften.

But who the hell wants a gray life?

I told David last night that I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Only I've moved in the reverse order--from the dazzling technicolor beauty of Oz to the gray plains of Kansas.

So maybe I'm not mad with grief and no longer sobbing for hours everyday.  Maybe I'm getting dressed and applying water proof mascara and leaving the house and going through the motions of teaching and maybe it's even going well some days.

But I am constantly, permanently, continually sad.  I see no possible way to break this pattern.  No child will ever replace Eliza, no prayer will ever bring her back to me. 

It's a quieter sadness, but it has a grip on me that I just don't think will ever let go.  I just don't see what life could look like without this sadness.  I understand that grief won't always be as painful as it is this very moment, that waking up every morning won't always be an agony, but the problem is that the "improved" version of this condition just means an acceptance that my baby is dead and I will never get her back and my life will always be worse than it was before.

I used to look forward to everything.  Life was about making progress--finishing a degree, getting a new job, making more money, taking on a new project.  The future held promise of more and better everything.

But now I just feel like all I can look forward to is moving up from the blackest bowels to grief to the looming plateau of gray, unending sadness.

When I have mentioned this to people--how impossible it is to look forward, how all of my plans have been slashed to pieces, how Eliza was my plan and now I can't stand the thought of entertaining an alternative plan--I get variations of the same reply:  "Just take it a day at a time."  I happen to hate taking it a day at a time.  I want to live in the present and look forward to the future.  I don't want to focus on surviving one minute at a time.  But I do this, because there's nothing else to be done.  Day by day.  Hour by hour.  Breath by breath.  Do you know how much it freaking sucks to live like that?  I imagine it's like an extended prison sentence.  If you actually think about it, if you really try to wrap your head around what it means to be in jail for twenty years, you'll go crazy.  So you live a day at a time.  It's a miserable way to eke out survival. 

I have been assured by trustworthy sources (David, my therapist, my friend Sarah, my mom, and others) that this is plateau of everlasting grayness is not actually true.  That it will be possible for life to sparkle again and that maybe I'll even return to living in technicolor.  There will be other issues that come with that (guilt, mostly), but according to these reliable sources, some day I will reach a point where Eliza is a tender, treasured part of my life instead of a dreadful atomic bomb of a loss.

At this point, I remain skeptical.  I know for certain there is no returning to Oz for me.  I have seen the man behind the curtain, you know?  Life will never be quite what it was before.  But does this mean that I'm stuck in the black and white and gray Kansas of Sadness for ever?

Maybe I can have a technicolor life in a different movie.  One shot in high definition.  No longer the feel-good family film, I'm afraid.  This new movie has a more complicated script and well-developed characters and the kind of storyline that makes you cry buckets and a happy ending is by no means guaranteed.  It's definitely not the kind of movie I wanted my life to be, but obviously I got cast in the angsty independent film when I thought I was auditioning for the lead role in a romantic comedy.

(This metaphor is getting a little out of control. I'm starting to imagine casting myself in a film and wondering if maybe in the movie version of my life I could have a British accent because I've always wanted to be British.  Off topic, I realize.)

So as I feel kind of suspended between the darkest horror of the early grief and the lighter gray of later grief, I understand all too well the conflict that others in this position have expressed--a desire for time to speed up, to put more space between me and this loss, to make the pain more bearable and the days not so dark and at the same time a reluctance to move forward because every step I take away from that day I held her, every inch I loosen the grip of this grief, with every glimmer of light that jostles away the darkness, I move further away from Eliza.  And--even if there are a million reasons why that's not really true--this thought breaks my heart all over again.

So yeah.  Things still pretty bleak and gray around here.  I miss living in Oz, even if it was just a fantasy land.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


We're supposed to be getting the worst winter storm in, like, ever.  So we are hunkered down at home.

Right now it's just ice.  Enough ice that David didn't even go into to work today.  And if we really get the 10 inches of snow they're calling for today and tomorrow, he probably won't be going to work tomorrow either.

A blizzard warning?  Seriously?  I didn't think that you could have a blizzard south of Iowa.

Anyway, we're just hoping that we don't lose power.  I charged the Kindle yesterday just in case.

It has not escaped me that I would be way more worked up about the storm and the possibility of losing power if we had a newborn baby here.  If I let myself think too much about what I should be doing--what I would be doing if Eliza were here with us, my heart feels like it's being twisted and torn apart.  Still, I can't help but wish that I were worrying about her instead of stocking up on storm supplies in the way of wine and goat cheese and electronic book purchases.

Cooper is doing his part to try to make me feel better by parking his 35 pound butt on my lap anytime I sit down.  Subject for a future post:  Why anyone who is grieving should have a puggle.

Other things...

* Teaching is going pretty well.  My students are warming up to me.  In fact, one of them is lending me Dexter season 5, so yeah, he's probably getting an A (just kidding, letter grades not based on favoritism)

* We booked a trip to Florida over spring break.  I should be looking forward to it, but right now I'm completely understanding the ambivalence that a friend of mine expressed about her upcoming vacation.  Which is to say, I'm still going to be sad, so why does it matter if I'm here or in Florida or in Antarctica?

* David has started predicting my anxious questions that inevitably pop up around the time he's drifting off to sleep.  Last night I nudged him and said, "David?" and he replied, "Yes, I love you.  No we're not going to get divorced.  Yes, we're always going to miss her.  But we will be happy again someday."  So, yeah, that about covered it.

* Another e-mail went out to the parents at the learning center in an effort to make sure I could avoid explaining what happened.  It's hard enough to live with; I couldn't stand the idea of having to tell one more person about Eliza and then not cry and keep working.  So the e-mail went out and the next morning I got a reply from a father whose two daughters come to the center.  It was short and to the point.  He shared that he was sorry to hear about our baby and the same thing happened to his family just over twelve years ago.  He said that as someone who's been there, he can tell us it does get better with time.

* Cooper got furminated yesterday (the shedless treatment they do at Groomingdale's).  He smells good and my yoga pants aren't covered in puggle hair.  It's a doggy miracle.  Plus the groomer warmed my heart by telling me what a sweet dog Cooper is and how well-behaved he was for his bath and shedless treatment.

* We went out on Friday to celebrate a friend's birthday.  We weren't going to go and then we talked about it in therapy and decided to make a "game time" decision.  Well, Friday evening arrived and we felt ok and we knew our friends wanted us to be there so we decided to go.  And...  it was good.  I was glad we went.  In fact, I felt kind of bad for not giving my closest friends enough credit for their kindness and understanding.  And, more specifically, for not giving them enough credit for having the conversational skills to talk about things besides babies.  Turns out there are lots of other topics of conversation and we actually talked about some of those instead.  Who knew?  Unexpectedly, I bumped into a group of friends from the English department (who, bless them, always have something besides babies to talk about) at the same place and that was a nice surprise. 

* I can't believe it's February.  These last two months have been the longest of my life.  And yet I still experience this loss of Eliza with a kind of shock that is so immediate it's as though it just happened.  Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of defending my dissertation.  It feels like a lifetime ago.  This makes me feel so old.

And...  I think those are all my talking points.  Now we wait for the big snow.