Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good Riddance to 2011

I'm continuing to answer these questions every year.  If you're curious (or you've got time to kill), you can click to see my responses in 2009 and 2010.

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?
Got a full time real professor job.  Attended a grief support group.  Became good friends with people I've only met on the internet.  Cried almost daily.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I did not make any resolutions last year.  (Beginning of 2011:  Not a good time for looking forward to ANYTHING).  As for this year, I want to write more, worry less, do more yoga, help Cooper lose 5 pounds, and learn to do something new.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My new friend Sarah welcomed her second son, Owen.  My friend from home, Megan, welcomed her second son, Hudson. My BFF Monica had her baby girl, Ellie Kate.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Not in 2011.

5. What countries did you visit?

Canada (it's lovely there, and the people really are that friendly) and Mexico (also lovely, and just FYI, Puerto Vallarta is warmer in December than Vancouver is in July).

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
A baby.  A lighter heart.  Fewer tears.  Bittersweet memories that lean more toward the sweet, less toward the bitter.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
January 11th--Eliza's unofficial due date and the 9 year anniversary of our first date.  January 15th--Eliza's official due date. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Surviving.  Maintaining my marriage, friendships, employment.  Also taking care of myself as best I could--eating, going to therapy, going to support groups, reaching out to friends online, and going to yoga.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I've failed to forgive or be as understanding as I could be with people who are uncomfortable with my grief.  

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
As I wrote last year, I've read that grief is a disease with specific symptoms like shortness of breath and loss of appetite.  So yes, I am still suffering. But I also think I have done a lot of healing over the past year.  Even though I sort of hate the word "healing" when it comes to grief.  Physically, though, it makes sense to me.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Monthly massages and a Prius.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Everybody who reached out to us on Eliza's birthday.  

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

People who shocked me by responding to our requests for specific types of support with silence or anger.

14. Where did most of your money go?
The usual... mortgage, groceries, gas.  Also to travel.  We visited Florida, Chicago, Vancouver, Whistler, and Puert0 Vallarta.

15. What did you get really excited about?
I'm not sure "excited" really fit in my vocabulary this year.  I will say that I enjoyed and benefited from our vacations, I was relieved and pleased to get my new job, and I was pretty satisfied with a cute bag I scored at a Kate Spade sample sale...

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
Adele, "Rolling in the Deep."  That song was everywhere, but I never got tired of it.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? I have to say, I am happier than I was at this time last year.  I mean, I was three weeks out from the death of my baby at this time last year.  Fifty-five weeks out, my sadness levels about that are still the same, but happiness levels about other things have risen considerably. 
– thinner or fatter? Thinner.  Lost the baby weight, hoping to gain it all back in 2012.
– richer or poorer? Financially richer, thanks to my new job.  Actually, I'd say that I'm spiritually richer, too, thanks to the reading I've done, and the insight and experience I've gained over this last year, and the people I've met.  I'm grateful for these things, but at what a cost, you know?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Thanking people who reached out to us, seeing more of my friends.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

I wish I could have cried less, but everything would have to change to make that possible.  So given the circumstances, I wish I would have done less fretting over not getting pregnant the moment we started trying again.  But that really wouldn't have been possible, either.  I guess I wish I would have been less hard on myself about most everything.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
In Mexico, just trying to ignore the holiday.  (And seriously, it pretty much worked--except for free mimosas, Christmas morning at the resort was much like any other morning: sunny, warm, peaceful.)

21. Did you fall in love in 2011? I fell more in love with my husband than I would have thought possible.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Dexter and 30 Rock

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Nope.  But maybe only because my energy level is still lower than normal?

24. What was the best book you read? The Hunger Games.  The whole trilogy, really.  And I got really absorbed in State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
 love the new Miranda Lambert album

26. What did you want and get? this needs an entire post of its own... 

27. What did you want and not get? Eliza.

28. What was your favorite film of this year? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, Sarah's Key, and Midnight in Paris

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I cried.  I sniffled and sobbed my way through refinishing and painting a console table for our entry way.  David got home from work and dragged me out to have Mexican for dinner.  Then we went to see HP but NOT because it was my birthday, just because we wanted to see the movie and I needed a distraction. I was 31 and I felt so incredibly old and so incredibly sad.  It was one of the worst days of my life.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
We'll go with the obvious:  Eliza.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?Half-Assed Attempt to Look Like a Professional, Mostly Too Sad and Tired to Care Very Much

32. What kept you sane?

David. My parents and brother.  E-mails from friends.  Monthly dinners with my girls.  The kindness of online strangers.  The optimism of my doctors.  (Sanity still potentially in flux, however.)

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Prince William, of course.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

I was less involved/informed about politics this year than I've been since college.  And I was so wrapped up in my own grief, I found very little to be "stirring."  The Republican primary makes me grind my teeth, though.  I'm just saying.

35. Who did you miss?

Eliza.  More than anything or anyone, ever.  

36. Who was the best new person you met?

In person--Brandy and Angie and another Brooke.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.

I've learned you can survive what you assumed was unsurvivable.  In fact, you can survive things you never wanted to survive.  I've learned there are people in this world who make life worth living, even when your heart has been shredded.  And here's a secret:  Almost everyone is carrying a burden of grief in some shape or size, and that's part of what connects us as human beings.  As I said last year, these are valuable life lessons, but none of these lessons is worth what it cost for me to learn them. 

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

This Groove Armada song, "Hands of Time."  It's on my Eliza playlist and it's just exactly true.  

Keep looking through the window pane
Just trying to see through the pouring rain
It's hearing your name, hearing your name.
I never really felt quite the same
Since I've lost what I had to gain
No one to blame, no one to blame.
Seems to me, can't turn back the hands of time.

I'm relieved and somewhat astonished that the end of 2011 has left me in a much better place than I was at the end of 2010.  But there's still more sadness in my life than I could have ever imagined.  I love and miss Eliza as much as ever.  I also have clear priorities, a real appreciation for the good things in my life, and a desperate hope that 2012 will bring us better luck and happier days.  Wishing all the same for you and yours.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

We Are Having Mexico Instead of Christmas

We are here and it is gorgeous. High today was 80, not a cloud in the sky. Slept in, ate a delicious breakfast overlooking the pool and spent the day lounging. I finished the book I stated on the plane. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I could see how it's an acquired taste, but I loved it. We even ordered lunch and ate it while reclining in our cabana by the pool. It felt very decadent. Considering we spend most vacations following a strict, self-imposed itinerary, so as not to miss anything, this feels positively luxurious. And Totally out of character. Don't worry--I'm sure I'll learn to adjust.

Tomorrow we are heading to the beach club. I am reserving a spot in the yoga class for Tuesday morning. We may golf one day, if David can get over his reluctance to golf with rented clubs. It's nice here. Really nice. I'm a little homesick.

It's not that I don't want to be here. It's just that I miss everything that should have been this Christmas. I miss it so intensely, and still with such shock. It's as though I was holding it tightly when someone ripped it away fom me, and now I just have fiercely clenched fists and the inability to fully understand how it could have possibly slipped from my grasp. How has it been a year without her? How is it possible that I'll never get her back? How can these things be true and sunshine and warm breezes can still feel so incredibly good? It's complicated, and sometimes I am so freaking sick of my every emotion being complicated.

Our adults only resort is so peacefully quiet. It is almost strange, in its quiet hush, but lovely. I told David that I imagine this is what very expensive rehab centers are like. Only with less alcohol on the menu, I suppose. Most couples here are at least in their 50's. The music is soft and Spanish, not Christmas tunes. I had to laugh today, though, when an older European woman stood up from her lounge chair and nonchalantly tied her sarong under her arms, unconcerned about the fact she'd tossed her bikini top to the side while lying on her stomach. So my brother was right, we have seen a bit of poolside nudity. At this point I'd rather hang out with semi-nude middle-aged women rather than adorable, shrieking toddlers, so I am not sure what that says about me, except that we are glad we did the adults only resort.

We don't have cell phone service, and I am trying to the advantage of the opportunity to disconnect (you know, by blogging poolside on David's iPad). Who knows, I might actually feel somewhat rested and rejuvenated by the time the trip is over. I know that was sort of the idea all along, but December was so freaking hard, with the last couple of weeks being far more tear-sodden and grief-stricken than I had anticipated. So feeling like I can take a deep breath without my chest feeling tight? It's weird. And nice.

Also: Don't worry, Mom. We are reapplying sunscreen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


A few months ago, I was at the post office.  Most of the leaves were already turning their autumn colors, or just falling off the trees without even bothering to put on a show first.  This bush was still green, though, and I noticed as I parked near it that the purple flowers were pretty.

As I walked by, I spotted a butterfly.

Some people say that if you've lost a child, their spirit will visit you in the form of butterflies.  I'm not sure I really believe that.  I'm hesitant to put a lot of stock into these "signs."  I understand that many people find them comforting.  I wish I could.  I just don't want to invent things just to try and make myself feel better.  I do know that every time I see a butterfly, I automatically think of Eliza.  So if that's a way for her spirit to visit me, then I guess I should accept that truth for what it is.

When I came out of the post office several minutes later, the butterfly was still there.  Evidently waiting for me to get out my cell phone and snap this photo:

Christmas is a time for celebrating friends and family, a time that we take stock of our blessings and hope for better days to come.  It's also a time for remembering those we've loved and lost.  Whether or not you believe in signs like butterflies, I hope you find a quiet moment in which you feel close to all your loved ones this year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

No Escape

We'll be spending Christmas here:

I'm dreading it.

That's not exactly fair to say.  The problem is, I've never been someone who wanted to do Christmas at the beach.  To me, Christmas is about the same cheesy traditions in the small town where I grew up.  We drive around to look at the lights.  We meet up with old friends in town for the holidays.  We watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation with my parents.  We open gifts one at a time.  We play Christmas trivia pursuit.  We eat homemade Christmas candy.  We go to my aunt Tammi's and have a noisy and chaotic Christmas dinner with the extended family.  We play Dominos and listen to my Nana shout at people.  We go to the eleven o'clock Christmas Eve service and at midnight, the whole congregation stands in a circle around the sanctuary, everyone holding a lit candle, all the lights turned off, and we sing "Silent Night," waiting for the bell tower to ring in Christmas day at the stroke of midnight.  We hope for snow and rarely get it, so we learn to appreciate the way sparkling lights are set off by drab brown trees and damp, chilly nights.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and one of the many things I looked forward to about being a parent was starting our own Christmas traditions and sharing the excitement of the holiday with our little ones. My grandma started an angel collection for my mom when she was little, and when I was born, my mom started one for me.  I wanted Eliza to have her own angel collection.  I wanted her to get an ornament every year, just like my brother and I did.  I wanted her to write letters to Santa and choose a toy each year for a child in need.  I wanted her to learn the Christmas story and to believe in the magic of Santa Claus.  I wanted to read her The Night Before Christmas and teach her to sing "Away In the Manger."  I wanted to buy her new pajamas each year to wear on Christmas Eve.  I wanted my mom to make her a homemade stocking.  I wanted to focus this Christmas especially not on gifts, but on how lucky we were to have each other and our baby girl.

I wanted a lot for Christmas this year.  And obviously I didn't get any of it.  It may seem childish and ineffectual, but my response to this great disappointment is that if I can't have the Christmas I want, I won't have any Christmas at all.

I will boycott it all together.

This is a great idea in theory.  In reality, skipping it sucks.  Not as much as it would suck to act like things are normal and go through the motions, but still.  Not great.

I love Christmas.  Unabashedly, cheesily, ridiculously love it.  I love my family.  I love our simple Christmas traditions.  I love thoughtfully shopping for gifts that I think people will love.  I love wrapping presents and tying them with real ribbons instead of stick-on bows.  I love making cute gift tags.  I love decorating the tree, and seeing all the presents under it, each one representing someone we love.  I love stringing a ribbon across our dining room doorway and using mini-clothespins to hang Christmas cards from it.  I love bustling stores at Christmas time.  I love holiday parties.  I love that David puts lights up on our house every year, and that he's a total perfectionist about it.  I love setting the dining room table with Christmas centerpieces, I love hanging our square red-berry wreath on the door, I love substituting a Christmasy doormat for our regular one, I love sitting in our living room with just the Christmas lights on and candles glowing, drinking hot chocolate with a splash of Bailey's, or sipping red wine and watching movies with David.

This year, I am having none of it.  There are no decorations up in our house.  Our tree is put away.  My angel collection is in the shed.  We've received very few Christmas cards, and we're not sending any.  We politely declined party invitations from our co-workers.  We fastforward Christmas commercials, we avoid Christmas music, we're not making any foods that are specifically "Chirstmas-y."  We're just ignoring the holiday all together.  Honestly, it's not a great way to get through the holidays, but it's the only thing I have the energy to do this year.

Most people have been very understanding of this, but some people seem to think that we're letting our loss overshadow everything and we should be more thankful for things (and people) we do have in our life.  I can sort of understand this perspective.  I'm certainly very grateful for my family and our friends who have been so supportive this year.  I understand that these people deserve to be appreciated and celebrated.  I miss my extended family, whom I haven't seen since last fall.  I hope they all realize that my absence from family Christmas is not because I don't love them or want to see them, but just because I can't bear to be there without my baby.

I just cannot imagine trying to have a traditional family Christmas this year.  Not when it is so far removed from the Christmas we had hoped to have.  I think that going through the motions would be really painful, and even though I adore my cousins and their cute little kids, it will break my heart to have to witness everything we're missing out on.  I don't want to be that girl who's crying through Christmas, and I just don't see the point in putting ourselves through that this year.  It just feels too hard.  I think the people who love us most understand and accept that.

We decided to travel somewhere warm and sunny and different.  People keep asking me if I'm excited about Mexico.  I don't know how to answer that.  Yes, I'm looking forward to having my husband all to myself for a week.  I'm looking forward to 80 degree weather and sunshine.  I'm looking forward to my daily agenda being "read book poolside."  Or maybe "golf nine holes."  I can't complain about the opportunity to take a tropical vacation from the dreariness of daily life.  But am I excited to be spending Christmas this way?  Not exactly.

I've never spent a Christmas away from my mom and dad and I already feel teary and homesick just thinking about it.  I miss my brother and the way he staggers out of bed on Christmas morning, bleary-eyed and needing coffee and a shave.  I hate missing out on all our usual traditions.  I hate that I miss out on seeing relatives we just see a couple times a year.  I'm sad because it just doesn't feel like Christmas at all.  But that's the thing.  I don't want it to feel like Christmas.  I don't want Christmas without Eliza.

So we're going to the beach.  Just the two of us.  My parents are going to my mom's sister's house in Arizona.  My brother is spending Christmas with a friend in Shanghai, China.  I hate that I'm not going to see them at Christmas, but I also know that for us, this year, this is the best way to get through the holiday.  By ignoring it all together.  I don't think we could do this forever.  I don't think this solution is the right one for everyone.  But I just can't imagine doing anything else this year, when the pain and loss still feel so fresh.

The word "solution" is totally wrong, though.  This decision doesn't fix anything, or make me feel any better.  It's just one more distraction.  It's our attempt to get through the day/week with as few grief-triggers as possible.  It's certainly not a perfect way to get through the holidays.  It's just the best we can do right now.

And I know, I can't really bitch about this:

But when you compare it to the Christmas I wanted to have this year, it doesn't even come close.  And that's what everything keeps coming back to.  I miss our baby girl so much.  I don't want to have Christmas without her.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where There's Smoke

Yesterday I made pecan sticky buns.  They were...  mildly disappointing.

I KNOW, right?  Pecan sticky buns!  That require two sticks of butter!  How could they go wrong?

Meh.  I don't know.  Maybe it's the fact that Karo syrup grosses me out (I love to eat pecan pie, but I've never made it and adding Karo syrup as an ingredient is just unappealing to me).  Maybe it's that I substituted wheat flour for 1 of the 4 cups of flour the dough requires (I do this in cinnamon rolls with no problem and it makes me feel healthier when I'm eating my two sticks of butter).  Maybe they just need to be microwaved a few seconds before serving.  Sigh.  I don't know...

Anyway, I followed a recipe to make 30 mini sticky buns but I don't have mini muffin cups (I do have a miniature kitchen, so perhaps that is why I don't have space for such nonsense) so I used regular muffin cups.  It probably would have made 15 regular sized sticky buns.  But my muffin tin only holds 12.  So what do you do?  You make it work, right?  

Not quite.  Although I was feeling quite proud of myself after cramming the dough into 12 muffin cups (these will be generous sticky buns!), there was a minor disaster.  Turns out that dough GETS BIGGER when you heat it.  And if you don't think this through, you just might find yourself in a situation where the dough and karo syrup/sugar/pecan mixture overflows the muffin cup pan and splurts onto the floor of the oven.  Where it sits quiet and unassuming until it gets close enough to the coils of the electric oven that it CATCHES ON FIRE.  Just as a friend of mine came over to have coffee and sticky buns with me.  Welcome!  Please do not mind the flames in my oven.  That's just our sticky buns!

Anyway, the buns turned out okay (mildly disappointing, but really not so bad).  The oven, though, was a sticky, doughy mess.  So today I am making chili to take with us as we venture back to visit the grandparents and I decided since the oven was coated in a sticky pecan filling that I should use the self-cleaning feature.

Do you know how the self-cleaning feature of the oven works?  It makes the oven so freaking hot that it burns away all the gunk inside and reduces it to a little film of ash that you can wipe away when it cools.  It takes 3 hours.  I started when I got home from work at 1:30, so that it would be all finished when David got home and he would appreciate me for the Stepford wife I pretend to be about three days out of the year.

So I was stirring the chili on the stovetop and mentally planning our packing list for the weekend, and reminding myself to bring the charger for my kindle when my eyes started burning.  Smoke was POURING out of the oven.  And, once again, there were SMALL ORANGE FLAMES inside the oven door.

I stood by nervously as the flames flickered themselves out, so disaster appears to have been averted.  I just hope the smoke does not flavor the chili and make it taste like ass.

One time I was babysitting my cousin and I was making her macaroni.  I left the packet of powdered cheese on the stovetop next to the pot of boiling water and the packet of cheese started smoldering.  I noticed the bad smell.  So I put out the (super tiny) fire with no problem and later ripped open the (slightly charred) bag of powdered cheese and stirred it into the boiled noodles.  My cousin took one bite and said, "This tastes bad."  I argued with her that it tasted just fine.  Then she made me take a bite.  It tasted like smoke and burned plastic.

Which is also how my house smells right now.  I have the back door and windows open and the ceiling fans going.  Good thing it's 50 degrees outside.  Cooper and I are huddled together under a blanket.  I should get up and go stir the chili but then I'd have to get out from under the blanket.  I bet my hair stinks like smoke.

On days like this, I think I'm really not equipped to manage the level of grief that comes with the loss of a child.  I mean, I can barely manage myself, let alone major kitchen appliances.  How am I supposed to get through something like this?

And then I remember that I've been getting through it for over a year now and there's nothing to do but keep going.  Wait it out.  Keep in mind that time will make things easier if not better.  It's a burden that never gets lighter, but you start to think you can manage it, that maybe you are competent, and maybe you are getting your shit together, and maybe you have learned a little something about yourself and the people who truly matter to you in the process.  And THEN you have the kind of day when you can't even make sticky buns properly and your oven is flaming and and your house is freezing and your kitchen is full of smoke and all you can do is huddle under a blanket with the dog and wait for the worst of it to pass.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

So I googled "Random number generator" and then I entered 1 and 22 since there were 21 comments on the Give Away post and one more comment on the Deadline post, which I made #22.

And the Random Number Generator generated number... 1.

Which I thought was a total fluke so then I redid it to make sure that it was actually working and it was (the second number it generated was 16), so I feel compelled to stick with the first number that it gave me, but also sort of torn, so I've decided that I'm also going to make a small donation ($10) to number 16.

This means that I will be taking Tiffany up on her suggestion to donate to First Candle (an organization that offers support to grieving parents and also funds research and prevention of SIDS) in memory of her sweet son Julius.

And I'll a small donation (every little bit helps, right?) to the Shriner's at the suggestion of Vanessa, whose husband benefited from their services when he was growing up.  She said that I can make that donation in memory of Eliza.

(It occurs to me that if I were a legit blogger, I would have a picture of the random number generator inserted on this post so you would know it was legit but I have no idea how to do that so you'll just have to trust me.)

Thanks to all of you who made suggestions of different organizations and charities.  In wake of such a great loss, and particularly around the anniversary of Eliza's birth, I know that it's easy for me to get caught up in the spiral of my own pain and fear and sadness.  It's important for me to try to step outside that, even if it's just for a little bit, and feel that I can still contribute to a greater good.  I have felt so sad and "needy" for so long that I really need to be reminded there are things I can to help other people (and animals) who rely on the kindness and generosity of others.

Congratulations to the "winners" Tiffany and Vanessa, and thanks again to everyone who suggested such great causes.  Makes you feel like there really are good things going on in this world, you know?  In spite of everything.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Deadline! (Almost)

I was hoping to have several organizations or charities to select from for this little giveaway, so I want to extend the giveaway another 24 hours.  Because people are BIZZAY and maybe haven't had time to comment, right?  And obviously I'm a little short of the expected 40,000 comments or so (just like when the Pioneer Woman gives away a Kitchen Aid mixer). So I'm asking you to take just a moment to tell me about your favorite charitable organization and whom you would like to honor or remember with a donation.  With all my mixed feelings about the holidays, I would love to hear about some good things that are being done.  Oh, and to make things easier, please leave your comment on my previous post (this one).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Giving (and my first giveaway, sort of)

One of the things I was overwhelmed with on Eliza's birthday was how many people made donations to worthy causes in memory of our Baby Duck, or performed other acts of kindness.  Every single one of those made me cry tears of love and gratitude.  Our baby girl was with us such a short time, and it's truly an honor to see the way her life and our love for her can still make a difference in the world.

Here's a list of causes that received donations in memory of Eliza over the past year:

* Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support (if you haven't watched the video on this website, take 10 minutes.  It's beautiful.)

* Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep - photography service

* Ethiopian Orphan Relief (in particular, Children's Heaven, a service for little girls who have lost their parents to AIDS)

* Heifer, International (a flock of ducks and a hive of honeybees)

* Nothing But Nets - provides mosquito netting to families in Africa to prevent malaria

* The First Book Program in St. Louis - (a donation of Alice in Wonderland)

* Make a Wish foundation

* local food bank - diaper donation

* Blessings in a Backpack - providing food on weekends to kids who need it

* March of Dimes

* The Snyder Twins -much loved and wanted babies, whose mother died unexpectedly from c-section complications

We are so honored to have Eliza's name associated with these good causes, and we appreciate your kindness and generosity more than I can ever say.  We also appreciate the prayers, memorials, and kind gestures--no matter how large or small--that were performed in honor of our baby girl.  It is so bittersweet to see the way she is still loved and missed.

David and I also wanted to make a donation in Eliza's name, but I hadn't decided on exactly what charity or organization we were going to contribute to this year.  There are so many, and they do such good work, and I wanted it to be something special.

Some of my favorite charities that we've donated to in the past include the Humane Society, St. Jude's Hospital, ALS research (in memory of our friend Curt's dad), Cystic Fibrosis research (in memory of my friend Jamie's cousin Megan), and the American Cancer Society (in memory of my Gpa Vance, and in honor of David's grandpa).

All of those causes are close to my heart, but I guess I wanted to find something different this year, something that would sort of speak to me and feel like the "right" place to put a little extra cash.  I guess I wanted something different, and something that felt tangible, you know what I mean?  I love the idea of participating in Christmas projects like toys for tots or shopping for a child in need, but I'm just not quite ready to buy clothes and toys for little ones...  Maybe next year.

Anyway, Eliza's birthday went by, and I still hadn't come up with the "perfect" organization.

Today I got an e-mail from a PEO sister who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Georgia (that would be the country, not the state).  She is currently working on a project to expand a day care center and school.  Here's what she writes:

Background Info on This Project: This center is run by the NGO I'm working with in Georgia and provides transportation, medical care, 2 meals daily, educational and vocational services to low-income children (and that's saying a LOT here).  It's really an impressive center ...even by American standards and especially when you compare it to the "regular" schools in Georgia which are pretty horrific!  We're trying to expand the center but need to renovate a room.   If we expand we can add 4 more children that are currently "wait listed" to attend the center as well as provide separate rooms for older and younger children.  All donations go directly to the project.  I'm the one overseeing it so I submitted the budget and will be responsible for completion of the project.  There are NO administrative costs and all donations are tax deductible.  Any amount can help!!

We needed about $3500 and already have over $2100 in only 2 weeks ... over 1/2 way there.  You have no idea how much difference this will make in the lives of these children and their families!!!  If you you can give anything ... PLEASE DO!!!  We'd love to get this funded ASAP.  Once the project is fully funded it's removed from the Peace Corps website

That was it.  That was this year's Eliza Gift.  I made a donation this morning.

And it made me feel so good that I want to do something more.  We may be skipping the festivities of Christmas this year, but it feels right to honor the true spirit of the season by giving to those in need.  So I want you to tell me what charities or organizations inspire you with the work they do, and I'll make another donation before Christmas.

(This idea was also inspired by Tiffany, who is doing a similar giveaway on her blog this month in memory of her baby boy, Julius.  I hate to be a copycat, but I also figure when it comes to stuff like this, it's not like you can do TOO MANY good things, right?)

So (here's where things get THRILLING), please leave a comment with the name of your favorite, well-deserving charity, and the name of the person or persons you'd like to honor/remember (if you don't have someone in mind, then you can just name Eliza).  Anyone can comment!  I'll leave the post open until December 15th and then I'll select (RANDOMLY) from the suggestions and make a $25 donation to the charity of the winner's choice, in honor or memory of whomever he/she suggests.

Thank you all for abiding with us this year, and for performing a true act of kindness every time you reached out to David and me in comments, e-mails, phone calls, thoughts, and prayers.  We'd never be able to pay enough to equal all the love we've received, but we want to give back a little something.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Worth a Thousand Words

Thank you to everyone who lit candles, who sent photos, who whispered prayers, and who kept Eliza in your heart on her birthday.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

One Year Later

Well, it's here.  We made it.  An entire year without our girl.  We kept waking up and going to bed and somehow we ended up here.  It's December, and it's cold.  It snowed last night--little flurries.  Last winter was one of the snowiest I can remember, so snow will always make me think of Eliza, my winter baby.

I want to post (and I will) about all the kindness and the love that was extended to us.  I want to write about all the sweet things people did in memory of Eliza, and the notes and cards and e-mails and texts that we received.

But for today, I just want to say that I don't really know how we did it, but we made it through the day.  Hell, I don't really know how we got through an entire year of life after losing the one thing we wanted most.

To be honest, there was a relief in getting past the one year milestone.  It felt a little bit like a promise that the gaping wound will continue to heal, that it will eventually become a tender place that only hurts when you really push on it (although you won't always be able to predict what or who will do that pushing, or when it will happen).  It's a relief to know that 2011, a shitstorm of a year, is going to be behind us soon.  And yes, there's a tiny bit of nagging guilt over the relief that the distance of a year brings, as well as an aching sadness that an entire year's worth of time has come between us and the last time we held our baby girl and marveled over her soft cheeks and long eyelashes and delicate fingers and perfect feet.

Today I'm in a place where I can hope that 2012 will bring good things our way, not because we deserve it, not because we're due, but just because sometimes things do work out.  After all, hoping for the best doesn't guarantee disappointment any more than dreading the worst makes the opposite occur.

The one thing that surprised me about the anniversary was that in many ways, Monday, December 5, was the harder day.  We both worked on Monday--I had to give a final exam, David put in a full day at school.  We hadn't anticipated how hard it would be since our focus was on the 6th, but Eliza's birthday was a Monday, so Monday felt like That Day.  Poor David really felt like he was re-living it, going through the same routine at work, whereas my day was much different since I have a new job.  But that night was when it really hit me.  I had papers to grade (which is what I was doing when I went into labor) and I refused to even pull them out of my bag.  We were quiet that evening, both taking care of work-related stuff before dinner.  After dinner, we were in the kitchen, making a sweet treat in honor of Andrew when David pointed at the microwave clock and said, "It was a Monday night last year at just this time."

Instant tears.  It felt so long ago, but I could remember every terrible, terrifying moment in the most vivid technicolor details.  We talked a little bit about the day, but tried not to spend too much time reliving it.  The first time through was hard enough.

We stayed up later than usual that night.  I think we didn't want to go to bed and bring the 6th any sooner than we had to.  I cried in bed that night.  Harder than I've cried in months.  The kind of wracking sobs that make me gag and cough.  The kind of tears that echoed the early days, when I thought I really might cry myself to death and I welcomed that idea.  I sobbed and wailed and begged God and the universe and anyone who might be listening to please give me my baby, and I asked David over and over again, as he patted my back and tried helplessly to soothe me, why it had to be us, why it had to be Eliza, why our baby?

These are questions I try not to ask too often, because there are no answers and because why not us?  Loss does not take merit or responsibility or effort or love into account.  It's an equal opportunity villain, and I've yet to meet anyone who deserves this kind of loss.  But on those dark nights, I just want it to have happened to anyone else but me.

Eventually, we fell asleep with the TV on because I wanted the noise and the light and the distraction of something happening outside my head.

The 6th was a quiet day.  We both stayed home.  Cooper stayed extra close to me, lying with his head on my lap every time I sat down (and let's be honest, I did spend a good part of the day on the couch).  I didn't want to talk to anyone on the phone, but I especially appreciated the calls and voice mails that I got from Monica and Allison and my brother.  I arranged the cards we received on the bar in front of a bouquet of flowers, just as we do (or have done) for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmases past.  David made another sweet treat that he's now dubbed "Eliza's Peanutbutter Bars."

There were a lot of tears on the 6th as well, but they were gentler, tender tears that spilled over every time I opened an e-mail or comment or text from someone who was thinking of us.  They were love tears instead of grief tears, and believe me, there's such a difference.

I spent most the day sewing.  Hand-stitching a little butterfly design (because I like to keep my nineteenth-century skills up to date).   A couple of months ago, I bought some fabric and stuff at a crafts store, and I happened upon a little needlepoint kit with a butterfly design.  I liked the colors and so, sort of on a whim, I added it to my basket, thinking that someday I could make it and frame it in our hallway.

I started that little project Monday night.  It kept me busy, gave me something to do and something to focus on that required concentration, but at the same time didn't actually make me think too hard.  Unlike reading, I could talk or watch TV at the same time, but I still felt like I was doing something productive, focused on my little project.  When I woke up on Tuesday, it gave me something specific to get up and do, a reason to get out of bed, even if was a silly little project that only mattered to me.  It was absolutely the best thing I could have bought for myself to get through the day, although I had no idea at the time I purchased it.  (I'm almost finished with it--probably will finish tonight or tomorrow).

That evening, we went to the candlelight vigil that is held every year at the Angel of Hope statue.  It's always on December 6th, which is a strange coincidence that I happen to love.  We took candles and a single white rose and stood in the cold, black, starless night, listening to strangers sing songs and read poems and talk about the loss of a beloved baby boy twenty-nine years ago, a boy whose family still mourns and remembers him.  It was beautiful and sad.

It was also freezing cold and occasionally interrupted by tacky people who couldn't be bothered to turn off their freaking cell phones (yes, baby loss happens to rude and tacky people as well as the rest of us). David and I also relieved the tension by making inappropriate jokes about being better prepared for next year by bringing spiked cider or hot chocolate.  Except we weren't really joking.

Toward the end of the ceremony, as we were all being brought to tears by a lovely rendition of "Somewhere Out There," I suddenly felt like I was going to pass out.  Just keeping the night interesting!  As though a candlelight vigil on the one year anniversary of our firstborn daughter's birth and death was not dramatic enough, it seemed that I was now looking to go all out in my role as Grieving Mother by FAINTING in the middle of a crowd full of people holding burning sticks of wax.  Brilliant!

I've fainted a few times in my life (because I am a delicate Victorian flower), but those fainting spells almost all involved needles.  In fact, the only time I've fainted when a needle was not involved was in fifth grade when we were rehearsing for our Christmas music show and our music teacher told us not to lock our knees while standing on the risers or we would pass out.  I thought that was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard, so I decided to do a little experiment.  A few minutes later, I was lying, pale and dazed, on the floor, and the PE teacher had to help me hobble over to the bleachers and told me to hang my head between my knees.  It's a good thing I was short, so I was in the front row of the risers and fell to floor.  Lesson (reluctantly) learned.

The problem with fainting is that you feel so terrible in the moment that passing out feels like a delicious option--much better than the nauseating, dizzy, black-spotted vision that you're dealing with as you cling to consciousness.  I have NO IDEA what caused me to feel dizzy and yicky at the vigil, except that we'd been standing up a while on a slope and MAYBE I had locked my knees?  I mean, I was touched by the ceremony, but I didn't feel overwhelmed with emotion (I'd pretty well gotten that out of my system the night before).  I just knew that I felt disgusting and like I'd prefer to pass out instead of take deep breaths.

However, I managed NOT to pass out, and instead said to David, "You've got to get me out of here, I feel like I'm going to faint."  So he dragged me, staggering, over to a bench to sit down.  I hung my head between my knees and, after a few minutes, I felt just fine.  But by this point the official ceremony had ended and everyone had started forming a line to leave their flower in front of the statue, and we had totally lost our spot.  We decided to just stay seated on the bench until the line died down.  It took for freaking EVER because there were a lot of people and it's not like you can rush bereaved parents through a ritual of placing a flower at the base of a statue in memory of their child (even though I kind of wished someone official had been hurrying the line along because were were FREEZING).  We almost considered leaving and coming back later, but I wanted to stay and leave her flower, so we stuck around.  By the time we got up to the statue, I couldn't feel my toes or my fingers and I just felt so tired.

Still, I was glad we made it through and left Eliza's little white flower.  It felt meaningful to participate in a ceremony that honored her on her birthday, and I think it will become an annual tradition for us.  I know for sure that as the years go on, we'll continue to celebrate her birthday, and to find different ways to honor the love she brought to our lives.  In some ways, of course, losing her in December makes the holidays more difficult (hence the skipping of Christmas entirely this year), but I know that no matter when she would have been born, holidays will always be different than they should have been, and that sadness will always be there.  Having her birthday in December will, I hope, become a bittersweet opportunity not just to grieve our baby girl, but also to continue to pass on the kindness and compassion that have been extended to us since she came into our lives and left so quickly, and to incorporate her memory special traditions that will be part of our family's story for the rest of our lives.

Thank you for sharing that story, and for remembering our Eliza on her birthday and always.

Friday, December 2, 2011

In Memory of Our Baby Duck

Earlier this week, we sent out memorial cards for the anniversary of Eliza's birthday.  Mostly to our family and a few friends.  I'm a big fan of the old fashioned correspondence, and David and I have sent out Christmas cards every year since we got married.  (Except for last year, when our photo cards featuring our smiling faces and my pregnant belly arrived the day after our daughter died (Irony, you are a cruel mistress)).  This year, I knew holiday cards were off the table and I never got to choose birth announcements, but I wanted to do something to commemorate our December baby, and memorial cards felt right for us.  I owe special thanks to to Leslie and Brianna, whose memorial cards for Cullen and George inspired this idea, and from whom I borrowed some of the wording.  Funny how I've been writing about Eliza here for almost a year, and when it came to writing these cards, I felt like I didn't know how to begin (except with tears--plenty of those to go around!).

I wish I had enough cards and postage to send one to everybody who reads this blog, so please consider this the online version.  The cards featured the same photo I'm posted below, and I'm also posting the text we had printed inside.  I mean every word of it, because the comments on and e-mails about this blog have been a real lifeline to me this year.

Several months ago, I posted this poem by Rabindranath Tagore, and this line still comes to mind every single time someone extends a kindness to me, especially when it's someone I wouldn't have met or someone I wouldn't have become close with if it weren't for Eliza:  "They who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart."

I hope you guys know it.  How much it matters, what a difference it makes, how your kindness brings Eliza close to me.  Every comment, every e-mail, every note, every gift.  You've helped me hold my Baby Duck in my heart all year long, and you've listened to every whispered hope and every agonized cry that I've spilled out on this blog.  I cannot thank you enough for keeping Eliza close in my heart and in yours.

In loving memory of
Eliza Taylor Duckworth
December 6, 2010

Please join us in remembering
our sweet Baby Duck
on the anniversary of her birthday.

Though we cannot hold her in our arms, 
we carry her always in our hearts.

Thank you for the love and support we've been given in the past year.  The sorrow we feel for our daughter's loss can only be matched by the love she brought into our lives.

You are invited to join us in celebrating Eliza's brief but beautiful life by lighting a candle, by sharing a moment of silence, or by performing an act of kindness in her honor.

We'd love it if you would share with us how you choose to remember her.