Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In Memory of Grandma Peppa

I wanted to share the words that David spoke at his grandma's memorial service, just as I posted what he said at his grandfather's service four years ago. I'm so proud of the kind of grandson that he was and is, and I'm grateful that he had such wonderful grandparents.

Here's his tribute to Grandma Peppa (and a few photographs):

I think this was her kindergarten photo.

High school photo

For 38 years, my grandma has bragged on me.  So today is my opportunity to speak to you about the kind, strong, and hard-working woman I called Grandma.

With David's grandpa Gene, first year they were married
I have always found comfort with my grandma.  She was calm, patient,  and always there when I needed her.  When I was a child it could have been as simple as a scrape on my knee from sliding while playing baseball or a cut on my face after trying to use grandpa’s razor.  She was there to clean me up.  As I got older, she was there for me when I needed a few bucks for a new baseball cleats or just someone to talk.  

Posing in front of a their car--I like her Audrey Hepburn look here.
Grandma was always kind and reminded me to look at the bright side.  Her positive energy seemed to light a room and make those around her better for knowing her.

with David's mom when she was little
Those who spent anytime around Grandma, you know she always kept herself busy, from cleaning around the house to working out in the yard.  Grandma took pride in her work and left no task undone.  I have seen her clean places that I didn’t even know could draw dust, and I have seen her rake leaves that hadn’t even fallen yet.  I remember when I was 6 or 7 she would put me in the high chair to eat or work on craft project just to make sure I didn’t make a mess around the house. And now that I have a house and children of my own, I have realized I have inherited the “Whillock clean gene” and I like a house free of mess and clutter.

That little baby is David!
I admired my grandma for working all day in the deli at Dillons grocery store and coming home with what seemed to me like a full tank of energy.  She would make dinner, do laundry, and make time to spend with her family.  Grandma never told me she was too tired or busy.  She would play dominoes and Candyland with me for countless hours and read to me before I went to bed. She was selfless and always served the people around her.  

That beautiful plaque says "Grandma, I love you. Love, David." She had it hanging up in her kitchen, and I'm going to hang it up in our kitchen.

As I was growing up, I played a lot of baseball.  My teams would travel the Midwest and my mom, grandpa, and grandma were not to far behind.  Grandma knew how much I loved playing baseball and she loved watching me play.  After a game, win or lose, her words were always of encouragement.  Grandma was always supportive in that way, not only of me, but for all those around her as well.

We threw a surprise 50th anniversary party for David's grandparents back in 2008. This was at the reception at their church.

Grandma always made holidays special.  We would decorate for all occasions, but for Christmas we would go all out.  We would make candy, put up lights, watch specials on TV, and decorate the tree.  It is tough losing someone this time of year, but I am thankful for the many traditions that I now passed down to my girls.

This is the view of the back of David's grandparents house, when you're standing at the lake and looking up toward the house. His grandparents took such good care of their property.

This is how I always picture his grandparents--hanging out on the back patio after working in the yard.
Growing up with Grandma and Grandpa, I used to watch how they would work together.  Whether they were bowling or playing cards, they were a dynamic team.  Grandpa would start a sentence or a story and Grandma would finish it.  Grandpa would call me on the phone, and Grandma would be telling him what to say from the background.  They were happy.  And not once did I hear them say an unkind word to each other.

Dancing at a wedding
Dancing at a wedding
When Grandpa was sick, Grandma stayed strong.  She fought side by side Gene as he battled cancer.  She took care of him down to his dying breathe.  Afterwards we told stories, we cried, and as much as she missed him, her faith, family and friends kept her strong.

With Baby Coco.
Grandma always told me how blessed she was to have a loving family and such great friends.  I think that is what I valued about her the most.  She taught me that relationships take work, that they require nourishment.  But she made it look so easy.  She said they she always looked for the good in people and they found the good in her.  She loved others and they loved her in return.  She always made her relationships with family and friends a priority.

with little Zuzu
After being diagnosed with lymphoma two years ago, Grandma battled through several rounds of chemo treatments.  Again, her strength to fight came from faith, family and friends.  In early September of this year, she was cancer free.  She began to live again.  
Kissing Zuzu in May 2013
She came to Saint Louis to watch me pitch in one last game and I was able to take her to a post-season Cardinals game.  

at the Cardinals game in October 2015
After watching David pitch the championship game in October 2015
She also found a friend in Harold, who in my opinion was heaven-sent because too soon we learned her cancer had returned, and she would need his support for her final journey.

in Grandma's kitchen at Thanksgiving 2015. Gma's friend Harold is on the end.
After her cancer returned, she knew her time was going to be short.  Grandma told me she was selfish because she did not want to leave her family and friends.  I can very much relate, as I too am selfish. I did not want to lose my grandma.  But today she is home, at home with her Lord and Savior, her parents, her brothers and sisters, my Grandpa Gene and I know she is taking care of my angel Eliza, just like she took care of me for so many years.  

She asked me to tell all of you here that she loves you and don’t worry about her, she is safe in heaven and she will see you again someday.    

Friday, December 18, 2015

And So This Is Where We Are Now.

I'm writing this blog post from David's grandma's house on Table Rock Lake. We've been coming here for visits for the last fifteen years. For the last ten years, I've daydreamed about bringing our kids here for long weekends--Fourth of July and Labor Day have been our traditions. It was also a refuge for us when our power went out right after I had my wisdom teeth removed. Somehow, this visit was not ever something that I imagined.

David's Grandma Peggy (also known around these parts as Grandma Peppa) passed away early Wednesday morning. David was here, holding her hand.

When he spoke at his grandfather's funeral almost four years ago, he promised to take care of his grandma, and my heart just bursts when I think about how much he has done to keep that promise in the past four years.

He's been down here since Sunday. I spent the week trying to keep the girls in a normal routine, while also cleaning, wrapping gifts, doing some last-minute shopping, and waiting to hear the inevitable news. We drove down yesterday.

Zuzu seems to have understood that Grandma Peppa died and has taken the news in stride. We've talked a little bit about it, and I've tried to answer questions like, "How do people die?" ("Uhhh...").

I found myself getting teary-eyed when we arrived here last night. For fifteen years, Grandma Peppa has always been here, standing in the kitchen, ready to greet us with hugs and a non-stop stream of conversation and instructions as we unloaded the car. This house looks the way it always did, but it feels really empty without her.

(If I'm being totally honest, it feels a smidge more relaxed because her housekeeping expectations were a little bit stressful--David said that even at the very end, her sharp eyes would spot a piece of fuzz on the carpet and she would demand that he pick it up and throw it away or go get the vacuum. But, I mean, she grew up very poor and ultimately built her dream house on the lake--she never took that for granted, and took good care of it. The place is immaculate.)

I know many of you have been thinking of us and of Grandma Peggy this month. It does kind of feel like we have gotten walloped this December--the five year anniversary of the worst day of our lives, a wicked bout of strep throat, challenging behavior issues with Zuzu, Coco's JustaVirus dragging on and on (both girls are now basically snot fountains), and now this sad loss of another loved one to cap things off right before Christmas.

But we are here. We're together. We're regrouping. We thankful that Gma Peggy is no longer suffering. We're glad the snot fountains are clear and not green. I'm relieved to be fully recovered from strep throat and we are fortunate to have the time off from our jobs that we need right now. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Five Years In

Additional note, preceding a post that's already probably tl;dr:

It's hard to write about how grief feels now, because it's always too much or too little. A lot of post is about how grief was because if I can name how it used to be, I can say, "So it's not like that anymore." But explaining what grief isn't doesn't go very far toward naming what it IS.

Also the majority of this is written in the second person, which I never (rarely?) do, but that's just how it came out. I'm not actually claiming to speak for anyone else's grief experience, which is why the second person "you" is bothering me here, but it's not bothering me enough to change it, because holy moly there are so many words here. It will quickly be apparent that I'm speaking from my experience of having "rainbow" babies, which I've no doubt has helped me immensely in regard to recovering the kind of life I hoped/planned to have before my daughter died. So maybe it will resonate with you, maybe your experience is/was/will be different. So "you" mostly equals "me/I" but also maybe "us," in one way or another.

Okay. Pardon the interruption. I just felt the need for this intro.


Five years is a big deal.

There's a part of me that wants to post a ragey, tear-filled blog about the unfairness of living without my daughter for five years, about the gaping hole in our family and my heart, about the way grief over the loss of a child never goes away.

And the thing is, I could go there. I could feel and experience those deep, raw, authentic emotions, and struggle to put them into words here.

But here's another part of my truth:

There's a part of me that feels sort of guilty that five years doesn't hurt as much as I thought it would.


The thing about losing a baby is that you lose so many things along with your baby. There's a physical loss of a child who is literally absent. There's the loss of innocence that comes with the traumatic experience of holding a dead baby. There's the loss of your former self that is unavoidable when grief invades. You have to let go of certain relationships that were predicated on you being your old self. You are forced to miss out on the ordinary day-to-day experiences of parenting. Your basic expectations for what your future would look like are suddenly ripped away and twisted into something else, something totally uncertain. And, of course, you've lost your baby and the unique person he or she would have been.

The initial shock and the trauma of having that child taken from you is so vivid and inescapable for a long time. Your body has gone through the physical experience of labor, or the physical experience of surgery. You're recovering from the literal pain of that--the cramps, the bleeding, the engorgement, the deflated belly, the postpartum hormones that have you craving your baby in the most primitive and biological way possible. And you're experiencing all of this without the one thing that every stupid thing you read about motherhood will assure you makes it all "worth it."

That's a kind of pain that no kind words, sympathy cards, fruit bouquets, or flower arrangements can mitigate.

Your arms are empty and physically ache to hold your baby. Your heart is broken, your stomach is hollow, and whole damn the world is full of babies and pregnant women and people who not only have what you've lost, but take it for granted that this terrible thing will blindside you but not them.

So you sit at home. Aching for your baby, and coping with the trauma of postpartum recovery without a baby to soften the blows to your body. After you survive the first few days and weeks, the physical horror starts to shift to a mental trauma--an awakening to a world in which the veil has been ripped away and now You Know. You know that babies die. You suddenly know so many people whose babies have died. You realize that this is unfixable. Time isn't going to turn back. This isn't a nightmare you'll wake up from. Somehow you're going to have to get it together and figure out how to keep living when one of the central focuses of your life has been suddenly and shockingly ripped away.

On top of that unwelcome realization come a new crop of speculative fears and anxieties--what if it never gets easier? How could it possibly get easier? What will it mean if/when it DOES get easier? What if you never have other children? What if you have other children but they are totally screwed up because their mother is a grief-monster? What if you can never be around other people's kids again without wanting to vomit and claw off your face? What if your life always feels empty and sad? What if everyone you care about dies? What is to stop that from happening? How can you expect anything to be okay ever again? What if you've lost everything you thought your life would be forever?

Your anxiety levels are one thing, but there's also a lot of anger and bitterness that can't always be controlled. You may have been the person who hosted baby showers and browsed Baby Gap even before you got pregnant, but now you find that it's painful for you to be around little kids--even little kids you love, even babies that belong to people you love. Especially those that are the same gender as your baby. You HATE being like this, but you also don't know how to not feel this way. Everything is a reminder of what you've lost.

Seasons start to change and you're pissed off about it. You'd imagined what this fall, or spring, or summer, or winter holiday season would look like with a baby in your arms. That baby was supposed to meet your extended family at Christmas, or get baptized right after Easter, or attend that wedding in a miniature tuxedo, or snooze under a tent at the beach on your vacation. All of those dates will come and go, even without your baby there. And the unfairness and sadness of that is crippling. You may have been someone who loved Christmas time or who couldn't wait to celebrate your sister's marriage, and now you're just heartbroken that people have stopped talking about your baby, even though it's all you can think about.

You quit Facebook because HOW DARE someone talk about the burrito they ate for lunch when your baby died?

You have friends you don't see anymore, because they have babies, or because they don't know what to say to you, or because you can't relate to them, or because they failed to show up when you needed them most.

You may be back at work, but you don't care about work. You're either going through the motions, or forcing yourself to get so caught up in it that you get a brief respite from grief, after which you feel guilty.

Everything from your old life is a grief landmine. Getting a pedicure becomes an inquisition about whether you have children. Going to dinner means running into your friend from high school who is expecting her third child. A trip to Target is an onslaught of other people's kids, one of whom is actually sitting in the very same car seat you bought for your baby, and the sight of it there in shopping cart next to the laundry detergent makes you think for a moment that you might actually pass out.

You miss being lighthearted. You miss joking and making your partner laugh. You miss caring about celebrity gossip (instead they are all just having more and more babies, and the only thing you like about them is that they are all almost 40 when they have their first kid, so that makes you feel like you have more time). You miss thinking about something besides dead babies and grief. You want to get interested in something else again, but you don't have the energy because it's been months and you are still so. damn. sad.

You thought everything would change when you had a baby, and it has. But not at all in the way you'd imagined. All of the things you thought would be different are exactly the same. Your house isn't overrun with baby gear. You don't have bottles on the counter and rattles underfoot. You still have the freedom to go see a movie or get a drink or take a vacation, and all of those pleasures taste like dust in your mouth. You don't want the fucking tropical vacation that your privileged first world self is taking. You want your baby--colicky, sleepless, pooping, peeing--you just want what you signed up for when you fell in love with a freaking lima bean with a fluttering heartbeat on a television screen in a dark room.

The sadness is so heavy. It's a relentless weight, pressing on your chest.


And then, not suddenly, but slowly, it's five years later.

You're making jokes again. You're listening to podcasts. You're reading celebrity gossip magazines and suggesting to your husband that he had better watch out because Gavin Rossdale is single again.

You've held your breath through two more pregnancies and somehow--with luck and vigilance and as many ultrasounds as you needed to maintain your sanity--your rainbow babies are here and your life looks almost the way you thought it would when you got pregnant for the first time. Your arms are full of babies and your house is full of toys and your heart is so full of love that you are a bawl bag of emotion every time you think about how freaking lucky you are (when your kids aren't, you know, biting other people's faces, and during other typically frustrating parenting moments).

You've culled your friendships ruthlessly, and the people you're surrounded with now may be different than those who were there before you had kids. You've salvaged some friends from your past, and you've connected with bereaved parents who understand your life in a way no one else can. These relationships are sweet and affirming and you're grateful for them.

Your life does not feel like a wasteland anymore.

You may not have transformed into an amazing and compassionate do-gooder who is channeling Mother Theresa on a daily basis, but you do look at the world differently because of your love and your grief. You are braver and wiser than you were before, even if you don't always know it. You've found ways to honor and protect the memory of your child, even if some of those are private and held close to the heart.

You are five years into this and it doesn't hurt to take a deep breath anymore.

The truth is that so much of what you've lost has been softened by time. Your brain no longer forces you against your will to re-live those moments in the hospital room. Your body has, for the most part, recovered from the experience of giving birth. You've found your way back to parts of your old self, and you've been shaped into something new, but you're no longer excruciatingly uncomfortable in your own skin. You can think about your own life without dissolving into a puddle of self-pity.

In so many significant ways, you have recovered. You have restored yourself, and come to terms with who you are and what your life looks like now. You have forged a happy life even after the greatest loss you could imagine. Your resiliency astonishes you. Five years ago it would have seemed as impossible as breathing underwater without drowning.

There are still triggers--off-handed comments about "your first" from people who don't know that she's your second. Someone else's confident plans for having X number of children, seeing your baby's name appropriated by someone you used to know, watching a family at the zoo who looks the way your family would have looked, if...

In spite of these things, life is not terrible. Because in five years, you have managed to regain so much of what you lost the day you lost your baby.

You miss her, but you haven't missed out on everything, the way you thought you might.


I grieved Eliza's loss from the start, but in addition to loving her and missing her, I was grieving for myself as well. I was also terrified that losing her meant that I'd lost my chance at the motherhood I'd imagined. I'd lost my baby, but maybe that meant that I'd also lost my only chance to raise a daughter, my chance to have any living children, my chance to have a future and a family that looked like the one I'd been imagining since I was a kid. Everything I'd felt certain of suddenly felt flimsy and fleeting. Grief and fear went hand in hand, fighting for precedence.

Fear takes a different shape now, because I've gotten so lucky. I'm scared I could lose it all, of course, but I'm grateful I have this chance to have this life. I know how easily it could have gone another way.

The thing is, as happy as I am now, I'll never stop wishing that things could be different. Or, rather, that things could be exactly the same, but with Eliza here.

Every holiday, every back-to-school milestone, every major life event will be accompanied by a wistful desire that she were here.

Everything in my life could get better, but nothing can bring her back. I can get back almost all the happiness I thought I lost that day, but I can never get her. As my girls get older, my future might look just like the one I vaguely imagined when I was pregnant, but I'll never get to know who she would have been.

After five years, I'm not desperately aching for my baby the way I was in December of 2010, but I am longing for my five-year-old.

It's wistful, this longing. It comes from my heart rather than my guts. It's more like a daydream of what might have been instead of a nightmare of what just happened. It's woven into everything, so seamlessly that I've forgotten about the extra weight, or, rather, I've grown used to carrying it.

I don't want to understate how much I miss her (I'm not sure I could--understate it, I mean). But I don't want to overstate the pain or grief, either. As much as I miss her, it is a longing that is so different from five weeks or five months or even two years out.

You see, five years in, I've had a chance to have everything I dreamed of when I was pregnant with Eliza--I just didn't get to have it with her.

And that's the best I can do at explaining how grief gets so much easier, and not really easier at all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mostly Just a Thank You

Well, it's Wednesday. And it's the first day that I've felt mostly human. I got up at 6:30am and I kind of hit a wall at 11:00am, but I had some lunch and let myself have a pop/coke/soda with lunch, and I think I'll make it through the afternoon.

Strep has definitely knocked it out of me this week. I keep thinking I should be back at 100% by now, but I'm just not quite there. We still have no Christmas decorations up, except for the lighted-but-not-decorated tree, and a couple of random things placed on an otherwise undecorated mantle. Right now the thought of emptying Christmas bins seems exhausting, and it's already December 9th, so we'll just see what happens this weekend.

I want to thank so many of you for helping me feel the love on Sunday. In a weird way, strep throat gave me an excuse to do exactly what I felt like doing anyway: lie on the couch and not have anyone expect anything of me.

I'm so appreciative of the kind messages and all of you who lit candles for me--big, huge, germy hugs and kisses for you all. I was really touched by those of you who mentioned that Eliza's story had helped you through your own grief. I freaking hate that many of us are living a life without our babies here, but I'm grateful we've managed to find each other. Solidarity in heartbreak is no consolation, but it's not nothing. So thank you, thank you, thank you. You all had me feeling weepy in the best way possible.

I have been thinking more thoughts about being 5 years out (or 5 years in, as another BLM has me saying...). I'm going to try to collect those thoughts into something semi-coherent and post soon.

For now, I've got final exams to grade, Christmas shopping to finish up, Christmas decorating to finish (or scrap), cards to get addressed and mailed, mental prep for a dental appointment on Monday (a "sticky spot" that my dentist says needs to be filled before it becomes a cavity--what the what?!), and I need to strategize for some cookie-baking this weekend (when I am reasonably confident I'll be over the strep plague). Also a Christmas party on Thursday, a Christmas dress photo session on Saturday, and a visit to Santa on Sunday. I may need to schedule in some nap time for myself was well.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Every year on Eliza's birthday, we go to a candlelight vigil. It's sponsored by Share and held in a local park where there's an angel statue and engraved bricks, one of which bears Eliza's name.

Yesterday morning, around 8:00am, I ended up at Urgent Care, a throat swab confirming what I already knew: strep throat. I was achy and feverish and miserable, and David was out of town to be with his grandma. 

A neighbor stayed with the girls while I got meds and a steroid shot at urgent care. One of my best friends from college saved me by picking up the girls around 9:30am and taking them to her house all day. Much to my relief, my parents cancelled their dinner plans and drove up so they were here when Jamie brought the girls back.

Nothing about this weekend has gone as planned. I was supposed to do some deep cleaning, put up some Christmas decorations, and David would be back in time for us to go to dinner before the vigil.

Instead, I canceled our babysitter for tonight, and I've barely moved off the couch.

When I mentioned to my friend Keleen how wretched I felt about missing the ceremony tonight, she suggested I rally the troops (you are my troops). Some of you have been walking on this journey for longer than I have, many people reading this miss Eliza with us, and who among us hasn't been touched with loss? These dark and quiet sorrows can feel like an even heavier burden in a season of glittering lights.

So if you're reading this today, on what should be Eliza's fifth birthday but instead marks the date of our fifth year without her, I would be filled with gratitude and appreciation if you'd light a candle in her memory around 7pm tonight. It will be our own kind of vigil, and my hope is that even if I don't see those flickering lights myself, I'll still know they are there. I'll be able to envision them as whispers of a longing that lasts forever and beacons of a love that is stronger than death.

Thank you for abiding with us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Pretty Song

It's happening as it does every year. Although, I say cautiously, maybe less this year, actually? Still, the week before her birthday is the hardest. Thanksgiving is over. The whole world throws itself into the sparkle and wonder and forced family joy of Christmastime and I'm putting on a smile and moving an elf around my house, but feeling kind of numb about it. 

I just want to slip into a blanket of grief, now five years old and comfortable as my own skin. I want to wrap around me, selfishly, the very thing I used to hate, and let myself sit in the grief, draped over me as I wait to feel submerged. Strangely, I feel both obligated and relieved to make time to do this, to feel this. This angry sadness feels like all I have left of my first daughter.

I'm making my students memorize poems, and this one by Mary Oliver is what I'm repeating in my own head.

     A Pretty Song

     From the complications of loving you

     I think there is no end or return.
     No answer, no coming out of it.

     Which is the only way to love, isn't it?

     This isn't a playground, this is
     earth, our heaven, for a while.

     Therefore I give precedence 

     to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
     that hold you in the center of my world.

     And I say to my body: grow thinner still.

     And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
     And I say to my heart: rave on.

There are many things I try to do to honor Eliza's memory. Good, positive things that I hope demonstrate my love for her and my experience of her brief life as a beautiful gift of joy and delight. But right now, I can only focus on the gift that was taken away. You'll excuse me while I give precedent to a sullen, dark mood for a few minutes here, because the shitty truth is that these moments of deep grief feel like the only space I have where Eliza is at the center of my world.

Balancing my grief has made life more bearable, made it enjoyable--joyful even!--but it also means that my life does not revolve around her. That shift, I know, is necessary, good, and healthy; it is also weighted with sorrow, guilt, and regret. As Elizabeth McCracken writes, my experience has moved from, "It's a happy life, but someone is missing" to "It's a happy life, and someone is missing." The difference may seem subtle, but it's significant.

I will get through this week. I've had enough practice by now. I will interact with my students and colleagues as necessary. I will meet expectations. I will maintain my composure. I will feed the dog and make my bed and love on my kids. I have gotten good at this, and I'm relieved my grief is no longer a monster I cannot control. But the very fact that I can contain it means I'm farther away from her than ever, and that thought alone is enough to make me cry.

So I will give precedence to grief. Even now, though I'm dry-eyed, I type this "pretty song" for her, because there is no answer, no coming out of missing her.

And on the inside, my broken, tender, patched-together heart will rave and wail, and shake its fist at the unfairness of this world, going on without my baby in it.