Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Favorite Name

Before David and I ever seriously started thinking about kids, I was already seriously thinking about their names.  I'm good with names.  I remember people's names.  I memorize all my students' names by the end of the second class.  When I meet people, I like to know how they spell their names (if I can picture the name written down, I'm far more likely to remember it).  I like to know if there's a story behind a baby's name, whether it's a family name, or if they were named after someone famous, or a favorite character, or a favorite place, or whether a name that was coined just because the parents liked the sound of it.

I felt like choosing a baby name was serious business.  Maybe it was because I think I got pretty lucky with my name.  People often compliment on it (and I say thank you as though I selected it myself).  The truth is that my mom had always wanted to name her daughter Elizabeth but after she married a guy whose last name was Taylor, well, it was obvious that name had already been taken.

(Speaking of which, I was saddened to hear that Elizabeth Taylor passed away while we were in Florida--that lady had some serious moxie.  When I was a kid, I heard something about her having "violet eyes" and I decided that I wanted my eyes to be violet so in second grade on a tell-about-yourself worksheet, I wrote, Hair:  Brown.  Eyes:  Violet.  Which was a total lie because they are a very ordinary blue.)

So since Elizabeth was out, my parents found another name they could both agree on--Brooke.  It was actually inspired by a character on the soap opera General Hospital (although I'm not sure that Brooke was an ideal role model).  I didn't always like my name.  As a kid, I used to long for a multi-syllabic "princessy" name:  Isabella, Sabrina, Bianca, Katerina, Alyssa.  Or, a cute name that ended in "ie" or "y" like all the cool girls in my class:  Lori, Kerri, Kelly, Katie, Nikki, Leslie.

Now I appreciate my name because it's easily recognizable but not overly common.  And although it sometimes gets spelled wrong when people drop the "e" (even my students), it's never mispronounced.

My middle name, Diane, is for my mom's childhood best friend, who died just a few weeks before I was born (it would have been my middle name anyway) and even though I used to wish it was Diana (more glamorous!), I love the sentimental part of it.

I made up my mind early on that my kids would have names that were interesting.  And awesome!  And original!  And smart-sounding!  At one point, I was convinced that my future children would be named Scarlett Wildrose and Sebastian Merryweather. When I was in fourth grade, I read the Baby Name Book that my mom had and selected my favorite cat's name accordingly:  Frances.  Because it meant "free," and Frances had been a stray who wandered in off the street.  I was disappointed that my own name didn't have a more interesting meaning than from the brook (lame!).  And I was jealous of my friends who had names with more romantic or cutesy meanings.  Amanda:  beloved.  Melissa:  honey bee.

Of course I've always been a big reader, so I also thought that I'd choose to name a baby after a favorite book character.  Maybe one of L. M. Montgomery's--Anne, Emily, Sarah.  Or a name inspired by one of the Little Women--Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy.  Perhaps Lyndall from Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm.  Or Maggie after Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss, my favorite George Eliot novel.  For a long time I really favored Emma after Jane Austen's character, but then it was STOLEN by Rachel on Friends and I gave it up.

Of course when I actually got married, I picked a guy with a doozy of a last name:  Duckworth.  I kept my maiden name for lots of reasons (detailed here, if you are actually interested or if you are bored and just want to see a wedding photo) but I felt the weight of responsibility for my future children.  With a last name like Duckworth, you've got to be careful.  There's a whole list of names that (in my personal opinion) are automatically off limits:  Daisy.  Donald.  Hugh.  Louis.  Dewey.  Ebenezer.  Drake.  Also, Lucky.

And when I actually got pregnant and we found out it was a girl, we quickly realized that there were more non-eligible names.

Everybody has a list of names they'd never touch.  Usually associated with obnoxious people you know or your spouse' ex(es).  Since David taught PE at the time and saw every kid in kindergarten through third grade, and I'd been teaching college students for quite a few semesters, we had an especially long list.  Many conversations we'd have would go something like this:

[all names changed, of course]

I'd say something like, "What do you think of the name Kendall?"

"Well, do you want her to be a bad listener and pick her nose constantly?"

"Hmm.  Okay, no.  How about Madeline?  I always liked the Madeline books."

"Madeline is cute but there are about 25 Maddies in my school right now.  The only more common name is Alexandra."

"Felicity?  That's not very common."

"Well, I shouldn't say this about a second grader, but the Felicity I know is kind of a bitch.  She tattles, too."

Then David would make a suggestion.

"Do you like Lucy?"

"Omigosh in third grade I watched this girl named Lucy puke up her lunch onto her lunch tray and it looked like pink mashed potatoes.  I'd think of that every time I said her name."

"What about Andrea?"

"Isn't that the name of that girl you took to prom?  I don't think so."


"Oh, I had a student named Meredith and she was tardy every day and handed in every assignment late and then said I was unfair when I gave her a C.  Also she smelled like beans."

And so it went.

I honestly can't remember how we landed on the name Eliza.  I know that it's a name I'd always liked. It always seemed to me rather unfairly assigned to spinster aunts and strict school teachers in nineteenth-century novels.  But I thought it was a really lovely name, a derivative of Elizabeth that sounded more musical.

Most important, it met all of my crazy made-up criteria.  First of all, it was a real, easily recognizable name.  No one on Jersey Shore or The Hills was named Eliza.  It felt classic to me, in an old-fashioned sense.  It wasn't too weird or too cutesy so it matched well with the last name Duckworth.  It wasn't too stuffy or too silly, and it was somewhat serious without being boring.  Neither of us had ever had a student named Eliza, so it wasn't tainted by tattling, nose-picking, eye-rolling, or tardiness.  My husband had never dated an Eliza (that I know of!).  And I felt like it was the sort of name that was suited to a variety of respectable future career paths.  I could imagine it looking impressive on a business card (of course I typed it a lot, in various fonts, to make sure).  I thought it was the sort of name that had enough sparkle to look lovely in Broadway lights, but was solid enough to be followed by a phrase like "Supreme Court Justice."

In other words, it was the perfect name.  Versatile, elegant, sparkly, solid, not overly popular, slightly bookish but adorable, and (I think) slightly British sounding.  Eliza Duckworth seemed to me reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle, and any association with Audrey Hepburn was a positive in my opinion.

Of course, we had a few other options we were considering, and for a long time I thought we really weren't sure about it.

I had a moment of truth when I made a friend named Eliza--she introduced me to her PEO chapter (which I decided to join).  This was a make it or break it moment, because we all know that whether we know someone casually or intimately, sometimes a specific association is enough to eliminate interest in a name.  This is why names move generationally.  Nobody my age is naming their babies Amanda or Jennifer because we were surrounded by Amandas and Jennifers when we were in school.  Likewise, my mom's generation did not give births to Debbies and Connies because they knew so many of them.  Most of our favorite names don't belong to anyone we know in real life, or belong to a friend or family member we want to honor.  So even though I really liked my friend Eliza, did I want to name my baby Eliza now that I knew another one in real life?  In the end, I told my friend Eliza that although I'd liked the name before I met her, knowing her didn't change my mind about it, and I meant that as a HUGE compliment to her.  (She's always been partial to her name, so when I told her it was in the running, she rooted for Eliza as our choice.)

And then my great-aunt Beth sent an e-mail listing various family names I might want to consider, and the list included the name Eliza (as well as Azulah, Elvina, and Thankful, which did not make our short list although if we ever have another baby and it lives, we might totally follow the Puritan tradition and name the baby something like Thankful Hopeful Joyful Delightful Holy Shit Balls We Are So Glad You Are Alive Duckworth).  Eliza was the name of a great aunt born in 1809 on the Talcott side (my mom's side).  We had decided to use Taylor as a middle name no matter what (which eliminated the possibility of Sophia or Stella--both previous favorites--because I wasn't going to saddle her with the initials S.T.D.).  I liked the idea of paying homage to my mom's side of the family with her first name and my dad's side with her middle name (of course David's family was represented with his last name).

We practiced saying it.  I imagined singing "Little Liza Jane" to her.  I wrote her name in cursive and then printed it.  I imagined a teacher calling role for "Eliza Duckworth."  I considered how it looked with our names:  Brooke, David, and Eliza.  We knew David's grandmother wasn't a big fan of the name (she preferred Elizabeth), and that gave me pause, but David (perversely) seemed to like it more after she expressed her (unsolicited) opinion.  When my friend Stephanie mentioned that she liked old-fashioned names and was favoring a girl's name that began with an "E," I sent her a somewhat frantic e-mail--"Are you considering Eliza?  Because it's my favorite name" (Fortunately, she named her baby Evelyn).

So even though I kept telling people we hadn't decided, or we had it narrowed down to two names, we knew by late November that she was going to be our Eliza.

But then it was December 6th.  And she didn't have a heartbeat. 

And there we were, shell-shocked and heartbroken, and the nurse wanted to know what we were going to name our poor, sweet, dead baby.

To tell the truth, I wasn't sure I wanted to call her Eliza.  After all, that was the name for a live baby.  A baby who would grow up and need business cards.  A baby who might be an actress or a writer or a Supreme Court Justice.  A name we would shout at t-ball games and write on birthday cakes and print on the inside of jackets and lunchboxes.  A name we would say out loud everyday for the rest of our lives.  That was why I had so carefully selected the perfect name for her.  I thought maybe we should save it.  I didn't want to let go of the possibility of introducing people to "My daughter, Eliza."

When I read Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica... the naming of her baby was one of many things that resonated with me.  I understood why she named her baby "Pudding" because my first impulse was to name our baby "Baby Duck."  We hadn't started calling her "Eliza."  We'd still been calling her "Baby Duck."  That had been her name as long as I knew her! Maybe we should call her something else now, something we hadn't thought about before, when we were so happy and hopeful.

But when I suggested calling her something else, David said no.  (And I am forever grateful for that.)  He said that Eliza was her name.  It had been his absolute favorite all along, even when I declared I was still undecided.

And so Eliza is her name.  It's the name of my first daughter and the baby I miss with all my heart.  It's the name that's spelled out on the silver bracelet I wear everyday.  My Brazilian friend Carol pronounces it "Eleeza" and I think it's adorable that way too.  It's a name I love to see written or hear said aloud.  I happen to think it's the most beautiful name in the world.

It's my most favorite name and since there was so little I was able to give her, I'm glad I could give her that.

And I would really like to hear about your favorites names--why you named your children what you did or the story behind your own name (and it's ok with me if you talk about living babies--I wish we all were talking about them).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Series: The Happiness Project

I was planning to write about Elizabeth Edwards's book Resilience for the next book in my series (previously recommended:  A Grief Observed and Healing After Loss), but Tiffany asked about Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and I mentioned it last time, so here's my take on what I got out of this book. 

I'd been reading a lot of stuff about grief--more books I'll cover later--but I decided on vacation that instead of focusing so much of the process of grieving, I'd work on a change of pace.  I know I will never be the same kind of happy I was before Eliza died, but I also think maybe there is something to the idea that deep sorrow carves out spaces for great joy.  So I just wanted to read more about what it means to be happy, as I consider what it would take for me to feel that way again.

And I liked Gretchen Rubin's book--maybe because she reminds me of me in a lot of ways (she's a bookworm, she likes to be a know-it-all, she likes to do research and take notes, she has a daughter named Eliza, she's from Missouri).  Of course, her project is NOT about coping with grief.  Basically she just realized one day that she wasn't fully appreciating life and she wanted to do more to actively find happiness.  If you're in the throes of grief, that thought feels kind of annoying.  (I would not have wanted to read this even a month ago.)  She acknowledges, however, that it's important to find happiness so that if (when?) something bad does happen, you have that previous happiness to cushion you.

I don't think we can really protect ourselves from grief (if you know how, do share!) but I do know that if other parts of my life had been unhappy before Eliza (if David and I were having marital problems, for example, or if we were financially stressed, or if one of our parents were sick) then it's undoubtedly true that Eliza's death would be even more difficult to deal with.  In some ways it feels especially unfair that everything else in my life was working out perfectly according to plan and we had done everything right and we were suddenly denied the one thing that would have made it all complete and perfect (damn it all to hell anyway).  But the truth is that if other things had been shitty and we lost our baby, well, yeah.  That would have been even worse.

So in this book, Rubin relates her year-long experiment in increasing her happiness, and I think she has an engaging prose style and an endearing amount of anxiety about the legitimacy of her project.  She's has done a lot of research and she argues that being happy is not selfish because your happiness contributes to the happiness of those around you (which also explains why so many people want to avoid the grief-stricken--FYI, we're kind of a drag). 

The book documents the strategies and methods she used to increase her personal happiness (and thereby the happiness of her family and friends) over the course of a year.  She offers simple, pragmatic steps for doing so, steps that anyone could follow or (as she suggests) create similar strategies for achieving your own goals.  I would say Rubin is trying to move from moderately happy to very happy, whereas I am obviously in a different place.  But I do feel like I was able to get some important things out of her book, and I even felt sort of like my old self as I was reading it.

I've followed a few of her suggestions, and here's the weird thing:  Even if you are in the throes of grief, I promise you that a neatly organized closet actually does make you feel better.

It doesn't make you feel less sad about your loss.  But it just makes you feel better about something else.

My therapist was (surprisingly, I thought) excited to hear that we bought a new mattress (oh, yeah, I took down previous post about "what mattress do we buy?" because we bought ourselves a Sealy on Sunday.  More about that later.  Because I defy you to think of anything more riveting than a blog about a new mattress.)  Anyway, she was happy because she said that it meant we were doing small things to make our lives easier and more pleasant.  And when your life is really shitty, she recommends doing everything you can to make it a little bit better (which makes me think I should make another massage appointment...).

This speaks once again to the theory that happiness independent of unhappiness (or the difference between "positive affect" and "negative affect," as Rubin says when she cites psychology studies).  I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I can do small things to make myself "happier," knowing that it won't really fix my "unhappiness."  But I've started considering some of her suggestions.

For example, Rubin talks about how as a kid she enjoyed making books of quotations or stories and pictures she would cut out from magazines.  I used to like doing mod-podge projects when I was younger and lately I've been collecting snippets of poems and song lyrics and writings about grief and blogging about some of them or haphazardly collecting them in various notebooks and journals, but I decided to get one blank book, and collect some of the pictures and quotations I'm run across, and actually sit down and make a little project of it.  (Something to keep me busy now that baseball season is starting and the TV will constantly be on the MLB channel.)  This is a way for me to acknowledge my grief and think about Eliza, but at the same time do something that feels kind of productive but doesn't require critical thinking skills.   "Happy" is still a hard word to swallow, but this little project is definitely something I look forward to working on, and something that leaves me feeling like I've completed a tangible task that doesn't have anything to do with vacuuming dog hair off furniture.

The truth is that in many ways, The Happiness Project just tells you to do all of the things you know you should be doing anyway--cleaning out your closet, being nice to your spouse, giving other people the benefit of the doubt, not drinking heavily, exercising--but instead of making it a "should" list, she offers lively examples and compelling evidence for how and why each of these things actually increased her sense of happiness.

I found especially useful the chapter about her marriage.  Fortunately for us, I think this terrible experience has brought David and me closer together.  But that doesn't mean that it's been easy (hello, therapy!).  Rubin's book explains some of the issues that I'm sure many couples have experienced--whether or not they have lost a child.  I thought this was interesting:

Both men and women find relationships with women to be more intimate and enjoyable than those with men.  Women have more feelings of empathy for other people than men do (though women and men have about the same degree of empathy for animals, whatever that means).  In fact, for both men and women--and this finding struck me as highly significant--the most reliable predictor of not being lonely is the amount of contact with women.  Time spent with men doesn't make a difference.

Now these are big generalizations that Rubin's making, but I think they resonate with psychological studies we're probably all familiar with about the differences between men and women, and they certainly correspond with David's own admission that it is hard for him to see me hurting and know that there is no "fix" available to him.  Rubin and her husband are dealing with more superficial daily issues, but she realizes,

not only was he constitutionally less oriented to having long heart-to-heart conversations, he also tried to avoid any topic that got me upset, because he found it so painful to see me feeling blue.  Now that didn't let him off the hook altogether--sometimes I needed a sympathetic listener, even if he didn't feel like playing that role--but at least I understood his perspective.

 David is always willing to talk with me about Eliza, but he is also relentlessly forward-thinking and ridiculously optimistic.  Even as I rely on him for those qualities, I also have found myself sort of frustrated with his certainty that we'll eventually be okay again.  Sometimes I need to dwell in the grief, to acknowledge the magnitude of the unfairness.  I know I can count on David to listen (and Lord knows I need him to be a good listener), but I should also keep in mind that sometimes we'll both feel better if I have that conversation with another bereaved mom, or one of my girlfriends who is biologically inclined to listen to me. 

Rubin also offers other quotations and comments that I easily applied to my experience with grief.  She quotes Pierre Reverdy:  There is no love; there are only proofs of love.

This is something that I've always believed--love is a verb--it's something you do, not something you just feel or say.  That's why we should think about whether we are as kind and polite to our spouses and families as we are to our coworkers and acquaintances.  (But my acquaintances don't leave crumbs on the kitchen counter!  And they don't complain that I have "too many library books stacked in the living room!")  As Rubin writes, Whatever love I might feel in my heart, others will see only my actions.

This is true anytime, but it struck me as especially relevant in regard to the importance of sending a sympathy card, of picking up the phone, of sending an e-mail, of leaving a blog comment, of sending a quick text message that says, "Thinking of you."  Because no matter how often I think of the other bereaved parents I know, or anybody I know who's grieving or struggling, or my friends who have been supportive, unless I tell them that they are in my thoughts and prayers (and then go ahead and tell them again later), they have no way to know.  We got sympathy cards from some unexpected people--a neighbor I only greet with a casual wave, a fellow graduate student in my program whom I haven't seen in two years.  Whatever they might have felt when they heard about Eliza, I would have never known they were thinking of me or praying for us if they hadn't taken the time to send a card and tell us.

Rubin also says something else that I found really important, especially because trying to define "happiness" after Eliza is such a nebulous, slippery business.  Happiness doesn't always make you feel happy.

It seems like that statement is self-negating, but I think I understand it.  Sometimes happiness comes from doing things you don't want to do, or facing truths you don't want to face.  Making an effort can be exhausting.  But it's not just about making yourself exercise or not eating that pint of ice cream at midnight.  It's also a way to understand that happiness doesn't mean that everything is okay.  Pursuing happiness is not about rose-colored glasses and willful naivete; it's more about making the effort to recognize the good in small things and trying to find a sense of peace even in the worst moments.

Rubin quotes one of her blog readers, who wrote

Remembering that joy exists is tough when you've been traumatized.  Joy is a big concept and utterly unbelievable when we are in the depths of catastrophe.  But happiness...happiness is more accessible.  We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if just for a few seconds.  It reaffirms the will to live, and from there we can branch out.  Happiness, and the belief we have in it, is the foundation for survival.

In addition to input from her blog readers, Rubin offers a few little nuggets of wisdom from her research.  These are some that stuck with me:

Those of us who have experienced grief often say that our friends are a kind of lifeline, even if we have to push them away for a while at first.  Rubin quotes Epicurus:  Of all the things that wisdom provides for living one's entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.

I got an e-mail last night from the wife of one of David's college buddies.  I've always liked her, but we are not really close friends--we've only hung out a handful of times at weddings or when the guys have gotten together.  Still, she took the time to sit down and say, "I've been reading your blog and thinking about you and I don't know what to say but I'm sorry."  Of course I give all of our friends the benefit of the doubt, and I would assume that even those who aren't in touch with us frequently are sympathetic for us.  I mean, they're not soulless jerks, they probably just feel awkward and don't know what to say.  But she didn't know what to say and she took the time to say something anyway.  Even though she might have felt uncertain or awkward about it.  And that makes such a difference.

Rubin advises that when we're feeling frustrated with others, we should cut them some slack or, Find explanations in charity.  Given that I walked around for about two months like a zombie, I know that we have no idea what kind of grief or stress the strangers we encounter might be dealing with.  Since Eliza died, friends of ours have experienced the sudden death of their dad and a cancer diagnosis.  And yet we are all struggling to function in our ordinary lives and go about our business even though some of our deepest fears have been realized.  I have a whole new appreciation for the idea that everyone we meet is fighting a battle.

And she also says that if you're trying to be happy, Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

Rubin's talking about taking risks, trying new things, not being afraid to fail.

I think about it another way.  My life will NEVER be perfect.  I will never have Eliza here with me and therefore the "perfect" life I envisioned is absolutely unattainable.  I'm struggling to comprehend that and I'm a long way from being at peace with it.  I was pretty in love with that perfect vision of my life.

But I know I'm starting to move forward because I am beginning to realize that just because my life will never be perfect, that doesn't mean that it's not worth having.

I have to give up on perfect.  That much is clear.

But we are still working for the good here, even if we can't have the perfect life I hoped for.  And that, I think, is what my happiness project is all about.

To Live On

Shortly after Eliza died, my mom ordered two prints from an Etsy shop.  She framed one at her house and asked if I wanted one, too.  I said no.

The quotation says, To live on in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.

I didn't want it, I thought at the time, because I didn't want her living on in my heart.  I only wanted her living and nothing else was good enough.

It still isn't.

But this week I asked my mom to send me the print.  I want to display something to honor Eliza's memory, and in order to do that, I have to acknowledge that she is living in our hearts alone.

For a while, I thought I would frame one of the photos we got.  But the truth is, I've felt conflicted about Eliza's pictures from the moment we got them.  On the one hand, I'm glad to have them.  I can look at them and see the beautiful baby she was supposed to be.

On the other hand, I can't look at them without crying.  She doesn't look like my Eliza.  She looks like, well, like a dead baby.  Her pictures make me feel sad, they make me cry, they break my heart into a million pieces because they represent not what she was supposed to be, but what she somehow--impossibly--ended up being.  I just don't want to put up those pictures.

But then I feel terrible for not wanting to display them.  What kind of mother doesn't want to look at pictures of her baby?

I asked my therapist this, tearfully, at a recent appointment.  She made a comparison that had not occurred to me.  If we've lost a loved one after a long illness, chances are that we have pictures of them from before they got sick as well as during their illness.  And typically the pictures we choose to display, the way we choose to remember them, are the pictures from before.  When they still look strong and healthy and happy.

When I chose pictures of Gpa V to post on his birthday, I could have chosen some of the ones that were taken after his cancer treatments.  But those pictures don't look like Gpa V the way I remember him.  He looks thin and pale and sick, and I remember him healthy and round and smiling.  So I didn't feel guilty about choosing other pictures.

The problem is, of course, that I don't have any other pictures of Eliza.  So this framed print is a way to commemorate her that is meaningful to us, and, I think, really beautiful.

Just the way I remember her.

My mom special requested this particular quotation--the artist will do any quotation that you like and she shapes it into a heart.  If you're interested, you can order a custom heart print here.  I think the poem I posted yesterday would be really lovely, too, but of course there are so many possibilities.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Alone Together

Being in Florida felt in many ways like an escape from our lives.  A life that had only recently become nearly unbearable.

I found myself marveling sometimes at the idea that all of these strangers we encountered (including the lovely Canadians)--none of them had any idea that we were bereaved parents, grieving the loss of our baby girl.  From the outside, we look so ordinary.  Typical tourists going to ballgames, walking along beaches, riding roller coasters.  At this point, looking at us from the outside, nobody knows what we have lost and how empty we feel.

I vacillate between feeling separate and alone, apart from everyone else in the world, and then recognizing that everyone hurts (sing it, R.E.M.) and this kind of pain is sort of an initiation into being human.

As much as I hate it, as much as I still want to rage and scream against it, we are learning to live with it.  To find laughter and pleasure around and in between the sadness.  The hardest part is believing that I can do that without feeling like I'm moving further away from her.

And I came across this poem, which said everything I was feeling:

Those who are near me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken words
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I am walking alone with you
They who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart.

-- Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

I like all of it, but especially that last line.  I came home from vacation to four letters and cards from dear, dear friends of mine.  Allison wrote in hers, "Remembering and loving Eliza," and those four little words filled up my heart.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

All right, already.

Let the vacation pics commence:

View from our bedroom balcony.

Walkway to the pool outside our condo.  To think we left this and came home to four inches of snow...


David outside the Braves spring training stadium.

 I wore cute flowered sandals.

 We walked along a boardwalk at New Smyrna Beach park.  It was gorgeous.

We wrote Eliza's name in the sand.

And took a happy snap.  I think my hair looks awesome.  Almost like a faux-hawk.
The Captain's Platter.  All the fried goodness you can handle.  And then some.
Another day, another beach.  We walked the beach after going to the Cardinals game in Jupiter, but didn't swim.

David with Universal Studios in the background.  This was my first visit to Universal Studios and I absolutely loved how every ride had a little narrative to go along with it that they set up for you while you were in line.  I used to make up that kind of thing at amusement parks to keep my brother and myself entertained in line, but here they went all out--Hermione casting a charm to allow us to fly over to the Quidditch game, sneaking into the Hulk's laboratory, working on a story at the Daily Bugle.  It was really cute.

Right this way to Hogsmeade!  We browsed for wands at Ollivanders, got some candy at Honeydukes, and contemplated the purchase of Puking Pestles at Zonko's joke shop.  In the end, I bought a Griffindor travel coffee mug.  You know, so I can take my coffee with me on the way to Quidditch practice.

Inside the Three Broomsticks.  We also  popped into the Hogs Head for a brewski.  Got to be careful of eavesdroppers in that pub.

I had a butterbeer and it really was delicious.  I also bought the souvenir mug even though it was $12 and David thought that was absurd.  Cheap refills though!

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry there behind me.  You don't even want to know what's lurking in the Forbidden Forest.

Hogwarts!  Isn't it so awesome?    
Hogwarts from another angle.  In the castle ride, we flew right under that walkway on our brooms.  I didn't take pictures inside the castle because we had to put our bags in lockers in order to go on the ride.  But it was amazing--the sorting hat, the floating candles, the talking portraits, the visits from Hermione, Ron, and Harry.  On the ride itself, it really felt like we were flying, and the dementors were absolutely terrifying. 

David swore that we wouldn't get that wet on the Jurassic Park ride.

 The 3-D glasses for the Spiderman ride.  Hott.  I had to close my eyes for part of the ride, though.  Falling from sky scrapers is intense, even if you are pretty sure Spiderman will catch you with his spidy-web.

Our favorite slugger, Albert Pujols.

I wanted to get David's picture with Casey at the Bat at the Nationals spring training stadium but there was this news anchor guy there who wanted to interview David about the Nationals.  Guess he didn't realize we're Cardinals fans...

Overall, it was a very nice vacation.  I definitely felt emotional on the plane ride home.  Not quite ready to get back to reality.  Also not exciting was arriving home to snow fall!  We got about four inches yesterday. 

We have a beautiful magnolia tree in our front yard that is one of my favorite things about our little city bungalow.  It was just budding with its pink blossoms when we left for the trip.  Now they are dead, brown, and covered in snow.  They died before they even got a chance to bloom.  Now what does that remind you of?

Anyway, this vacation was fun in its own way, and we definitely enjoyed having a week all to ourselves.  We usually buy a Christmas ornament as a souvenir from every vacation, but I just didn't feel like doing it this time.  Still, I'm glad we got a week of sunshine and pool time and Harry Potter and baseball.

Also:  read another Kindle freebie book on the plane ride home.  Another mention of a tangential character named Eliza.  I really don't believe in signs, as I told David when a monarch butterfly fluttered persistently around the third base line at our last ball game of the trip.  But when a real live duck waddled over to our condo pool and actually jumped in and started swimming with all the people around and in the pool...  Well, even if I can't believe it's a sign, we both thought it was hilarious.  (But also kind of gross...  I guess that's why they chlorinate.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

There's a tear in my beer, but at least the beer is cold.

Vacation is winding rapidly to an end and I will definitely be reluctant to leave the sunshine (and the pop music they play poolside--David only listens to country music and it's so refreshing to hear Katy Perry and Justin Bieber some place other than alone in my car).

No pictures yet--internet is slooooow.

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project.  It feels like a weird choice because I think trying to be happy after your baby has died feels wrong and superficial and also annoying.  But I was linked (I think through Tiffany's blog) to an article that Gretchen Rubin wrote about finding happiness in an unhappy time and that article prompted me to read the entire book (I skipped the chapter on "Parenting" because, obviously).

(A side note:  I have read three books on this trip--two kindle freebies and The Happiness Project.  One of the freebies was an old-school murder mystery and the other was a children's book about a girl named Katy who is paralyzed.  Each book completely unrelated to the others and selected pretty much at random just because they were free.  And yet in all three of these books, there is a character named Eliza.)

Anyway, The Happiness Project makes explicit some vague notions that have been floating around in my head since Eliza died.  An event like that makes it easy to think about what matters and what doesn't and what brings you happiness and what weighs you down.  I wouldn't say that I am happy, or that I really feel like actively trying to be happy.  But I would say that I don't waste my time on minor annoyances the way I used to.  I shrug off ordinary mishaps or small inconveniences because nothing like that matters the way that it used to.  I also feel intense gratitude for my family and friends in a way that I had not recognized as fully before.  It is no consolation for losing Eliza, but it helps me keep in mind that as time goes on I will be able to recapture an enjoyment of life--the important relationships but also the small, frivolous things.

Speaking of which, I really did enjoy The Wizarding World of Harry Potter yesterday.  It was absolutely adorable and delightful.  I teach a class on banned books and censorship over the summer and one of the books we read is the first in the Harry Potter series, so I was sort of using "professional research" as an excuse to be there.  But then I remembered something from Rubin's book about recognizing what makes you happy (even if it's kind of embarrassing) and the truth is that I love the Harry Potter books and drinking a Butterbeer while gazing up at Hogwarts castle made me feel quite happy.

And I use this word happy to describe how I felt, even though I have cried since December 6th, 2010, including the day I went to Hogwarts.  Not one day has gone by when I didn't shed a tear over the loss of my baby.  I would have been horrified to know that in the beginning--I remember begging people who were further out from their loss to tell me it gets better, it gets easier, I will be less sad, I won't wake up sobbing everyday.  And it does and it did and I am and I don't.  But I still cry every day.  Sometimes it's just a tear or two in the car over a sad song, or at night when I'm reading.  Sometimes it's a really big cry when David's there to hug me. 

I've cried everyday of vacation, too.  But it doesn't feel like a bad thing.  I've still had a really nice time overall.  I just sometimes need the relief, the moment to think about how sad I am, and then the knowledge that I can pull it together and keep going.  Sometimes I truly think that it's worse to think about it than to be in it.  I exist all the time in this place where my baby is dead, but if I can keep myself from fixating on it constantly, I find that this place is livable.  It's not awesome, but it's also not the barren wasteland of death and destruction that it was in December.  Yes, I cry a lot.  Way more than I used to.  More than I ever have in my life.  But now I laugh, too.

So, yeah.  There's a tear in my beer.  But the beer is cold.  The sun is warm.  My toenails are red.  The music is loud.  I miss Eliza more than I can say, but even though I want to be sharing these good things with her, I know that they are still good.  Being able to recognize them doesn't make me miss her less (sometimes it makes me miss her more, as when I told David that I wanted to be able to read Harry Potter to Eliza) but it also makes me want to seize the nice things as long as they last.  We all know that joy is fleeting, and I'm trying to find enough of it to help it mitigate my sorrow.  It's not a replacement, of course.  It's more of a balancing act.

And if I happen to find that cold beer and a swim suit and a fashion magazine and a trip to the outlet mall and a visit to an imaginary wizarding school help me to balance my grief, than so be it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Life is Not an Endurance Test. O rly?

Just a quick (read: long and rambling) post to say vacation is going well.  Given the circumstances and all that.  (You know, the fact that we're not supposed to be on vacation, the fact that we're supposed to be home with an adorable, charming baby, the fact that we both miss her so much it hurts, and so on).

But honestly, we really are having a nice time.  I have a couple of things I have been trying to keep in mind.  The first is that happiness and unhappiness are not opposite sides of the same emotion.  They rise and fall independently of one another.

I'd never really thought much about it before (being generally happy, lucky, and blithely inconsiderate of such things) but it makes quite a lot of sense, particularly for the place I am now in my grief.  I'm still terribly, horribly, gut-wrenchingly unhappy about the loss of Eliza, but I also feel happy sometimes.  Not happy like I'm better or everything will be OK or ah, well, chalk it up to better luck next time.  Nothing like that.  But happy like "In this moment, in the sunshine, next to David, flipping through this In Style magazine, looking at my painted toe nails, I kind of feel like I can breathe and the future might hold hope and I might even be experiencing mild contentment in this particular second.  Could this be what happy feels like?  I think it could."

It is important for me to realize (and for me to clarify here) that being happy in this moment in no way diminishes the breadth and depth of the unhappiness I feel about Eliza's death.  This is where I go back to the idea that these are separate emotions, independent of one another.  For a long time, that distinction felt impossible.  But now I'm starting to understand it.

The other thing I am keeping in mind is one of the little "daily meditations" from the grief book I hate to love.  The thought for Monday was "I will be free to turn away from grief when I can.  Life is not an endurance test."

I can't pretend this vacation is a week of carefree fun and romance.  I don't want to pretend that it is.  But if there are moments when it almost feels that way?  Well, maybe I don't have to feel like shit over that.  Maybe I can just take it for what it is.  Maybe this doesn't have to be a test of my endurance:  Can she go to Florida and enjoy 80 degree days full of warm sun and cool breezes and cute sandals and still maintain the joy-canceling grief to prove she loves her baby?  Maybe it's not a grief endurance test after all.

And so, I find myself enjoying these days.  Or at least many moments of them.

We may have overdone it a bit at the beach today.  The thing about the Florida sun in March is that it is very different from the Missouri sun in July.  It's not humid, it's not sticky, you're not swarmed by mosquitoes.  You don't ever really feel hot and disgusting.  So you can lie in the sunshine, enjoying the cool breezes, and not ever realize that you should have reapplied sunscreen about an hour ago and then when you do reapply, you don't notice that the cool beachy breeze blows the spray sunscreen all over the place, and by the time you traipse back to the car at the end of the day, the tops of your feet hurt, and you have a sunburn on the back of your knee, and your upper arm is all blotchy, and all of these places of vague discomfort will soon erupt into a full-fledged splotchy and obnoxious and kind of painful sunburn and soon you will discover that when you rolled over at some point your boob moved just enough out of your swimsuit top to get a red burned stripe across it and you will think that if you get in a car accident on the way back to the condo, the EMTs will see that suburned boob and know that you are neither responsible nor classy.

Other moments of vacation interest (because the burned boob obviously has everyone totally riveted, you're welcome):

Lying by the pool yesterday, we were prompted by the sound of much cheering and general revelry to swivel our heads around to look behind our loungers and observe an old man (of the cheerful face, paunchy belly, random patches of white hair growing on his back variety) shotgunning a beer through a floatie noodle.  He was surrounded by a gaggle of teenagers who were really thrilled about this beer drinking skillz.  And his wife was there--taking pictures.  This was entertaining enough that I considered actually getting up to reposition my chair in order to be able to better observe these shenanigans, but then more shouting commenced and I discovered that the most buxom and least sober of the bikini-ed girls surrounded the old man and his photographer wife was named Treasure (at least that's what her friends call her) and suddenly it seemed as though the only explanation for that was that the entire scene was going to turn into a porno.  Also it was almost 5pm.  So I decided to head back to the condo and get ready to go out to dinner.

The day after we arrived, we had tickets to see a Braves spring training game.  David was adamant that we leave by 11am.  He drove up to the grocery store to pick up a few things while I was showering and getting ready to go.  After the shower, I pulled the hair dryer off the wall-thingy where it is plugged in and I pushed the "ON" button.  Nothing happened.  I pushed the red "Reset" button.  Nothing.  I tried this a couple more times, to no avail.  The clock was ticking and my bangs were air-drying in a really frightening way and David was going to be back from the store and rushing me out the door.  So I made a quick phone call to the front desk.  The lady asked me if I had tried pushing the "ON" button.  Oh, please.  Do I sound like a total moron?  I told her, slightly indignantly, that I had in fact pushed the "ON" button and the reset button and I really hope they would be able to fix it or lend me another hair dryer.  She said they'd send a repairman right up.

Sure enough, a very friendly repairman arrived in a few minutes (David still wasn't back from the store).  I welcomed him into the (enormous) bathroom and he put his tool bag down on the little bench for the vanity and immediately pushed the hand towel hanging by the hair dryer over to one side.  And proceeded to PLUG IN the hairdryer.

At which point I screamed something like, "Oh my GOD, NO!" and collapsed onto the toilet.  The repair guy jumped about a mile and then realized that I was not actually in pain but was, in fact, a total moron who had never plugged in the hair dryer before calling a repairman.  I apologized PROFUSELY.  He laughed and said, "Well I am very tired from this hard work.  Next time, you should try plugging it in."  And then he left and I died of humiliation and then when I was finished doing that, I blew dry my hair and David got back and we left for the game.  (I wasn't going to tell him about it, but I ended up confessing the whole thing when I got bored during the fourth inning.)

And speaking of awkward things I do in the bathroom on vacation:  I had to pee really bad on our drive home from the beach today and David did not want to pull off ten miles from our condo to let me have a pit stop so I just had to hold it while doing the sitting-down-pee-pee dance and also moaning dramatically.  David told me to get the key card ready and he'd drop me at the entrance to our building before parking so I could run directly upstairs and pee.

So I did.  And then I felt so gross from the beach that I immediately stripped off my clothes and hopped in the shower.  I was sudsing up my hair (for the second time, to get that really clean feeling) and wiggling my toes to get the sand out from between them, when I realized that it had been several minutes and I'd never heard David enter the condo.  I wonder what's keeping him?...  I thought to myself.

Then I remembered that I had taken his key card to let myself in, leaving him to carry up all the bags and stand outside the locked door while I enjoyed a leisurely shower.  Lucky man who married me!  As soon as this thought dawned on me, I grabbed a towel and raced for the door, dripping wet, with shampoo still in my hair.  Sure enough, poor David had schlepped all our beach stuff upstairs and was waiting in the hallway wondering what the hell I was doing.  He was a pretty good sport about it.  After the hair dryer incident though, I am beginning to think that maybe I'm getting stupider.

Other things I've noticed on this vacation:

* People from Canada are seriously nicer than most people.  It sounds like a silly stereotype but so far in every encounter I have had with a Canadian person, they have been nice, and on this particular vacation, every encounter I have had with someone who just seems to be super nicer than average, they turn out to be Canadian.  Maybe it's the universal healthcare that makes them so cheerful?

* After a day of lounging on the beach and splashing in the waves, David and I turn into the elderly versions of ourselves.  We're heavily moisturized, lying under blankets, and I'm sipping hot tea while he channel surfs.  Also it's 8pm and we're totally in for the night.  Fitting, since we ate dinner at 4pm today.

* Our rental car is a Nissan Sentra and we like it.  It's comparable to the Toyota Camry we had when my car had to be fixed back in December only it's way better.  I observed the excellent lumbar support in the seat back and David said, "I was going to say the exact same thing!" which further proves how totally nerdy and made for each other we are.

* Despite my longing for a baby, I have a serious aversion toward children who screech while playing in the pool.  Even though I can vividly remember being one of those screeching kids.  I was totally wishing for "Adult Swim."

* Being as I'm from the Midwest (and here you are asked kindly to ignore the fact that I cringe when my students use "being as" as a way to construct sentences in their papers), I like my fish the way I like my vegetables: Fried and dipped in Ranch dressing.  Do not judge me, you cosmopolitans and urban sophisticates.  At least, don't judge me until you've tried fried okra and the Captain's Platter of fried Things From the Sea that we ate for Old People Dinnertime today at 4pm.

* King sized beds are big.  Plenty of room for two people and a puggle.  I really miss our dogs!

And that's all for now--more updates and some pictures to follow later in the week.  Because of course I realize that you are all completely absorbed in the minutiae of my vacation and cannot wait for photo illustrations.  Not to worry--I will not disappoint!

Friday, March 18, 2011


We leave tomorrow for Florida.  More about that (and my vacation trousseau) later.  For now, a nice, distracting little meme. 

A. Age:  Barely legal.

B. Bed size: Queen.  It might be an extra-small Queen, though.  At least it feels that way when the 30-pound puggle snuggles up between us.

C. Chore you dislike:  Um, all of them?  Maybe if I had to name a chore I do like?  I mean, that seems like it would have a much narrower scope.  Anyway, one chore I like is laundry (weird, I know, I especially like ironing) and one chore I dislike is vacuuming dog hair of the sofas.  It is also the chore I have to do most frequently.

D. Dogs:  Two.  Little Mac, the eleven-year-old female pek-a-poo with a gender-bending name.  And Cooper.  The fat five-year-old eunuch of a puggle who loves to snuggle.  And also loves to eat.

E. Essential start to your day:  grief book.  yoga dvd.  V8 fusion juice.  e-mail.

F. Favorite color:  pink

G. Gold or silver:  gold sandals, silver bracelets

H. Height: 5'5"

I. Instruments you play(ed): Piano (for maybe a year and a half) and trombone (for four interminable years in middle school band).  A musical prodigy I was not.  Also it sucks to play the trombone when you have braces.  Also it sucks to play the trombone when you're ten years old and small and the trombone is almost as tall as you are.  Also it sucks to play the trombone when you wanted to play the saxophone but your dad happened to have a crappy old trombone in the attic from when he played in high school so now you're stuck playing the trombone.  Also it sucks to play the trombone when you're terrible at it and you have no ear for music.  Can you tell how much I loved playing the trombone?

J. Job title: Adjunct Professor.  It's just as glamorous as it sounds.

K. Kids:  Eliza

L. Live: from New York, it's Saturday Night.

M. Mom’s name: Caroline

N. Nicknames:  Brookie, B, Beez Nutz, Wookie, Wook

O. Overnight hospital stays:  in third grade with poison ivy on my face and in December when I lost Eliza

P. Pet peeves:  when my husband "tidies up" things that I had deliberately left out for a specific reason and then he cannot remember where he has put them.  This happens all the time.  I am still looking for these candlestick holders that were a wedding gift that he evidently decided should not be on the dining room table but now he has no idea where they are.  He also loves to put books back on the bookshelves without telling me about it.  And yet I can't get him to wipe off the kitchen counter when it's all crumb-covered.  Isn't that crazy?  Still, if "excessively tidy" is my only complaint about him, believe me I am not really complaining!

Q. Quote from a movie:  "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."  I hate being put on the spot like that.  This is the only movie quote I can think of.  Except for pretty much all of the dialog from Adventures in Babysitting, but I will spare you.

R. Righty or lefty: Righty.

S. Siblings: one brother

T. Time you wake up: 8ish

U. Underwear: my favorites are from the Gap.  Cooper has eaten four pairs of them.  What a perv.

V. Vegetables you don’t like:  Mushrooms and olives

W.What makes you run late:  Getting out to the car and realizing I've forgotten something (this happens almost everyday.  In fact, my next door neighbor makes fun of me for it since he has observed me rush to the car, start the car, turn off the car, and dash back inside for cell phone, coupon, shopping list, textbook, sunglasses, etc. countless times).

X. X-rays you’ve had:  teeth and right ankle (it was just a sprain but a really painful one)

Y. Yummy food you make:  homemade cinnamon rolls, vegetarian chili, Southwestern casserole

Z. Zoo animal favorites:  I really like the sea lions and the big lazy cats.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Social Time

I've been having it.  Social time, that is.

Pity the poor fools who are having it with me, because I know I'm pretty lousy company, but I appreciate it all the same.

Lent started last Wednesday and since then I have spent time with three friends.  See how social I am?  How popular?  I'm practically in the running for prom queen.

I almost broke Lent and canceled my plans on Saturday but then my friend Jamie announced she was coming over with sandwiches and I said okay.  We ate, we talked, I cried.  It was not the kind of fun, chatty, wine-drinking evenings we used to have, but I'm glad she's still there for me.  And maybe the fun, chatty side of me will be back someday.  Doubt it.  But maybe.

Sunday I went to church downtown.  I wondered if I should have given the money I dropped in the offering plate to the homeless dude sleeping outside but then I remembered this church feeds the homeless every Saturday so maybe it went to him indirectly.  The sermon was good, the church was beautiful, and it was nice to meet up with the friend who went with me.  We went out for crepes afterward and although I felt a little teary over brunch, I held it together and was glad that I went out.

Today another friend came over and brought Chinese food and we watched a kind of awful but also totally enjoyable film called Catch and Release with Jennifer Gardner and Timothy Olyphant (and also Kevin Smith was in it but it was nothing like Clerks) and it was kind of about grief because it opens with the death of Jennifer's fiance only she deals with his death in all kinds of inappropriate ways (SPOILER ALERT) like hiding in the bathtub during the wake, and trying to get a trust fund of sorts set up for the child her fiance may or may not have fathered while cheating on her with Juliette Lewis, and also sleeping with his best friend.  All the while she is roommates with her fiance's other best friends, one of whom is in love with her and the other of whom is Kevin Smith, who sort of attempts suicide before befriending the kid that Jennifer's dead fiance may or may not have fathered and then moving in Juliette Lewis and the kid. Oh, and also everybody goes fly fishing because it's set in Boulder.

That was kind of the best part because the movie showed places I actually used to go when spent a summer living there--a bar called The Sink where I had a heart to heart with a boy named Pete about his feelings for my friend Jamie and also Pearl Street, where I went on a double date with a boy named Pat (Pete's roommate) and Pete and Jamie and afterward Jamie and I realized we were in a love square because I actually liked Pete and she actually liked Pat and we never got those issues resolved so we each just continued to make out with the wrong guy for the rest of the summer because that seemed like a better idea than, you know, breaking up with them.  What can I say?  We made some poor choices that summer. It was a loooooong time ago.

Anyway, the movie was not exactly an award winner but it was pleasantly distracting.

I was telling someone the other day that the sadness is pretty much the same but I am getting better at functioning in spite of it.  Or functioning within it.  Whatever.  Granted, it's not exactly a fun way to go about life, but we're still muddling through here.

At the very least, I can say that today is better than yesterday.  There's no guarantee that I'll be able to say the same about tomorrow, but you know how it goes.  Taking it day by day.  Breath by breath.  Missing my baby girl.  Glad my friends are still willing to hang out with me.  And thankful for movies so bad they're good.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh Look, It's a Metaphor

Trudging along, doing okay.  Eating.  Sleeping.  Exercising.

The temperatures were up around 60.  The sun was shining.  I felt reasonably okay.  I might have even used the word "hopeful" without lacing it in sarcasm or qualifying it with "sort of."

And then there was yesterday.  There was no specific "trigger" I can point to.  I was just missing Eliza with the deepest, loneliest ache imaginable.  When David walked in the door from his boys weekend in Kansas City, he was greeted by two hyperactive dogs and a sobbing puddle of a wife.

The backsliding of grief.  It's brutal.  

Just when I thought spring was on the horizon, we woke up today to this:

Yes.  This is the winter of my discontent.  In fact, that doesn't even begin to cover it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book I

Life is still trotting on.  Feeling a bit lighter today.  Maybe it's the blond highlights I got yesterday?  My hair is beach-ready.  Plz to send a memo to my abs.  They seem to be unawares of their impending seaside reveal.  Or surely they would be more cooperative.

[Insert appropriate segue]

So every morning, I'm still reading this book:

It's called Healing After Loss:  Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman.

I hate the cover.  Who chose those fonts?  I hate that I'm reading a book full of daily meditations about grief and that it has such a lame cover.  fml.

But, Martha Whitmore Hickman, she gets it.  Her daughter died and she knows what it is to grieve.  And to grieve some more.  There's no time limit here.  The expectation is that you will be fucking sad, probably for a year, maybe longer.  And she acknowledges that without making you feel melodramatic for being sad or cold and heartless for feeling better.  There are days when I read the entry and then forget it.  And then there are days that stick with me, entries that I want to read out loud to David, little mantras that I recall even weeks later.

Each entry is dated and contains a quotation, reflections on that quotations, and then a little meditation or prayer or whatever you want to make of it.  Here's one that especially resonated with me:

February 24

People bring us well-meant but miserable consolations when they tell us what time will do to help our grief.  We do not want to lose our grief, because our grief is bound up with our love and we could not cease to mourn without being robbed of our affections.  -- Phillips Brooks

     Of course time eases our grief, provided we let it follow its course and give it its due.  Few of us would want the intensity and desolation of early grief to stay with us forever.  That's not what we're afraid of.
     But we may be afraid that we'll lose the intensity of love we felt for the one we have lost.
     At first these two--the grief and the love--are so wedded to each other that we cannot separate them.  We may cling to the grief in desperation so we will be sure not to lose the love.
     Perhaps the grief and the love will always be wedded to each other to some degree, like two sides of a coin.  But maybe after a while, when we flip the coin, it will almost always be the love that turns up on top.

My loved one is as much a part of my life as the air and food and water that nourish my body.  Therefore I shall not fear losing someone who has been, and is, a part of me.


I've held on to that thought--the coin of grief and the lasting quality of love--ever since I read that entry on February 24. 

And it seemed quite significant that this was the entry on the day of a grief support group meeting, and it's the one that echoed in my mind today when I heard the news of the earthquake in Japan:

March 9

After the dead are buried, and the maimed have left the hospitals and started their new lives, after the physical pain of grief has become, with time, a permanent wound in the soul, a sorrow that will last as long as the body does, after the horrors become nightmares and sudden daylight memories, then comes the transcendent and common bond of human suffering, and with that comes forgiveness, and with forgiveness comes love. - Andrew Dubus

   A grieving father said, after his daughter's sudden death in an accident, "I feel as though I have joined the human family."
    This sense of solidarity with the human community, of empathy and mutual love, is a hard-won bond.  But in the face of tragedy--whatever its nature--one could wish for no finer resolution among human beings that they they should turn their grief into love and understanding of one another.
     I don't mean to be glib about the cost of this.  But let's not turn away from the great gifts of forgiveness and love that, after a long struggle, rise out of the shadows to put their arms around us, even us.

My heart lifts, in solidarity and longing, toward all who have suffered as I have.  May we find and uphold one another.

So this book is my first recommendation in the Books About Grief series that this blog is evidently now featuring.  I don't know if everyone would find it as helpful as I have, but it gives me a place to put my grief first thing in the morning and right before I go to bed.  I take a moment to remember Eliza, to offer a hopeful, skeptical prayer, and to feel for a moment, a sense of solidarity and longing, with all the people in this world who feel as I do.

Oh--and should you be miserable enough to need this kind of thing, you can buy the book here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Making an Effort

The thing about having a good day is that in order to have one, I have to exert a lot of energy.  Make a plan to meet a friend, go to a coffee shop, go to Target, bake a cake.  It takes so much effort.

But (as with exercise) the effort is almost always worth it.

So Lent starts tomorrow and however unclear I feel about some of the big philosophical questions, I love the traditions and rituals of religion.  This is why I find certain aspects of the Catholic faith so appealing (even though my politics would never allow me to be Catholic).  I love the pomp and circumstance.

Beyond the idea of rituals, I'm also trying to embrace the basic Lenten message that hope springs eternal.  So this year I am acknowledging Lent by taking on something new rather than giving up anything.  I am going to make the effort to do something fun with a friend at LEAST once a week between now and Easter.  AND I'm going to post about it.  This way those of you reading will know that while I continue to spend plenty of time sobbing on the couch, I'm also doing other stuff.  And while "doing something fun with a friend" doesn't really seem like much, when you take into consideration how anti-social and misanthropic I've been feeling lately, it's actually kind of a big deal.

And the thing is that I mostly think about making plans with the same kind of trepidation I would approach giving up alcohol or television or cheese.  I just don't want to do it.  I love my friends, but the energy that it takes to be normal and go to lunch or go to shopping, it's just exhausting.  So most of the time, I'd rather not return the phone call or sometimes even answer the phone because I have nothing new to say and I'm tired of saying I'm still sad with no sign of this getting better anytime soon and I am afraid my friends are also tired of hearing it.  But the thing is that then I'm not given them enough credit for how much better they can make me feel.  Because without exception, every time I've spent a couple of hours with a friend, I end up feeling much better for it.

For example...  today I had coffee and graded papers with a friend of mine who just proposed to his girlfriend last week.  We talked about the proposal, about his wedding, about our students, our spring break plans, and, yes, about Eliza.  I got a little teary talking about her, but the point is that I still felt good when I headed home.  Much better than I would have if I'd followed my alternative plans for the day:  sit home and feel sorry for self.

Once I got home, I was motivated enough to multitask!  I baked a cake while simultaneously "making my bottom half into my better half!"

That's right.  I did it.  I bought a pair of Sketchers Shape Ups and wore them while standing in front of the Kitchen Aid mixer, watching it work the eggs into the cake mix.  I'm a wicked good multitasker like that.

Not to worry, fashionistas who are groaning in agony, I didn't buy the huge rounded ones that look orthopedic.  I bought the less offensive ones that are basically like the Reebok tone up shoes (which I was originally planning to buy) but these were $30 less.

 They're not so bad, huh?

See, the sole is pretty normal looking.  And yet!  They promise to do magical things for my butt.  No, really.  I am sure it will totally work.

So far I have pretty much just worn them around the house.  Cooper was very disappointed because normally lacing up tennis shoes = walking the dogs but today it was raining.

Cooper pouts and chews on his bed to express his frustration.

BUT once it stops raining, I'm also committing to walking the dog every. single. day for the next forty days (except for the part that I'm in Florida without them).  It's a commitment I can stick to because Cooper makes me feel so guilty and that's about the only way I can get motivated sometimes.  Plus, you know, I'll be wearing the new shoes.

Our Florida trip is now right on the horizon and I am trying to get excited about it.  I'm still having a lot of the "why go be sad in Florida when I can just sit here and be sad with much less effort?" but I'm trying to remember that no matter how shitty I feel, it will be nice to have a week away with David and even if I'm sad, I can still sit outside and have a drink and soak up the sunshine (wearing the spf, obvs).

In other news, Little Mac continues to be the weirdest little dog.  The other morning she followed me into the closet when I was getting ready and then proceeded to sit around like this for several minutes:

Finally, I was like, "Um, Little Mac?  Whatcha doing, Sister?"

 And she was all, "Wut?  Wutz ur problem?  I like to smell the shirtz."

Funny how a couple of crazy dogs pretty much save my sanity.  We're hoping Little Mac will give up crazy ass-chasing and random barking-freak-outs for Lent, but we're not going to hold our breath.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I was thinking (somewhat angrily) the other day about how I was totally duped into believing that Eliza was a sure thing.  And everyone I know--my doctor, my friends, my mom, my husband, the grocery store checkout guy, the girl working at Baby Gap--everyone was complicit in helping me to believe this lie.

I believed that because I was "healthy and low risk" at my doctor's office that I would have a healthy baby.  I believed that since my doctor deemed her "perfect" at each visit that she would be born that way--perfect and alive.  I believed that since all of my friends had healthy babies that I would too.  I believed that since my friends and family were throwing parties and buying presents for her, that there was no doubt I was bringing her home.  I believed the "Congratulations!" that people offered me with a smile once I started waddling around looking like I had a watermelon stuffed under my shirt.  Why would they congratulate me if there was a danger that my baby might die?

Sure, I had the nagging fears that I think almost everybody has during pregnancy, but I trusted the books I read and the statistics I looked up and the gleeful pink and yellow presents that already filled her room.  Nobody said to me, "Well, do keep in mind that you could be the 1 in 160 women whose baby dies before it's born, sometimes for totally mysterious and unknown reasons."

Why did we ALL assume my baby would be fine?  How could there have been no warning?  How could everyone just tacitly promise me that it would be OK?

Oh, I know.  Why wouldn't we assume it would be fine?  I still believed in statistics and my own good luck back then anyway.  (One time I won a Cole Haan bag in a raffle at a Cole Haan store.  It occurs to me that I might have used up all my good luck in that moment.  It's a nice bag, but I'm sure I don't need to point out what I'd rather be carrying.)

And I know, too, that a warning wouldn't have done a bit of good unless it could have saved her.  Being aware that I was racing headlong toward unavoidable disaster--I wouldn't have wanted that at all. 

I just feel so foolish looking back.

* * *
I think about how I used to react to a friend's (or acquaintance's) pregnancy announcement, "OMG!  [squee!] I am so excited for you!  CongratuLATIONS!"  Followed by a million questions--boy or girl, names, nursery themes, birth plan, breastfeeding plan, career plan, daycare plan.  After all, it was never too early to have everything figured out.

Now what would I say?  Perhaps something along the lines of, "That sounds promising.  I hope your baby doesn't die.  It's likely that it won't, but you never really know."

OK.  Inappropriate.  Maybe I can manage a sincere, "Oh, that's great!  Well, good luck with that."

* * *
In Ceil's amazing video, she talks about trust.

Whom do you trust when you no longer believe that God actively intervenes in our lives--at least, not in a miraculous heart-starting, time-turning sort of way?

What do you trust when you can't believe in statistics, having fallen on the slender side of them yourself?  Or when your doctor tells you that there's not a medical explanation?

Where do you place your trust when your otherwise normal and healthy body failed to keep your baby alive?

What happens when God and science and nature all disappoint you simultaneously?  What is left to believe in?

A God who allows horrible and unfair things to happen.  Everyday.  All over the world.

A statistical probability that says lightning probably won't strike twice, but there's no ruling it out entirely--even the slimmest ".05%" looks quite different when it has a human face on it.

A biological process that you can't control, no matter how many books you read or how many websites you google.

The thing is, these things were ALL true before.  I mean, God wasn't stepping in to stop genocide in Darfur.  The slender side of statistical realities were dropkicking innocent people everyday, handing out dead babies and cancer diagnoses with random senselessness.  Biological processes (pregnancy, illness, injury) have been studied but not totally mastered.

I knew all of this before Eliza.  It's just that I used to be one of the lucky ones.
* * *

The real marvel of the human mind is our ability to keep functioning even when everything falls apart. 

There's something in our DNA that convinces us our chances of winning the lottery are worth that dollar (or ten).  That we're more likely to experience a one in a million good thing than a one in two hundred bad thing.  We are relentlessly, ridiculously optimistic.

We turn toward life, my therapist says.

I keep thinking that tomorrow will be better than today.  Things will get easier.  Eventually I'll feel happy again.

I remind myself that I have much for which to be grateful--people have been so kind, Eliza has been memorialized beautiful through good deeds and generous donations, I'm lucky to have David.

And I know all these things are true.

It's just...well.  There were a lot of things I believed were true before.

And I don't want to get duped again.