Wednesday, December 7, 2011

One Year Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Brooke, your post brought me to tears. We're a long way off from the one-year mark of our loss, a day I'll have a hard time thinking of as our babies' birthday because we were only in the early second trimester and far from when they should have been born. I just can't fathom what it will be like to live through an entire year without them and with this horrible grief, but reading that you and others have done it - and how you've done it - is so helpful to me.

    Blessings to you, David and beautiful Eliza...

  2. I thought of Eliza last night as we read our nightly poem to Elizabeth. Happy Birthday, sweet little girl.

  3. Both years, the days before have been harder than the actual day. And I understand what you mean about the relief of making it to the one year mark, and yet feeling guilty about it too.

    I think from now on, the years that we do go, we'll get there early and leave the flower *before* the ceremony and then stay until we feel like it once it is over. I just don't like the leaving the flower part very much, it's so crowded with people with fire all around, and like you said, FREEZING, (I hope you wore layers!)and it takes forever.

    I hope the dizzy thing was a fluke, any chance your blood sugar got too low? (like maybe you went too long without eating?)

    Thinking of you!

  4. You & Eliza have been much on my mind these last few days. I too found the day before that very first "anniversary" almost unbearable. I'm glad you made it through -- and how lovely that you have a special memorial event to attend every year!

    I had to laugh over your comment about rude & tacky people & their cellphones & yes, they lose babies too -- that's something dh & I found out facilitating a support group, especially in the last few years before we stepped down. The vast majority of the people we met through group were just wonderful, & some have become very dear friends -- but yes, there were a few who made me grit my teeth everytime they walked through the door (& yes, cellphones were often involved...!). ; )

    Sending lots of love & (((hugs))).

  5. i thought about you and your girl so much yesterday.

    "...The kind of wracking sobs that make me gag and cough. The kind of tears that echoed the early days, when I thought I really might cry myself to death and I welcomed that idea. I sobbed and wailed and begged God and the universe and anyone who might be listening to please give me my baby, and I asked David over and over again, as he patted my back and tried helplessly to soothe me, why it had to be us, why it had to be Eliza, why our baby?"

    i understand that so much. i had a moment like that yesterday myself. i'm surprised when they do happen since it has been over a yr. but it makes sense since our love for them is still THAT strong/deep.

  6. Thank you for sharing this story. I've only just began on this grief journey and often think how will I ever make it through some of these milestones.

    It's good to hear that others are making their way through and still remembering and honoring their precious babies.

    Best wishes and lots of thoughts.

  7. I know what you mean about passing the one year mark - somehow, it did feel like a small victory. I felt like I survived. And you did too, somehow, someway. Sending love and remembering your Eliza.

  8. Our days sounded quite similar. The day before and being the same day of the week and nervous in anticipation...

    the remembrance ceremony with fellow bereaved families...

    the busy project at home on the day...

    the traditions created to honor them...

    the crying out of love and less out of grief...

    the promise of hope for future holiday seasons to honor and cherish them along with the joy and spirit of holidays...

    Glad it's over. Will always remember Eliza.

  9. Sounds like a beautiful ceremony, besides the almost passing out. I found the build-up so difficult, particularly the day I found out she was dead. But the day she was born, it was okay, important and solemn, but okay. And I related a lot to what you said about passing the ubiquitous one year mark. Nothing changed, per se, but there was a sense of understanding what grief was about, rather than feeling like every day was a new traumatic experience all over again. I had already done every holiday, every gathering, every milestone of a year.

    Remembering Eliza with you. I was out of computer range for most of today and yesterday, but tonight, I will light a candle with my Lucia's, to remember our little girls of the winter.

  10. Remembering Eliza with you Brooke.. Happy First Birthday sweet baby girl.

    I found the day before to be horrible as well.. it seems like that has been the case for several of us. There was so much pain and emotion that his actual birthday was almost whisper quiet.

    Sending you bright brilliant light, love and hope.

  11. I send love, for you, for Eliza. xoxo

  12. Grief tears and love tears are so very different and I'm glad you had a combination of both of them. Will continue to hold Eliza, and all these babies, in my heart the rest of my life. And then some.

  13. Brooke,

    I don't know what to say except that I am just so sorry that Eliza died. It isn't right that you are an entire year without her. My heart aches for your loss. Holding Eliza close in my heart...

  14. I lit a little candle for Eliza last night, thinking about her and about her wonderful parents. I'm so sorry she is not here. Thank-you for writing, for sharing your grief with us over the past year. I appreciate you.


  15. I lit a beautiful candle last night I had been saving for a special occasion. Thinking of you and David. And of course Baby Duck Eliza. It's so hard to understand. Maybe one day you will have answers. But for now, we will just celebrate Eliza and always miss her. Hugs from Texas.

  16. I've been thinking about Eliza all week, Brooke. December 5 was Owen's due date and though that date doesn't hurt as much as his death/ birth anniversaries, it still stings.
    The ceremony sounds really sweet. I didn't know there was something going on in the area. I guess I'm out of the loop in STL. I'm glad you went and I'm glad (even with all the bittersweetness) that you've made it through the firsts of Eliza's absence. That sounds weird to say, but I know for a lot of friends it helps to be past the one year mark. The missing is always the same though.

    Praying for you.

  17. There is no right or wrong way to get through the first birthday, nor is there really an easy way. You sound like you did the best you could and that day was peaceful for you. I too found the day before to be much worse (the day she died in utero - which is now Juliet's birthday - hello confusing emotions in my future) and the day itself was..... strangely ok.
    I'm sorry I'm so late to this, but you and your girl have been on my mind. A lot.
    She continues to be missed.

  18. Late to comment--I remember hating that a whole year had gone by without my boy--how could it be? But also relief: because I'd lived through all those milestones. I knew what they were like, without him, and I'd survived. But then I had to keep on going, further and further away.

    Hugs are all I can offer, and understanding. And hope for a better 2012.

  19. I haven't been able to sufficiently comment, my computer has been down. Brooke~ a year! wow! how do we even cope day to day let alone a year. It is all just too much. The happiness in spite of the sadness is what I try and find...between the sobbing, between the crack in my soul. I choose happiness...but it doesn't mean I am not sad. Sending love to you and missing Eliza with you.