Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Visit to the Cemetery

When I arrived babyland was covered in snow. I placed Caitlin's sapphire angel on the snow. I thought about leaving the blanket of snow as it was, peaceful, but I began to move the snow slowly away to find Caitlin's stone. I did find it after some time. I placed the angel from Caitlin's grammy on her stone and told her about how much Grammy missed her. Then I kept digging to find her angel, her star, and her toy. I gave the toy a squeeze and it made the sounds that Caitlin loved to listen to in the hospital. I was so grateful that the toy was still working, after a year the toy still works. Her butterfly and flowers seemed to be gone. I sat at her grave and talked to her and told her about the angel I made for her at the house. Then decided that she needed a snowman, or rather a snowman-angel. Admittedly, it looks like a man with arms, but it's supposed to be a snowman-angel and those are wings not arms. I sat for a while longer in the snow. I could not sing this visit, and on the way home wrote a poem in my head that I've already posted.

A Christmas Lullaby

If I could find a way
I would sing you a Christmas lullaby
to warm your heart
and make it beat again

If I could find my voice again
I would sing you a lullaby
that would wrest you from His arms
and bring you home to mine

If I could find the tune
I would sing you a lullaby that would
wake you from your peaceful slumber
to peer into the eyes of your mother
and know I love you

But I remain silent standing in the blanket of snow
that covers you now
I feel the angel tears from heaven
that fall upon my cheeks

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008


You must be open to the possibility of being hurt, betrayed, gossiped about, and prayed over
If you wish to receive help
For you cannot be aided in the trials of life
Without leaving your heart-door unlocked and your soul-windows open

Without the cry of "I am weak"
You will get no scaffolding
Without the confession of "I have nothing left"
You will get no match from another who will also bring the candle
of hope to light in your home
Without the wail of "I am imperfect"
You will get no one to sit with you in your failings
making you whole

You must be open to the possibility of being judged and condemned by another
equally malformed human spirit-body
If you wish to be healed of your wounds and
guided to more loving ways of being human
Without truthful disclosure of what you think, feel, wonder, reason and pray
Without willing vulnerability
You cannot be loved

Time it Was

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snowflakes that Didn't Turn Out

I've haven't exactly ignored the holidays this season. I wrote the family Christmas letter and purchased two gifts for the names that were drawn. A tiny 2-foot tree is up with Caitlin's Angel (the one they placed on the remembrance tree at the NICU on the day she died), and I put lights up on the steps of our home. We attended the business Holiday party, but I wouldn't say I've engaged in the holiday spirit much. It all felt quite pedestrian. Then, I receive a gift that changed everything.

A friend stops by my work to talk with me and says, "I don't want to upset you but . . . . I want to give you something. My daughter was making paper snowflakes and she got pretty upset, because after cutting them out and coloring them she tells me, 'they didn't turn out right.' " "They don't look like snowflakes," the child says to her mom (my friend), "they look like butterflies." Her mother looks at the butterfly snowflakes and says, "Well, would it be OK if I give them to my friend because, I think that she would really like them. They might help her think about her daughter."

And so, that's how it happened, I now have two beautiful child cut and colored butterflies in my office, a gift that feels like a Christmas gift from Caitlin with the help of another child. I can't stop smiling. Caitlin found a way to give her mommy a Christmas gift from heaven. Thanks to Z, my friend's daughter, I'm smiling at Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

No Pretty Words

I have no pretty words tonight, though I do have some wonderings. I wonder about the listlessness that prevades. I think about what tasks I must do as if I were some disinterested bystander. Nothing seems to matter much, and even so, I can hear someone screaming in the background, "Get up." And the voice sounds a lot like mine.

I have no pretty words tonight, though I do have images floating before my eyes. My baby in her crib with the red bars. My baby in her white coffin with her pink dress. My husband's look of concern directed toward me as these images float into each other in my mind. And then the images become emotion in shape and color.

I have no pretty words tonight, though I do have melodies that roll around in my ears. Lullabies, hymns, and silly songs, are there, but so too are the new songs--the songs of grief and mourning. Some express pain, others hope, and others a story, but all are new and don't quite express it all.

I have no pretty words tonight, just "I miss you" and "I love you."
And there seem to be no other sounds in symbol that my mind can fashion.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"Even reality is no match for our love."

This last line of Vaughan Bell's on-line article about those who experience the presence of their loved one after death was most striking. Though, I didn't care for the title, "Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased," I did appreciate that the subject was treated with some sensitivity for those who have these experiences. Bell also gives a nod for understanding that our Western culture has a fear of acknowledging these experiences by rattling off a few cultural practices that embrace or find them quite normal. Parents I know who have experienced the presence of their children after death rarely share openly for fear of being labeled "crazy." I include myself in this arena.

But, despite the cultural norms and personal expectations, the last line speaks the truth that no matter the physical reality, our love for our children transcends it. It must, it's the only way to live.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Preserve Your Memories

A Poet Found: Pam Brown

I think I found Pam Brown. She's an Australian author and poet. I supposed I'm daft for not knowing that. When I was searching the net trying to link that quote to a person and know more about him or her, I found a beautiful poem. These words in particular made me catch my breath "Your sudden and beautiful exit frightened me." It's a memoriam to a friend but there are other word groupings that feel similar to my grief upon loosing my daughter. The poem is "Blue Glow" and you can read it here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hugged with Words

For Absence
by John O'Donohue
from "To Bless the Space Between Us."

May you know that absence is alive with hidden
presence, that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.

. . . .

May your compassion reach out to the ones we never
hear from.

May you have the courage to speak for the excluded

May you become the gracious and passionate sub-
ject of your own life.

. . . .

[I love this poet's words in his book of blessings. They are rich with truth and when I read slowly, I feel a hug and a whisper, "It'll be OK."]

Monday, December 8, 2008

Back to Basics II

I guess I'm calm enough to explain. It just irritates me that our education system continues to sell accountability to parents with the "back to basics" and more recently the "standards-based education."--as if the score on a test would make a child's life better.

No-one escapes the pain of grief and the challenges of life and when the basics fail you, what sustains you, I believe, are the those intangible, seemingly "frills" of education--music, visual art, dance, theatre, poetry, and literature. This struck me on a personal level, when I tried to respond to a prompt to use some visual art as a medium for expressing my grief, but I don't have any skills. I have no education to draw from; no understanding of perspective, light, or color, and instead of rendering an image from my mind's eye, I wrote in CAPS, my protest. It just seems that there is so much "putting in" and not enough providing of the vehicles we need for "letting out." There's no money in providing youth with the tools to enhance their lives---much better to "sell" comfort, enjoyment, and fulfillment. Ha.

When you're gone, no one cares about your score on a reading test, but they will remember if you sang a loving song to them as they grew, read a story with the excitement of an academy award winning actor, or helped them see the beauty of a sunset or sunrise. And that's back to the basics that count.

There, I said it, and I'm glad.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Music Binds Even in Death

"Music binds us together with invisible threads." Pam Brown

I don't know who Pam Brown is, but I read this quote at the end of a colleague's email message and well, I read it and thought, "And that's what I'm counting on, Caitlin. That somehow the music I experience and we experienced together will somehow continue to bind us together with threads, not only invisible, but indestructible--even in death."

Miss you baby girl. Your mama misses you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

You are Not Alone

The bathroom wall
Holding her up
scratching at the plaster
to get away

Curled in a ball
on the top of the bed
snotting the pillows

Folded upon herself
Creating a grief box
A lightless and doorless cube
Begging for nothingness
Not life and not death

I was thinking about grief, and the nature of how we experience it--alone much of the time. And yet the support groups say, "you are not alone." I was thinking about the parents who need to express their grief and need others to listen, to ask, to be with them as they tell their story repeatedly and as they continue to describe changes in how they feel with wonder, puzzlement, anger, guilt, and so often, fear. And I was thinking about how fortunate I've been in this journey, as friends, family, and even strangers have sat with me in silence, held my head as I wept, laughed at my desperate humor, asked me questions, and were comfortable with being, well---not comfortable. I'm grateful for those who felt the fear of being in the presence of my acute grief and found a way to remain.

Sometimes alone is where the bereaved need to be, but if we are to survive, then we need someone to take the place of that bathroom wall and hold us; we need someone to curl around us without worry of the sanitary conditions of that pillow; and we need someone to bore a hole in our grief place and come in and sit or wait patiently outside with a cup of love for when we emerge.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

This is Mine


My grief filters each new day's light
And my heart sees an old worn out version of the previous day
monotonous tasks of questionable meaning


My grief has worn me to exhaustian
Pouring a sludge in my brain that my mind trudges through
Leaving a slime trail of fatigue and apathy

I rub my heart's eyes and vigorously scrub my mind
but, can I be repaired?
Think clearly? Remember details? Complete tasks? Do my work?
Meet expectations? Respond coherently? Pay attention?
Guilt whispers, "Others have equal challenges. More challenges."
My battered and bruised mind and near blind heart stoically reply,
"And, this is mine."
This hurt, this death, this loss, this grief
This challenge is mine.

And these days, it's left me
Tired and Weary

Monday, November 24, 2008

Grief becomes a Sunflower

I'm not sure how to respond anymore. Just when I think I understand Grief, she shows me another side to her. It's not my intention to wallow, but, rather to pay attention. I am grateful for all of you for your messages and cards of love and support for our family as we navigate this life without Caitlin here with us on this earth.

It's not my intention to wallow, but I'm not really sure of what that means anymore. With a year now officially gone and marked from Caitlin's last breath and heart beat, I struggle to see how any of this pain mingled with joy that she made us parents, be anything but worthy of "wallow." Every tear we cry, and word I write seems hardly savory or indulgent, but rather quite necessary. We would hardly expect someone to not pay attention to the most important events of their lives, birthdays and weddings, and so, Caitlin’s death seems quite equal in importance.

I worry, though. I worry that my expression of grief makes others sad. But I must trust that these expressions are the outward signs of love. I must trust that this truth will resonate with others who love. It is not my intention to make others uncomfortable with talk of death of our child, but rather to be truthful and through honest expression of sorrow and joy, to heal myself and others who choose to accompany me on this journey at times.

Recently, someone remarked as to my use of a sunflower as my profile picture on a wepage. I remember the sunflower picture, and the reason I chose it (yes, Beth, I think it was sign of sorts, if we are so privileged in life to receive or send these.). I was walking in AZ on the ASU campus in June and thinking, "there is no way I can continue to teach and think that what I do is important when my child is dead." And, in the AZ sun, it's hard to remain in despair, and the walk led me past the tallest sunflower I'd seen. It was so out of place, on campus in the concrete next to a stair well, and, yet not out of place at all. After all it's a big research university so likely the plant is part of some study that garners $$ support and will win faculty retention and likely secure tenure, but I digress (a good sign of healing, I'm sure. Insert wry smile here.).

So, I see the sunflower, but not as a sign of bright happiness, but as a testament of misery looking for what will warm her, what will heal her, and what will make despair less and life better. For the sunflower, the answer seemed to be the sun (insert second wry smile here, quite simply for the "duh" factor), but for me it's my daughter, Caitlin Anne.

I felt quite rooted to the ground and miserable, and my only release and hope was to turn myself toward the sun, toward my daughter, toward what I cannot touch or hold. And in desperation, I try to soak up as much of her loving rays as possible.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

There is Little More to Do

That's how I feel,that there is little more to do. The date is past and now Caitlin has been dead for a year, and I'm here wishing that there was more to do. I've tried to write, but I am wordless. I've tried to think about calling those people who sincerely say, "if you ever need to talk, call me" but I am listless and mute. I've thought about listening to the "Caitlin & Mom" playlist on the iPod, but I am deaf. So, there is little more to do, but be here, I guess. Wait, perhaps there are images to come to me? No, it's all a foggy, blurry, nothingness.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We Love You & We Miss You

We visited Caitlin's grave, on this, the first anniversary of her death. We released 11 pink and white balloons against a white and blue sky. Eleven balloons, one for each week she lived; Not 12 balloons, because our family is not complete, "There is one missing." We talked about our daughter and what we had hoped for her and our family. There were tears, but mostly love.

We Love You

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Just Don't Get on The Elevator

We knew she was dying. We had vainly tried to go to our hospital room and rest, but we knew she was dying. Instead of resting we stayed up and talked about what we had hoped for; her recovery and finding out who she was at home--at home with her mom and dad. They called and said, "It's time." We put our shoes on and walked out the room and down the hall and pressed the elevator button. I thought, "Just don't get on the elevator." Hope was gone so I went to desperation and hope for magic, that if I just didn't get on the elevator to the CICU floor where she was dying, then none of this would be so and she would live. If we took the stairs, maybe we could take her home.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Go In Peace

I received this recording of my sister singing "Go in Peace" for a Mass on All Souls Day. The choir included a powerpoint with text for the parish and pictures of those loved ones who had passed. That my sister sang for Caitlin and she was part of this remembrance was comforting for me. Remembering and and the outward signs of those remembrances matter.

[I added a few pics to fit the music for this medium.]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Second Eulogy

Today, I listened to Caitlin's Eulogy that I wrote and a friend read for me at Caitlin's funeral. It transported me to a far off land. As Caitlin's death date is now just days away, I've been thinking about writing a second eulogy for her, but what would I say?

Caitlin continues to save my heart. Her life draws out more from me than I thought possible. She inspired us to collect and share our love for her with other families with babies in the NICU. She brought a renewed sense of importance to my profession as a music teacher, though, these days, I would prefer to stop teaching and sing only to my living baby at home. She inspired many to hold us with words and deeds and to walk with us on this painful journey. She reminded mothers to be a bit more careful and bit more gracious and a bit more grateful for their children. She helped put lost keys and forgotten appointments into perspective of what truly counts. She taught me to accept my failings in the big things and the small things and helplessly receive the love and aid offered to me.

Her death has destroyed parts of me as well. Her absence from our family is unbearable. The lesson of forever continues to be painful and, yet, meaningful. Caitlin found ways this past year to let her parents know she was present through the blue bird on the deck that stared into the window, the full moon that watches us through the skylight, the Autumn leaves that fall, the red birds that sing, a blooming cactus, and the butterflies that visit for moments.

Things Matter: Words Matter

When your child dies, things matter. It's a misleading statement, I know, because what truly matters is the emotions and compassion reflected by those things. What truly matters is our relationships with others and our ability to care for others.

But, I must express my gratitude for those who take what matters, love and care for others, and translate it into words and things. The things I've received since Caitlin's death have mattered to me, because in them is embodied the love and compassion others have given to me and my husband to help us weather this most tragic life without our child. I am not so superficial to suggest that these things are necessary and that those who don't give things or send a card or say "I'm sorry," are not loving and compassionate. But, I do mean to say that when words of sympathy are shared, and plants and plaques and angel statues are given, they do touch our hearts and help to hold us up, just a bit longer and often just at the time when our personal strength is expended.

To our friends, family, fellow bereaved parents and strangers who leave your thoughful words with us--Thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

My husband was watching "Saving Private Ryan" this weekend. I can only guess it was programed to connect with the observance of Veteran's Day. I watched until I saw the mother standing at her kitchen window watching the government car pull up to her front door. She walks out the door and knows what it means. She folds and crumbles to the ground and I felt her pain. Though a movie, the story is true. So, today I remember all children who have died in war and whose mothers hold them in their hearts this day. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Loved through Sound

My gentle humming belies
the torment in my heart
The low gentle tones
caress my soul
Melodies rise slowly
only to descend quickly
to rest and wait for breath
to power the next phrase

I have this sense that
my child sings through me
sending me her song through
my voice
She uses no words
and sends no message
but there is comfort
in being loved
through sound

Comfort from Ann Hood

Click here to see a Youtube video to get a sense of what comfort a bereaved mother might find in Ann Hood's writing. She reads from her book, "The Knitting Circle." I haven't read that one, but did finish "Comfort: A Journey Through Grief" last night.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Comfort" by Ann Hood

In just weeks after Caitlin died, I heard of a non-denominational group that helps bereaved parents cope, and so I attended a meeting on "How to Cope with the Holidays" with a special speaker, Ann Hood. Truth be known. I didn't care about the topic. After all, I wasn't even aware that there were holidays. The day after Caitlin's funeral we had Thanksgiving dinner at my house. It was surreal. The years of holiday dinners kicked in and we celebrated being together as a family, and for me her death loomed over it all. But we were thankful to be together, that I remember. I smiled that day.

Oh, dear, I've lost focus. . . .

So, I go alone to the group session. I entered already tear-stained and shaking and hunched over--a posture I held for months and still sometimes return to when the grief folds me again. I'm greeted by two lovely women, leaders of the group and bereaved mothers. They welcome me and ask about Caitlin. I answer, but I don't remember the rest of the conversation. I'm introduced to others and Kleenex boxes are placed in the several places in the center of a circle of about 30 chairs. I'm introduced and seated next to a pregnant woman, whose first child died as an infant from SIDS. This mom had flowing red hair and her love for her child radiated from her. We talk and I feel this hope that I'm sitting next to a baby. Yup, I felt comforted by the presence of a baby I couldn't see or hold, and wasn't mine. But, somehow it was proof on some level that babies could live. That was an anchor for me, the growing baby.

Oh, dear, I've lost focus again . . .

There were more than the usual number of chairs, because of our special speaker, Ann Hood, who wrote "The Knitting Circle" and the not yet published "Comfort." We were there to hear her story and hear some hope and feel some comfort.

The meeting starts We passed a rock with butterflies painted on it and as each parent held the rock, they told raw and painful stories of their dead children and their grief became as hard and cold as that rock. As the butterflies fluttered to each shaking bereft hand the cold hard pain continued to pummel me. When I received the rock, I remember saying something that identified who I was and that I was Caitlin's mother and she had died just a few weeks earlier and then I stared at the stone butterflies and remembered how the symbol that was once hopeful throughout my life was now stone. The beautiful gold butterfly earrings my husband gave to me with a smile and sweet words, "They made me think of you and your spirit." The butterfly icon I used when I first posted a care message on Caitlin's page for family and friends far away with the message, "A beautiful butterfly for a beautiful girl." And the baby onsies with butterflies on them.

"And I'm scared," I said, "I'm so scared." The stone butterflies layed their heaviness into the hands of the parent to my right and though there were 10 more stories, I was deaf. I hear a dull roar and could only remember the weight of that stone in my hands and the weight of Caitlin's dead body in my arms, when I looked at my husband and whispered, "She's not here anymore. I can feel it. She's not here anymore."

Oh, dear, I must focus . . .

The speaker, it was her turn. The stone was in her hands and I thought, "OK, now here is where I will hear some comfort. I'll see some evidence that I can survive this." The dead cold stone drew out her story of the death of her child. We heard the sad details and the devastation it visited upon her and her family. And my pain becomes unbearable and the meeting is over. I hug one woman and leave with the stories pounding inside my ears and crushing my heart. And a rock gives way and I find myself swept away in an avalanche of death rock and stone.

I leave with ax desperately swinging and trying to anchor it somewhere to save myself. I hear me talking to myself, trying to self-sooth with a mantra of "This is unacceptable. Unacceptable. This is unacceptable." I found myself in my car, holding my keys and trying to remember what to do with them. And grateful only for the landing.

What of "Comfort" by Ann Hood? I may discover that another day.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I'm Crumbling

That's what I think, that today I am crumbling. My facade of getting things done is becoming dust. My can-do make-it-happen attitude is tattered. My smile, fading to fake again. I know that emotions are transient, and that this feeling of crumbling should pass. Yet, this feeling of being overwhelmed and being under pressure, so much so that parts of me are dropping off, is pervasive. And each day more falls away.

What concerns me most is that my caring is crumbling. (Yeah, I know that makes no sense.) I held this idea that the big stuff matters most and the little stuff matters just as much. So, meeting deadlines and saying "hello" and answering questions and emails and phone calls and such is little stuff that matters. But, I can't seem to care about it. I can't seem to muster the energy, no I don't even try to muster. It's like I'm watching from my shell that houses some core of me and protects it from all else, and I'm removed from it all and the rest of me is crumbling. It doesn't feel like a wave of grief. It feels like giving up and crumbling.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Fallen Leaves

Visiting Caitlin's resting place today, and I was struck by the season with the fall leaves nestled around her stone. The fallen leaves gently announce that the month of her death is here, and I can no longer revel in the season of her life. The cold air of November is here, and the colors have turned.

When I point my camera to a large tree near her place, I can get a pink hue from the sun as it pierces through, and I think,
"Caitlin, you are a vision in pink."

I miss you. I love you.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Day

Only one thought, that Caitlin has joined the saints and on this day, she is sending angel kisses to her Papa Jack, as this most special day belongs to him. Happy Birthday, Papa Jack.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another Breath

And with another breath
I continue
with thoughts of
how I wish it were
and thoughts of
how it is

And with another breath
I am
filled with sorrow that
I am a mother without a
living child
I am a mother whose love
for her child is expressed
on the wind
with another breath

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wishes for Fat with Live Baby

Here's the thing, I've lost 25 pounds. It feels amazing, but I'm struggling. How I wish to be fat and unhappy with a silly thing like weight and have the hard-won joy of raising my live baby--Caitlin. When my daughter died I lost a good deal of weight because I couldn't remember to eat, then I couldn't stop trying to fill myself up. I knew it was happening and helpless to stop it. I just wanted my baby back and I couldn't think about food, I could just eat it. Well, as I grew stronger, I decided that I was ready to pay attention. My goal was only to be mindful of what I ate and try to continue to give attention to my grief. That was 14 weeks ago, and with paying attention and being mindful I've lost 25 pounds.

But I have this voice, "This success cannot make you happy." And you know, that's true. Though, weight has always been a struggle, it's not been a source of happiness. I want to feel happy about this though, I'm having trouble allowing myself to enjoy it. Just doesn't feel right. It's another example of bargaining too. If only, I could trade this success for the life of my child. I conclude: Feeding myself did not fill the hole and losing weight provides barely a bridge over that hole. And I continue to struggle to make myself whole again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Grandma's Quilt

The MISS Foundation published "Grandma's Quilt: A Healing Metaphor" in the Sept/Oct newsletter. I read somewhere that you have to tell your own story for hundreds of times before your own heart and mind understand and believe. So, thanks MISS for providing a place for our story and helping us to heal. I printed a copy of it and placed it lovingly in Caitlin's memory book. "I miss you baby girl. I love you."

[Click HERE to read the full story on p. 4 of the newsletter.]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How Odd

We delivered Caitlin's Gifts to the hospital NICU a couple days ago.


It felt wonderful to give her gifts, to see nurses, staff, doctors, and others who knew her and us, and meet those who hadn't met her. I would have loved to have seen and hugged every nurse who cared for Caitlin, but I must admit, it would have done me in emotionally.There is healing in giving and we were happy to do this, and were so grateful that friends and family contributed and helped make it a truly special day for our family.

DH and I reflected on Caitlin's Gifts and our visit the rest of the day and next. The drive back from the hospital was bittersweet. i couldn't help but think, that once again I was leaving the hospital without my baby. I watched some families with newborns in their car seats, with balloons in hand and out the door to home. And I couldn't help but stare at them in wonder. "How does that happen?--to take a live baby home, so odd." I kept watching and wondering, "what is that like?" The families were so happy, but they looked like it was all quite normal. And I felt like an outsider, an alien, and a stranger to life with this distracted thought, "how odd."


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Disappointed with Paul Olsen

So, I'm thinking about love and a mother's love and a children's book, I created a tune to ("Mama, Mama" by Jean Marzollo) that I sang to Caitlin in the hospital and the illustrations in this book are simply beautiful and tender and, well, wonderful. So, I'm messing with the blog tonight and I see Paul Olsen's "Loving Animal Mother POD," and I think, "That's lovely, I'd like to see pics of animal mamas and babies."

So, I click and try to add, and well,---this sucks for a bereaved mother---the link is broken.

So, I frowned, I mean really frowned, the brow is still furrowed, and I felt a bit of disappointment with Paul Olsen. I hope he fixes the broken link soon. If only other broken links could be fixed as well . . . . if only. . . . .

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Echo In My Soul

As Caitlin's death date approaches, I find I am swept away with grief. "It sounds an echo in my soul" is a lyric from the recessional hymn at Caitlin's funeral. It isn't death that echos there, but love and the music that is all that has the power to connect us here in this life.

Music was very important to us during Caitlin's short life. I sang to her constantly in the hospital. I made a recording of songs for the nurses to play for her when I couldn't be there. And as we walked out the door to go to the funeral, I grabbed the digital recorder that laid by her head so she could hear her mama's voice. I recorded her eulogy and many of the songs. I remember thinking, that I needed to be as present as possible. "I must pay attention," I thought, "and I must remember."

After the last post about "How Can I Keep From Singing," I trudged through the files on my computer and listened to those recordings again. The tears flowed, but that's love. I've drawn together some pictures, all from my camera on this grief journey and added the first verse of the recessional hymn at her funeral. I don't know how I sang, and in some places, I didn't--I just knew that I had to sing her out of the church as I sang her into heaven just days earlier.

To view click the butterfly.

View this montage created at One True Media
Echo in My Soul 10/18/08

Friday, October 17, 2008

How Can I Keep From Singing?

The pain of this bereft heart of mine has reached a terrible place. I've been trying to sing again. I promised Caitlin I would. Singing would heal us and keep our connection tangible by connecting my earthly world to her heavenly one. But, I find the experience of singing again to be like swallowing rocks.

In choir tonight we sang beautiful arrangements of lullabies for Christmas. I choked. Then a baby cried and I became frozen. The rest of the rehearsal was for me to remember the night my baby cried, horribly. The night I knew that she was in pain. The fear that engulfed me wasn't even recognizable, because, well, I always thought in the end it would be OK. She would live. She didn't and the last I saw her conscious she was crying and in pain. Then I sang to her until she passed in my arms. That night and into the next day, I would sing her to heaven and I begged her to be there to sing to me when it was my time. But, tonight, I think, I can't continue. And I didn't, I left rehearsal at the break.

I sang myself home with one of the hymns I used to sing to her in the hospital--the one our friends and family sang at her funeral. Sorry I can only include the lyrics, it's not really a song without the melody to carry the meaning so your heart can understand, but here are the words, lifeless, all the same.

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation
I hear the real, the far off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all life's tumult, pain, and strife
I hear my music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing

What though the tempest around me roars
I know the truth it liveth
What though the darkness round me close
Songs in the night it bringeth
No one can shake my in most calm
When to this rock I'm clinging
For Love is lord 'or heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thoughts on "Exact Replica" by McCracken

I finished Elizabeth McCracken's book, "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination" last night. I took a long break after reading the first two chapters, but last night, I decided that I should finish it. Not because it was a page-turner for me, at least not in the sense of that "just can't put it down to find out how it ends" way, because I know how it ends. It doesn't. Once again, life goes on, but so does death. But, I wanted to finish reading the book, and I think Ms. McCracken would completely understand why, after all she ends a chapter with this stark statement, "Closure is bullshit."

I've come to understand myself better in reading the stories and reflections of others. It's an interesting phenomenon that when your child dies, you take that cup of pain and sorrow and death, and search for more death, pain, and sorrow. And the cup doesn't overflow, it grows and makes room and the bereaved seem to mingle and melt together and somehow with this expansion of ourselves by adding others we approach some healing. I think it's that "you need not walk alone" statement The Compassionate Friends use. It's why the MISS Forum is as busy as it is. McCracken states, "I want to hear about every dead baby, everywhere in the world. I want to know their names, Christopher, Strick, Joanathan. I want their mothers to know about Pudding" (p. 138). And earlier, "When a baby dies, other dead children become suddenly visible" (p. 136).

For me reading about her subsequent pregnancy and birth of her second child was painful, not hopeful. I'm old. My eggs are old. I'm not interested in false hope. I'm trying to live my best life. (Please, don't send me a comment that all things are possible. Just send love. I deserve to figure this out within my own family.) At the same time I was overflowing with joy that a living child now rests in her arms, and, not surprising, she makes it clear that a living child does not heal the hurt of the death of her first child, Pudding.

As for the "humor" some reviewers discuss, well, I read some funny. For me it was the kind of humor you had to go to when things are as bad as they can be. The dark humor that I read did not make me laugh, but I understood it. Except, the "Dwarfs of Grief" did make me laugh, and without the laugh I would have melted into despair. Make no mistake, she doesn't make grief funny, but I get the sense that she had the courage to write about her experiences and responses in a raw and honest way. I thought that was glorious. And as a bereaved parent, who also cleans up my language and my stories to reflect what the other person can handle, I was grateful for the sincerity.

I remember writing about being surrounded by babies in church and hearing Buffet's lyric "fins to the left" in my head. Comparing babies to sharks was the humor I needed to not begin wailing in a public place and have strangers remove me so others could worship. I remember "joking" with a friend that seeing people shortly after Caitlin died was excruciating, so much so that I fantasized about having a "Grief Party" and everyone could gather and say "I'm sorry" and KNOW that they were supposed to say "I'm sorry." Then I could swim in the sickening thickness of death and emerge . . . .well I didn't get any farther as my friend look as though she would explode. Too much. The point, McCracken's bits of dark humor were not too much for me. They were true, and she didn't have to refrain from continuing because I already had exploded when Caitlin died.

Would I recommend the book? I don't know. Maybe. Bereaved mothers might want to think about if they need to pour more in, or if they need more avenues for expression of their grief. Friends and family of the bereaved would likely gain some insight into the experiences of bereaved parents. If you're looking for answers, you won't find them, but you will find an honest and raw memoir. And perhaps that will aid you in fashioning your own answers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

For Liam's Mom

For my dear friend and fellow mother
Our children introduced us
"Mom meet another mom
whose heart is broken and misses her's
as deeply as you miss me."

We may never meet, but understand better
than friends who talk and share a weekly cup of coffee
We may never shout in that high so-glad-to-see-you voice
"How have you been?"
With the quick and kindly hug, but we will
know how the other is

We walk together and sit in silence
holding the memory of our children as comfort
knowing that another mom is holding us in her heart

I'm so sorry Liam's mom. I read your post about this fall season. I began to hurt with you to know that you saw and felt what should be, your child in the colors holding Mama's hand. And when I read it, I remembered a picture I took of a farm in New England after visiting Caitlin in the hospital. The beautiful colors of fall, the trees and the pumpkins and gourds lined up to celebrate fall, were striking no doubt, but the picture that I took that resonated with me that day is this one.

Me looking out into the field of fall beauty through bars that prevented me from being part of it. And it is this picture that conjured emotions for me as I read your post. I had this sense that your vision of your son was your memory of what the future holds, only there is something that bars that future from being so.

And so, I share these pictures with you and, though the words aren't as pretty, I share those too.

In Liam and Caitlin's memory.

Monday, October 6, 2008

No Sleep

[I wrote this about 5 months after Caitlin's death. I'm finding myself, not back in this place, but experiencing this phenomenon again. I have healed much since those first breaths, hours, days, weeks, months, since her death. And now it will soon be a year since my heart was torn out of me. But, tonight, I am without sleep again, and I wonder, when will I feel again? And when comes sleep?]

No sleep

I feel this dead calm, but I have no rest
My thoughts drag through my mind
Pulling the sludge of the day with them
I can do nothing but hurl the glop to its pile
Where it settles

No sleep
If only my thoughts would wrest
Loving images of Caitlin from its mass
If only my thoughts would summon
Musical sounds of our lullabies from its silence
I beg my thoughts to wrest
Soft cheeks and baby hair for me to stroke
And conjure Caitlin’s grasping fingers
For Mama’s thumb to become captive
I draw a breath and hold
No joy
My thoughts awaken nothing
Continuing their drudgery

No sleep
If only my thoughts would wrestle
Meaning from her absence
If only my thoughts would propel
Weeping for our loss
In disbelief I plead for my thoughts to
Strike me with the pain of her death
So I may mourn
I breathe and wait
No grief
My thoughts persist in numbing my mind
And there is
No sleep

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hanging the Moon

I went to visit Caitlin's grave tonight. I was relieved to see that her things were all there. The caretakers mow carefully and replace her things as best as can be expected. I was so grateful to squeeze her toy and listen to the sounds with her. I don't understand. I still don't understand how this happened. I know it happened. I mean, my mind knows how it happened, but my heart, my mother's heart, doesn't understand.

I wept. I left a kiss on her stone. The wetness of my tears and lips stayed as long as they could, but then, the evidence of my love evaporated into the air. The ground has grown up around her grave. It's settled in and grass has covered the scars from where they replaced the sod. I put my hands on that ground, wishing I could draw her from it. My mother's heart, the part that doesn't understand, sent a hope that I would feel her heart beat beneath the ground. That heart that saved mine.

I stayed for some time and watched the sky, but I saw no stars and no moon. The night sky--open, no clouds, barely a breeze, and as bleak as my soul. I placed a star at her stone to let her know that I was there. I stared at that star and came to understand it as a metaphor for my daughter. Unreachable and beautiful. I looked up and at last found a single star in the sky. And as is typical for a bereaved mother, I knew to keep staring, to watch carefully, to study the sky for more, and then I saw a shooting star in the early evening sky. It's light was still bright enough to shine through a not-yet-black night. I smiled. It's hard to refute a sign, even when I don't yet know if I believe in them.

The darkness finally surrounded us, me kneeling on sacred ground and my daughter shining from above hanging a sliver of a moon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hating work and the time sucker that it is

I'm just hating work and the time sucker that it is. I need time to grieve. I need time to reflect. I need time to pause. Time to breathe. Time to think. Time. No, I need NOT-time, not a shift, but an end to the "space-time continum." I'm getting my work done, succeeding with a variety of tasks, but instead of feeling good and glowing in a sense of accomplishment, I feel crappy. Crap, crap, crappy.

Hating work and the time sucker that it is. There I said it and I'm glad. (now back to work)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Life Goes On, But Death Goes On Too"

This I read from Elizabeth McCracken's book, "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." This is one of those truths that bereaved parents (and other bereaved as well) discover immediately. McCracken's statement stuck with me and I continued to think about this truth and how we struggle to help others understand that: 
  • We won't "get over it." 
  • We need to say her name (his name) out loud and within regular conversation. 
  • Having another child will not "cure" our hurt.
  • We don't need a solution from others, we need an ear, a hug, and an "I'm listening." 
  • Our child's things become powerful ways to connect to our child. We need to display pictures, toys, and blankets. We need symbols of our love for them, because we cannot kiss our child here anymore. 
  • We don't cry because of what you said, we cry because our child is dead. 
  • Tears are good, meant to be honored, and no tissue is necessary.
  • We will always hurt, even when you see signs of healing.
  • We come to love the pain, as we love our child. 
  • Our child's death is incomparable to any other death. Any sentence that begins with "At least  . . . " should not be completed. 
  • Theocracy is not a comfort, but love is. 
  • We are not capable of knowing how to call if we need anything. Sometimes we don't know what we need. Call and offer. 
  • No-one knows how we feel. Now is not the time to connect with us by telling a "similar" story.
  • "You know what might help . . ." implies that there is something wrong. Grief is an expression of love for our child, nothing is wrong with us when we grieve. It's natural and loving. 
  • What comforts you about the death of our child belongs to you. Share ONLY if we ask. We rarely ask. 
"I thought of Caitlin today  . . ." might be the best beginning to a conversation we might have. Because you see, "life goes on, but death goes on too. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Reflection on Home

You know, this poetry thing stuns me. Since losing Caitlin, I find that words come to my head and fashion themselves, and then I take a step back and say, "Wow, where did that come from and what does it mean?" It's a bit like dreams. You remember your dreams and as you reflect on them you unravel what your mind has tangled for you. Thus with this poetry. I have no sense that I have skills in this art form, so I am left to unravel the tangle of words that my grief fashions.

I read "Home, but not-Home" and realized that though I was at first beginning to express my frustration that I'm so eager to get home to my husband, whose company I most cherish in life, I am still not home because my daughter is not in our physical home. So, it doesn't feel like home, because it isn't complete. Also, "home" is so very painful and confusing for me, because our home never was complete; we weren't fortunate enough to bring Caitlin home. She lived her short life in the hospital. Home is further complicated because Caitlin's home is, in my mind, heaven, and to be home with her requires a more spiritual approach--through prayer, meditation, and thoughtfulness.

With my professional work of late, I find that I ache to go home to be with my husband and connect with my daughter in some way through my grief work--the writing, the posting, the reading, the music, the reflection, the candle lighting, the update of her memory book, and so much more. The grief work gets me closer to making meaning from Caitlin's death and affords some comfort, however, it also isolates me from my husband as we both are grieving in very different ways. I find that there are times when we are home, but not home together. I fear that I will get lost in this grief and will never be home. And I scream inside for him to pull me away from my grief tasks, (though I will, and do, resist) because I want to be fully present for him at home and for her at home. The struggle to blend these places into a whole makes "home" a metaphor for balance in life as a wife and a bereaved mother. I want to be home in my own skin.

But I'm not, yet. I'm home but not-home.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Home, but Not-Home

I’m home at last
To be with the one I miss
But, I’m not home
For I’m still tethered to my grief
For the one I miss
And cannot go to her home to see

I’m home, but not-home
With my computer and posting
With my music and headphones
With my words and writing

I’m home, but not-home
Will her father find a way
To pull me home from this not-home prison
Can he reach me?
I hope he can, for I want
To go

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


It's morning and I have much to do, but I long for a day to ruminate, to dream, to write, and to be with my daughter in a mindful way. I'm truly irritated that I must work and how that work pulls me away from grief. When Caitlin first died, this grief threatened to engulf all of me and leave nothing of worth. Now I need my grief to feel worth. Another paradox of this journey.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lovely Memory

I don't know why, but today after a rare restful sleep, I remembered Caitlin's cheeks. I felt them against my own and with a gentle intake took in the scent of sweet babyness. A lovely memory, one I can't put in a memory box, but must practice--passing it through my mind like the beads through my fingers in a fervent rosary prayer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

As a Matter of Fact

Work. Somebody make it stop. I struggle to wrap my head around the tasks and the time. As I drove home today with a full head of completed tasks and lists of future projects, I remembered, "Caitlin died." 

It shocked me. That's how it came to my head as if I had misplaced the event, like a set of keys. I was in the middle of reviewing the day and my heart walked gently over to my mind and spoke as a matter of fact, "Caitlin died." 

I had no time today for grief work and so my heart had to speak up. I marvel at my disbelief. My child died before I did. How can that be? I almost couldn't continue to drive. "I know," my mind replied with the weight of what is.
My work-thought dissolved. But for the noise of the tires, I drove the rest of the way home in silence.

I entered a dark still house and continued my pause. With no chatter in my mind I waited, but my heart had no more messages for me. I remained frozen until my body took the next step. And I spoke to the silent darkness, "I'm sorry sweet baby girl. I love you. I'm so sorry." 

My foot took its cue and I made it to the light switch. I sunk into the couch and thought about those words. Was I sorry that my heart had to tug on my mind to be mindful of her absence? Was I sorry that she wasn't here in her mama's arms where she belonged? Was I sorry that I had no tears, only silence?

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am so very sorry.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Tear

There's a tear sliding down my cheek
but, I don't remember crying
so I don't know where it's going

I don't wipe it away
because it's here
to keep me company

Friday, September 12, 2008

Everything Can be Reasoned

"Everything happens for a reason."

Here's a broad belief about life that I simply can no longer hang my hat on. The hooks have been removed and the pole has dissolved into a puddle on the floor. But, I can look at the puddle and reason as to how it happened to transform from wood to water. And I might also discover as I ruminate that the water when mopped produces an amazing shine on my floor. I might even see my reflection in this new shiny space and think, "Well, that's better than a coat rack, anyway."

I don't believe that everything happens for a reason. This worked to some degree for the other me, when I wasn't happy about an event or was met with a new challenge. This belief gave me some hope that whatever happened is part of "the plan." The statement so easily dripped from my lips for a myriad of life events, the big ones and the small ones. Once it was uttered, I was released from it. I no longer had to think about it or struggle with "why." I could let it go because I had placed the challenge in the Plan basket. I don't know what it is, but I will someday. So, I am released from trying and can get on about it.

This doesn't work for a life with a dead child. Caitlin did not die for a reason. Let me make that more clear--There is no reason for Caitlin's death. She died. She is loved and missed every moment. And that loving and missing is forever. I'm am left here without her. I grieve. I mourn her departure and I rejoice in the little earthly parenting I was fortunate have. The Plan basket is not available for me in this event.

My religion offers me a Christian version of this belief. That all is in God's plan. The plan gets muddied with free will and that apple story, but still it seems like the same belief to me. My loving God did not plan for Caitlin to die. God weeps with me as the earthly rules set in motion have no "do-overs."

And as I am left to grieve, with God's tears falling with mine, I begin to find meaning in this new life of mine. I discover wisdom in this wound and my eyes are open to new ways of loving and living without her. I learn different lessons in her death than I was learning in her life. I am inspired to amazing selfless actions, and I am surprised by those actions. I recognize that these are also different than those selfless actions she would have inspired in me in her life. So I learn lessons and I become a better person than before, but, let me be clear again--none of these are reasons for her death. Though, I can use my reason to identify those actions and lessons that are a result of her death. And so, I stumble onto a truth, that everything can be reasoned.

We humans are meant to make sense of the world, it's hardwired into our brains. And this grief work is perhaps the most difficult reason task to perform. Here's the thing, I think we humans got the Plan wrong. Everything does not happen for a reason, but rather no matter what happens, we are equipped to make sense of it. When a child dies, all of the pieces that made up our lives must be brought back within our self. We are compelled to make sense of our emotions, our actions, our physical reactions, our relationships, our belief system, and the list goes on. Those pieces often don't fit where they once did, and there are new pieces to fashion.

And for me, a futile search for the reason that she died, is not a good use of my grief time. Remember, I mentioned that no Plan basket was available for this event? Well, that's because I haven't woven it yet. As I grieve, I make sense and weave a new basket, not one that holds a plan, but one that holds the gifts of being Caitlin's mother and learning to parent her even in death. We are made to progress toward healing and, for me, the ability to find meaning and purpose in the face of the most unnatural event imaginable brings me some comfort.

And that companion statement, "Everything happens for the best." We got that wrong, too. We can make the best out of everything. This one still stings too much to work with, but I'll get to it, once I'm stronger.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memory

I'm reflective today and hugging the moms and dads whose babies of any age died on this day in 2001. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Caitlin's Gifts

For Caitlin's first birthday, we had a party, and guests brought gifts, just as they would do for any other child's first birthday. But these gifts were special, they were meant for other mom and dad's babies. Caitlin's Gifts of onsies, blankets, hats, booties, boppy pillows, disposable cameras, and children's books will make many hearts smile as they parent their infants in the NICU where we parented Caitlin. And for those families who were not as fortunate, who find themselves in need, Cailtin's Gifts will provide a few diapers to send along for those first precious days at home with a premie. Caitlin's Gifts will include pharmacy gift cards for medication for parents whose baby was born before they had anticipated they would add their child to an insurance policy or after a family's insurance has stopped paying. My daughter's gifts have brought me much healing, I've been almost giddy for these days following her day of cake, punch, and a song. I can't wait to deliver her gifts.

I've written and addressed the thank you cards, and hugged and shared words of gratitude for Caitlin's Gifts, though it doesn't seem like enough. I must be sure to express my gratitude for the gift each person gave to me in this milestone in my journey of grief--a journey that pulls me out farther away from the shore of my daughter's life. I had many genuine smiles on my face and in my heart on Caitlin's birthday. I marvel at the miracle of those smiles as they provide a mesh to carry me into the next day and next The words and prayers, whether spoken with a hug, whispered in a private petition or written in a card or note, have woven a netting beautiful and strong. I feel myself being held. I am still in this sea of sorrow, but this mesh gently catches me and guides me to warmer and safer waters--where I can float and remember and sometimes catch a glimpse of her shore.

Somehow in my lot in life, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by love, and fortunate that my daughter inspired and drew out of me more than I thought possible in myself. I don't mean to go hokey here, but this is the thing, without the support of family and friends, and strangers too, I would dissolve, formless, into dark, turbulent waters of despair. There are many times I do dissolve, but somehow, someone, through word or action, has found a way to make a finer net, knotting another delicate and indestructible thread. And somehow, I re-form and get on with imagining more ways to honor and remember and become the kind of mother Caitlin should have. And when I fear I can swim no more, the love for my daughter catches me and brings me back to healing waters.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Refining Fire

The Refining Fire

Caitlin's death has become the refining fire
Flames of heat and light that shape my heart
A wildfire that destroys what lay rotting on the forest floor
Making way for new growth

I surrender to the pain of feeling my flesh char
Leaving only truth bones
A skeletal framework for new agreements 
Where love grows limbs of compassion reaching 
Further from me and deeper within me
I welcome the smoke that
Billows and swirls about my head
Suffocating the thoughtless chatter
Inside and outside of me

I abandon the futile search for design
Willfully inhaling what smolders
To know what smell death has and
To know what smell death hasn't
Each exhale deepens my knowing

I draw breath to singe my vocal chords
Left to listen and gratefully mute
For if my voice were to bring words to the
Music of these roaring flames
No one would survive the song

I am glad for the refining fire
Preparing the way for new Knowing
That the big stuff matters most
And the little stuff matters as much
I am glad for this agent that germinates the seeds of
Loving more deeply and
Expressing that love more completely

I am comforted in the knowing that I fan those
Flames with a mother's love
Reaching wildly for my missing daughter
I revel that my tears like gasoline make the fire
Burn hotter
I offer no resistance
I would no more cease this burn, than cease
Loving Caitlin

And when this blaze fades to embers
Deepening silence and
Leaving ashes to be blown away to 
Our new life places and our new life spaces
It will have done the work of 
Sealing this mother and daughter's love for eternity
And where the word of existence is all that remains
From the rage of the refining fire