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


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Letter to Heaven

My Dear Daughter, 

     I struggle to find words to tell you how much you are loved and missed here. Though, I know you see my heart and can read the words inside me, I wish to find the profound prose to mark your first birthday, a birthday you will celebrate in heaven. But, language falls short, and there is no place in a letter for the song of my soul. I smile to know that you made it that day, you lived and I truly believe that you meant to stay here with us. 

     I promised you the day you left us, that I would treasure all of the motherhood you gave me--successes and failures. I have not forgotten our spiritual conversation that day. I continue to strive to be the kind of mother you deserve, and I thank you for inspiring that purpose within me. Seems that later in life is when a parent might observe how her own child has shaped, changed, and formed her as an individual. Makes sense that the realization that the child, in turn, raises the parent should occur in response to a mother reflecting on how she raised her child. But, you and I have had to progress to that stage before it is natural to do so. 

     I work everyday to accept the role of parenting your memory, as you parent my heart. Life is hard without you here. Instead of fading with time, I miss you more each day. There is some healing, sweet baby girl, and I am getting stronger and more able to carry this grief. But, I would trade any of this growth of character for the opportunity to experience more of our mother-daughter life journey together. I would allow the wisdom of this wound to wash away for the privilege of being a mother with earthly tasks, the joys and the challenges. Love in real time, real hugs and real kisses, and songs sung while watching your sweet face, would be preferable to any lesson learned along this sorrowful journey. 

     Watch over me from heaven angel daughter, I'll need your help with each step forward and your presence when I stop to rest. 

With Eternal Love, 

Your Mother