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.