Saturday, January 31, 2009

Feeling Silenced

One recent outcome of my grief strength has not been particularly welcome. I'm beginning to feel silenced, in that the words that express how I continue to react and respond through my bereavement have come under attack, by none other than myself. I have a growing feeling of being silenced by hesitancy to reveal and hesitancy to offend and hesitancy to post thoughts that may be in opposition to those I love and to those I don't know. I recently read a fellow bereaved mother's blog where she described holding her hands over her mouth to keep the screams inside when she learned her baby girl had died. My heart broke for her. (Her grief is new, to send her a message of love click here.)

My experience when Caitlin died was that I had no skill to hold anything inside, my screams and wails and tears came out forcefully; I was helpless to prevent. Those around me were in the direct path of my raw grief and were helpless to avoid being surrounded by sorrow mixed with their own. I had no "control" as it were. After reading the mother's story of the death of her baby girl, I recognized that my hands in more recent weeks have come to cover my mouth in effect to keep some feelings inside, perhaps to spare others of continued shared experiences with my grief. But also, I've been restricting myself to avoid discomfort. In making meaning of the death of my only child, my grief journey has taken me to exploring and understanding, for myself, the "big stuff" of the human experience--that of life and death.

But, I will gently coax my own hands away from my face and place them lovingly at my own side, and open my mouth and speak. I will do this because, this place is my Fifth Season. My area to express the big thoughts and the small ones--and to those who join me here, you are (as you already know) free to listen or cover your ears, and please know that I welcome both reactions. For, I don't need another to agree with me or see life the way I do, here, I need a place to express and make sense. And I only need love and to love, and the latter means that I will offer my thoughts, and that is all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rushing Grief

I've been in a place of reflection today about this journey. In the beginning, I had the natural desire to rush and hurry through the hurt. When the pain you feel strikes your soul and leaves you breathless because you fear another breath will kill you, you know you've been giving more than you can handle. So, you handle it with denial, magical thinking, wailing, and the like.

But, there is no rushing grief. You have to pay attention. You have to work. And much of that work is denial, so you can catch your breath and so your body can catch up to your mind that knows she's dead. And magical thinking that some how the nurses will bring her back and lay her in your arms--and it never happened, so you can hope and feel that anticipation of holding your child again. And wailing, you must allow yourself to feel the bad this feels. I truly believe that.

I had a doctor suggest that I accept a prescription for "the depression." "You don't have to feel this bad." Well, I disagree. I think I did and I think I do. I have a right to feel how I feel and I'm convinced that I had to feel the full weight of Caitlin's death in my life, because that was and is the only way I'll know for sure that I am weaving her life and death into my own. I had to honor and acknowledge everything connected to my daughter--the joy she gave me and the pain of losing her--it's all love and I'm not giving any of that up by numbing it with a pill.

I feel the weight of her death now, but I'm stronger. I hold it with more tenderness.

Lately friends have been commenting about how much better I look and sound and seem. And the word they use is "better," I'm grateful, I haven't heard the dreaded "you seem to be over it" that other bereaved mothers sometimes hear. And it's true, I am doing better. I'm stronger to carry my grief. I've lost 30 pounds. I smile more readily and I laugh louder than I did before.

A woman remarked to me the other day, "I saw your son's name in the program at school." I replied with surprising ease, "no, that's not possible. I don't have a son. The only child I have lives in heaven." "Oh, I thought I saw your name," and she continues to talk. But, I'm not listening, I'm thinking about how natural that was to share that I have a child. And to share that she is dead.

That's important to me because that natural response was a sign that not rushing grief has helped me transform an otherwise debilitating exchange into one where Caitlin and her mother were a normal part of a conversation as any other subject would be.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Whoops" A Story from the DMV

"When was it due?" the clerk at the DMV asks me.

"The registration renewal was due January of 2008," I state plainly.

"Whoops," she replies and does this smacking sound that makes her lips go one way and her eyes go the other.

I started to speak, "Well, my daughter died just a bit over a month prior, and I was grieving. I could barely get out of bed and put clothes on, much less take care of my registration renewal. I couldn't remember the date of our wedding anniversary, much less the date the paperwork was due. In January, I spent my time painfully studying the fresh ground around her grave and noting the dates other angel babies graced their parents with life, so I didn't notice the "grace" period had passed."

But I didn't say any of it. In fact, I didn't speak at all. I had no energy to return sarcasm for sarcasm, and no reason to offer an explanation. After all, I still had to get that renewal completed, and I didn't need her to know my grief, and frankly, she wasn't responsible for my error. And saying nothing, I carefully handed her a copy of my temporary license with a picture of me from when I first moved to the state. I felt defeated. "That's my face long before I was pregnant. Long before Caitlin was born. Long before she died," I thought. I half wished that they would take another picture, I'd be several years older, with my gray showing, but then it would be a picture of Caitlin's mother and a picture of me. And I would have liked that. I would have liked that.

All I could hear was the click of her fingers on the keyboard and a request for $39.00. OK, that made me smirk on the inside and jerked me from my silent grief back to my mundane task."What an insignificant amount," I thought. I wrote the check and waited for the paperwork. She handed me my manilla card with a new renewal date, 2010.

What significant events will occur between now and then? I wonder.

"Make sure you get your inspection completed within 5 days" she looks at me with what I thought were kinder eyes.

I don't know why, but I could have sworn that she had softened, and her sarcasm over my super-late renewal was replaced by a smile. I suppose my face was an open book, as usual, and I must have appeared to be quite shaken. Though she likely concluded that it was because I upset about being so late with my renewal. She couldn't have known that the reason for my silence was that I wasn't there at the DMV, I was in grief.

None-the-less I was grateful for her change of demeanor and for the gentle smile she gave me as I left.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grief Woven

We spent a couple days with friends this weekend. I had a bit of anxiety when we left home, as I always do, but it took less time for it to subside. It's always easier if my DH is going with me, but even when we leave, I would feel this sense that I was leaving Caitlin. It's not irrational, it's grief. But continually I see that my grief is woven into the fabric of my life. It's happening. I'm stronger.

Our friend recently lost his father and I knew not to shy away from asking about the memorial service, how he passed, and "how are you doing?" I knew not to worry our invitation to talk would bring up something painful that he didn't want to talk about, but rather, it would bring up something painful that he did want to talk about. We could see in his face that he was relieved to talk about his father and this pain of his death in his life.

We shared how important it is that we collect and hold and view and honor the objects that connect us to our loved ones. When talking about a painting that had a significance to the death, he sighed, "I just don't know where to put it yet." My response was quick, "It's OK to leave it there as long as you need it to be there. And some day, you'll think, 'hey, I know exactly where it should go.'" I know this because when we returned from France, I unpacked our suitcase, and moved Caitlin's memory box and stuffed animals that lay in her crib to her white free standing closet in what would have been her room. This was the right time to move them out of our living space. This action was another sign that grief will continually be woven into my life and sharing these thoughts with our friends was a way to be part of the grief work they must do.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trouble with the Thoughts

I'm back in full swing for the semester and I can actually feel how much stronger I am since the year anniversary of my daughter's death. In short, the busy day went well and so when I came to my Fifth Season, I found that was able to visit and look at her pictures and read some previous posts and catch-up on the blogs I read periodically. However, I'm having trouble with the thoughts of my own. In a sense, I'm am content (whoa--shocker--Is it OK for me to say that?). It's true. I am neither sad or happy, but content with where I am in this moment.

If you need a laugh today, check out the link to a post entitled "Poking, Nudging, and Whining." I couldn't stop laughing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise Song for the Day

Praise Song for the Day
By Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business
Walking past each other
Catching each other’s eyes, or not
About to speak or speaking

All about us is noise
All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din
Each one of our ancestors on our tongues

Someone is stitching up a hem
Darning a hole in a uniform
Patching a tire
Repairing the things in need of repair
Someone is trying to make music somewhere
With a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum
With cello, boombox, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus
A farmer considers the changing sky
A teacher says, “Take out your pencils, begin.”

We encounter each other in words
Words spiny or smooth
Whispered or declaimed
Words to consider

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone
And then others who said
“I need to see what’s on the other side. I know there’s something better down the road.”
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet, see.

Say it plain.
That many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here.
Who laid the train tracks
Raised the bridges
Picked the cotton and the lettuce
Built brick by brick the glittering edifices
They would then keep clean and work inside of

Praise song for struggle
Praise song for the day
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign
The figuring it out at kitchen tables

Some live by “love thy neighbor as thyself”
Others, by “first do no harm”
“Take no more than you need”

What if the mightiest word is “love”?
Love beyond marital, Filial, National
Love that casts a widening pool of light
Love with no need to pre-empt grievance

In today’s sharp sparkle
This winter air
Anything can be made
Any sentence begun
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp

Praise song for walking forward in that light.

Wow, I couldn't disagree more!!!

LA times totally panned, In my opinion, Alexander's poem, and I couldn't disagree more. I believe she did write a poem that spoke to so many of us. I'm working on writing my humble response, but I've already posted a blip and so will post this blurb, until I can get my thoughts and words around what she did for us.



Ok, so I don't think that the the media--common or elite can take in poetry for what it can offer us. That's my feeling. The average individual who has not experienced extra-ordinary events (such as the death of her only child) has limited ability to understand the power of this poetry. There, I said it, and I'm glad.

You must be open. And you must be open to the arts. You must willingly be vulnerable to the joy and sorrow of regular life to understand and appreciate what Alexander had to say. And, people! She spoke from a humanist perspective and she included religious as well as "non-believer" perspectives. No one group was laude. We all were shown to be of a people who understood how to love. Did you listen to how she explained what kind of love would save this miserable world? Ugh. I'm so frustrated.

Why does it have to have a package that Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe? Why does it have to be a monotheistic belief represented for a particular group, before others are moved? People, seriously, can you not see that all love and all wail in the death of their children? Mothers whose babies die in Jesus are just as inconsolable as those who die in Islam or in non-belief.

I am not capable of seeing this event through the eyes of none other than a bereaved mother. Why cannot other acknowledge their biased lens? You see it through your god, admit it and be who you are, but please don't participate in more violence.

Alexander, in her poetry calls us to look to the broadest definition of love. Why is that not good enough for us? Why must we continue to force belief upon another? In my humble nobody opinion, the cynics should have first taken to heart the statement by Barack Hussein Obama that "to the cynics, the earth has shifted beneath you." Why do people not want to seek a better way? I don't know. But this poem was worthy of laude.

Politics aside, this sentiment, this poetry, was worthy of pause and attention.


This poem used words, I have thought, but did not have the skills to fashion. Did you hear her understanding of love beyond romantic and familial? Did you hear? Please, listen. The dead beg that you listen.

Dr. Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural Poem

Outstanding! Moving! Beautiful. It spoke to my heart and I forgot it was about the inauguration so much validation for people in so many places and spaces. I can't wait until I can find the text and read again.

"If I Could Be Where You Are" by Enya

Monday, January 19, 2009

Through the Lens of Bereaved Mother

I was traveling on business this weekend and managed to fit in a visit with an old friend in Nashville. It's clear that my new experiences are viewed through a new lens--the lens of a bereaved mother. In a walk through a park in downtown Nashville, where they had the replica of the Parthenon and other Nashville memorials, I remark that I'd like to walk back to the entrance of the park to take pictures of a statue. "Really, I don't think there's a statue there," my friend tells me. "It's a memorial and I'd like a picture," I insist. So, we drive back around to the entrance and she remarks about how many times she's been to this park and never noticed it before. But, for me, it seemed to clear why I not only noticed it, but needed to go there and take pictures to share with my fellow bereaved mothers--especially those of you who have lost your children in war.

I would have spent more time in some silence at this memorial and in reflection of those who are lost, but my friend doesn't have my lens and when I was done snapping pics, it was "OK, let's get some lunch." And it was OK, I don't expect others to join me in my way of seeing the world. I only wish to share those and have the opportunity to express them.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I reconnected with a friend today from years past. Someone I hadn't seen since long before I was pregnant and had Caitlin. And, well, I'm different. I can feel it in my bones. I don't respond the way I used to and I don't get it, generally. What connected us as friends will have to change for this friendship survive. So, this visit could be reconnecting or it could be, "goodbye" I just don't know. Sorry to be so obtuse, but I can't be anymore clear, because, frankly, I don't know. It's not anything deeper than I'm not sure that this will play out to be a reconnection of friendship from the past. I just don't know.

Wish me luck.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Boils down to this

I just wrote this long treatise on how I was feeling about other mothers and other babies and after writing and agonizing over the exact words and analogies and self-psychotherapy, I found that it all boils down to this:

I want to be a mother with a living baby and not just any living baby, I want my daughter Caitlin back, breathing and heart beating.

And, I'm not writing or thinking anymore. There will be no reason, instead I just need to stew in this desire, this impossible dream. I just need to be here. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"I Still Cry"

Below is a reflective video to the song "I Still Cry" for Liam's mom using her poem "September Sun"as bookends to this beautiful song.

Little Prayers No. 5


by Paul Goodman

Novices of art
what has them by the throat
the climax; You speak out

for me, spirit who affright
me in the lonely night,
nor do I know till I express it
the message boiling in my breast

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Seek to Live

I am not seeking to be happy
I seek to live
For some time, well into adult hood
I abandoned my naive belief that
happiness is the goal.
Catilin's death punctuated
precisely that
Sorrow and joy live together
both must be acknowledged
both must have my full attention
Happiness is a wish, a fantasy, and fleeting
And that's OK
Life is presence and fluid
And that's what is

I am not seeking to be happy
I seek to live
And in life, I will be content
with tears and smiles

I find that allowing painful and raw emotions to flow out of me
Feelings of anger, fear, jealousy, pity, desire, guilt
To acknowledge them and know them
through some kind of expression
is an outlet to wash clean the heart
Using the same water that bubbles from a spring
a spring of hope that I cup my hands under
and bring to to my lips to refresh
or splash upon my heart to cleanse

In short:
I will always feel sorrow that Caitlin is dead.
I will always feel joy that Caitlin lived and that
I am her mother
I will not shy away from expressing my sorrow
or describing my joy

Why this big-thought? I've been feeling frustrated with the message that one should "focus on the positive." This is not one of those life events where that strategy works or is a healthy approach. I've been feeling irritated with the message that expression of the so-called "negative" emotions should be avoided. Feelings in and of themselves are not bad, and without a healthy way to express what is in your heart and mind, a more insidious and possibly damaging expression will most likely emerge. I'm not interested in converting or swaying others to think as I do, but I am interested in exercising my right to express myself and "give permission" if you will, to others who may feel stifled from expressing what must be released in a healthy way. Ah, but here's where I feel myself launching into the sorely lacking arts education in our children's lives and this is not the place for that "big thought."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Visit to the Cemetery in the New Year

I wanted to wait until the snow had melted, but I was compelled to visit Caitlin's grave today. The snow was still at least a foot thick above her stone, and I was unable to kiss her name. The wings of her angel and color of her singing toy were visible through the sheet of ice. I placed a butterfly in the snow and read some poetry before I left. Before I left a father arrived and stood in the cold, so I left so he could have more time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

On the Inside Looking Out

I'm happy for others. It comes easy to me. The joy of others does not diminish me. But there will always be the feeling of being on the inside looking out, when I am among mothers and mothers-to-be.

A mother of a child who lives in heaven simply cannot participate fully. She can share stories of pregnancy and birth, but it's hard to tell those stories when others may recoil because they know your baby is dead. Or listen with fear for she may mention that her baby died. They may squirm with discomfort when a tear comes to her eye in honor of her baby. So, she smiles and remains on the inside looking out.

[Another of my pics from France illustrates my thoughts today. I don't find it odd, just natural that everything I looked at I saw through these eyes of mother of child gone too soon.]

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Journey

As I reflect on our trip to France, I flipped electronically through the pictures, and noted that much of what caught my eye illustrates the journey. A pathway, a stairway, tree-lined roads, doorways and windows--open and closed, and light and not light all provide symbols for this path of life that, in my case, includes the death of my only child. I have not analyzed the depth of some of this pictures beyond that it's clear these were not unconscious choices to snap the images. Here's one of my favorites of the journey.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Images in Stone

There is something about sculpture that captures an essence of something that only three dimensions can do. And the nature of making an image stone and expressing an emotion or message through stone is, well, permanent. The stone makes us think it will be there forever, long past ourselves for others to come to know. Though the images do wear with the elements of water and air, the stone does its best not to disappoint those of us who rest our hands to draw out the essence of the living subject or the artist's love.

I have no story for the image below. It's a sculpture I saw in an artist's garden in a village in France. I wasn't able to climb through the fence and touch it, but I wanted to. The child is so peaceful and happy and resting and alive--that's what I think may be the story. I could imagine more, but I'll leave it at that--a child alive, sleeping peacefully with a mother watching lovingly.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Moon & a Single Star

When you are hosted in another country by a friend and grief seizes your heart, you have to bury it. At least, that's how I felt. These waves of grief are not as high or as sweeping as they once were, but I am still pulled in to warm tides of sadness. I couldn't very well bow out of the night's events. But the moon and a single star (probably a planet, maybe Venus?) greeted my eyes. And I remember staring at the first full moon after Caitlin died, and I remembered the crescent moon in the early evening sky when I discovered baby Dorothy's grave at the cemetery, and, well, I have no deep message, other than to note that the moon smiled at me and I was grateful for it's beauty. I thought of Caitlin and I took a picture--the one you see above.

I am so tired. I'm OK. But, I'm tired.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"A maman" by Victor Hugo

A maman

Mon coeur me dit que c'est ta fete
(je crois toujours mon coeur quand il parle de toi)
maman que faut-il donc que ce coeur to souhaite?
De tresours? - des honneurs? - des trones ? - non, ma foi
Mais un bonheur egal au mien quand je te vois.

In France, I spent a good deal of time reading. I purchased a song book for children that had French folk songs, tales, and poems for children. As I was singing through them, I thought of the time I spent singing new songs to Caitlin as she lay in my arms awake or sleeping. I turned the page and my heart skipped a beat. I saw a picture of a child offering a note to his mother, and on the opposite page is this poem by Victor Hugo. My ability to translate French is rough at best and by hurriedly using the French/English dictionary I may have actually muddied my understanding a bit, but I think my heart figured it out.

My heart tells me that it is your day (holiday or birthday)
I always cross myself when I think/speak of you
Mama, what is it that you wish for?
Treasures? Honors? Trophies? - No, my faith
There is no happiness to equal (that of) when I see you

Have you see the way a mother looks upon her child? Have you truly studied the complexity of that expression? Look again when your mother looks at you. Linger a while longer and watch a mother listen to her child speak or watch her baby sleep. There is no happiness equal to loving.

[My apologies for not using the proper accents in the French text. And if you translate better than I, please, I welcome your corrections!]

Monday, January 5, 2009

Absence, Again

We took a trip. Ten days in southern France in a little village with no computer and no work, just wine, walks, reading, and food. I took a couple of books of poetry, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. I also brought my pink journal, the one with butterflies that I use for writing about Caitlin. And as each day passed, I became aware that I couldn't seem to conjure a sense of connection with Caitlin there. I wasn't surprised. It made perfect sense, though I was hoping to bring her with me as it were. I've had, thus far in my grief journey, a sense that I was a conduit and that what I saw and experienced Caitlin would see and hear as well, and that through me we could do things together. France was different and I felt her absence, again, unable to find a portal. Again, I found what is not, cannot, and will not be.

In my journal I wrote, "I've been trying to find Caitlin here in France. she is in my heart, but I have not yet been successful in bringing her here to where I am." That day, I managed to squeeze in a walk in the village by myself. I was determined to bring some of this crippling absence to a resolution. Grief and I walked and I searched for a place to write her name. When your child is gone, her name is what remains. I sat on a bench overlooking the village and looked around, there was no sand or dirt to write, so I picked up some stones from the cobblestone circle and wrote her name. I stepped back to study what I had written and discovered that her name blended into the stone, not the clear sculpted name that I trace each time I visit the cemetery where she is buried. I sat by her name and could think of nothing. Absence, again. This was a new life place for us and another experience that I must accept on this journey.

I didn't have time to continue my journey and find a more suitable place to write her name. Instead, I took some pictures and hurried back to meet with my husband and our kind hosts with a smile and "sure, I'm ready to go." I didn't have time to make meaning. Now that I'm home and able to reflect on the pictures, I find it fitting that her name blended in with the stone bench and that one had to truly look and study to find her. I have become stronger in carrying my grief, more productive in my work, and more able to answer questions of "Do you have an children?" with "Yes, a daughter who lives in heaven." Acute grief has subsided and is not easily visible on my face and in my voice to most of the people I encounter. You wouldn't know I was a bereaved mother unless you took the time to study closely my face and the words I choose carefully in our conversations.

"I miss you baby girl. I wish we could have stayed home with you, reading you stories about France instead of traveling there without you."