Friday, February 27, 2009

I Held a Baby

Yup, it's true. I didn't plan on it. It wasn't my sister's baby, my best friend's baby, or some friend of a friend's, but a baby boy whose mom brought him to work. Here's what happened.

I go to an all-day work meeting where my colleagues from across the state come together to complete a task--and a woman brought her 7-week baby. I'm drawn to babies, as I've said before, but I do lose it when I hear a baby cry, and I do tend to miss Caitlin more when I'm around babies. Well, there was some fussing and cooing and surprisingly, I'm doing fine, still able to work with my group at my table. No tears. Then one of the facilitators holds the baby and parades him around to each table with all the typical "oohs and aahs." I'm fine though. I'm not able to look up, because when the baby stops by our table he is is crying. I'm about to start crying when I get irritated. I have this conversation with myself.

"What is the deal? What are you afraid of?"
"I don't want to be traumatized by a baby."
"Enough is enough."
"So what do I need to do to resolve this anxiety and tension?"
"I need to go hold the baby."
"Really? Really."
"I am a crazy woman, but I'm done with how bad this hurts and I'm sick of the energy it takes to avoid this uncomfortable situation, so I need to go hold the baby and make this real rather than something I'm worried about."

I go over to the mom and ask, "Is it OK if I hold your baby?" "Sure," and she smiles at me. I walk over to the woman holding the baby and say, "Mom says I can hold her baby. May I?" And she hands me the baby.

It was quite lovely. And I start talking and cooing to the baby. The parade woman says something, but I'm not really listening to her. I say, "I haven't held a baby since my daughter." The woman replies to my thinking out loud, "Oh, how old is she now?"
Woops. I thought she knew I was a bereaved mother. I looked up at her stunned and said, "Oh, no. She's gone. My baby died at 11 weeks."
She may have said, "I'm sorry," but I don't remember. I went back to swaying and talking to the baby. I waited for the intense grief, some anger, aching, longing, sadness . . . none of those emotions came. Joy? No, not that either. It was just nice. My conversation with myself continues as I sway and stare at someone else's baby boy.

"Where are your emotions? Are you cold-hearted?"
"No, I'm fine. I'm OK. No sorrow here."
"Yeah, I feel kinda bad about that. Shouldn't I be traumatized?"
"Nope, I just feel almost nothing."

I handed the baby back to the parade lady who hands him back to the mother and I go back to my table. I sit down and one of my colleagues who knows my story and remarks, "Wow, that was a milestone for you." "Yes," I replied, and at last the tears flowed, grateful that she acknowledged my loss and sat with me as I missed Caitlin.

I wasn't crying because I held a baby, but crying because I wasn't holding Caitlin.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Personal Economic Stimulus Plan in Play Today

So, I have to go to the dentist today. I don't like it, so I decided that the rest of the afternoon will involve putting into play my personal economic stimulus plan--translation: I go shopping. I don't like shopping either, so I start with Starbucks (insert "Sound of Music" melody . . . a very good place to start . . .). Mmmmm $3+ coffee and one of those new turkey bacon sandwiches-that ought to help. I sit at a table and write some letters--yes letters that require stamps to help the post office succeed financially and stay open on Fridays. Then off to the shoe store, for the shopping. I wander the aisles, try on a few shoes, and then get irritated that I look the profile of the typical shoplifter (middle aged white female) because when the third extra-smiley employee interrupted my quest for shoes I don't need, I was certain that DSW would not benefit from my spending plan. But, alas, I did what was right and left with a pair black low-healed shoes. On, to the book store for more wealth spreading.

I go to the music rack and pick up "Classic Songs" a book of lyrics to songs. This irritates me too, because I'm so frustrated with this culture that doesn't have the music literacy to know a tune by just looking at lyrics, but I digress. I open the book and Caitlin sings this song to my heart:

Farewell, Mother Dear

Farewell! Mother dear, I go,
Where loved ones never can be parted.
We will meet again I know.
Be not weeping and downhearted.

Last night I dreamed of thee,
Saying pleasant things to me,
Still again those vigils keep,
While I lay me gently down to sleep.

Weep not mother dear for me,
When I'm laid underneath the willow
I'll keep guard upon thy soul,
Thou hast guarded over my pillow,
Far in a radiant land,
I will join a sister band,
They are singing a sweet refrain,
I am called, Farewell! We meet again.

I put the tiny book under my arm and find a chair to slump in and think, "thanks baby girl." I start to think that she misses me, too. Heaven may be nice, but her mama isn't there. So, she finds a way to nestle her head into my breast and sing a spirit song to my soul. I hear the lyrics again. I continued my shopping and find another book, "My Mother Gave me the Moon"

My mother gave me the moon.
My mother gave me the stars.
My mother gave me security.
My mother gave me warmth.

I'm unable to continue reading and I gently place the book back in it's place. Then as I walked out, I pick up a children's book about caterpillars and lovingly wandered through the pages until the last turn reveals ten beautiful butterflies.

I no longer question when I experience these signs or visits or memories or coincidences or whatever one chooses to label them occur. They are important ways of living for me and parenting the memory of my child as she parents my heart. Save a place in that sister band for me, daughter!

And that ends my personal stimulus plan day.

Vocal Life Chords

Fear sings with broken sounds
Stuttered lyrics and phrases inert
The performance lays bare a mother’s

Love sings with broken sounds
Stuttered lyrics and phrases in motion
Melodies soaring then softening
rendering Fear
forgetful and indecisive
A dissonance resolved

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ICLW Reflection

First, welcome ICLW bloggers! This is my first time participating, and I'm a bit overwhelmed and humbled by the comments so many of you leave, thank you. You have lifted my spirits and validated many of my emotions. I'm also stunned with the variety of bloggers out there. After three days, I find that I can usually connect with anyone no matter their waypoint in their life journey. But, I have also encountered some fear so I thought I would pose a couple of questions and wonderings, and welcome your responses.

1. I wonder when I visit a mommy-to-be if she is made uneasy that I don't have a living child. I worry that pregnant mom of week 12, 20, or 36 doesn't want to read a comment from a bereaved mommy.

OK, turns out I have just that primary fear. It's just that I haven't been able to comment on some blogs, because I'm afraid to.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Another Book about Loss: "The Mercy Papers"

UGH. I'm reading another book about loss. I find myself drawn to frank and raw stories, where the authors discuss their experiences without bathing in false hope and creating recipes for "fixing it." My latest read, "The Mercy Papers" by Robin Romm is stark. After the first few chapters I almost gave up---too close, too painful, too much reality. I skipped to the afterword at the end of the book, looking for a reason to keep reading. I found it; she writes:

It seemed to me that most books sought to close the wound, hurry it shut. But death doesn't heed commands. The wound, large as it is, can't close up in a week, in a year, in two years. You can't talk it away in groups, you can't meditate it out of you. The truth of loss is loud and ferociuos. This book is a tribute to that truth.

I returned to my place and continued to read "the violence of the actual event," as Romm describes her book. I gave myself permission, though, to skip and read through in a shallow manner when it becomes too hard for my tender heart to take. And with my new approach, I am still able to find many experiences that resonate with my own.

I wonder of this need I have to pour a cup of another's pain with my own. How is it that there is comfort in that? Perhaps it is that another's pain informs my own. I don't feel better that someone else suffers as I do, but I do learn from those who have suffered tragic loss and can articulate and describe and make meaning of it.

My approach to Caitlin's death was and is to allow it to be what it is, and to have the courage to feel the emotions it conjures in me to be felt. To express in words or images the meaning I find and to hug her life close to me until it becomes a physical, tangible part of me. I think, maybe, that's what Romm has accomplished with her book. 

(But, when I'm finished, I'm going to watch the movie "Wall-E" 'cause I'm gonna need a little yang to go with my ying here.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

25 Things About Me (Bereavement Version)

So, I keep seeing these Facebook "25 things about me" posts on Facebook, and I've been tagged a couple times, but I don't think I can participate, because all I can come up with belongs to the "Bereavement Version."

1. I am the mother of Caitlin Anne, who lives in heaven.
2. I am still not a member of the mommy's club, because others can't see the baby I parent.
3. I continue to struggle with the hope for parenting a living child.
4. I don't like it when people say "I know how you feel," when they didn't wait for me to finish my sentence to begin with.
5. The day after my daughter died, an acquaintance noticed my appearance and asked what was wrong. I told her and she replied, "I know how you feel, I'm dealing with our dog dying right now." True story.
6. I am still unable to walk by myself, because of my overwhelming fear that I may break down and melt into a puddle of grief and be rendered lifeless. I am afraid of the thoughts that will most surely flow through the meditative act of "one foot in front of the other" activity.
7. My DH loves me. I know he does, because he hugs me everyday, tells me he loves me everyday, makes me coffee, and looks at me---really looks at me and smiles at what he sees.
8. 11 is an important number for me, because it's the number of weeks Caitlin was alive. I have 11 pink silk flowers in my house and we released 11 pink and white balloons on the anniversary of her death.
9. I love babies. I'm not afraid of them, rather I'm drawn to them.
10. I don't love it when I hear pregnant moms happily complain about their discomfort int he later weeks of their pregnancy. I genuinely don't care about their complaints, but it triggers my own thought process of wishing and believing that if Caitlin had stayed safely inside for 7 more weeks as she was supposed to, she would still be here today.
11. I don't care that it makes people uncomfortable when I say, "Yes, I have a child. She lives in heaven." They asked a family question and I gave the truthful family answer. I'm not going to be silent about my child's life to avoid the moments of awkwardness they might feel.
12. I grieve everyday. I understand forever.
13. I'm not angry with God. I don't think He had anything to do with it.
14. When mothers say they would do anything to save their children. I believe them.
15. I sometimes enter "magic land" and think, "you know if people would just stop praying for winning a game and getting a A on a paper, bereaved mommy's prayers of BRING MY CHILD BACK TO LIFE, might get through to God."
16. Caitlin was a tiny beautiful child and she loved her songs and I loved singing to her. It was very hard to sing after she died.
17. I laugh louder than I did before Caitlin died. Not because I'm happier, but when I'm happy now that emotion is relation to the degree of sadness I feel now.
18. I have a white stand alone closet where all of Caitlin's toys, cloths, books, sympathy cards, photos, and memory box are kept. I call it Caitlin's closet.
19. My mother has a memory garden in her house for Caitlin.

20. My sister made a memory necklace with stones for Caitlin's mom and pink stones for Caitlin.

21. I want to learn to play the cello. When I do practice, I sit in the room where Caitlin's closet is and we keep the cello music in one of the closet drawers. I think Caitlin would like me to learn to play the cello, too.
22. We knew prenatally that Caitlin had Down Syndrome. I don't like to talk about it, because this diagnosis felt like a death sentence for what we wanted for our child, and then, tragically, it turned out to be so. She died because she was born prematurely (common for babies with DS), had a heart defect (common for babies with DS), and died from a perforated bowel (babies with DS are more likely to have developmental problems with the digestive tract).
23. Despite all my classical music training, I listen to country music. I love Martina McBride's lyric "love's the only house big enough for all the pain the world."
24. Caitlin's grave is a 10 minute drive from my house, and when I go there I feel traumatized by her death and elated by her life at the same time.
25. I'm tired.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Point of Life is a Tilde

In the first months of grief, I wrote a poem of sorts that explores the "point of life." "Don't give me a circle, when I asked for a point," I shouted into space. I couldn't find a point to life, but had to reconcile that life continues and so does death, which brings me to a truth about loss. The bereaved as they struggle to make sense, find that concepts once thought to be mutually exclusive, are not, but rather co-exist and perhaps more shocking--are actually co-dependent upon one another. It's not a new concept, but when you live it and feel it and know it intimately, it's mind-blowing and well, quite exhausting.

In casual conversation and academic work, I've encountered Eastern "ying and yang" and Western "circle of life" ideals. And, recently, I encountered a scientific discussion of this phenomenon whereby the researchers posit that polarized concepts can be reconciled and that the symbol for that reconciliation is the tilde ~ or squiggle. The ~ illustrates the complimentary nature of what appears to be opposite ideas and concepts. We have a tendency to see things in pairs and to place each member of that pair in polar opposition to each other. I love the idea that researchers uncovered some evidence that life is more and/both than either/or.

Here are a few and/both points, I mean squiggles, that I've been thinking about: I am in a point in this grief journey where I feel and express joy and sorrow in the same breath. When we organized "Caitlin's Gifts," I did it both selfishly and selflessly. I needed a celebration and acknowledgment of my daughter's first birthday, but in planing her party and gifts, it was at the same time a selfless act of helping parents and children who were experiencing the trauma and stress of caring for a baby in the NICU. Perhaps the most powerful squiggle in my brain is the reconciliation of reason and religion in my life--I no longer have the need to choose a side, as both serve to aid in my healing and making meaning of my child's life and death.

And now for a bit of a non sequitur: I'd like to pass out squiggles to those in political parties for use when they label and stereotype and spew their either/or madness so we can live in a more peaceful and compassionate world.

I have my squiggle and I'm not be afraid to use it! Are you?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Put Your Head on My Shoulder


There is this space inside me that I've gone for resting. I feel like I'm there to catch my breath for the next onslaught of challenges to my body, mind, and soul. Work has settled a bit, well, at least I'm navigating more smoothly my tasks. But, I have this "knowing" that I'm only resting until "it" starts again. I haven't much else to share, only that I'll stay here a bit longer, at least as long as allowed, until something in life pushes and I get moved.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Valentine at the Cemetery

The snow has at last melted away and so I delivered Caitlin's pink heart to her grave today. It was a very cold day and the ground looks pretty beat up, a lot like how I've felt these past days, mostly because the flu and cold season found me and held me hostage for two days.

I could already tell that her butterfly was gone from the last time I dug her stone out of the snow, so I had a new one in the car just for when this happened. I was surprised I didn't get more upset about it being gone, but there it was a new butterfly to help me think of her spirit soaring. I love this picture, because there is a perfect little butterfly shadow I hadn't noticed when I took the picture. I suppose shadows are creepy for some people, but I find them to be proof that something we can't touch is really there and I think of Caitlin that way sometimes--if I could see her shadow somehow I would know she was there, even though I can't hug her--she would still be there.

Finally, DH is very wise and bought me pink tulips for Valentine's Day even though we agreed we didn't really care much to celebrate the Hallmark Holiday--but he is oh so much smarter than to believe me when I say these things!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Don't Need a Holiday to Say "I Love You"

I don't need a "holiday" to remind me to say "I love you."
But, since it's here, I'm compelled to say:

I love you baby girl.
I miss you beyond belief or understanding.
No amount of prayer or reason can suture my broken mother's heart, and yet it soars knowing that you arrived and for 11 weeks you were my baby and I held you and kissed you and sang to you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Making the Best of Everything. Really?!?

Some time ago, I wrote about the oft repeated phrase, "Everything happens for a reason," a phrase, that I believe is misspoken and misunderstood as a life truth. In fact, it is that everything happens can be reasoned. My contention is that we got it wrong, because we have the ability to make sense of what occurs, we make the mistake of believing that it was "supposed" to happen that way to begin with. There is nothing that will more clearly show the error in this leap to fantasy, than the death of a child.

Well, I'm back to tackle a sister phrase, if you will, of, "Everything happens for the best." I don't think I'll need to spend as much time on this. You only need to replace the words "Everything" with your child's name followed by death to experience the ridiculousness of this phrase, another phrase that many like to spout off as another life truth.

My ability to see that all that happens can be reasoned, and that we can find meaning in all that we endure is strong, but I cannot make a case for Caitlin's death happening for the best. I cannot make the best out of Caitlin's death. I can only endure, make meaning of her death in my life, make peace with the reality of her death, open my arms and heart to living again, but, I cannot in anyway reconcile to making the best out of her death or believing that everything happens for the best. For each of these words have the sheen and texture of pearls, but Caitlin's death broke that strand of pearls, and as they dropped from my hands into the sea of grief, they revealed their true nature--that of dense balls of sand that dissolve in salty water.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sitting on a Cold Marble Bench

I don't know where this image and sensation comes from, but yesterday I had a dream while awake. Not a daydream, though, I was dreaming and I was awake. There's a difference, trust me. It's odd, but not, I suspect. It's likely many fellow bereaved parents and others who experience great loss could share a story of when their unconsciousness is too eager to get started and visits before consciousness releases its hold on our minds for the day. I don't know, I base this assumption that others have had this experience solely on my average-person-ness. I've done no research, I'm basing this refusing to believe it's at all unique, but here it is none-the-less.

I have this sense that I am sitting on a cold marble bench with my legs crossed and tucked under a thick slab of blue-gray marble. I'm hugging myself to this bench feeling the cold of it seep through to my legs. I rock myself to get more settled in. The edge is rugged and rough, though the top is smooth and polished. It's a simple bench, no back and two square legs fused to the ends providing a sturdy resting place for the seat. There's room for three adults at this bench, but I sit here alone and in the dead center. I'll be here a while watching, what, I don't know, but I'm seated, arms crossed and legs tucked under. I suck a good portion of air in as though I had just remembered that it was there, and rock a bit to get settled until I remember to exhale that breath. I'm not particularly sad, or sorrowful, anxious, or feeling anything really. I'm not waiting, but I am watching the grass, perhaps? ground? I seem to have no purpose, but to be sitting on a cold marble bench.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For a Stillborn by Marisa de los Santos

For a Stillborn

You haven't left me empty but too full
of children, every possible of you. 
To love each one could make my heart go dull, 

but still I try and sing each night to lull
shut eyes of green and black and gray and blue. 
You haven't left me empty but too full

of singing (my throat burns). I feel the pull
of tiny nursing mouths. I'm hungry, too, 
to love each one. What makes a heart go dull

as sunstruck eyes? (I've learned the sun can fool:
it rises and we think that day is new). 
You haven't left me empty but too full

of mornings, all my infants' wakings, all
their cries. My arms can only lift a few. 
To love each one will make my heart go dull. 

In not becoming one, you now are all.
I wish (a thing I know I shouldn't do)
you hadn't left me. Empty and too full, 
my love, my heart refuses to go dull. 

[Schew. I'm revisiting this poem since I first read it over 6 months ago, and my heart refuses to go dull. I'd like to know if this poem is from personal experience, though. I checked her website and it has no mention of her losing a child. But no matter, it still speaks to me.]

Monday, February 9, 2009

Death Ain't You Got No Shame

"Death Ain't You Got No Shame" is a white spiritual, a folk song collected by Alan Lomax. The words are simple and repetitive, but the power of the sorrow is rich. I haven't found a free example of the song that's "listenable" to my ears, but the lyrics (truncated) are: 

Death ain't you got no shame. 

Left his pappy to moan. 

Left his widder alone. 

Left his mammy to weep. 

Death ain't you got no shame. 

The folk song speaks to me, because the bereaved do often personify death. When we make it a someone, all be it a mysterious and unknown someone, but, when we make it a someone it makes it possible to express our anger, sorrow, and pain at this someone. It gives us a place to put our thoughts and feelings. You can't shake your finger at an event and "ain't you got no shame," but you can at a mysterious someone. Once again, it seems that it is the arts that allow us to manage the unmanageable, in this case the literary and poetic art of the words and the sounds over time that express those words. 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Replies on the Inside

In the normal course of conversation-casual and professional, I encounter images and words that render me speechless. I am silenced and the replies remain inside me. In these cases, I choose the silence. I can't participate in some conversations. I won't reply when I know my words wouldn't be understood by one who is not a bereaved mother. I won't reply when my response is a macabre non sequitur. I won't reply when it's a grief response meant for me to work with alone.

1. "Well, for those of us who have children, we can't make it on that day as they don't have school and we have to be home."
My reply on the inside: I have a child. I have a child. But, I understand it would be odd to correct that statement and say, 'for those who have living children.' After all, who says that? Me, actually and other bereaved parents with no living children. Relationships and love don't die with the person, but apparently our language does fade.

2. Public display of the first baby picture--the ultra sound on electronic community with a "we can't wait."
My reply on the inside: Please, be cautious. Fear. I hope they get the storybook happy result. And "Please, don't be so public, it hurts." This reply is so selfish, I can only post for others who wear similar shoes. Images and sounds evoke memories, and I have worked for over a year to massage and make peace with many of my memories--ultra sounds that reflected our excitement, then ultra sounds showing birth defects and the doctors gentle descriptions of what those meant. I have had over a year and continue to reconcile that my "can't wait" is spirit.

3. "I want to finish my degree before I have children."
My reply on the inside: Don't wait too long. But, then I reflect on my fellow bereaved mothers much younger than I who said goodbye to their children at birth. There are a dozen standard ways non-bereaved and those with living children might respond, such as "well that's wise," and "good for you, you'll want to have lots of time to dedicate to your children." I remain silent with my knowing that there are no guarantees in life, and so I just nod with solemn hope.

4. "Her mother died, and now the couple has to find a way to take care of her 32 year old adult child with Down Syndrome."
My reply on the inside: Oh, my God, this life is impossible. Parents with children with special needs worry so much about dying before their children. And their best laid plans for their child's care beyond their death are left to the good will of others and not the fostered independence of the adult child. It means something different to leave a child who cannot care for him or herself without you. I wondered if this mother could have had a peaceful death. I wanted to die before Caitlin, and these words spoken to me made it painfully clear that this mother and I lost both battles. We would do anything for our children to live--but there is nothing we can do when they die and nothing we can do when we die. And we do what we can while we live. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

For Her Father

With February well on its way, I've been thinking about Valentine's Day. I don't particularly care for holidays. Well, I like them, I just try hard not to have too high expectations of myself and others. Since Caitlin's death some holidays are particularly painful for me (like Mother's Day). My reflections on this up-and-coming Hallmark event, brought me to something I wrote after our daughter died, and the strength my DH showed in holding me, until I was strong enough to hold him.

For Her Father

For the one who held me as I wailed
Who waited to release his pain
To be present with mine
Who understood
As I clung to his breathing body
That I was trying to fold myself into him
Searching and aching to find my child
Within him
Draining myself into his soul
Resting for a moment there

For the one who then
Entrusted his sorrows to me
Released tears that bathed my naked arm
Buried his head in my neck

I cherish you
Each other we find our child
For her essence
Lives in us

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lake Song by Colette Inez

Every day our name is changed,
say stones colliding into waves.
Go read our names on the shore,
say waves colliding into stones.

Birds over water call their names
to each other again and again
to say where they are.
Where have you been, my small bird?

I know our names will change one day
to stones in a field
of anemones and lavender.

Before you read the farthest wave,
before our shadows disappear
in a starry blur, call out your name
to say where we are.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Out of Respect

Out of respect, I won't mention that I think it's sad that the death of a child becomes the pulpit to stand upon and proselytize the right spiritual way or the path to damnation of a soul, and righteously shout when others don't see the correct way, the your-salvation way.

Out of respect, I won't mention that I think it's sad when the death of a child is explained with words that diminish the grief parents feel with "When you're dead you cease to exist, and nothing lives past it's life, and so your grief is your own, because the dead don't know anyway." And that feels a lot like proselytizing, too, the right way, the your-preservation way.

Out of respect, I won't mention that I feel frustrated in this complex world where the bereaved, when hanging on to a faith because it supports and comforts themselves, ignore that another is hanging on just as tightly to another faith or a non-belief.

And it feels like we'd all be a lot better off if Compassion won out over righteous faith and correct beliefs. Because, I'm thinking that swaying another might make an individual feel better, as if they were doing the Work, answering a call, or educating, but, when in the position of being swayed or educated, when in the position of being the recipient of proselytizing--it doesn't feel that way.

It doesn't feel like love.
And it doesn't feel like compassion.

There, I said it and I'm glad. And I say that out of respect for our dead children. And I say that out of respect for the God I believe in and the mind I was given to reason.