Monday, September 28, 2009

Bereaved Parent Bond

It's no longer a surprise to feel a connection with someone I've just met. A connection that feels like I've met another member of my family. I'm speaking of course of the moment when two parents come to understand that they are both bereaved. When, someone says, "I've lost a child." And the individual's response isn't "I'm sorry," followed by helplessness, or that scary silence or "God's plan," or "Well at least it wasn't" or some other response that is many times comforting, and sometimes not. Rather, the response are those knowing tears behind the eyes that accompany the "I'm sorry" and a "I also had a child die."

"Then you know," frequently accompanies my sigh of relief. I'm relieved not because they suffer the same never-ending missing and the intense overpowering sorrow. We feel relieved, I think, because we are released from worrying about what they will say to us next. We are released from protecting them from how sad we still are. We are released from modifying the horrible, sometimes graphic, stories of how our children died. And we don't feel obligated (though, I understand it's usually a self-imposed feeling of obligation) to put on a strong face so they don't worry about us.

I met Kyle's father this weekend. He asked about my work, and to explain some of my challenges I included the tragedy of our daughter's death. And Kyle's dad responded without a flinch, and understanding eyes. "I'm so sorry," he replied, "we lost our son." Then he put his head in his hands and the tears escaped. "And you try to *move on, but it's so hard." We had a brief exchange about our children, but then back to work.

[I don't much care for the words, "move on," but the longer I live this bereaved existence, I find that several bereaved fathers, including Caitlin's sometimes use this phrase. Caitlin's dad says, it's not meant to be "getting over our daughter," but meant to say "continuing to live." And although DH doesn't use this when talking to me about Caitlin anymore, I'm trying to be more sensitive to how men process grief; and if a dad needs to use that phrase in his grief, then I try to respect that.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I teach. And the lecture today was about some things about how the brain develops. There's some "chatter" about synapses and density and such and there is info about what age certain things happen in the brain. It's here when I hear myself say, "until about the mid-70s, unless there is a disease that may interfere with the healthy density of synapses and rapid firing of those synapses in the brain." Then I look down and hear myself speak, "and of course PTSD affects that too." And my brain takes a worm hole back to the past, when a year ago, I was struggling to spell words on the board as I lectured from this same spot in the room, and began stuttering as I struggled to stay focused and not feel so scared, and where I tried--desperately tried to think. During that acute grief, I simply could not think.

When we teach we typically use an anecdote to illustrate a point. It sticks when the students know the person whose telling the story. But, this anecdote of

When my daughter died, my brain stopped working well. I experienced Post Tramatic Stress Disorder. It was like slog. I couldn't remember anything. I couldn't spell. I couldn't speak. Numbers were gone from my memory; I even forgot the date of my anniversary. And the fear, the overwhelming fear.

Wasn't shared. I stared at the floor for what seemed like an eternity to me. While the slog returned, and finally lifted my heavy head, and asked with blank and tired eyes, "Any questions?" I begged in my head that no one would speak.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pic for ICLW

I don't have any big thoughts on this, 'cept that the alley is public and empty. Hmmmmmm.

Late to the ICLW Table

Ah, I am late to the ICLW table. I thought that this month, I would be able to participate more fully, but alas, I am struggling again. So, I will say, "Thanks for all who came to visit. I'll be madly commenting beginning NOW!"

I like the ICLW because it gives me a chance to connect with more bloggers out there in the land of bereavement, TTC, infertiles, adoptive parents, and so many more. Scheeeeeuuuuu there are lots of us out there!

This weekend, DH and I left a busy work week behind and visited friends. It was nice. I'd post a picture, but Blogger and I are "fighting" and it won't cooperate.

Ever just feel like no matter what you do nothing will cooperate?

Monday, September 14, 2009

And so . . .

Two things

1. ((((hugs)))) to all of you who held me through my frustration in my previous post.

and so . . .

2. What do I say when someone does say this to me?

"Well, I don't really see it that way. But thank you."

If it's someone who loves me then I speak. If it's a stranger or acquaintance I am silent.* (Well, usually.) And that's where the e-outburst came from, because I take those feelings home, and they scrape across my heart for days. Sometimes the feelings bubble out like a mud-pot, but yesterday the fissure at my core couldn't vent it evenly and the geyser of anger blew.

It's not what people say that I wish to change.* (OK, well I do wish I could prevent them from saying it to me.) But, I'm resigned. I know I will continue to hear this statement, and I know that it is not said to hurt, far from it, it's their best attempt to comfort. Many of you echoed this in your comments. I talk about making meaning, and that statement for some is how they make their meaning.

But, I don't feel like I can tell them that.

Why? Some will be hurt by me because they view it as rejecting their offer of comfort. Some will try to convince me, and then it's really bad. Some will bible-verse me and give me a condescending "Well, I'll pray that you understand someday." Some will feel helpless. And that feeling just plain sucks. Some will fear that my faith is gone. Another sucky feeling. Sometimes, I simply too exhausted and too tired to form words to express my grief.

The burden then is mine, I must learn how to navigate it's effect on me. I'm working on it. It's part of this grief work the bereaved cannot escape.

*Anyone else notice that I'm desperate to escape the reality that nothing is simple and there is no right answer to this even in my own head?! Ha! I laughed out loud.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Never Say This To Me. Never.

"God has a plan. We don't know what it is, yet, but someday we will. It will all be clear."

* If you believe this, don't keep reading, below are some angry words about this statement. This is my space for pause, but I'm not interested in making others uncomfortable.

Never say this to me. Never.

I don't know how I can bear to hear this ridiculous sentiment addressed toward me again. It brings no comfort. To think that there's a plan for Caitlin's death brings no comfort. I have already surrendered to what is--that she is dead. I cannot strip the scab with desperate hope for answers. I have answers; she was born without good health, she had a perforated bowel, became septic and died. Exploring a spiritual reason for her death is an open door to madness. I make meaning from her death. I learn valuable, painful, difficult, beautiful, and loving lessons. But these are not the reasons she died. Meaning making and lesson learning is a gift not a plan. Let God be God and stop blaming him for dead babies by insisting that dead babies are part of the plan. My child will still be dead on that fictitious earthly day when it all becomes "clear"--clear is not a salve. One more thing, if suggested that it will become clear when I die, then I'll be in heaven too and then I'll see my daughter, and then----------I will be comforted.

Never say this to me. Never.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Thousand Times a Thousand Times

I recognize that look. The glassy eyes and a knowing that bad things happen, and a disbelief that everyone around you is engaged in what they are doing and interested in what they are saying and you think, "DON'T you know he's dead."

I'm speaking of course of the young adult whose brother died. We talked after I watched him go through the motions in a class. "I keep thinking I can just go home and see him." I remember that too. That every cell in your body has to be told that your loved one is dead. You tell your story a thousand times a thousand times.

You say it in words, the long version, the short version, the gentle story and raw shocking one. You write it in poetry you never knew you had in you, in essay, and letters, and emails, and forums. You tell the story in images of color and symbol, in nature of trees and birds and butterflies. You tell the story in actions through weeping, hugging, collapsing, and through fervent prayer, ritual, releasing balloons, and lighting a candle. Your entire being is immersed in this death story, this grief, this missing.

And those of us who see you looking glassy eyed and frightened must help you tell your story.

"How have you been since your brother died?"
"What did you do for Bs birthday?"
"I thought of B and you today when I was followed by a butterfly."

And then our role is to listen, not to fix, not advise, not to distract, but to be a loving receptacle of the story for the bereaved to lay another bit of their loved one gently to rest. And know the honor in that. And say, "I'm sorry."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What I Wanted to Say

"Come talk to me anytime, if you need to."

UGH. Yuck. And I sucked. . . .

at comforting a young adult who recently lost his brother. I was doing fine up and until my last statement. I said the dead child's name. I didn't wait until there was a "private" moment. The bereaved don't want the death of someone they love to be swept under the rug. They want them remembered and named. It's their new normal; they live with absence.

But after we talked, I said a sentence that was troublesome for me. "Call me if you need anything." What I meant to say was . . .

Know that when I ask you, "How are you?" I mean "How are you since your brother died?" Know that I understand that when you need to talk you are probably so deep in sorrow that you don't have the energy or the cognizance to ask for help or know that you need to release that sorrow. So, I will invite you to tell me about your brother. I will call or send a message. I will not be hurt if you say "no thanks," 'cause I'll know that you need to fold inward. But, I'll wait patiently outside to offer my arms and my ears when you emerge from your dark place. I won't wait until you call me to ask for help; it shall be my burden to offer my help.

That's what I wanted to say.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Second September Without You

On the first day of Caitlin's birth, the nurses cleaned and dressed her and took pictures. In those first pictures she wears this multicolored cap that volunteers knit for babies in the NICU. They laid her in my arms, those first days of September wearing that hat. This past year, I came across this bear in a sale bin. My eye was drawn to it because of the colors; they reminded me of Caitlin wearing that cap in those first days after her birth. I picked it up and saw "September" stitched over the bear's heart. And I smiled.

To mark Cailtin's second birthday, I put together some pictures from her first days. Among the pictures are short videos of me talking and singing to her. The lyrics in the music punctuate my thoughts, "I'm thinking of you."; "Was this be part of the plan?"; "What's left for me to do?"; and "I didn't want to say goodbye."

Happy Birthday, my little sweetie. I miss you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dear Beloved Daughter,

I've been struggling to find words to write a loving letter to you. I can't seem to reach in deep enough to discover the ones that fit. Your second birthday is tomorrow, and I feel like I have been poured out with no more syllables, phrases, or verse. I have only these.

I love you.

I miss you.

I'm sorry you aren't with me.


Your mother.