Peace Be With You (14)

When we walked into church on Sunday, I noticed the priest was wearing red.

“It’s Pentecost,” I whispered excitedly to Dan. “I love Pentecost!”

I do love Pentecost. As a Catholic, I know that Easter is the most important holy day in the calendar. Without Easter, there’s no Christianity.

But I always regarded Pentecost as extremely important as well. (Please note: I am but a layperson in the church, not, by any means, a theologian.)

Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them alone. That he would send them a helper. He sent them the Holy Spirit so they would have the strength to go out into the world and share the good news.

And that’s what is documented on Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter. A great wind comes to the disciples, tongues of flame rest over their heads, and they leave the room where they had locked themselves away, and begin to declaim the Word.

Imagine if the Spirit never came. Imagine if they never left that room.

++

Fourteen years ago today, it was Pentecost Sunday.

Fourteen years ago today, I delivered my stillborn son Gabriel, after four days of being induced and going into labor.

I truly believe that the Holy Spirit came to me and to Dan, in our time of need, and I was given the strength to deliver our son. Jesus breathed into that room and stretched out his hands, and peace came into my heart, and strength came into my body. It did what was needed to deliver Gabriel.

I was given the strength to leave that room.

Without the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure I would have left that room.

I don’t mean literally. I am sure I would have been delivered of Gabriel one way or another, and I would have left the hospital, empty handed, hollow in my heart.

But metaphorically, if I had not received the strength of the Holy Spirit, I would have stayed locked in that room. I would not be mother to three other children. I’m not sure my marriage would have survived if I had stayed in that room out of fear.

So, Pentecost has deep personal meaning to me, as well as being important to the church in which I practice my faith. I give thanks to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for imbuing my life with the ability to move forward. Every day I am thankful for my marriage and my motherhood, in all their aspects, both dark and light. I feel the flame in my heart.

13

I have a few teenage boys in my life now.

They peer at life sideways, through long bangs. They play instruments and sports — guitar, drums, hockey, soccer. They swim; they go to school. They excel.

They probably drive their parents nuts, in the ways of teenage boys. I’m sure they can be frustratingly quiet or enragingly mouthy, and I’m sure their parents don’t know which one they are going to get at the dinner table, if they even sit at the dinner table anymore, because they are busy, busy boys.

One nephew is the spitting image of my brother, although I don’t remember my brother being so lanky. One nephew has moods as changeable as the Pittsburgh skies, but his laughter is worth waiting for. One boy is such a special kid, son of one of my special friends in Erie, and I don’t get to see them enough. Our godson is a serious boy who invites my husband over for breakfast burritos.

I will have a teenage son in the house in about eight years.

For now, I do not have a teenage boy.

++

At Michael’s soccer game on Saturday — his final one of the season, the one where he got his participation medal, of which he was ridiculously proud — there were two little boys named Gabriel. A white butterfly fluttered across the field.

I have a good life full of love and blessings.

And I have a missing piece, an empty cradle. And having the former doesn’t erase having the latter.

Copyright: vectorinka / 123RF Stock Photo

One Dozen

I had to schedule this year’s visit. For the first time, I had to put it on the calendar in my phone.

We came Sunday, a day early, technically speaking. I knew if I waited, the day, the week would get away from me.

Earlier in the day, I was scheduled to be on book for a JV basketball game at our school. This is the age you would be.

In a different life, you would be one of these boys. Probably on the tall side, possibly a little awkward and uncoordinated, like I was at 12. But serious, attentive to your coaches, and wanting to play well.

Or maybe you’d be a little more like your dad, more naturally athletic, and a bit of a clown, fiercely cheerful as you dribbled down the court.

I think you would tease your sisters; I think your little brother would idolize you.

I think; I wonder; I don’t know.

And… in a way, it’s okay. We come to terms. We’ve learned so much; we’ve walked so far.

And, yet.

I put a visit in my phone, just the same. Picked up flowers. It’s not for you; I know that, I have peace in that. It’s for me; a moment I need to steal, a moment that I need to remember. That I have four children, not just three.

"What are you thinking?" "Gotta feed the living." "I prefer it that way." Me too, my love. Me too.
“What are you thinking?” “Gotta feed the living.” “I prefer it that way.” Me too, my love. Me too.

Open Letter to a Babyloss Mother: Part III, Don't You Worry About Me

After I came to your son’s memorial service, you sent me an email. In it you said, “That can not have been easy for you.”

And this is my final note on that: Don’t worry about me.

After Gabriel died, I had no one to talk to (aside from Dan) about what the hell had happened and about what we were going through. I didn’t know of a single person who had had a stillborn baby. Or if they did have a still baby, I had never heard their stories. Dan and I were completely at sea. Our midwives pointed us to Compassionate Friends, which was helpful. I eventually discovered a whole world of baby loss parents on the Internet.

I learned what I’m trying to tell you in these letters: Grief doesn’t end. Other people’s babies can hurt. It’s okay to talk about your son. You are a mother.

I didn’t have someone (aside from my uncle) to tell me this stuff. I slowly found resources, and I was incredibly fortunate in the support I did have in family and friends.

I am more than eleven years down the path that you have just stepped on. You probably can’t even see me ahead of you.

I will do my best to leave you some markers. You probably feel horribly alone right now. You’re not, although some days I wonder how much of a consolation that is.

I’ll be all right. Even when talking to you brings my grief back to the fore, I will be all right. I know my strengths and my resources. I know that I have my own spaces and my own comforts. I have some place to turn for support.

Tell me what you need to tell me. Please know, I will always have your son’s name in my heart. I won’t shy away from your pain — if anything, I will wish I could protect you from it. I can’t, though, and I don’t want you to worry about protecting me.

I hope that if you need to talk to a therapist or a professional that you find someone. I will be as good a listener as I can, but you may find yourself needing an even safer space, a completely objective listener.

And, if you need a few more little bits, please consider these. From me to you.

My post at Glow in the Woods. I found this site helpful in part because I am a writer by trade, by nature. The other writers here helped me language my own feelings.
More on grief as a never-ending story here and here.

I hope that I can help you find your way to some peace.

red pen mama

Springtime path in the woods

source

Open Letter to A Babyloss Mother: Part II, About Babies

Dear You,

When we finally left the hospital after Gabriel’s delivery, we went out to eat. “We” is my husband and I, my parents, and my in-laws. A family with a little baby in a car seat was at the restaurant. Everyone tensed up, and looked to me. I laughed. “It’s okay,” I said to assure them I wasn’t going to freak out. “The world is full of babies!”

This was shock talking.

The world is full of babies.

At first, you may feel the way I did. The shock of losing Gabriel carried me through months of dealing with other people’s babies. I have a nephew who was born a month before we lost Gabriel; we spent Father’s Day with that family, my nephew sprawled on my husband’s chest and belly, sleeping. Close friends had a baby about five weeks after Gabriel died. We went to the hospital; we became that boy’s godparents.

And then, in October, another nephew was born, to my SIL — Dan’s sister. If Gabriel had lived, he would’ve been the first grandson on that side of the family. When this nephew was born, I met my husband at the hospital.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I told him. I was in a panic.

“Just try,” he begged.

I tried. I walked into that hospital room. I managed to congratulate my sister-in-law, and then I walked right back out, sobbing. She wanted to ask us to be godparents, and I begged my husband to please talk her out of it. At the very least, to not ask me. I hope she has forgiven me for my (very understandable) actions when her son was an infant. He was the one who shattered the cocoon my shock had wrapped me in.

These years, your 30s, are full of pregnancies and babies. You may be able to deal with them with grace; you may not be able to deal with them at all. Please know that eventually, it will be okay to celebrate your friends’ pregnancies and babies. You may be able to deal with some people’s babies with more grace than others.

For a little while, it’s okay to say, “No.” Don’t make excuses. Decline shower invites if you think it’s going to be too hard; absent yourself from baptisms and birthday parties for awhile; send cards and nice gifts and warm wishes.

Other people’s babies can be hard. You and I know that what should be a time of joy and celebration can end badly. Sure, you can pretend to participate — you may be even stronger than I, and truly feel the joy with none of the anxiety and jealousy. I know that in my mind, I was very happy for the birth of healthy babies and excited parents. My heart, muffled in cotton wool for a while there, was a different story.

At the risk of repeating myself, be gentle. Know what you can do, what you can face, and what you need to say no to. And, at the risk of sounding mean, screw the people who give you a hard time about it.

As a final note, I don’t really have any advice to give you about moving forward with the next pregnancy, if you and your partner decide to do that. I am not your doctor, your midwife, your partner, or your heart. Dan and I were told to wait *at least* three months to start trying; we waited six. Flora, our oldest daughter, was conceived nine months after Gabriel died. I was more ready than my husband.

We have three living children now. My pregnancies were fraught. But with trust and faith, we got through them. It’s not going to be the same as your pregnancy with your first son. But it can still be good. I wish you all the peace and luck on that front.

You are in my heart.

Sincerely,
red pen mama

Other People’s Children

What if I do look hungrily
at other people’s children?
Maybe I am raging with envy inside,
holding these living bodies,
running my hands over their supple skin.
Maybe I am crying inside.

It’s hard to be with these children,
particularly the sons and their laughing faces,
making them smile
drawing on a summer’s sidewalk with chalk
playing their favorite games
with their favorite toys.

And no one would blame me
if I didn’t
touch them see them talk to them
cradle their tiny heads
if I were envious
if I did shed tears over their lively bodies.

No one would blame me at all.

wintertime

source

Open Letter, Part I: Grief

Open Letter to A Babyloss Mother: Part I, Grief

Dear You,

I have so much I want to tell you. I hope I can give you some help, give you some hope. Please pick and choose what you need from what I can say. And also know: I am here to listen.

First of all, and I’ve told you this already, but I really want you to remember it: You are a mother; your partner is a father. You are parents. You will question this in the next weeks or months. You will have people tell you that you are not a mother. Really awful people will say it to your face. Innocently, earnestly.

Try to avoid really awful people.

You carried and nurtured your son. He grew and thrived under your heart. It is a great unfairness — how inadequate is that word? — that he is not here, in your arms. It is the most devastating thing you will endure.

Second, grief has no timeline. Grief is a different animal when you are living inside of it. It doesn’t have steps; it doesn’t end. Other people are already moving on, and it’s because they are *just* sad. Not to minimize their sadness, but sadness is not grief. You and your partner are in a different boat. A very lonely boat.

Cry as much and whenever you need to. Someday, you will go through a day without crying, but that day may be months away. The first time I realized I had gone through most of the day without crying, I started crying. It felt like a betrayal of my son. It’s not — it wasn’t. It was a sign that I was actually healing. I didn’t want to heal. But it does happen.

When we lost Gabriel, we had a memorial service. My uncle, my father’s brother, lost a son to a car accident when the son was 22, 30-some years ago now. My uncle walked up to me, put his arms around me, and said, “You will never get over this.” And it was such a relief for me to hear that! It took away all the expectations, all the worries I had about actually, you know, getting over the death of my son.

It is survivable, as you said in an email to me. You will get through. Be gentle on yourself. Physically, too. You delivered a baby. That is hard on a body. Couple that with the emotional trauma you are experiencing, and know that you are not going to bounce back quickly, either physically or emotionally.

Two more notes about grief:

Your partner will grieve in his own way. You may not recognize it as grief. It may be hard; you may feel he is moving away from you in these early, grief-filled days. You will both do things that the other doesn’t understand. I encourage you both to try to stay connected however you can. But try not to judge each other’s grief. It’s not a contest.

And back to those really awful people. In general, people are well-meaning. I am willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. But, you will hear a lot of stupid things for awhile. If you can, try to be understanding and gentle with people who say stupid things to you. They don’t know what to say — there really are no words for what you are enduring right now. If you can’t be understanding, you have my permission to walk away, to put down the phone, to delete the emails, to unfriend them on Facebook.

Someone will ask you if you are over it yet. You will not be over it; you will never be over it. And I’ll tell you: that’s perfectly okay.

You are in my heart.

Sincerely,
red pen mama

Trees in Winter

Eleven

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
— Aeschylus

I can’t go to bed at night without looking in on my children. I make sure their toes are tucked under blankets. I marvel that my tiny babies — and they were TINY, peanut babies — are suddenly long enough to have toes protruding from blankets.

Eleven years is approximately 4,015 days. Gabriel has been gone for more than 4000 days! That I live in this world where toes need tucked in and someone has been missing for more than 96,000 hours boggles me, especially this time of year. His loss is always and forever.

++

I have no other words for today for now. We are off to Mass, and to a small gravesite after. Six white flowers is not enough to mark four thousands days. But it is all we have.

Decade

Writing these posts creates a lot of cognitive dissonance for me.

On one hand, I realize while writing them, how extensive grief is — MY grief, for Gabriel, is long-lasting and pervasive. Given a conversation I had with Dan earlier this week, I feel secure in saying that he feels similarly.

On the other hand, I realize that in spite of my grief, how full and blessed my life is.

Ten years ago, my life didn’t end.

Life as I knew it, sure. Life as I expected it to be, definitely.

And my husband and I went on, with giant-sized holes in our hearts, and we built — continued to build — our lives. Around that hole, in spite of that hole, and without shrinking that hole very much at all.

My evening last night revolved around two things: the white flowers I purchased for Gabriel’s grave and picking up a Rainbow Loom for my girls, who had fabulous school years and were being duly rewarded.

Today the girls and I left the flowers on Gabriel’s grave and headed out of town for the weekend to visit a friend and her daughter (and other friends). (M stayed at home with Daddy.)

Grief doesn’t end.

Grief doesn’t end our lives.

I would have realized this, about grief, sooner or later, I suppose. I sometimes wish it had been later, but then again, I don’t know what my life looks like without this grief.

Ten years. A decade.

And still the tightening of my throat, and the tears.

And still the joys and frustrations of being a parent to live, lively children.

And still.

The Never Ending Story, Part 2

[Quick aside to say that Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Day After Christmas were all great days. If I don’t get to recap them anymore than that, I just wanted you to know. This may have been the Best Christmas Ever (so far).]

Christmas Eve, we went to my SIL and BIL-IL’s house. The kids, not surprisingly, were hopped up. We managed to get everyone to eat a decent amount of dinner (Feast of the Seven Fishes — everything was delicious; my MIL and SIL outdid themselves again), but the children still had energy to burn. The plan was to go to service, come back, have cookies, and open presents. My SIL decided to put on some dance music so the kids could get their wiggles out.

Now, in case you are not aware, SIL’s son, Nephew, was born about 6 months after we lost Gabriel. He is one of many children born in 2003 who reflect our son back at us. The majority of the time, it’s nothing notable, just a fact.

Nephew *adores* Michael. I think he was more excited than Dan when he found out we were having a boy. Nephew has been, literally, odd man out, with a younger sister and two girl cousins. One of the sweetest things he ever said to me was, “I can’t wait to teach him (Michael) how to play catch.” I’m not sure M was even born yet. That’s how excited Nephew was.

M, of course, pays back the adoration in kind.

So, fast forward to Christmas Eve Living Room Dance Party of 2012. The girls are skipping around, Nephew is grooving, M is jumping and waving his arms up and down. Nephew and M start holding hands and jumping together; Nephew even picks M up and twirls around with him for awhile. M is throwing his head back and laughing, laughing.

And, for me, it’s funny and bittersweet all at once, and grief, that devil, that old friend, is a wave that rushes over me. I forget about it, you see, so when it comes, it engulfs.

I blink back some tears, and smile a little, and then I look across the room and into the kitchen where my husband is standing, his face to the wall, his hands gripping the counter, his shoulders slumped in a position that I recognize as late-stage grief — the wave is over him, too. And I go to him, wrap my arms around his torso, and press my face into his back.

“I know,” I say. We cry together.

I don’t know who notices our moment. I don’t know how long it lasts. It doesn’t matter; it’s our moment; it’s our grief. The wave recedes enough for us to gather ourselves together and go through the rest of the evening.

We attended service at my SIL’s Presbyterian church. As we were pulling in, Dan observed, “This is where we came for Compassionate Friends.” He was right. “I just wonder sometimes,” he went on, sitting in the parking lot, our live son in the back of the car chatting to himself (the girls had traveled in another car with Niece), “what kind of big brother he would have been. If he’d have been a good cousin. If he and [Nephew] would be good friends.” More unanswered questions.

Rather than deepening our grief to attend service at this building, for me, it brought it full circle, closed the loop for this year. We went in to pray with our children, our family, our Nephew and Niece, to hear the music, the Word (John 1:1–5 was one of the readings), and to light our candles against the darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

“…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16

In the wake of grief, again, is peace, is life, is light.

++

If you’re curious, here’s The Never Ending Story (Part 1), from April 2011

9

The morning is still, at first. I am awake and have hit the snooze button once already. I’m in that a.m. limbo, part of me still sleeping but most of me awake.

Mornings are a flurry (or, depending on how it goes, a cluster) of activities: lunches to pack, sleepy children to turn out of beds and feed, making sure Dan and I have coffee to go.

The fresh grief of losing a child is 9 years behind us now. I saw that grief recently described somewhere as the feeling of an elephant sitting on your chest. That’s about right: crushing.

I survived that — we, Dan and I, survived it, together — and in this quiet morning space before the flurry, I am, again, amazed by that simple fact. To have come through the suffocating, drowning, breath-stealing grief, to be alive nine years later.

To just be sad.

When I do the relativity scale of the baby-loss community, I feel I got off fairly light. We didn’t struggle with infertility. Our babies that came after Gabriel were not … I’m not sure the word to use here: damaged? sick? My pregnancies were fraught, my third trimesters anxiety-provoking, my labors no picnics.

But we got ’em out alive.

And although a baby is nine-years gone, he is loved and remembered. Differently yet alongside his 7- and 5-year-old sisters, along with his 18-month-old brother.

For me, Michael’s toddlerhood, like his babyhood, seems most poignant. Because if Gabriel were going to look like, act like, inhabit the world like anyone, it would be most like his brother.

Maybe. Although I always think Gabriel would have had Flora’s dark hair, not Michael’s light. But blue eyes, I bet. Definitely blue eyes.

But now the morning’s reflection is over, because Michael, my second son, is babbling in the other room. I have to wake Dan to kill a wasp in the bathroom. Kate’s curiosity has her peering over her dad’s shoulder, but I steer her out of the room; I don’t want her getting stung.

I write this in my head, and then on a computer.

Later, I’ll treat the kids to fast food and we will buy six white flowers. I’ll let the children wander among the stone angels while I lay the flowers on Gabriel’s grave.

And another year will come and go, and my other children will grow up, Dan and I will grow older. Probably no less sad, I think we’ve reached our plateau there.

We will carry Gabriel with our other children in our heart. The only place we can carry him now.