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

Random Thoughts: The “Really, America??” Edition

1. Rick Santorum? Really? I mean, maybe it’ll make Obama’s landslide even more awesome in November.

I am equal parts mystified and terrified. The only coherent thought I’m having is, “Handmaid’s Tale, anyone?”

If you are a woman (and/or you are in any relationship with a woman — mother, sister, aunt, spouse, daughter), and you would like to vote for Santorum, please read that book. Thanks.

2. “Mommy Porn” should never ever have been a phrase entered into the English lexicon. It’s equal parts offensive, condescending, and silly. If you don’t know yet, that’s how the book 50 Shades of Grey is being described. The book is, apparently, an outgrowth of fan fiction from the Twilight saga (and this is how I feel about Twilight), and apparently very erotic, and apparently setting married women’s bedrooms on fire. (Not literally.)

Let me tell you what mommy porn would actually be. It would not be a book about sex (let alone BDSM sex, not that there’s anything wrong with that). (Dad, DO NOT google BDSM.) It would be a book about a husband who vacuumed and dusted *without being asked*. Or pictures of men washing dishes; having them be hot men with washboard abs and no shirts on is optional. I would get hotter watching my husband put his dirty socks in the hamper than reading a book about vaguely consensual BDSM sex between two pretty 20-somethings (one of whom starts the book as a virgin).

#justsayin

3. Adding “grief” as a diagnosis to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka the DSM). This is less an outraged “REALLY?” and more an inquisitive “really? huh.” On one hand, grieving — even prolonged grieving — is pretty much to be expected after a significant loss (spouse/partner, parent, child, sibling, close friend). The fact that our culture doesn’t quite know what to do with a person experiencing profound grief doesn’t make the grieving person crazy. Grief, even prolonged grief, should not be patholigized (yeah, not really a word, I know).

However: If putting grief in the DSM helps someone get therapy to go through it, I would cautiously support that. (When I asked Dan about it, he said he usually classifies therapy with people experiencing profound grief as “adjustment therapy”, and he thinks putting grief in the DSM is unnecessary.) I got therapy after Gabriel died, and if nothing else, it gave me a safe place to cry uninterrupted for an hour. (It did more than that, but sometimes, that was part of what I really needed.)

4. Oh, Arizona. You crappy, crappy excuse for a state. I hope the progressives come out of the woodwork during your next election, and fire all your lawmakers.

What’s making you ask, “Really?” today?

Updated to add: 5. Pennsylvania, you better watch it. You’re going to be labeled Arizona (or Virginia maybe) North.

I am anti-abortion.

However, I am also pro-choice.

As a Catholic this is probably an untenable position. As a woman, I don’t think it is.

So.

They’re calling it the Women’s Right to Know Act.

How’s that for irony?

Here’s a petition, and here’s a link to a list of your Allegheny County representatives. You should be able to navigate around that site if you live outside of Allegheny County.

I’m going to get a really angry phone call from my parents.

Repost: The Worst Day(s) of My Life

Today I am giving a talk at Podcamp Pittsburgh about Blogging Grief. This is a repost of one of my earliest posts about Gabriel, in November 2007. He was already 4+ years gone, but that doesn’t mean this was easy to write. It’s still not easy for me to read. And, fair warning, there are pictures at the end. They may be tough viewing.

On June 4, 2003, I had a pre-natal visit. I was pregnant with our first child. Everything seemed to be going fine.

Twenty-four hours later we were a long way from “fine”.

I first noticed that the baby was quieter than usual that evening, June 4. I didn’t think too much of it because I had literally just been at the midwives and had heard his heartbeat (at the time, we didn’t know he was a boy, and we didn’t have the name Gabriel picked out). But even after a vanilla milkshake from Bruster’s with a banana added that night (can’t drink those anymore; frankly it’s a wonder I can visit a Bruster’s at all), he wasn’t kicking around.

The next day, I went to work. At the time I was working part-time as a receptionist at a hair salon, and as a freelance writer. I had decaf coffee, a Pop Tart, and then some grapes. Nothing from the baby. I called the midwives, and told them my concern, that I hadn’t felt the baby moving.

It had been less than 24 hours since my appointment. They were mystified. The midwife I spoke with suggested I have a high-carbohydrate snack and see what happened. I explained I had already done that. She asked if I would like to go to the hospital so they could find the heartbeat or do a sonogram.

We really thought everything was fine at this point. I could say something dramatic like, “I already knew my baby was dead” because in retrospect I know that now. But I didn’t think he was dead. I just thought he was quiet.

(Look, I don’t want to go into a blow-by-blow of this experience. I am going to pick the strongest images and emotions from the next few days and give them to you. We’ll go from there.)

The worst words in the world that a pregnant woman can hear: “We can’t find the heartbeat.”

The worst words a pregnant woman has to say: “I lost the baby.”

The worst moment after the worst words: When DearDR rushed into the hospital room with “that look” on his face. “That look” was so lost and scared and vulnerable. It was the look, that when you see it on someone’s face after they’ve lost someone, that you want to say, “I’m so sorry” or — worse — “It’s going to be okay.” And I couldn’t say either of those things to him. I was sorry, sorry for all of us. But it certainly wasn’t going to be okay.

The worst pain: After the epidural wears off, and they won’t bolus it anymore because the next time they turn up the pain meds, it’s because you’re getting a C-section.

The worst memory: Not having much of a memory of the hours after they hook you up to a morphine drip.

The worst denial: Denial is a powerful thing, my friends. Denial says, “They are all wrong, and this baby is fine, and when I finally get this labor started, I’m going to push out a fine, strong, healthy baby. Won’t everyone be surprised? It’s going to be great!”

The worst of everything (aside from the obvious): The look on everyone else’s face. The expression of sorrow and pain on most, and the resolute expression that your father has because he’s here to comfort you, and the pity on other faces, and the fear that everyone is hiding because why is this taking so long and why don’t they just do a C-section already, and if I have to be here one more day I’m going to lose it. The force of good cheer some of your visitors bring with them mistakingly thinking this helps you be strong.

The second worse: The waiting. The pain. The drugs.

I delivered Gabriel on Sunday June 8 at 2 a.m. in the morning (that time is not exact). It was Pentecost Sunday.

To paraphrase (a lot): “The Lord said, ‘I will send my Holy Spirit to you in your hour of greatest need. And he will make you strong.'”

And the Spirit did. I would be lying if I didn’t add, I wish I hadn’t needed the Spirit quite as much. God could have kept the Spirit if I could have had my son. It was, indeed, the darkest hour in my life. I am pretty sure DearDR would second that.

Gabriel was 5 pounds 4 ounces and 21 inches long. He was a beautiful baby — he truly had the most gorgeous hands, with long, long fingers.

I wish I knew what color his eyes were. I wish I had heard him cry. I could fill pages and pages of all that I wish in relation to Gabriel. You get the idea, I’m sure. If you are a parent; if you have lost a child. You know.

Gabriel was the name that DearDR and I picked before the morphine hook-up, when the epidural was still working. We picked a girl’s name, too, but I don’t remember what it was. Gabriel means, “gift of God”. And if that sounds weird, well, I’ll explain it another day. I’m pretty wiped out right now.

You can imagine why.

Repost: Photograph

It is actually possible to grieve for someone before they die. I’m doing a Podcamp session tomorrow on Blogging Grief, so I’m reposting this today. As an illustration of how I have grieved, and how I have written about it.

My grandmother died more than a year ago. I’ve been missing her a lot longer than that.

As the nurse was helping her into bed that night, she discovered a photo in her pocket.

“Oh, look, Olympia! Your great-grand-daughters are beautiful!”

She looked at the picture, a little creased from spending the day in her pocket. Two little girls smiled out of it: a blue-eyed, dark haired beauty, and a green-eyed blondie with mischief written all over her grin.

She wondered whose children they were. Certainly not, probably not her own. She was an old lady now. Her daughter’s? She did have a daughter, she thought she recalled. Had her daughter had children? Her daughter’s daughters? Her daughter’s daughter’s daughters?

“Do you know their names?”

Oh, she thought, oh, they probably aren’t mine, she thought. Someone probably gave that photograph to me by mistake. But wouldn’t it be nice if they came to see me, too? I would hug them and give them cookies. They look so sweet. Such sweet little girls. I wish I knew who they were.

8

The 8-year-old boys I know are receiving their First Holy Communions. They are helping their dads and uncles build backyard playsets. They are scoring goals and hitting home runs.

My boy born eight years ago isn’t doing any of that. And he won’t ever. I watch these other boys, amazed at what they do, amazed that I still miss that my son — my *first* son — won’t do any of these things.

I still cry sometimes about it. Usually in private.

It also lends me some perspective, of course. When one of my children is being difficult to parent, I think to myself, “Well, at least I get to parent her.” When Michael gets me up for the second time in the night for a snuggle, I am able to remember that the alternative sucks worse than broken sleep.

Which is not to say my live children get a pass. But it does, sometimes, give me pause.

My children — Flora, Kate, Michael — will receive communion, and score goals or do back flips, and will draw me into awkward conversations. Gabriel will never, and it’s weird some days to figure out if Gabriel is still their “older” brother since, from the moment that each of them drew their first breath of air, they lived longer than my first-born son.

I’m a little sad today, and I’ll be a little sad every time I watch an 8-year-old boy be an 8-year-old boy this year. Sadness goes with the territory as much as perspective.

I haven’t been to the cemetery in awhile, and I miss the ritual. It was soothing. Maybe I’ll try again this weekend, after Flora’s soccer game. Just a quick stop, some white flowers. Six now. To see his name, and to see my live children wander among the angels.