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Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged, understood.

Many thanks to artist Stephanie Sicore for allowing us to feature her little bird in our banner.

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Monday
Jun292015

kintsugi: the beauty of brokenness

Please welcome our guest writer today, Ben Dench. Ben, like Ed last week, did not lose his daughter as a baby. She was an older child. Yet there are parallels among all us, and the primary image in this piece spoke to us in our shared grief.

Ben writes, “My daughter Ruby died, unexpectedly and suddenly, from a heart attack on May 8th, 2013, whilst away on a school trip. She was 11. She left our arms days previously, happy and carefree. This is an occasional diary about my experiences and reflections as a father to Ruby and her brother, a husband, humanist, mental health nurse and as one of hundreds of people who knew Ruby and was affected by her death. I hope to make some sense of my grief and maybe some sense of others' grief too. Everything changes. Some things more, some things less, but everything changes. Time marches relentlessly on and I have to march with it or give up. Navigation is the key.”

Ben’s is the last installment of our special guest writer series by babylost fathers and fathers grieving the loss of their child.

 

The Japanese revere Kintsugi, repairing as art—broken pottery is fixed using gold dust mixed with the adhesive to create an improved, stronger, more beautiful artifact elevating it from mass-produced sameness to a priceless and desirable treasure. In and of itself this has a breathtaking beauty and I would encourage everyone to look up Kintsugi pots online. Philosophically the item has been imbued with an enhanced aesthetic and a sense of individualism. It is only itself and resembles nothing else, certainly no other, uncracked, pottery. Its flaws and imperfections are to be embraced as symbolism of the experiences it has survived and that can be celebrated as its strengths. Breakage is not the end, cracks are not flaws but are natural elements in one's lifecycle that prove flexibility of use, embracing change as inevitable and encouraging safe detachment from the non-essential. 

In ideas of personal identity and as a method of highlighting imperfections and the variations of experience, Kintsugi provides us with a framework to consider our own lives- its ups and downs, fragility and sensitivity, brittleness and toughness, fortune and fatalism, creative point and counterpoint, trauma and reparation, equality and difference and a host of other essential aspects of self and others. Kintsugi celebrates this variety and individualism.

Repaired things can be more beautiful and of greater value than unbroken things. With such great potential for transformation our scars can symbolise transcendence and therefore embracing damage, and then celebrating restoration, is a necessary part of life's natural cycle.

Kintsugi also encourages us to admit our fragility. There are times it is acceptable to demand gentle handling due to our delicacy and we should be confident in sophisticated treatment from others. At times we can be translucent and frail maybe as a by-product of compassion or sensitivity—our altruism can make us thin-skinned which, in turn, demands delicate handling from others. We should be treated with tenderness not because we were poorly made or because we are already broken but because we should be allowed to demand a response to our mature fragility that is respectful, moral and based on equality. This is a human duty we can assume from others and which should be afforded from us in return.

Kintsugi reminds us of our mortality. As Seneca stated, "It is not that we have a short time to live but that we waste a lot of it." Nothing is eternal. And if we are not eternal what should we do with the time we have? Maybe we can start by appreciating scars as a sign of life lived adventurously or of grief endured.


How have you make brokenness part of your life? Do you share your scars—wear them with some manner of pride—or do you hide them?

Monday
Jun222015

Lessons from the year

Ed Coleman, who writes at The Infinite Fountain, is our guest writer this week for our June series by grieving dads. Ed writes, “I have been many things in my life: Guitar maker, singing waiter, professional cameraman, producer, teacher, but the most fulfilling and important thing I have ever done was to become the father of my son. He gave purpose and meaning to my life as nothing has before or since. On December 28, 2013, our 24-year-old-son Jake died suddenly, unexpectedly, and unnecessarily. I have been blogging since then as a way to process this unspeakable tragedy.”

While Ed did not lose his son as a baby, he writes from the perspective that only a parent who has lost a child can. We find many parallels between his grief and our own grief in the wake of babyloss. We hope you will join us in welcoming Ed as our guest writer today.

 

December 28, 2014—10:15am

As we mark the one year 'anniversary' of Jake's death, I find myself reflecting on the past twelve months, and what, if anything, I have learned. There have been many lessons, both painful and enlightening. It is difficult to grasp that a year has passed. Each day dragged on so slowly, but now that 365 of them have slipped away, the time seems as only an instant since I heard those dreadful words that bright December afternoon. Time is like that. We try to savor every luminous moment, try to hurry through the dark ones and yet, when all the moments have passed it seems scarcely the length of a single heartbeat.

I learned that the human spirit has an almost unlimited capacity to absorb emotional pain. I say almost because there must be limits, although I can't imagine any greater pain than the loss of a child at any age, under any circumstances.

I have a sense of vast, infinite loss, I haven't gathered together all the details and the realization of their full import is still mercifully wanting. Even a year after the fact, I still am bewildered by the whole thing. Still gropingly gathering the meaning. Still numb. I only have a glimpse at the magnitude of the disaster. And yet, things are different. My wife and I are moving forward. Haltingly, tentatively, but forward. The hourly grief spasms have abated, and strike far less frequently. Raw agony has morphed into a deeper, indelible ache. I have learned, somewhat, how to manage my chronic sorrow.

I learned that people can be unbelievably kind and supportive. We have friends who were there from the very first moment we learned of this unspeakable tragedy, and continue to stand with us to help. It is the simplest yet the most important gift. I learned that complete strangers and the most casual of acquaintances are capable of enormous acts of kindness. These seemingly inconsequential gestures, unlooked-for, have the power to assure us that we are not alone- that even though people haven't experienced the horrific loss we have, they empathize fully and know that we are hurting beyond description.

I also learned that people can be shockingly insensitive. Without realizing it, people have said the most heart-wrenching things as if they were discussing the weather. I learned that the people you think will be supportive disappear, and the most unlikely heroes arise to lift you up.

I learned that sometimes I have to fight to keep Jake's memory alive in my heart and mind. Not that I would ever forget him, or any of the million things I miss about him, but that sometimes it is as if he never really existed. That those 24 years with him were merely a dream, and I have wakened to this grim reality without him. But it wasn't a dream. This new reality seems like the dream. Jake did exist, more accurately he lived. Fully and completely for the time he was here. He touched people in unimaginable ways. He planted seeds throughout his life; some have grown to fruition, some are just sprouting, and some lie dormant waiting for the moment to burst into bloom.

I learned that Jake had a group of fiercely loyal and loving friends. Friends from different stages of his short life. These are people who are still part of our lives, who have insisted on remaining in touch. It is bittersweet seeing these wonderful young people; seeing them grow and mature, watching them make their way through life. They keep him alive in their thoughts and hearts just as we do. All we have left are the stories, memories, and photos that his friends share with us. And they willingly share them. For that, we are deeply grateful.

I learned that I miss so many of the little things he did. Simple things like fixing a light switch, cracking a joke, whipping up a batch of impossibly good gelato, installing a headlight in my wife's car. Things he did with utter confidence and expertise. I miss doing things with with him—the enjoyment we shared in our 'boy's days', the simple pleasures of hitting a little white golf ball, lying on a beach watching the sea roll in, cooking together, building things together, sharing a joke, sharing a meal, sharing a dream—with a primeval longing that will never go away no matter how many years pass. I have learned that time does not heal all wounds. I learned I am scarred for life. I will always miss him.

I learned that we, as a society don't "do" death and grieving very well. It is not a subject people talk about; it makes everyone so uncomfortable. Rarely do I have a conversation beyond, "Oh, I am so sorry for your loss". I guess there is not much really to say. People who know us and knew Jake 'know'. Those who don't will never know. As someone observed, there are two kinds of people in this world—those who have lost a child and those who haven’t.

I have come to the realization that no matter how much society expects men to "be strong", there are times when I am immensely weak and fragile, and that is just how it is. Will probably always be. And that's okay. I have learned through my contact with others on this journey, that people grieve in different fashions.There is no right way to grieve, nor is there a wrong way. There is only grief.

I learned that I can still laugh, still find some enjoyment in life. I learned that whatever enjoyment or pleasure I can eke out now comes with an asterisk. There is a fundamental piece of that joy missing. Every pleasant experience comes tinged with longing and sadness. Happiness and sadness exist simultaneously in nearly everything.

The fog has lifted somewhat and I can see for a short way down the road; I am still not sure what lies ahead, what the destination is. I know Jake will not be with me as we move forward. I won't see him marry, have children of his own; we will never have grandchildren. I know Jake won't be there to hold our hands as we grow old, I won't be able to bequeath anything to him. So much of what I did this past 25 years was for my son. I worked to create something to leave to him. Now, to whom will I leave it?

I learned that I have a long way to go. Life is about the journey, not the destination. I learned there are far too many of us on this voyage of sadness. There is small comfort knowing that we are not alone, very small comfort. On second thought, there is no comfort at all. Why has this happened to us? Why Jake? Why any of our beautiful children? This is something I haven't learned yet, may never learn the answer to. Sadly, even if we could get an answer, there is no reason good enough. I have learned that my lot, like Don Quixote, is to bear the unbearable sorrow.

Mostly what I learned is that I still have a lot to learn.

What have you learned (or relearned or un-learned) in the months/years since your child(ren)'s death?  Which learnings leave you gasping, still shocked at the truth you hadn't seen or understood before?  Which learnings bring comfort or a sliver of enlightenment?  Which learnings are simply too painful, unfair, horrific to integrate into your life?

Monday
Jun152015

the gift

We are honored today to have Justin as our guest writer today, in the third part of our June series by fathers. Justin writes, “On November 6, 2014, I said hello to my second child and first daughter, Lydia Joanne. The day prior, I learned that this would also be my goodbye. As my wife and I left the hospital, I kissed my daughter one last time and told her that we love her so very much. The kind nurse rocking and singing to my child looked up at me and said, ‘She knows.’ I spend every day making sure that she never forgets.” Justin is on Instagram under the handle justinkwelliver, where he has recently participated in a grief photo-journal project #MayWeAllHeal. His wife Heather writes about their daughter Lydia at Loving and Losing Lydie. 

 

I can feel it.  My stomach begins to tighten and my throat is suddenly parched.  My sight narrows and the rush of blood washes over my body like a rising tide.  Not with the physical force of an ocean wave, more subtle but just as quick.  Without warning, I am swept from dry land and plunged into a body of water.  But somehow in this small window of time, my mind has figured it out.  It knows the exact reason for this sudden shift in the landscape that threatens to choke out my breath.  My mind has already formed the thought and sent it spiraling down my nerves to deliver the frantic message to my hand.  Do you have it?  Did you forget?  Is it there?  In your pocket?  My elbow carelessly swings back to allow my hand to thrust towards my leg, following the outline of my pants pocket, desperately searching for the familiar shape that now seems to be a permanent part of me.   My fingers instantly verify the smooth curves and trace them down to a point.  A heart, small and heavy.  Once found, my hand returns the message back to my mind with the same frantic urgency as it was received.  It is here.  I have it.  I did not forget.  Like a plug pulled from an overflowing bathtub, the water begins to slowly circle down the drain allowing my lungs fill with a gulp of air.  My landscape comes back into focus and my feet find steadier ground, but my energy is gone and I am left with a dull ache in my head.  I am exhausted from treading these waters of grief.  This internal conversation, this furious call-and-answer, is played out over and over again.  And while my hand has acknowledged the pleas of my grief-stricken mind every single time, the fear and anxiety of an empty pocket still threatens to drown me with the same intensity each and every time.

All this from one word, innocently spoken aloud—“stone.”

The heart-shaped stone in my pocket has been there for 97 days.  The last Christmas gift left to be opened by the same person who wrapped it.  A gift from a parent to a child, from a father to his daughter.  Just a few days prior, I walked around the store picking out small gifts for my wife’s family - sour candy for Oma, peanuts for Pop Pop, chocolates and beer for the sister- and brother-in-laws, checking them off the list as I go.  Her name, Lydia, is included on my list, but is only followed by a dash and then blank space.  To think of gift ideas for her is painful, but necessary.  Even nearly 2 months after holding, kissing, and saying goodbye to my little girl, my mind still bursts with ideas for a should-be-2-week-old.  I push them away and continue on.  I want her name written among her brother’s and cousins’, mixed upon the boxes and bows under the family tree.  I find the bright red stone and feel its weight in my hand.  It is heavier than I thought it would be. My fingers trace the letters etched on its face that spell out the very reason for this search: L-O-V-E.  I place it back in its box, practicality ruining the moment.  What would I do with this? Fighting back the doubt, I let my initial urge to hold the stone win.  It makes its way through the checkout line and eventually to its place under the tree.  Except Lydia wasn’t there to open her gift, a task assigned to her father.  Still unsure on the purpose of this little stone, I place it my pocket for safe-keeping, where it has remained ever since.  An awkward feeling at first, its shape and weight a distraction as it rests against my leg, but over time has been absorbed into my very existence.

In reality, carrying this little heart-shaped stone changes nothing, means nothing.  However, I now exist in a world with familiar landscapes, but where I no longer understand the rules.  This world is evolving, the terrain constantly being created and destroyed, with grief at the molten center.  The fear of a sudden shift, as delicate as a single word vibrating in my ear, is ever-present.  In this reality, this little heart-shaped stone means everything.  A buoy allowing me to rise to the surface.  The decision has already been made should my pocket turn up empty.  An instant pivot, full out sprint, obstacles and traffic be damned to reach this stone and fill the void.  However, feeling its sharp point dig into my palm before slipping it back into my pocket, I know the damage would have already been done.  The guilt of forgetting would engulf me, a weight around my ankle pulling me down into this ocean of grief.

Despite its current residence, the stone remains a gift for my daughter. I am merely her father, holding it while she is momentarily away, awaiting her return and request to carry it herself, perhaps with a welcomed, but not expected, smile and kiss on the cheek.  A responsibility that no one else knows or asks about. A job that doesn’t really exist, but silently does. 

 

Do you carry a physical object in remembrance of your baby(ies)? How did you find this object?  How has your relationship with this object changed over time?

Monday
Jun082015

a father's day dilemma

Today we continue our June series featuring the writing of fathers. 

Our guest writer this week is AJ Collette, who blogs at ajcollette.com. AJ reflects here on Father’s Day, which, like Mother’s Day, is particularly difficult for the babylost. AJ writes, “I started writing to share a journey that started with the loss of my beloved son, Joshua, in April of 2013. The way forward has been a challenging path of discovery as well as recovery. In my search for a ‘new normal’ however, I committed to a continued pursuit of hope. It has been through that lens of choosing hope that I have been looking back and looking forward to find meaning, answers, purpose and sometimes simply a way to be able to get out of bed in the morning. It’s a journey of a father’s lesson having the gift of living with a special needs child. It is in sharing that I endeavor to spark thoughts and ideas in others so that they are also inspired to discover a path of hope.”

 

It started innocently enough. It’s Friday (the 13th in fact which is ironic beyond all measures) and I am parked in my home office to begin the day. I prepare to read through the list of personal emails that have filled my account since the previous morning. I’m into my typical morning routine, which involves email accompanied by some type of breakfast. I sit back in the chair with a glass of orange juice in hand and watch the mailbox slowly fill with the bold headlines of emails not yet read. I focus on the bright blue bar at the bottom of my monitor that displays the count of messages. It shows a climbing amount of new reading opportunities in the caption, “receiving message 74, 75, 76 of 106.” As an optimist, I watch and anticipate some type of interesting note that will jump start my day. Perhaps some interesting bit of news or an invite to a local group bike ride will find its way to me? As the message bar disappears signifying all messages have been received, I quickly scroll to the top and start my review. With a preview of the headlines, I instantly realize that this batch of messages brings something other than the light topics I find suitable for a morning start but instead, the heaviest of dilemmas I face. Amidst the cycling ads, latest TED talk reminder and quote for having our house painted is a smattering of ads for Father’s Day sales, one of which my cursor lands on at the top of the list.

Father’s Day… two words that evoke so much emotion. In an instant, I feel a tight sensation in my throat and quickly take a drink from the cold glass that I have seemed to increase my grip on. The cool sensation does nothing to quench the onslaught of my physical response. I sit back in the chair and force back tears that seem determined to come out. I readjust my sitting position awkwardly. The rain outside the window catches my attention. I observe it spray the landscape and can’t help but draw comparisons to the conflict that litters the horizon of my thoughts.

Father’s Day… a petulant reminder of what I have lost. I’m overwhelmed by the memories of bright blue eyes, a thundering laugh and the most charismatic smile I’ll ever know. An image of a cold hospital room with a darkness that not only reveals itself outside the window but also emanates inside the room invades the images in my mind. I force back the hideous portrait of a mother and a father as they embrace their precious child for the last time. With a horror exponentially more frightening than any fictional Friday the 13th movie could ever attempt to capture, I know this scene needs to be pushed back into the dark corner where it permanently takes up residence.

Father’s Day… the vehicle for awkward encounters and uncomfortable interactions. I think back to last year and examine my strategy to combat another unintended consequence of losing a child, which is the reaction from others. I observe with a sense of annoyance that this is a day that seems to perpetuate some type of recognition of my situation. Like two fierce adversaries meeting by chance unexpectedly, the interactions and encounters with people just seem impossibly uncomfortable. I appreciate the challenging situation and acknowledge with sincerity the good intentions. I also know that outside the cocoon of understanding only my wife and I have of our situation, there is no way to appreciate our complex journey. The plain truth is that I abhor the looks of pity and words of encouragement. Not because it isn’t appreciated, but because it’s just not necessary. Returning to thoughts of my strategy for last year, which essentially was avoidance, I fail to recall any notable results.

Father’s Day… my holiday for remembering the gift of a special needs child. A numbing sensation catches my attention. Perched on the palm of my hand that is supported by my arm resting on the chair, my chin is engulfed in that familiar feeling of pins and needles. With the realization that I have floated off into the clouds of my thoughts, I come back to the physical world and the four walls that surround me. In the reflection of a quiet laptop monitor silenced from a lack of attention over several minutes, I focus on my wide smile of recently aligned teeth appearing in the fog of the dark screen. The smile is the outward display of what I inwardly know. It’s symbolic for why I don’t want or need pity and comforting. In a slight physical gesture it reveals my grand acknowledgement that I have been given the most valuable gift. I experienced an extraordinary individual supplemented by the intensity and intimacy of care that a fully dependent child requires. He is someone that I am honored and proud to call my son. In my head, the message thunders loud and clear. I am not cursed, but blessed. I am not bereaved but inspired. I am not in a constant state of despair but on a reassuring path of hope.

I vigorously shake the mouse to bring the monitor back to life. Notwithstanding this sudden burst of activity, the sensation of exhaustion is evident throughout my body despite still being planted in my chair. As the light on the monitor grows into a recognizable list of messages, I start to read the first collection of words begging for my attention. In bold print the headline Father’s Day Sale stares back at me attempting to taunt my emotions once again. I pause and look sternly at the ad. I will always consider myself a father, I proclaim to the internal ears of my mind but direct to the unsuspecting words on the screen. It’s a gift I will forever cherish. With a slight bit of rebellion but an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment I click on the “X” next to the message sending it to the oblivion of unwanted documents. At that moment, I sense my glasses rise slightly on my nose and feel the upward pull of my cheeks. Without the benefit of a reflection due to the bright screen, I still recognize the unmistakable signs of another smile. It’s one that feels wider and more pronounced than before. While I don’t see it, I know it has a genetic familiarity reminiscent to that warm and pleasant smile that I was blessed to witness, so very alive in my memory. Though no one is around to hear, I mutter out loud with a sense of understanding and finality,  “a happy Father’s Day indeed!”

 

What will Father’s Day mean to you this year? Do you feel like Father’s Day is treated differently than Mother’s Day? What will you do to mark that day?

Monday
Jun012015

being carried on daddy's shoulders

For the month of June, Glow in the Woods will be featuring guest writing by babylost fathers, and fathers who have experienced the loss of a child—a  sort of month-long Father’s Day to give voice to the dads we often don’t get to hear from. We had many excellent submissions, and have chosen 5 writers, one for each Monday in June.

 Our first guest writer this month is Mark. Mark is daddy to Owen Benjamin, “a little guy who made us parents and taught us how much love is possible. After a healthy, happy pregnancy, Owen made his arrival a few hours after his due date. Unfortunately, he experienced a traumatic birth, and suffered a lack of oxygen, which caused irreparable damage to his brain. After 5 beautiful days together, we took our little Owen Benjamin outside to listen to the wind in the trees and feel the Vancouver raindrops. He took off on his journey peacefully in our arms under a big, strong oak tree. We are now learning how to parent our son in ways we never anticipated, living life in his honour.” Mark and Robyn, Owen’s mother, blog at The Heart Sees Clearly.

 

I fully anticipated the balance of adding the role of Dad to my repertoire to be a lot of work; a shuffle of work commitments, less time spent reading tech blogs, maybe even leaving an email without a response for a whole day.

Reality isn’t far from those expectations, but instead of those somewhat mundane realities being replaced by the intense joy and laughter of becoming a new father, they were replaced with alien roles, jobs, and work I had never even imagined.

As a husband, I support my perpetually tearful wife. Drawing the last ounce of energy I have from the day to come home to such intense sadness, countlessly repeating the only words I have in me to try and offer support and comfort, while hoping to convince myself that one day we’ll laugh, smile and love again together without guilt as we did on our wedding day.

As a human, I grieve the loss of having had a piece of my heart and soul ripped away from me and torn up in front of my eyes. I work through the trauma of being alone in the NICU watching half a dozen people trying their hardest to save my child’s life.

As a father, memorializing the life of my son, ensuring that his short time here wasn’t for nothing, that it gives me a new constructive perspective on life and in return I use the life, that I would so desperately trade, to make sure he gets to experience the beauty and wonder of the world through my actions and feelings.

As a friend, socializing and finding the effort to put into those relationships worth holding onto so that the people on the other side don’t feel like abandoning us as a lost cause, despite the fact that we’re intensely grateful for those that have stuck out being around our misery when even I don’t like being around us.

As an employer, convincing myself to give direction and opinion to colleagues because while I find no joy in my job now, one day I hope to find that drive and ambition again and don’t want to find disappointment when I get there.

Instead of where there should be a quickly sprouting little Daddy clone, this is the load I carry. It’s much heavier than you would think. I had bad posture before, but this burden forces my shoulders to round more and sinks my head deeper. There’s nobody there to help carry it or offer a hand, indeed, as time goes on and people’s expectations of my capabilities increase, so does the weight.

Sometimes I collapse. It feels good to let it all go, but soon enough I remember I have responsibilities in these roles and they taunt me into picking it all back up.

A grieving father’s strength is not carrying or accepting this load, it’s resigning to it as part of your new life, taking the shaky first step with it, then another and another. It’s bending down when every part of your being aches, and re-stacking the pieces that you drop when your heart shatters once more and causes you to trip and fall.

There’s a 7lb 9.34oz weight that I’d love to have straddling my neck, pulling hair, using my chin as a rein and laughing giddily as we bounce along, that’s the sort of weight that makes you stand up straight and hold your head up high.

 

Do you have a strong image of yourself with your baby(ies) before your loss? How did you imagine that parenting the baby(ies) you lost would change your life? How has your loss redefined the roles you have in your life?