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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
Jul272015

the first address

She never came into this house. Her absence did.

Three weeks after Raahi died in a hotel, we moved into this house. We stood at the foyer, our heads lowered, our gaze at the floor, as the sun pouring in through a skylight above us cast a deep and hollow shadow in our midst. Across four states and one timezone, from one college town to another, from four, back to three we were. As we closed the door behind us, our three-year-old son looked at the empty living space and asked me if he was going to play there. He paused, and added, “Alone?”

He asked a similar question as we showed him the expansive backyard in the new house five days ago. In two years we have not been able to give him the living sibling he craves, and in two years, he has not gotten used to playing alone. There is a shadow he carries, of a little missing girl, trailing behind him, playing, running with him. He imagines what he would have taught her, what he would have shared, oh so lovingly. As his eyes twinkle speaking about it, I see him get lost for a minute in the pretense that she is with him, and I hold him, and her in him, close. From home to home, her absence is present.

And yet, this house, our last rental, is where we are leaving our rawest grief. Here is where my journey as a bereaved mom began, those early days consuming me like fire, a cold, dead fire. Here is where I screamed, here is where I stared, here is where I learned how bizarre a comedy of unpardonable errors life truly is. Here is the place I first knew how a felled tree falls, and here is where I have felt the comfort of many wounded women and men, who stood in a circle of sheltering trees around me.

I came wounded into this house, trembling like a bird in storm. I climbed the stairs feeling like I was climbing mountains. I leaned on the walls like they were literal pillars of strength, when all metaphors in my life assumed an altered meaning. As the abstract became concrete and the concrete lost shape, I lay in the empty bathtub, trying to feel death, the cold, the still. I crouched inside a closet, surrounded by my daughter’s boxed things, feeling like I was under the earth, the dark but peaceful, crumbling yet containing, earth. I wafted through the hallways, feeling light, airy, non-existent, like a spirit I was no longer sure I had. I looked intently at the ceiling, wondering if the sky can truly come crashing down through a crack in it, sometimes wanting at least that metaphor to turn literal.

In this house, I was safe from societies, communities, the forgetful, the naive, the do-gooders, the carefree breeders, the world at large. In this house, I exposed myself to the elements instead. And the senses. I became aware of the stale and persistent smell of grief, as it pervaded the home inch by inch, and crept into its every nook. I saw the pale sight of loss as it stared at me like a piece of different colored paint on the wall. Sometimes I only wanted to stare at that spot on my wall, and at other times, even if my eyes turned away for a moment, they were drawn back to it. In this space, I could touch Raahi’s absence, as it whirled around me, engulfing me in light strokes, like the fleeting touch of her little fingers. And here is where her absence slowly turned into the solid cast I was gradually embedded into. In this house I heard the deafening screams of questions, the whys, and it is here that I heard the silence that only utter, complete emptiness can bring. This house made me reassess what it takes to be human by laying me bare to how it feels to be non-human. I felt dead, I felt stopped, stuck, frozen. This house, this space, contained it all.

For two years to the day. In less than a week, at the beginning of another August, we will stop living here. We will uproot the two surreptitious nails dug above the fireplace surround, from which two stockings hung on Christmas Eve for two years. Full of identical gifts, one was emptied on Christmas morning, the other packed away for yet another year of unopened gifts. We will no longer enter the foyer where I stood on a September morning two years ago, after seeing my son off to his first day of school, and stared at the space I had imagined her playpen in. I dropped to the floor like weightless crumpled paper, as visceral wails emerged in lashing waves from my innermost gut. We will drive away from the driveway where I often stopped on starry nights, as my husband carried our sleeping son in, and looked at the house like I didn’t know what it was. We will carry Raahi's absence with us, and her few things in boxes will find their new place in a new closet.

This was the thirteenth house I lived in, the largest, the most peaceful one. Raahi never came here. She was a dream I had secretly cherished in so many homes, and a reality in the previous house, as she grew in my ripened belly. Then she became absent. An imagination. A long, desperate story of what-ifs, of what-is-nots. This is where it all began. This was the first house Raahi should have lived in. Should have learned to crawl, stand, walk, talk in. And this was the first space that her absence filled.

Not the last one. 

 

Which place do you associate with your earliest grief, and why? Have you had to leave that space? If so, what did you feel? If not, how would you feel if you had to move?

Monday
Jul132015

encounters with normal

(This post includes reference to my surviving son.)

A woman approaches me and tells me she recognizes me from ten years ago when I hosted my sister's baby shower.  She reintroduces herself and asks about my sister while my son C.T., and presumably her child(ren), splash around at swim lessons.  I feel out of place inhabiting my own body as she smiles and chats, eyes lit up, clearly having gone on to live a relatively smooth life over the course of the last decade.  I am quiet, awkward, not sure if and how I will explain the tragedies that have befallen my family.  Just as I'm internally cursing myself for signing C.T. up for swim lessons, for stepping out of my grief comfort zone, she senses something may be off.  She says: So, is everything going well for you?

I fumble for the right words and manage to respond in the negative.  No.  Everything has been awful, it's been truly devastating.  My son Zachary died seventeen months ago.  I can't bear to tell her we lost B.W., our first son, back in 2006.  It seems too much to dump on an old friend of my sister's. 

She gasps, says she is very sorry and starts in with the questions.  Oh my God.  How old was he?  Do they know what happened? 

Her curiosity, the way she asks about what happened to Zachary, irritates me.  Of course we know what happened to our dead child.  I struggle to normalize my voice which is starting to tremble and it becomes clear that I don't want to be having this or any conversation with her.  She tries to smooth it all over by asking me to point out my (surviving) son in the pool, and after offering that he is adorable, asks that I pass along a hello to my sister. 

I am not sure why I am angry with her, this almost-stranger, but I am.  She wasn't cruel or dismissive about Zachary.  Her response to our tragedy was relatively appropriate and compassionate.  She read the cues and let me off the hook when she saw I was about to crumble.  But, it literally sucked the life out of me to talk to her for five minutes, to smile and chit chat and then give just the punch lines regarding one of our two dead children. 

*****

On the last day of first grade, the bell rings and C.T. walks toward me, arms full of stuff I will help carry home.  I expect he will be giddy with the prospect of summer and much more free time, but he seems downcast.  He grabs my hand and starts pulling me away from the school immediately.

Mom, you know it's really sad - a lot of teachers are having babies right now.

He goes on to tell me he had a substitute teacher for most of the last day of school.  She was obviously pregnant and all of his classmates were eagerly asking questions about the baby.  He explains that he can't get excited about anyone else's baby when Zachary is dead.  He doesn't understand how they can be so certain the baby will live.  He wants to know why almost all of his classmates have living siblings and both of his are dead.  I have to clench my teeth as I think about how to respond to his tender frustration.

I panic when I realize that next year, or any year, C.T. could be permanently assigned a pregnant teacher.  I contemplate asking the school to make sure it doesn't happen but quickly remind myself that, based on their incompetence in handling Zachary's illness and death and C.T.'s grief, they will probably fail to see this as a worthy or reasonable request. 

*****

It is Sunday morning and I have just arrived home the prior evening from a three-day bereavement conference, attended by two thousand grieving parents from across North America.  I am getting breakfast together and C.T. asks me how to spell "prisoners".  I rattle it off, too busy with breakfast to investigate what he's working on, and he goes back to writing on his own.  Much later in the day, he shares it with us.

7-12-2015

When I think about you Zachary my heart pounds hard.  It feels like prisoners are pounding on the walls and trying to break out.  If you were here we would get to see your foot in person not in a mold.  I wonder if you would like spice.  I like spices so I think you would too.  I love you.

It occurs to me that many kids were watching Sunday morning cartoons with their siblings while C.T. was pining for his dead baby brother. 

 

How do you cope with normality after the loss of your child(ren)? 

Monday
Jul062015

some days

I am cooking in the kitchen and find myself singing, “I will, oh, I will not forget you. Nor will I ever let you go.” A Sarah McLachlan song from the early 90’s that I haven’t thought of in years.

I find the album I long-ago imported into iTunes and begin listening. Not really surprised that I can still sing every word by heart.

There was a time in my life when I thought my reality was best expressed by Sarah McLachlan lyrics. I wrote them down on tiny slips of paper. I collected them in lists. I planned which songs I’d play when I lost my virginity. I wrote a whole short story fantasy in which my self character and my secret love at the time played guitar and sang and Sarah McLachlan to each other.

Now, I find myself singing along to words that take on an entirely different meaning. 

“when we wore a heart of stone”…” and I threw bitter tears at the ocean, but all that came back was the tide”… “the dreams we had, shattered and broken”…

I know, objectively, that these are romantic love songs. But, as I have found myself doing these past 29 months, I hear them as love songs for Joseph. The poetry of the break-up, the abandonment, the brokenheartedness—repurposed for my particular loss.

Even the album title, Solace, has taken on a different meaning. No longer a simple synonym for comfort, solace is that unattainable brightness, something not found in the fuzzy bathrobe I was supposed to be nursing him in; sought for but not found in the cushions of the glider that was supposed to be his.

Sometimes I think this change in perspective is merely adult. The difference between my teenaged self and me in my 30’s. Since then, I have traveled the world, had half a dozen jobs, gotten married, bought a house, become a mother.

Become a mother, and then been robbed of motherhood.

There is no going back. I cannot cross back over the divide of when my life snapped in two. I cannot see things as they were before Joseph; I cannot remove the death-colored lenses from my eyes.

Some days, I am able to hear a song for what it is. When I do not wonder about the singer, Did she lose a baby? Does she know what this love is, this loss?

Some days, I do not think of all of this. But that doesn't mean I forget. 

Nor will I ever let you go.


In what unexpected places, in what unexpected ways, do you find loss? How has your loss(es) changed the way you see, hear, feel, taste, smell things?

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?