at the kitchen table: as the year turns

 photo by  Subash

photo by Subash

1.  Welcome to 2009. What have you left behind in the year just past? What do you hope to find in the year to come?

Bon: Left behind: one foot in front of the other. Hoping to find: the capacity to look to—and even make choices impacting—a long-term future.

Janis: Left behind: innocence & confidence. Hoping to find: serenity & acceptance.

Jen: Left behind: certainly my ‘innocence’ as well as my tendency toward optimism. Hoping to find: the courage to try again.

Julia: Left behind: teeth on edge, all the time, at least for now. Hoping to find: productivity, or something like it; a way to explain in face to face conversations how permanent and permanently altering this whole thing has been for me without getting upset that an explanation is needed; some level of comfort in largish groups.

Kate: Left behind: the cynic who disbelieves Liam's voice. Hoping to find: my feet.

Niobe: Left behind:  the delete key on my laptop; Hoping to find: the elusive Higgs boson.

Tash: Left behind: The end of a seemingly endless litany of "firsts; Hoping to find: a way through the seconds, and thirds . . .

2.  We've just come through the season in which our culture touts cheer and peace and family togetherness rather relentlessly. How did your child's death impact your experience of the "holiday" season, personally or culturally?

Bon: My first Christmas back in my own culture after five years away was also my first Christmas without my son...so I simply traded one disconnect for another.

Janis: For one I assume a lot less these days, for instance no longer thinking that holidays is about family and joy and such. Every day is a day of extreme joy and tragedy, it does not matter if it is something marked out on the calendar.

Jen: I went home to Canada for Christmas for the first time in two years. My family made every effort to welcome us home into a safe place of warmth and love. I thought about her every day. I also felt responsible for keeping my game face on. I didn’t talk about her much with others.

Julia: We are Jewish, so Christmas is not a problem in terms of family. As for society, I stick my fingers in my ears and sing la-la-la-la loudly all the way until the 26th. But the Old Country culture is big on New Year's. It's a fun holiday to spend with good friends, laughing, being silly, and staying up as long as you can hack it. It is also, always and forever, n years and 11 months for us. It brings in the last, long month before the anniversary. But because for idiosyncratic reasons we still would prefer to ring it in with friends, it is now a rather complicated holiday to wrap my head and heart around.

Kate: Christmas makes the wind whistle through the hole in my chest. Saying hello to the hole and carrying on is some kind of mastery. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm working on it.

Niobe: I've said this before, but I think my greatest loss—greater even than the loss of the twins—is the loss of my connection (tenuous and flawed as it was) to my family.

Tash: The big elephant (wearing a Santa hat, incidentally) always seems to want to the seat next to mine, whether I'm trying to decorate the tree, enjoy my feast of fishes, or watch Bella open presents.  It's hard to string up lights that he won't just lumber through and trample.

3.  If you celebrate in any way through December, are there ways you include or acknowledge your lost baby/babies?

Bon: Somewhere between solstice and Christmas Eve we take an ornament out to Finn's tree in the backyard and hang it...to include him.  After the first year, when it helped immensely, it's rung a little hollow...but this year we brought his siblings out for the first time, and Oscar's little voice saying "Merry Christmas, Finn" was strangely...comforting.

Janis: Nothing in particular, except hanging his ornaments on our Solstice tree. The missing is there, though it feels a bit more poignant during this cold season.

Jen: I simply thought of her every day, as I always do.

Julia: Not by design, no. But two years ago we decorated our New Year's tree while I was pregnant. It took us along time to take it down that year—lack of energy and time and all that. It finally came down not too long before A died. Last year we figured out that taking down the tree is marked in Monkey's memory as an event that preceded the death. And so now it is marked that way for me too. And because of that decorating is also colored bittersweet.

Kate: Alone, in my head, I listen for him. That's all.

Niobe: No.

Tash: My SIL sent me an angelornament this year, for Maddy.  I cried because a) she remembered Maddy; b) she took the time to find this ornament and send it; and c)  she did it, and not me.  Shouldn't a mother be the one to do these sorts of things?

4.  Through the year are there any holidays, seasons, or parts of what were once cherished rituals that have changed for you because of your child's death?

Bon: The raw, muddy vulnerability of spring will always evoke for me what does not make it through to blossom, as well as what does.  The crocuses that died in the late freeze last year...I cried over them inconsolably.

Janis: Not really... except perhaps dh's birthday will always be somewhat tainted because it comes a few days after his death.

Jen: A former Christmas fanatic, I absolutely dreaded the season this year. Although it turned out to be fine, pleasant in some ways even, I doubt it will ever hold the same excitement for me again. Speaking of rituals, one of the daily mundane things that continues to chip away at my heart is making a cup of tea. The sound of the kettle coming to a boil reminds me of standing in the kitchen at 3am, bobbing up and down to comfort her while we waited for a bottle to warm, satin cheek to overtired, blissfully grateful neck.

Julia: I used to love New Year's, both the holiday itself and the traditions we have developed with our friends—making nearly a week of it, going skiing, now with kids. Now it is all very mixed, comforting and hard at the same time, some days mostly hard. Monkey's birthday is the day before A's estimated due date. She was born exactly on hers. It remains to see what the second anniversary of that feels like. The first one was pretty brutal for me, partially because approaching that day was so hard on Monkey.

Kate: The holidays have changed no more than every other day, or just as much. His absence hits me suddenly and I freeze, and I try to hide it or steal away to be alone, with him. This happens on March 2nd or July 24th just as much as on Christmas morning.

Niobe: On almost every holiday and holy day, I realize how alone I truly am.

Tash: I used to love winter—the season and the holidays.  Now it's like biting into a chocolate and realizing the center is poison.  I know what's in the middle, and it's brutal getting through it.

5. Do you do anything to remember your baby/babies' birth and/or death day? Or will you?

Bon: Cupcakes, again to include him overtly in the rhythm of our days. And I try to find the quiet space to seek him out.

Janis: I did, and I guess I wll continue.

Jen: Her birthday is the day after my husband’s. I plan on taking the day off from work and spending it with him. I actually hope to flee the country over the week when her death day falls. Iceland, Croatia, maybe Switzerland. Anywhere but here.

Julia: We went with the flow the first year, and for us it was the right thing to do. This year there are supposed to be cupcakes. So said Monkey. I never thought we would be cupcake people, not as late as the day before the first anniversary. But sometime after we baked cupcakes for her birthday last spring Monkey said she would like to do that for A too, and now it feels ok, right even. She has talked about it since, so I am assuming it's still on.

Kate: For the first anniversaries I was in survival mode, very defensive, feeling pressured by the world to put on a 'brave face'. In the coming years I look forward to doing whatever feels right for me, regardless of what anyone else thinks of how tough I am or am not. I reserve the right to fail.

Niobe: Never did.  Never will.

Tash: I was surprised at how angry I was on the anniversary of her birth.  Despite that, I bought the two of us—Maddy and me—flowers and lit a candle at the time of her birth.  I lit the candle for six nights.  I suppose I'll do the same this year unless I'm otherwise inspired.

6.  Is there anything about the winter season (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere right now) that lifts your spirits? Is there anything that especially brings them down?

Bon: I like the contemplative quiet of fresh snowfall, the forced hibernation and liberation from routine of a good storm.  My spirits are not so fond of winter colds, however.

Janis: The snow cheers me up (so long as I do not need to shovel it.) The quiet of it all, the mersmerizing dancing tongues of fire...the fact that it is (for me) a time to hibernate, rest and spiral inward. People who pushes the ho-ho-ho of the season drives me bonkers.

Jen: From about an hour after we landed in our hometown before Christmas right up until the day we left, it snowed almost constantly. I thought it a generous gift to us; we’d actually missed snowy winters quite a bit. I enjoy curling up in slippers and a blanket to watch a snowfall. I love the crunch of it under my shoes when I walk. I love the hour before it becomes marked with tire tracks and footprints in the morning, when it looks like a sparkling blanket laid quietly over the city while it slept. Here, I find the consistent grey sky and biting wind difficult to endure for weeks at a time.

Julia: I still love the snow, especially the blanket of the first heavy snowstorm. But now it also makes me sad, more than a little. And yet I do not wish it to melt or to not fall. And I am more content watching it from inside the house—I no longer need to be thoroughly in it. Somewhat related—because of how physically out of shape I am, getting ready to go skiing, with my knee braces and my nontrivial-to-buckle boots, and JD's ski pants and jacket (because I am long past fitting into my own) is an exercise in frustration.

Kate: I adore winter driving more than anything. No, it's not that. It's that feeling you get what the inside of your nose freezes. That's the best ever. No, wait. Has to be the multi-day power outages. Totally my favourite. Truth: I seek out medicinal wine. A fireplace that coughs smoke back into the room. People who are not afraid of my dark.

Niobe: I don't like the cold.  I don't like the dark.  But I do like the almost-frozen river, riven with splintering ice.

Tash: I used to love winter, minus the ice storms.  Now there's very little about it that I find endearing. It's hard to stay warm, hard to stay awake, hard to feel sustained. And yet a week or so ago, doubled over with flu, I ran out to photograph the end of an ice storm—it was so quiet, so eerie, so dangerous, and somehow so magical. Maybe it's about learning that I don't always need to function—there's something to be said for just sitting there, waiting.

7.  During your hardest times, how have you found your way forward?

Bon: Writing has been a way for me to speak, to reconcile the chasm and woundedness inside with the mask people tried to take at face value.  It's also been a way to sort things out for myself...to consider what 'forward' would even mean.

Janis: Hunkering down and digging in my heels, protecting my space fiercely and refusing to grieve by other people's time-table. Surrendering.

Jen: During the hardest times, I don’t think I move forward at all. I become a turtle, pulling in to hide under a lonely shell where no one can touch me. It’s what I need to do. Fortunately, my husband has grown to understand that when it’s bad, I often can’t talk about it. I need the time inside myself to wordlessly muddle through the pain. I sleep and read and cry. I wait for it to subside. My resolution for this year is to summon the courage to move forward more often than I stand still.

Julia: One foot in front of the other, though while that is nearly always movement, it isn't always forward. Some days it has been in circles, and I am fine with that.

Kate: Retreating. Feeling around the edges by myself, sensing all the other babylost mamas doing the very same. I am alone, and yet I am not.

Niobe: By realizing there is no way forward.

Tash: By understanding that sometimes you need to take a few steps back in order to move forwards.  Sometimes going forwards means taking the long way.  Realizing there are others with the same confounding map going around in circles, just like me.