If I could talk with the animals

We shaved our cat.

Correction: We had our cat shaved, by a professional cat groomer.  When Mr. ABF told me the cost in a rather "Shit, I'm sorry, this is a killer" way, I said, "Seriously, what is a good price for SHAVING A CAT?!"  Talk about a thankless job.

Tucker, our Maine Coon that we rescued off the cold streets of Chicago, is sixteen this year, and has decided to stop grooming himself.  Because of his thick, long coat, it happened rather overnight-ish, and we suspected his thyroid was wonky again, and guiltily trudged him into the vet expecting to be berated for negligence.  The vet was wildly sympathetic, his thyroid and everything else was normal/great (despite the fact that we occasionally miss a dose), and she sighed and said, "He's sixteen.  Sometimes cats just get tired of grooming themselves."

So he came home a thin wee rather-freaky skinny thing, and I ran out and bought a comb determined to get in the habit of grooming him once a week.  Despite the crazy schedule, the daily medications both cats get, houseguests, heat, a toddler, a garden that desperately needs harvested, laundry, playdates, car maintenance, birthday parties . . .  I will take care of this cat.  I love this cat.  He has stood by me, through everything.


I distinctly remember the afternoon, a whole geological era ago now, that I went into the bathroom and realized I was miscarrying my first pregnancy.  I went on the bed to sob and yell and call the OB and catch my breath and when I came out of my fog I realized I was surrounded by pets:  both cats (Tucker and Kirby) and my dog (Max) had silently but loyally jumped on the bed and taken positions all around me.  To comfort?  Protect?  They knew, they obviously knew I was upset and came just to be.  Just to be near me.  To abide.  When I came home from the D&C months later ("leftover product" wouldn't ya know) I scooped them all up and rubbed chins and told them a baby was coming, but I'd never forget them.

The night I labored with Bella (two years and four months after the crying on the bed incident, thank you infertility) I went into the living room and told my husband to sleep.  The contractions were tough, but far apart, and I'd need him later.  Tucker however, abandoned his usual digs for the night and sat on the floor right next to me.  All night.  He never left my side.

None of the pets really dug Bella; there is in fact a lovely and slightly sad picture of Tucker peering around a couch days after bringing Bella home from the hospital.  Here was a screaming, loud, running being grabbing for their tails and occasionally succeeding in clenching tufts of hair.  They all dealt, but clearly missed us, the zookeepers.  Max eventually forgot about frisbee lunches, Kirby had to give up the chokeable glitter balls he used to retrieve like a dog, and we began to ease up on Tucker's grooming.  There was plenty of love to go around, but never quite enough time.

We moved to our new house five years ago, and while Max has always seemed a bit out of sorts in the city, Tucker and Kirby especially seemed to thrive here.  There were window seats galore, nooks and corners, heated tile floors.  And again, the night I got up early to phone the hospital to see about my induction for Maddy, Tucker came and sat on the couch next to me.

There was no screaming being this time.  Well, there was, but it was a familiar face who I suppose at least didn't grab at tails or tufts of fur.  I wailed, I sobbed, I curled up in a quiet ball on the bed.  I stayed up late, I had to go on antidepressants because I couldn't bring myself to get up and care for my toddler.  I was distracted and distraught, I didn't speak to people, I usually remembered to walk the dog and feed the animals.  But for all intents and purposes, I ignored the lot of them.  I hated taking Max for walks because it meant I had to go out in public.  I forgot about them, moved around my house as though it was unoccupied -- hell, moved around my life as though it was unoccupied. I floated and bobbed around my daughter and husband, my neighbors, my family, the people at the grocery.  My pets were nonentities, just anonymous flotsam, bobbing along with me, camouflaged against the dark water.

Three months after Maddy died we adopted Buddy, a one-year-old golden retriever who had been abandoned at an emergency vet's office after a run in with a car that left him with two plates in his back leg.  We wondered what we were doing, as did a few family members.  "Are you sure this a good idea?" tentatively asked my father in one phone call.  So concerned were we by this crazy half-baked idea that we even ran it by our grief therapist -- was adopting a dog at this moment so blatantly, obviously, Freudian-ly, obnoxiously replacing?  I was on antidepressants for not being able to lift my body in order to keep my toddler form tumbling down the stairs and out the front door, did we really need another dog?  Another pet? Something else to deal with and try and keep alive?  "Well," said the therapist with a smile, "I think if you want him you should take him home."

And we did.  Buddy helped me realize I could in fact take care of a mammal in need of medical assistance.  But perhaps more importantly, he made me wake up and rediscover my other animals again.  I knew when we brought him in the house we'd need to make a conscious effort to let the other animals know we still loved them, and here I hadn't let them know that for months.  I began petting and walking, allowing cats in my lap and grooming.  I threw balls in the yard, I drove to water therapy, doled out treats, I scratched chins and tummies.  And like those awesome human friends of mine who didn't take the lapse in communication personally, my pets quietly and lovingly took up their old positions.  The foot of the bed, the door when we came home, the computer keyboard.  They were simply abiding, the whole time.

I scooped them all up and whispered, "There is no baby.  But I will still love you."


An experiment mentioned previously on this website concluded that people feel less pain when someone else is simply in the room with them rather than undergoing the trial alone.  I would like to posit that the same goes for furry beings as well:  they couldn't hold my hand or say her name, they didn't bring me roasted chicken or fresh kleenex.  But nor did they sting me with empty platitudes, and stop talking with me entirely after ignoring them for three months.  They didn't assume I was angry with them for not paying attention to them for a spell, and pee all over everything, literally or figuratively.  They never stood us up (well, ok, maybe occasionally for a squirrel -- I can excuse that), or grew tired of tears.  They continued to silently pile on the bed, or next to me during a late night on the couch or computer, and just be with me.

Tucker's curled up next to me on the floor, as I write this, his soft short coat curled in a tight ball with his head under his leg.  Buddy is here, too, sound asleep.  But near, always near.  Amazingly, they never lost faith in me.

There will be no more babies, and the Inn is full -- there will be no more pets.  (Except that wee fish.)  I am here now, for you.  Thank you so much you naughty, adorable, shedding, loyal animals, for being there for me.

Do you have pets of any sort?  Did you have them before/during or acquire them after the death of your child(ren)?  Have they hindered your grief in any way(s), or helped in any way(s)?  Did those ways surprise you?  Oh, and rub those ears for me, would you?

comparatively speaking

I believe if you got a room full of widows whose husbands had died of the same form of cancer, each woman would still silently compare herself to those around her.

I wish my husband had survived longer after the diagnosis.

Thank goodness my husband went fast and it didn't drag out.

She's lucky, her kids are still young and in the house to lend support.

She's lucky, her kids are grown and she has time and space to grieve by herself.

I wish I had been married longer.

She's so young -- she's got her whole life ahead of her.  No way I'm getting married again.

And so on.

I also believe, especially early on, that it's a good thing -- it's even a healthy thing -- to compare yourself to others in similar situations.  I think it puts parameters on your grief, and helps set the boundaries of exactly what issues you personally need to move through. 

At first, unsurprisingly, you probably think yourself the worst off in the room -- from newness and the raw angry wound if nothing else.  And that's ok, by dint of still bleeding, you probably are.

But the nice thing about support groups, either in person or online is that you realize you're not alone:  others have gone through the same thing.

Well, not quite the same thing.

And there's the rub:  we're all so alike, we occupy a tidy little corner of the internet where we share macabre humor and toss around familiar euphemisms, but then we hang around long enough and realize there are some odd angles and edges.

Some lose babies earlier in the pregnancy than others

Some lose two children -- or more -- in the same event

Some lose two children -- or more -- over time

Some have to birth already dead babies

Some have to make decisions about life support

Some have to make decisions about termination

Some have seemingly healthy babies who are rudely snatched from their hands -- metaphorically -- weeks after their birth

We ponder these differences, and hell, it doesn't really matter does it?  No of course not, many of us pronounce, pain is pain, and we begin to comprehend still other parts of the stories:

Some don't have living children

Some have to explain what happened to living children and help them grieve, too

Some spouses leave

Some suffer infertility along with babyloss

Some subsequent pregnancies don't work, either

Some had horrible medical treatment

Some have long-standing issues with depression

Some were still suffering from other losses in their lives when their child(ren) died

And I think it's still good - and still healthy -- to compare, and realize, you know, I'm not the worst-off person in the room.  

And I speak rather ironically because of course, if you're following my examples here, no one is the worst off person.  Everyone is worse off.  Everyone is better off.  It depends to whom you're referring, to whom you're speaking, whose mind you're in.  Are we counting that refugee I just read about in the paper?  It just depends.

I'm not sure whose particular set of circumstances I'd rather have:  they all suck, and at least I'm familiar with mine.


I gather -- for better or worse -- that this sort of self-comparison is probably a chunk of how we form our identities and selves.  Some comparisons are merely factual, some make you gasp in relief, and some perhaps make you feel a little less of yourself.

He's taller than me.

I'm lucky I like my job.

Her skin is always so clear and smooth, and mine looks like the lunar surface.

And it's what we do with this information that's important:  it shouldn't make you feel like you get a prize of some sort just because your car is a newer model, but nor should it take you in the dumps if your neighbor's lawn looks better this year.  It is what it is.

We sometimes bandy this idea around and call it the Pain Olympics, the idea that some play games to set themselves up as the worst, the bottom of the well, the stink of the trash-heap.  

And I still argue it's good and it's healthy as long as at some point in time -- and it usually takes a bit of time for the wound to cease throbbing and your head to stop spinning -- that you realize maybe, just maybe that person had it worse.  And now that I think about it, that person I read about in the paper?  She did to.  And he did.  And her.  

And suddenly you have perspective, and compassion, depth and breadth to your experience.  You're able to welcome someone with a far different set of circumstances, realizing exactly where your circles cross each other in similar shaded places, and where you diverge.  And you also begin to realize that what one person considers lucky, another considers a cosmic kick in the ass.  What one person deems a lousy situation sounds like a symphony to you, comparatively.  

And before long you're beginning to understand not just how your situation fits into the world, but how your pain does.  And that there are other kinds of pain, and maybe "more" and "less"  and "better" and "worse" really aren't good ways to go about comparing these sorts of things, anyway.  That actor who tried to kill himself when he was 22?  His baby didn't die (he didn't have one as far as I could tell), but you know, in his head, his life was so bad he wanted to die.  My life was never that bad.  That was the day I picked my chin up a bit, felt sympathy for this poor guy, and realized I could keep stumbling.

Who are we to judge what's better and worse, anyway?  Maybe my neighbor uses pesticides on that ultra green lawn.  Maybe my newer car gets lousy mileage.  Maybe I just need to be with my situation and deal with it on it's own terms and use other people for support and inspiration when it suits.

That's the problem with comparisons.  You sometimes don't know the backstory, the consequences of the outcomes.  Maybe we shouldn't do this so much, after all.


Way way back, when I took yoga, in the beginning, the teacher reminded us practically every 5 minutes not to be competitive!  Don't look at your neighbor!  Ok, well go ahead and look if you must, but don't get down on yourself!  Because every person is different, every body is different, every student will have a strength and a weakness.  Work on your weaknesses, don't be ashamed to use props.  Revel in your strengths, but know that you can always grow -- the pose can always be better, made more difficult, held longer.

And I realized, in-shape-runner-me, that my soccer-muscly quads that allowed me to sit in air chair for an eternity outright forbade me from bending over and touching my toes, my hamstrings were so tightly wound.  Meanwhile, the 60 year old lady next to me had her head through her legs and was examining the backs of her ankles.

Grief is like this, I've come to realize.  Pain is like this.  It's mine, it's mine to hold and ponder and hold up and examine.  It's mine to improve.  I appreciate your sympathy in my down moments, and I really appreciate it when you find inspiration in my good moments.   

It's not better or worse, it just is.

How often do you compare yourself and your story to others?  How does it make you feel overall?  Has this changed over time? How do other people's stories shape you and your story?  Do they at all?  Do you find yourself gravitating more towards people at the same place in grief, or who went through a similar situation? (Or both?) 

Glasses, clouds, sea monsters

I don't think I was ever an optimist, but looking back I was naive.  Young.  Inexperienced in the ways of bad things.

No, I was a chump.  

Looking back at those photos of me holding Maddy in the delivery room, before I knew anything was wrong, when I thought I had achieved Nirvana and arrived at heaven on earth, I realize now I was just a chump.  I was totally had.  I bought into the program and surrendered to the joy like a complete asshole.  If Ashton Kutcher jumped out from behind an isolette in the NICU and yelled, "Punk'd!" the week would have made much more sense.

You see, despite my rational half telling myself to remain a cautious optimist, I still banked happiness on the future.  I saw good future events ending in, well, goodness.  I looked forward to them because of the way they'd make me feel. I don't do that anymore. I decided after that never to get punk'd again.

After Maddy died, I was certain I would be a pessimist for the rest of my life.  Glass?  Half empty?  Shit, it's cracked and leaking, it'll be drained before I even lift it off the counter for a look.  Life clearly was suffering and death and destruction, and the Buddhists and Hobbes and Machiavelli were all right:  One big languishing, cynical wait for Leviathan to swallow our terrible selves whole.  Nothing ever turned out as it should, people are mean, and everything dies.  Not only wasn't I very happy, but I got stuck in the present.  Aren't there people who strive to live in the present?  Are they high?  I could've told them it's not all that, it's very limiting to only be able to plan three days in advance because you're trying not to set your expectations too far out ahead so you won't get hurt.  Not only did I not think my future would turn out, I quit thinking about my future altogether. I got stuck.  Mired.  Afraid of the future.

Like everything else gloom and doomy about grief, this too began to ebb with time.  But not entirely.  I could plan two weeks in advance, and then a month, and now even a few months.  But I still don't assume things will be fine.  I know this is a sore spot for the positive-thinker crowd:  if you think about that future event ending well, and think about it really really hard!  And all the time! and make sure not to let doubt creep in there! it will come true.  You will get the promotion, your bank account will fill, the cancer will evaporate, the kids will get into Harvard.  Really!  But come on, really?  And what happens when all those things don't come true, time after time after time?  I'm not saying you need to think the worst will happen, but maybe a dose of realism now that I know bad shit is real isn't such an unhealthy thing. 

For example:  We went on "vacation" recently, but I really made an attempt not to call it "vacation," which implies relaxation and sleep and ample time for reading and sunning and navel gazing.  I called it, "getting away with my family," which is exactly what it was.  So when the stomach virus swept through us in the waning hours, it didn't ruin the whole thing (in retrospect; at the time, I swore I'd never travel again), nor did I sit around and say, "See?  Bad shit ALWAYS HAPPENS!"  No, it was just one of those things, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first 5-6 days, and ergo nothing got ruined.  

It's a matter perhaps of semantics, and perspective.

I believe there are people who can find small elements of thanks in the bad things that happen to them.  I always thought these people were the sunshine-y always seeing rainbows when there's rain people, but surprisingly, I've become one of those people.  There are times when I hear another one of your stories, or read something in the paper that's just wildly awful, and I stop to reflect on how fortunate I was, with my solid medical community and my loving neighborhood.  Or even the amount of control I had in what at the time seemed to be a situation removed from the tracks and barreling over the cliff.  But I think this is different than being optimistic or even positive:  this is letting a lot of time go by, and being able to stop crying and sighing long enough to reflect.  It's ok if you're not there yet, believe me.  You may be someday, you may never be, and that's ok, too.

I've learned to be happy in retrospect, and even happy in my present.  That's pretty huge, given where I was four years ago:  I can look back on an event or even just a day and say, hey, that was wonderful.  That was really, really lovely.  I'm even able to have fun in my present self, or find joy here and there, ducking in the weeds.  But I still don't play that game of cashing in on a future that's not here yet.  No. Way.

When I was pregnant with my subsequent child, my now one-year old son, I did things much differently.  With Bella and Maddy, I thought the biggest surprise in life was finding out the sex of your child at their birth.  Boy, did Maddy ever prove THAT wrong, there are in fact bigger surprises I discovered.  I never wanted to be surprised again.  With Ale, I had CVS at eleven weeks, and found out the sex because I wanted the only surprise at birth to be whether he lived or not.  I had had it, no more punk'd.  And I live like that now:  I can look ahead, but no surprises.  No jumping out from around the corner, no unmarked flowers, no cakes without my choice of flavor.   I want to know, I want to know as much as possible about what will happen -- good or bad.  Maybe it's a control thing, and a false one at that; I know I can't possibly contain all the surprises in life.  But to the extent I can find out, I will.

I still don't think I'm an optimist, but I don't think I'm a pessimist, either.  As cynical as I am, I did not pour myself a large drink and eschew my child-chauffeuring responsibilities to watch the world implode at 6 p.m. last Saturday.  There's a ways until I meet the Leviathan, I realize now, and some people are actually pretty nice and considerate.   I'm certainly not a positive thinker, but I'm not necessarily a negative one.  The bathroom project we're about to undertake?  That will be an improvement, I'm fairly certain.  I think it's just that I now know exactly the kind of very real surprises life can dole out, whether it's a plumbing stack that needs replaced, or a child born with fatal birth defects.  It's made me older, more wary, informed.  I hate being a chump.

Where do you fall in terms of optimism and pessimism, positive and negative thinking?  Were you always this way, or did thing change with death of your child(ren)?  

Hug Thyself

The other day in the car my preset was broadcasting a program which I sometimes find interesting, but this week according to the  host was about "loving yourself."  And woah, for me that screams touchy feely and sounds as enticing as root canal.  So I found some angry music to hum to instead, but on the way home grew weary of heavy bass lines and forgot about the lurve fest and clicked back through just as the host was asking the guest to explain the difference between self-pity and self-compassion.  She paused, had to figure out which definition to chew through first, landed on self-compassion, and finally blurted out something to the effect of:

Look, everyone hurts.  Everyone experiences hurt.  Everyone suffers.

(I'm paraphrasing pretty heavily, but some of these catch phrases are not mine.)

The words flitted out while my fingers twitched on the dial.  Self compassion respects a common humanity, and the idea that life is difficult for everyone . . .  It's not self-focused, it assumes we're interconnected. . .  Suffering is part of the human experience, this IS normal, everyone experiences suffering.

Ultimately this should feel better than self pity because it means we're not alone.


I don't toe that line very often anymore, the pity party one, with the self-absorbed balloons and memememe cupcakes (hey, I'll cry if I want to), but if I get close it usually doesn't take much to pull me back far away from the line with a sharp slap to the face.

It's all but impossible to stay wrapped in my bitter cocoon during a week like this, with a disaster of one sort, followed quickly by one of another, followed immediately by yet a third uncontemplated -- all upon one population.  It makes me realize how lowly and small my place is, and how contained my problems.  The losses there are so massive as to be unbelievable, unfathomable.  How the earth could move and then the sea could rise and make so many disappear within minutes is the stuff of fiction and space ships, not here, not on earth, where we watch television and twitter and eat chocolate and drive to the grocery store listening to the radio chatter about giving yourself hugs.

Sometimes it's hard to watch this hurt, to listen to people talk about how within minutes life changed forever.  I realize I told a similar story once, but now I feel nothing but sympathy:  that control I thought I lost?  I had both hands on the wheel compared to this, not to mention afterwards I got to retreat to my nice warm home while they're talking from a tent without water or food or family.  With the threat of nuclear meltdown to boot.  I wonder if what I felt was really pain at all.

When I hear of a new babyloss blog I try and find the time to go and leave a comment, and 99 times out of 100 I say, "You're not alone."  It's not much, but I hope the message conveys.  I remember feeling so bereft, so completely alone, as if I was the only person living on earth to ever undergo the freakiest of freakshows that ever freaked.  But here this lady is saying what I now know to be true:  not freaky at all, not remotely.  If Japan had a blog, this week I'd say, "You're not alone."  None of us are.  I just hope they hear me and know how sincerely I mean it.


Writers use simile, it's a fact of life like taxes and death.  And when writers are trying to describe something that's happened to them, but not to many others -- like say, the death of an infant -- that hurt like a motherfucker and changed their universe in the blink of an eye, they grasp at any metaphor, any simile, any analogy to try and explain their pain.  I know I'm guilty, I've compared Maddy dying to a car wreck, I've discussed being stabbed in the heart, I've described the earth shifting under my feet, I'm sure I've even spoken of feeling flooded or even waves.  Tidal waves.

And this week I feel like an idiot because it's abundantly clear just looking at the headlines that I know nothing of feeling the earth move or the rush of a wave as high as a building crashing over my head.

Perhaps I shouldn't make comparisons to things I don't know about; losing Maddy was like hell I write, but I know nothing of that other than what I picked up in Inferno. (Although, if it does exist, I am headed there.  And will let you know as soon as I adjust to the lighting.  Call me!)  Am I doing a disservice to excrement saying I felt like shit?  I do know that I will pause before I speak of the auto accidents and volcanic ash and post traumatic stress disorder because maybe . . .  maybe it wasn't like that at all.  


The other thing the guest lady on this radio program said before I moved on down the dial for something more uptempo was that in order to even begin to understand something like what happened in Japan, you need to be compassionate with yourself.  You need to acknowledge that it will hurt, that it's difficult to read about and adjust to, be kind to yourself as you abide with other's pain.  And I wondered, as I clicked away, about all the people who failed to even attempt to understand us:  who just moved on, and ignored it, and forgot it, and refused to talk about it.  The people who thought they were insulating themselves against our deadbaby juju by stepping a good ten feet away and using hand sanitizer.  The people who thought our lives were "too negative!" and they were doing them-positivity-selves a favor by not reaching out into the morass.  

But maybe this woman is right, and these people couldn't muster up enough kindness for themselves to open the door to someone else's hurt.  I'm not sure I have enough self-compassion to feel sorry for them, but it did make me think about them, even for just a few minutes.  I realized we aren't the pity parties, they are.  They're the self-absorbed ones, who blather on about wallowing and moving on.  We're not the one's who are alone, they are.  We're the normal, the ones with suffering, they're in denial.  The people who can sit and be with us and our pain?  Are truly good to themselves and understand compassion and its interconnectedness -- probably to such an extent that it's interwoven and unconscious.  I should probably strive to be one of these people.  I owe them so much.

It also means, if this radio chick is right, that by reaching out to others in our situation, by stepping outside of ourselves for even a few minutes online, that we've done this first step of being good to ourselves.    It's funny to think that I may actually be more gentle on myself after my baby died; here I gained a ton of weight I couldn't lose, and now swear uncontrollably and grew more cynical, and bleed bitter out of my eyeballs  . . . . but maybe I did.  Maybe we all did.  Our interconnectedness -- if this radio chick is right -- proves it.

Good for us.  /pats cyber self on back

Do you ever trip over the line into self-pity?  (It's ok, I'm sure I did.)  How do you pull yourself back?  Do you experience self-compassion -- that is, do you feel some connection with others in your suffering?  How about in their suffering? Are you good to yourself?  Or does the whole "be good to you!" conversation give you the heeby jeebies?

food for thought

I remember at some early therapy session, back when I wondered how much of my fee was spent on tissue, that I started going through the list.  You know the list, the list of things that you lost in addition to your baby.  As if that wasn't enough, I also seemed to have misplaced joy, happiness, fun, the ability to communicate with others, a sex drive, a flying poo about my health and hygiene, and taste.

I lost my ability to taste.

"I lost my ability to see in color," admitted my therapist, referring to the period after her mother died.  "It was as if the world was black and white."


I'm not sure when I became a foodie.  I think perhaps it was there, latent, with my careful reading of Bread and Jam for Francis and how I fantasized about elaborate and difficult lunches with doilies and salt and pepper shakers.  I lived on escargot when I went to France at age six.  I dreamed up elaborate picnics with mini quiches in High School.  I fell in love with a foodie, and we spent our Honeymoon at a cooking school in Italy.  We were the odd couple who rarely ate out, made almost everything from scratch, and relished trying new recipes.  When we moved into our new house, in our new city, we were so relieved to finally be in a place where people knew and loved their food.  We started a raging debate in the cell phone store on our third day here when we casually asked where to get the best . . . I honestly can't remember what we asked about. But everyone in the store had an opinion.  We felt as if we were in heaven.

I'm not sure when it hit me, that food was sawdust.  The first few weeks after Maddy died I lived solely on food that people brought over:  cookies for breakfast and lunch, and then I'd pick a bit at a well-intentioned dinner, announce that I was tired and going to bed, and retreat upstairs to cry.  After the gifted food and the freezer stash ran out, I segued into cereal.  That's it, cereal.  I honestly can't remember what I fed Bella or what she would have been eating at that  point in time -- I'm guessing a slew of frozen chicken nuggets and mac&cheez.  My favorite bourbon barbecued chicken may as well have been a soggy bowl of bran.  Everything tasted like cardboard.  

The only thing I could barely perceive was coffee.  I'm not sure if it was the taste or smell per se, maybe just the jolt of caffeine or now that I think about it, the mere act of normal routine and comfort of holding a warm mug .  There were months where the only thing making it possible to swing my feet off the bed and onto the floor was the thought of making coffee.  I drank a lot of it.  I figured it was better than other things I could be drinking.  At some point I realized this probably wasn't the greatest thing I could be doing for myself and decided that in between cups, I needed to drink three glasses of water (and say three hail Marys).  It's a small measure of guilt I carry with me to this day, even though I never make it beyond two.

We didn't eat out.  Not because I didn't want to, or we couldn't, but because I didn't want to waste money on food I wouldn't enjoy.  It's not that I stopped eating, it's that grief masked flavor and thereby erased one of my greatest joys.  My great grandmother lived to be 100, and became extremely depressed right before her death because she lost the ability to taste her food.  I got where she was coming from.

"I remember the day, very vividly," said my therapist, "when I realized I could see colors again."

I'm not sure there was a day, a hammer on the head, or a gelato I could point to, but there was a slow creep.  And a year and four months after Maddy died, a friend took my husband and I out to dinner at a very good restaurant and I realized through the multiple courses and accompanying wine that I could taste again.  I could discern the nuances in the wine, I could decode a sauce. I could enjoy a dish simply sitting over it and inhaling the aroma without even taking a bite.  

I could experience food for the first time in over a year.  It was as if someone colorized the black and white movie my taste-buds had been living in.  Lettuce became green, capers became salty, coffee became lovely. 

Appreciating food again wasn't the pinnacle of recovery by any stretch of the imagination; I still wasn't getting the whole Joy thing.  But it helped considerably to know that grief hadn't completely eradicated something I loved so much, because losing my daughter was miserable enough.

What -- if anything  -- did you lose in addition to your child(ren)?  Have you found it again?



Back in your former life -- remember that? -- I bet this happened:  someone came to you with a problem,  or maybe you had one of your own that you dumped on someone else.  "Write a letter!" was the agreed upon solution, followed quickly by "but write a practice one first, you know, where you get it all out."

"But don't send that one."

And sometimes, just in the getting out, you find you don't need to send the letter after all.

Dear [Family member],

You have got to be the most self-centered, cold-hearted human being I have possibly ever encountered.  Who on earth could take a child's death -- someone else's child's death, I guess I should clarify -- and turn it into your own problem?  The gist of your martyrdom? Let me speak loudly so you might hear me:  It's not about you.  Check your shit at the door and support me in my grief, or just get the hell out and shut the fuck up.


It seems, unfortunately, that circumstances like ours lend themselves to a lot of letter writing.  Letters to doctors and lawyers and shrinks and RE's.  Letters to insensitive coworkers, bosses who just don't get it, friends who crawl away, neighbors who feign interest and do so poorly.  Letters to family -- especially the in-laws, to spouses, and even to dead children.  

Dear [Dr. X],

You know the day after my daughter died when you called to say how sorry you were and check on me?  That was really nice.  You know how you said "it was for the best?"  I agreed with you, because honestly I thought so too.  However, on further reflection, I don't think other people get to say that particular line in lieu of the grieving parent.  I think only parents get the right to say that, and frankly, we also have the right to change our minds about whether it really was for the best as much as we damn well please.  

(There's a lot of swearing in my draft letters.)

I happen to think writing angry letters is rather cathartic.  I prefer anger over sadness, because I find it easier to channel anger and actually do something with it -- like write a scathing diatribe.  Unfortunately, I had little to be angry about when it came to the facts surrounding my daughter's death itself -- no one did anything wrong or missed anything or really treated me poorly.  I would've loved to have released some of my steam on some poor unsuspecting L&D nurse or office assistant.

Dear [office assistant],

For the love of Mike, never, ever, EVER, ask the patient checking in at their six-week post-partum visit if they brought the baby.  UNLESS YOU ARE REALLY FUCKING SURE THERE'S A BABY TO BRING.  Because someone, someday, just might whip out a little box of ashes out of their handbag and say, "Why yes!  Yes I did!"  Which is what I wish I could've done when you asked me this very question instead of breaking down into tears.

Instead, my rage as it were took shape against people who didn't let me grieve appropriately, or who dismissed my child's wee life.  And instead of writing them letters -- even ones I never sent -- I started a blog.  I guess I viewed the entries as letters to some reader in cyberspace who could tell me if I was letting too much slide, going a bit bezerk over something trivial, or if I should clean it up and really send it.

Dear [fellow pre-school parent]:

Please please do not corner me and then go on any more about death in children's books and "how hard" it is to read and how you edit out those parts when you read aloud and how in fact you whispered the whole conversation to me like you were talking about the Karma Sutra and not Barbar's mother.  FOR THE THIRD TIME.  Because you know what?  Death in fiction is a fucking walk in the park -- it's goddamn "Ten Little Ladybugs."  Try explaining to your three year old why her sister died.  Death isn't dirty or something you should tiptoe around, you moron.

/delete, she was so nice to me at the potluck.  Sigh.

So as it turns out, my husband got a letter.  And it's addressed to him, and ergo not mine to blog about, but he let me read it and it has a lot to do with me.  (Apparently they think I'm the problem.  Which, if you were familiar with the problem, would blow your mind because I honestly think I'm the last person involved in this mess.)  And my husband, somewhat humorously, suggested that perhaps *I* should be the one to break the ice here, that *I* should make a phone call, that *I* should write a letter.

Dear [person who cut us out of your life totally six months after Maddy died, because I guess that was long enough to deal with us being depressed],

There is so much in this convoluted, loaded letter I don't even know where to begin unpacking it --  perhaps you might want to pay someone to start unravelling some of these thoughts.  It's called therapy.  Anyway, let's start in the middle where you mention your kids and how wonderful they are, and how you're sure we'd really love them if we could be around them more.  And how that went on for a few sentences.  And how nowhere in this letter do you once -- once -- mention my children, living . . . or dead.  Especially dead.  In fact, Maddy is the reason this letter is being written in the first place, you'd probably agree, and she doesn't come up once.  Talk about an Inconvenient Truth. But why guilt us about your kids?  Do you not want to see ours?  Or is this some one-way street kinda deal where we're supposed to feel guilty for this chasm that you sorta brought on? Then there's "Is Tash mad at us?"  Which makes me actually laugh out loud, because I sure as shit am now.  Although I honestly wasn't and never have been -- we've been under the assumption here that y'all were mad at *us*.  But thanks for transposing your assumptions onto me, because a grieving mother is, after all, batshit cray-cray, and obviously mad at just about everyone.  So blame me, that's fine, whatever helps you sleep at night.  And that part about lamenting that you happened to be nearby one day and couldn't call . . . why?  Why not?  Why is it incumbent upon us to call you?  Why can't you break the awkward silence?

/save.  Still drafting.  Not enough profanity.  Will never ever send.  Sadly, I am not nearly that brave, so I passive-aggressively sent a holiday card without a personal note.  

You don't have to reveal the addressee, but can you share a few lines from your letters?  Are they still drafts or did you actually send them?  (Did you clean them up much before you did?)  Anyone out there you need to sit down and write to?