a good day and a goodbye

Sunday was Father’s Day—our first with Ben and Ellie, our third without Gus and Zoey.  And even though we will always have two more Father’s Days and Mother’s Days without Zoey and Gus than we will with Ben and Ellie, it was alright.  It was good.  It was a day for going to the farmer’s market and the gym and the movies to see two of my favorites on the big screen.  Yes, it was a good day.

Sunday completed a trilogy of Father’s Days: the first was raw, last year’s was fraught, and this one was normal at last—or at least as normal as circumstances allowed.  Sometimes, moving through grief seems like like a Zeno’s Paradox of getting better: you heal by half, and then by another half, and then by half again… until the distance between you and wholeness is imperceptible, but still there.  Or still there, but imperceptible, depending on where you want to put your emphasis.

On Sunday, M. asked me if I had been thinking of Zoey and Gus.  I had, of course—as much, and in the same way, as I do every other day.  It was not until the next morning, while taking the dog for his morning walk, that I thought of them with a more acute sadness.  Maybe it was because I missed them.  Maybe it was because I thought I should have missed them more.

 

 ---

 

My first post for Glow was last Father’s Day.  It struck me as fitting then, that this brief one, a year later, should be my last.  At least for a while. 

This decision to step aside is one of the hardest I have made in recent memory.  Since I last posted, I managed to return to the book I have needed to (re)write about Zoey and Gus.  I’m thankful to say that it has been going well.  But increasingly, I have come to see how hard it will be to find time—and more critically, the focus—to devote to the book and Glow both.  I hate to take my leave of Glow and its amazing contributors and community, but there is a limit to the number of pieces into which I can divide myself.  To fix Zoey and Gus in the world the way I want to, I need the book and the book needs this.

Thank you for reading my posts over this last year.  Thank you for your comments: for the kind words you offered me and for what you courageously shared of your own lives. Going forward, I hope you will give yourself permission to live where you are: in your grief but also, hopefully, outside it.  I do not wish you comfort alone, but rather, comfort and openness to comfort.  Getting to the other side is not forgetting.  Give yourself permission.  Some people don't.

Whether ocassionally or regularly, I do hope to be back.  I hope to be checking the site often.  (So if you would like to reach me, leave comments on this post.)  And with my time away, I hope to write a good book that honors Zoey and Gus, their memories, and our experience—mine and M.’s, of course, but also yours.  After all, the particulars of our stories may vary, but we all belong to one another in a way that we don’t belong to others, no matter how long we have known this one or that one.

I hope we will go on knowing each other.  I think that is a good hope, as is most hope.  Because, as I try to remember, not all farewells are forever.

Be seeing you.

Be well.

Eric



many thanks?

Last Thanksgiving, which was the first one since, M. and I sat at my brother’s table while my parents toasted how wonderful it was “to have the whole family here.”  Our nephew and niece, 7 and 5 at the time, did not know about their cousins.  Maybe that was why no one mentioned Zoey or Gus.  Maybe it wasn’t.

It had been a bad day already, as M. had begun cramping—an almost sure sign that another attempt at trying again had failed.  Our final attempt, in fact, before our fertility doctors would drop us off the cliff into who-knows how many rounds of bank-breaking IVF treatments: the scenario I had feared for two years.

It had been a bad day and a bad night.  In the morning, M. and I were resolved that I would confront my parents about how missing the missing were from the alleged festivities.

First, though, we learned that M. was pregnant.  She took a picture of the positive pregnancy test with her cell phone.  She texted it to one of our close friends from the support group, and I went into the kitchen to have breakfast and ask my parents just how much their dead grandchildren are still with them.

In the year since, I have been given much to be grateful for.  That much is certain.  But I had much to be grateful for last year, too.   And I don’t just mean the basics: health and family and the other big-ticket gifts.  I mean about Zoey and Gus, as strange as that may seem.

So what follows is not intended as a list of what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving (although I am).  Instead, it is, retroactively, a partial list of what I am thankful for last Thanksgiving:

I am thankful that there is something that marks me, that makes me different than most and bonded to a few.

I am thankful that as early as that first day in the hospital, I had enough perspective to know that this would probably end in tears, but would also be one of the most extraordinary experiences I will have had in this life.

I am thankful for talking.

I am thankful for writing.  Especially the book.

I am thankful that pain recedes faster than memory.

I am thankful to have realized that even if what we had been given what we regret not having (good pictures, more time), we would have always wanted more, and so those regrets don’t matter very much.

I am thankful for the alive-feeling of sadness, but not for depression.  For the bright line that separates the two, and for realizing that I need to police my feelings only when they are one side of that line, and not on the other.

I am thankful for who showed up.

I am thankful for the professionals who help us and for where their help has taken me.

I am thankful to know more about the limits of what I can endure.

I am thankful that we had the funeral, that I planned it, and that I remember it.

I am thankful for the people who are in our lives now, even if they are here only because the two who are not.

I am thankful that the spot where they are buried feels so special—like the top of a hill and the very heart of the cemetery, even though really, it is neither.

I am thankful for those songs that have been stamped by the time of, and after, our loss, and that the sorrow they stir up is that exquisite kind.

I am thankful for M.

I am thankful for Arthur, the dog.

I am thankful that there is such a thing as healing—in general—regardless of how much of it I personally have or have not done.

I am thankful to have learned that a relationship with God is not supposed to be easy. 

I am thankful that while we do not control what happens to us, we get to be the authors of the stories we tell ourselves.

I am thankful that they were here.

I am thankful for thankfulness.

 

What are you thankful for?  Are there aspects of your loss that can also be seen as blessings?  How do you and/or your loved ones treat your loss over the holidays?



at the kitchen table: ghosts and rituals

The holidays around the change from summer to fall are rife with ancestor worship, death, and touching the spirit-world. Samhain. Halloween. All Souls’ Day. Dìa de los Muertos. Something about the end of October conjures the thinness of the veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead. In many cultures we invite the dead into our homes, places of worship, and communities. We show lost loved ones a good time, with feasting, sweets, games, and offerings. And we prepare for visits from the unloved as well—the restless, unhappy, malevolent spirits who might pop by to instill fear, extract revenge, or just toilet paper our lawns. Frightening costumes are donned to “Boo!” them back across the veil. Communities light bonfires, or pumpkins, to fight the darkness, and to guide the path home for our beloved dead.

Even in this secular community of grieving parents, we use October to remember our children, grieve our losses and remind the world that we are still here. October 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. 

This month, we are sitting around the kitchen table talking about ghosts and rituals. Our answers are here. Want to join in? Post the questions and your answers on your own blog, link to us here at Glow in the Woods meme-style, and share the link to your post in the comments below. If you don't have your own online space, simply post your answers directly in the comments.

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1 | Do you believe you can communicate with people in the afterlife, or they with you?  Do you believe you can do this with your child?

2 | Do you believe in ghosts?  Has this changed since the loss of your child(ren)?

3 | Have your feelings changed about Halloween?  How do you respond to Halloween humor such as zombie and ghost costumes or macabre gravestones as decorations?

4 | Does your religious or cultural background have a day or holiday where the focus is honoring the dead? How do you use this experience to honor your own child(ren)?

5 | Do you ever reach outside of your spiritual/religious framework for comfort from other practices/religions?

6 | Is there a season or holiday, other than your child(ren)’s birthday, that inspires you to perform a ritual in memory of your child(ren)?

7 | Is there a ritual you perform everyday? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?

8 | Do you perform any public rituals (in real life or online) on October 15? How do your friends, family, or community respond to your acknowledgment of loss?

 

(to comment and partipate, please leave your answers and/or link on this month's at the kitchen table page)

A Father's Day Visit

Please welcome Eric, father of lost twins Zoey and Gus and husband of M., to our Glow company of writers. We've spent the last several weeks poring through submissions, and we're so grateful for all the new voices and friends we've met in the process. Eric and the other new writers, both full-time and occasional, bring new stories, reflections, and energy to our community, and we're grateful for it.

This is Eric's first blog post ever, anywhere -- so be gentle. Or don't. Either way, feel free to call him what we do: Blogless Eric. It lends an air of mystery. He's like a pirate. He might have an eyepatch. I can't be sure. But we're glad he's with us.

~ Kate

photo by digitalalan

For Father’s Day, there are two things M. has decided she wants to do.  She wants to buy me dinner, and she wants to visit Gus and Zoey. 

Zoey and Gus were born on the first full day of spring in 2009.  They died that day, too.  A week earlier, M.’s pregnancy suffered “a sudden, severe complication,” as I called it in message after message sent from our hospital room.  We buried them in a section of the cemetery near my friend, Harold.  He had been like a grandfather to me, and his widow said she would like to believe he would be a good grandfather to them.  These days, when I picture his funeral, I have to adjust the image because the camera is facing the wrong way.  It is not trained on his grave, but on the empty spot up the hill that will be my son’s and my daughter’s—but not for another three years.  That’s memory for you, I suppose.

Getting to the cemetery takes about 35 minutes and four freeways: the 90 to the 405 to the 101 to the 134.  We exit at Forest Lawn Drive—named, I presume, after the cemetery of which our cemetery, Mount Sinai, used to be a part.  Since burying Gus and Zoey, we have come to the cemetery many times.  Just a few visits ago, M. suggested that by getting off one exit sooner (Buena Vista Street), we would actually get to the cemetery faster.  And M. is often right about these things.  Still, I have never gotten off at that exit.  Because this is how we go to the cemetery. 

Today, the drive from our house to the exit ramp takes its 35 minutes, but working our way down the exit ramp takes another fifteen.  Cars are backed up from the ramp onto the freeway.  “What the hell’s going on?” I mutter. 

“It’s Father’s Day.  Other people are probably thinking the same thing we are,” M. says. 

The ‘80s station plays some Billy Joel.  Through the staccato-heartbeat rhythm of the intro, and even through “Whatsamatter with the clothes I’m wear-in,’” I don’t realize the song is “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”   For another few beats, I still think it’s “Only the Good Die Young.”

Then I realize something else: M. meant children are visiting the graves of their fathers.  I thought she meant fathers are visiting the graves of their sons and daughters.  Because isn’t that what fathers do on Father’s Day?

At Zoey and Gus’s graves, I do not say anything.  I do not pray.  I do not talk to them.  I do not tell them that we will always be their parents but that we also want to be parents to children in this world.  I had planned on saying this, on explaining ourselves, as M. is now very pregnant with their brother and sister and it might be awhile before our next visit.  But I have told Gus and Zoey this already—from this same spot.  On their due date, in fact, when M. and I came to the cemetery straight from our first consultation with the perinatologist about trying again. 

Instead, I sit down at Zoey’s grave, with M. sitting at Gus’s, and we clean.  I wipe the dirt off Zoey’s gravestone.  I scrub the grit out of the engraved letters of her name.  It is Father’s Day, and this is how I talk to my children: in solvent and cotton swabs.

After our visit and throughout the day, I talk with some of the fathers in my life.  I wish them a happy Father’s Day.  Few, if any, wish me one.  I’m sure it’s innocuous.  I’m sure they don’t see the greeting as a badge they are withholding from me.  I do, but at the same time, I understand.  After all, my weeks are not structured around play dates and check ups.  My days are not punctuated by fevers and falls and scraped elbows and bruised feelings.  I do not live with worry for Gus and Zoey’s futures or under the shadow of losing them a second time.  And unlike some of the bereaved parents I have come to know, I do not have other, living children for whom I had to be brave today.  And the day before that.  And the one before that…

On any random day—no, on every single day—I don’t do the work.  So should I really be seen as part of the club? 

Those friends who are where M. and I are (the enlisted, as opposed to the civilians) say so.  So when I email them about this facet of Father’s Day, it brings them to a boil even though I can only manage a simmer. 

But our friends may be right.  What fathering I can give, that club cannot.   Other parents clean their children’s rooms and wounds, not their graves.  Other parents have children whom they trumpet, not ones to whom every reference must be measured: firm enough to give their memory substance and to add to its length, airy enough to signal that it’s alright, that their presence in our lives is an everyday thing—just like that of everyone else’s children.  That can be the trickiest part.  While other parents manage their children’s experiences of the world (or want to, or try to, or try to when they shouldn’t), we have to manage the world’s experience of our children. 

So we mention their names.  We put pinwheels in the earth where they are buried.  We protect their place in the world.   We do what fathers do.  We give them what home we can.

 

How have you been recognized (or not) on Father’s Day or Mother’s Day?  How would you want to be?  What rituals do you have to mark the day?

Hey...

As weeks go, this one is a whopper. Easter advertisements everywhere, even in my junk mail. All pastel colors and adorably grown up kid outfits. On, you know, actual kids. Kid models, sure, but still kids. Smiling, making like they get along, all of them, but most especially brothers and sisters.

This week, of course, is also Passover. Which is all about saving a people, or forging one. It is a holiday about family, both in the sense of the story at its core and in terms of who one traditionally spends it with. But it's also about dead firstborns. A minor detail, that.

And this weekend will be a lot about, you know, resurection. And lovely pastel outfits.

So I thought it's time for one of these again, a how are you thread. So...

 

Hey... How are you? How is this new season treating you? How are you treating yourself?

 

 

Winter. Discontent.

I must admit-- it snuck up on me. Suddenly, it's dark by five and it's snowed twice since Sunday. Fall around here was a blur of pass the flu, and have you seen my deadline, but good things too, like sneaking away for a retreat or taking a short family vacation over Thanksgiving. And somehow in the midst of all the crazy, or maybe because of
it,
I managed to not let myself dwell on the the impending change of seasons, to chase away any stray thought of it that snuck in univited.

Winter, which I used to love without reservation and which still contains many things I love, is now my grief season. A's anniversary isn't until the very end of January, but for the third year now, I begin to feel its approach with the change of seasons. I am thinner this time of year, more transparent. The wind blows straight through me, or maybe through a hole in me-- I can't tell. It whistles the tune of longing, of missing, of love. 

 

Anniversaries abound in the bereavement blogosphere these days. But for those whose actual days come in a different season, and  for those whose losses are too recent still for any -versaries, there are the holidays to contend with. Ubiqutous decorations, ever-present lights, mandatory good cheer. Cards in the mail, commercials on TV.

 

So I just wanted to stop for a bit and ask-- how are you? How is the season treating you? How are you taking care of yourself these days?

Come, sit a minute. Have some tea. Have some wine. Have a good cry. Tell us how you are.