too busy

I'm too busy raising my son to acknowledge how sad it makes me to see him alone in the yard.  He's playing in the sandbox solo, his cars and trucks pushing the grit around wrapped by his tiny perfect fingers.

 I hide behind the glare of the summer sun in the door, hide behind the glare of the book on my tablet. He's alone, no older brother tormenting or teaching him how to be a maniac.  Luckily he's figured that out all on his own, mostly.  I do have my moments.

Laconic and prone to naps I don't have the energy a 6 year old would have.  That relentless running; that sturdy, focused dash at top speed yet three year old slow would be beaten by the speed of his older brother across the yard, which would now be too small for the four of us.

But here there's three.  Us and him.  Her and us.  Them and me.  Whatever the daily configuration happens to be, it always comes back to us three.

He doesn't know yet.  He has no inkling.

There was a moment about a year ago that I have told no one about when Zeph happened to see a framed memorial to his lost brother.  It was a photo of Silas, his footprint, our tattoos, and his name in the sand at the beach during sunset.  It was on the floor near my dresser where Lu and I can always see it.

"Baby is sleeping," he said when he glanced at it and my heart was knifed.  I nearly fell over.

"Yes, baby is sleeping," I replied and we continued on our daily adventures with my heart pounding and my skin prickly and flushed all over my body.

I rolled on calm because there was no one else to play with, just him and me.  I couldn't collapse like I wanted to.  I couldn't freak out and howl at the unfairness of the world.  I couldn't sit down and tell him everything, that he had an older brother Silas but that Silas was dead and none of us ever knew him at all.

He's two point five.  I'm forty.  Silas should be here with us but he's not, so I have to make sure Zeph has all the fun he would have had with the older brother he will never have.

I am totally distracted by the growth of this being.  I tell him every day that he's my best friend, my squishy boy, my Zephyr.  I am so busy loving him I don't have time to be destroyed by how sad I am he's alone.


What excuses do you make for yourself to get by?

Loving and losing

The other day one of those supposedly inspirational quotes popped up on my Google+ page, among the many well and truly inspirational stories that populate it on the daily basis. The real inspirational stories are there because I am subscribed to a bunch of science-related feeds. Just recently, there was a story of recreating martian clouds in a giant lab structure on Earth, one about using a small 3D printer to print objects of any size through the use of an ingenious after-printing folding technology (no, really!), and one about a new discovery in astronomy that implies that life on planets outside the solar system is a lot more likely than we previously thought. Oh, and right above the inspirational quote, one about a possible vaccine against malaria. You know, malaria, disease that killed about 660 thousand people in 2010 alone, most of them children under 5 years old. Inspiring, no?-- to think that some day soon we may take that 660, 000 right down to 0.

And then there was the quote. Because for some reason Google likes to throw me those little nuggets of Hot on... Perhaps it is worried that I'd miss the really important stuff, what with my tragically unhip collection of subscriptions. Anyway, the quote. It was by a woman I haven't heard of before, though she is supposedly fairly well-known, Barbara De Angelis. "You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back." it said, accompanied by a picture of an intertwined couple looking like clothes are about to start flying, if you know what I mean. 

It chafes me, the quote. At first I think it's the carefree couple in the illustration that is making the quote profoundly one-dimensional. And while it certainly does that, maybe that's not the whole story, since I can't seem to mentally walk away from this one-- the quote and the post keep bugging me. So I keep thinking about it. So maybe it's the absolutism of the quote itself, the lack of gray zones. Is it really true that you just can't lose by loving? What about an abused spouse-- shouldn't they be pulling back, walking away no matter if they still love their abuser? Or how about a teenage crush? Or, you know, those budding feelings at any age-- can you really never lose by plunging right in?

But eventually I realize that my internal issue is not about the intricacies of intimate relationships. It's about-- DUH-- me feeling like, again, the babylost, the childlost, the grieving, are cropped out of the conversation that is meant to be had. Our situations, our stories are not hallmarky enough for short quotes. Our stories illuminate what is, sometimes, really risked, by loving. Imagine for a second the same quote accompanying a picture of a small grave marker, a tiny coffin, or those impossibly small hand or footprints many of us have. Instead of wise, doesn't the quote suddenly sound cruel? Or, at least, impossibly sad?

Look, my personal blog's title, a quote from Sarah McLachlan, is the promise to not fear love. I think about that too, together with the quote, and wonder why the quote bothers me so much. And I come to think that perhaps it's because the quote makes it seem so plain and easy and obvious when it's none of those things. It's an impossible choice even when it feels like it's not a choice at all. We chose to try again, knowing what we can lose, again. Or we try again because not trying feels worse than trying, even knowing what we can lose, again. Or we chose to not try because we know what we could lose, again. Or the choice is made for us, and we are left to pick up the pieces. And no matter whether there's another round, no matter how the next round shakes out, a child, or children, we love is-- are-- still dead. We still love them, and they are still dead. And it's impossible for me to say that we haven't lost.

I've said for a long time, that I see grief as a mirror image of love. We grieve because we love them. We grieve because there's nothing else to do. So does it follow that if we didn't love them, or didn't love them as much, we wouldn't grieve (as much)? A friend has been known to occasionally pine for a lobotomy-- a way to forget the whole thing, pregnancy and on. I see the appeal, I do, though I can't, even this many years later, want it for myself. It used to drive me batty that nobody but us knew A, that he just doesn't matter to most people. It doesn't hurt as much anymore, this particular part, but I still can't wish for the memories to go-- it feels like wishing to diminish what little is left of him in this world. Of course, I realize that this is circular reasoning. It hurts me that he is invisible to most. With a hypothetical lobotomy I wouldn't remember, and so it wouldn't matter. I know, but I still can't wish for it.

All of this is theoretical, though. In this universe times moves in one direction, and sometime in our past, a child, or children, died. And now we are here, having loved them, still loving them. We are here and they are not, and we still love them, but have we not lost? Could we have avoided losing, or maybe lost less by holding back? Theoretical again, I know. Except our experiences inform our choices going forward. Which is why I called my blog what I did-- it was a note to self, writ large. I tried to be prudent, to hold back for a while, and I do think it helped keep me sane in the early months of the next pregnancy. But eventually I leaped. And I got lucky-- that son lived. He almost didn't, but he did.

I think this is why the quote bothers me so-- it makes a hard choice seem easy and it promises a reward that is nobody's to promise. Choosing to love is hard. And nobody, but nobody can say what will happen if you do. Choosing not to love, not loving, is often also hard. The choice takes your breath away. Sometimes, you make the choice despite yourself. Sometimes, you don't get one. Life is messy, and heartbreaking, and beautiful. And too complicated for simplistic prescriptions.


How do you feel about the quote? Do you agree with me or do you think I am overreacting? Or tell us about another quote that may seem innocuous to others, but bothered you because of your babylost experience. 

This time, again

Those five weeks between when we found out he was sick and when he died exist outside of time.  They accordion out behind me as one infinitely long moment and then compress back to simply Before George and After George, the contents reduced to the width of a single piece of paper.  I alternate between being surrounded by memories, smells, tastes which bring me back to those weeks and real disbelief that The Horrible Thing actually happened at all.  

The more time that passes the more I seem to have difficulty grasping the core of what his death has really meant.  I tell myself that I can't regret what happened in the past because my present is filled with love for my daughter, who in a very honest sense only exists because her brother doesn't.  I fortify myself against the reality of his death rationalization by rationalization.   I am a master at trying to soften the edges of his death.
Then March comes around the corner, always unexpectedly, to knock the breath out of me.  The ether of emotions that normally fog my brain crystalize and it is all suddenly so simple again.  I gave birth to a baby in the cold sterility of a surgical suite.  I held his small sick and dying body, kissed his head, whispering to him I loved him and that I wished he could stay.  Then I simply waited for his tired heart to stop its battle to keep beating.  In March I can distill all the regrets and justifications and apologetics that I conjure up during the other eleven months of the year into a simple elixer of love and heartbreak.  
I am a mother to two children.  One who lives and thrives: a marvel in front of my eyes.  The other dead and gone: a shadow in the periphery of my vision.  But for a few weeks in March, when the world around me is waking up from its wintry slumber, that shadow feels a bit more substantive.  Almost as if I can reach out and hold him again, kiss his head, whisper him I love him, and that I wish he could have stayed.  
Do you rationalize the death of your baby to ease your pain?  When the anniversary of the death of your child approaches does it change your perspective on the past or make you feel closer to the one you lost?  How do you feel (or think you will feel) about milestones or anniversaries?  Are they intensely personal events or do you feel the need to share those important dates with people in your life?

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?) 


We'll, I've just about done it.  Seems it has been my goal all along without even realizing it, but now it is as clear as day.

I've been trying to disappear completely and I'm almost there.

Since Silas passed away I've been step by step letting go of everything that can't help me.  Friends that can't handle my sadness, gone.  My previous car: rear-ended while I was not in it, and then subsequently totaled by the insurance company.  The future I expected as Lu grew grew and grew, utterly and completely altered, that specific path annihilated forever.  Even money itself.  We've never had much and I've worked hard to not focus on money as a source of completion and happiness.  Instead I've tried to just put my head down and work, roast coffee, get new customers, and just do everything as best I can, figuring the money will follow if we just stay true to our core values.  It's worked and we're growing as a business, but the bills always pile up.  In my mind, though, they are gone, immaterial, unimportant.

I've got creditors coming after me, but there's nothing for them to get.  We rent.  My most valuable possessions are my wedding ring & my Droid.  My brother in IT gave me the laptop I'm typing on right now.  My father got the loan for the used car I drive, and I pay him back month to month.  And then last night I took the final step and inadvertently cut all remaining ties to regular-world-life by somehow leaving my car unlocked, and my wallet exposed within.

I'm still not quite sure how I was so completely careless when I am usually exactly the opposite, but there it wasn't this morning when I got in my (father's) car to drive to work.  I hardly ever have cash on me, but last night I did and now it's gone.  I intended to use it tomorrow to pay for the sperm-freeze which is one step of our 3rd IVF attempt, but I'll have to find another couple hundred bucks to make that happen.

Thankfully, one of the things I do still have is a great family so they are going to help, but at this point I think it's more that they have me than I have them.

No license.  No ATM card.  No insurance card.  I've never lost my wallet or had it stolen.  Not once in my 37 years.  I cannot believe I was so stupid to let that happen, but obviously it's not the first mistake I've ever made.  Not by a longshot.  And compared to what I have already lost in my life, a few hundred bucks is essentially absolutely nothing at all.

Perspective is everything, I guess.

My perspective is unlike anything I ever expected.  I'm through the looking glass here.  Everything is gone except the love of my wife, my friends and my family.  I am finally here, all the way through, all the way emptied of objects, of possessions, of expectations, perhaps even of hope.  But it's not even that I'm now hopeless, more that I am completely status quo.  I am now.  I am this.  I am here and alive and I won't ever let that go, but all the extra and all the bullshit and all the everything I can't control it's gone gone gone and that makes me feel good.

My slow coast to this rocky bottom took long enough, but I'm glad to finally touch the bedrock and feel its cool, impenetrable heft.  There's more that could be taken from me, it's true.  Loved ones, my life itself, the clothes on my back, shelter, food, but losing those would destroy me altogether.  The gone-ness I feel is really a slow choice I've made to only hold onto these essential elements.

In order to survive I must love and feel loved.  I must eat and drink and laugh and sleep and shit and piss and cry and breathe.  My heart must pump.  My eyes must look forward and my feet must move me forward to whatever comes next.  But money won't save me.  A bank account won't protect me from the ravages of life.  A flimsy piece of folded leather and an ID tucked within won't hold back the disintegrating Universe.  It's gone, anyway, all of it.

I'm unlabeled, untethered, unincorporated.  I lay on my back on the bedrock of the bottom and look up, far up at the distant sky and streaming clouds and it doesn't matter that I'm on top of a mountain of grief.  My eyes are still open, my heart still beats, my soul still rages with anger and love and anticipation and fear, and nothing can stop Time's hold on my life and the inexorable rise of tomorrow's Sun.  It'll happen even if I don't look at the clock, or at the watch I don't have.


What were some unexpected repercussions of the loss of your child?  What have you let go or held onto since their death?  Do you feel like you're at rock bottom?  What helps get you up?