White-hot is not uncomfortable, just what it is right now. Short periods of intense, shattering grief. I feel him comfortably in my heart, and I still do not believe time is linear and therefore we must meet again. I do feel some regret for not harnessing that fire and doing more for the community. But hopefully, that will change. How about you, did grieving turn you inward or has it inspired you to reach out to the world more? Do you feel your relationship to grief changes as time goes by?Read More
You've read those stories. Those people who had near-death experiences and how they became changed people: gave up smoking, went overseas to volunteer, building houses for the poor, holding sick children. They finally find a job and get sober, go to church, become a shining member of the community.
When you've expereienced a life-altering experience, usually you come out stronger, and become a much more positive contribution to your family, society, the world, the Universe.
For me, Ferdinand's death was a near-death experience as well. (Actually, I died.) It is without a doubt life-altering. But I did not emerge a better person with a lot to give to this world. I will say though I feel more awake in some sense.
I will admit that I almost felt the pressure to become better. To start serving food at the soup kitchen, run marathons to raise funds for various causes, perhaps donate a kidney, half a lung, maybe an eyeball even.
Do you think this? -- Something's good gotta come out of this.
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It depends on the day I am having. Some days it makes me more compassionate and I can actually reach out and be genuinely nice to (grouchy) strangers. Some days I spit on the dirt, slam my door and slither under a rock, wrapping my rattling tail around my neck.
I have not done anything major after my son died. Sure, I made a few donations and I made great efforts in being an even more present mother. I worked harder at being compassionate, calm and patient. Other than that, I have just been trying to live, trying to figure out how to live the life of a bereaved without making a laughing-stock of myself. (And all the while fending off insensitive remarks and some clueless people who makes the already-bad life-after even worse.)
Now, two years out less a day (tomorrow is Ferdinand's birth/death day. I don't know what is a good word to call it. Anniversary? Birth and death day? Usually we call it birthday in our house...), I feel I am slowly coming out from the shadow.
I am not ready to do big things yet. (Though sometimes I wish I do. I wish I am announcing here a new foundation I am setting up, a baby-related research that I am throwing money into, a charity that I will be sponsoring for life, the name of the soup kitchen where you are going to be seeing me... but NO. Not today.) Just small tiny steps. Like trying to walk again with new feet.
Just trying to live better. For myself, my children, my family. Doing things I can for the community, when I can. Living more eco-consciously. Listening better to strangers. Not curse so much when driving on the highway, sending compassion the way of errant drivers (of course I am a perfect driver. Don't you ever doubt that).
A part of that entails stepping away from the internet and spending more time and attention on making our house more like a home, not the war-zone it has been the past two years. More time with the children I have earthside, creating memories that will buoy them and strengthen and empower them and make them better citizens of the world (hopefully). More time thinking about what am I here to do, what potential is within me that needs nurturing, perhaps?
So, this is a farewell post on this wonderful website. I am sad to go (and honestly, even afraid... but I will still have my blog), but I also think it's time for new blood. I feel I have said a lot and it is time to listen instead. I also just wanted to explore this issue of the pressure to be "better" and to do grand things after our babies died, wondering if I am the only moron who thinks that way. Will you share your thoughts?
If there is such a thing as social quotient, I score rather low on that. I am probably in the 5th percentile or something like that.
Back in school, on the last day of the final examinations, hordes of students would surge to town, pouring into theatres to watch a movie, or combing the malls for retail therapy after weeks of study (and performance) stress.
I went to the second-hand bookstore, lugged home a pile of novels, curled up and read. I have always been the rather (in)famous anti-social bird.
After Ferdinand died, my social quotient plunged. Crashed. Failed to register on the scale, because I totally dug a tunnel southwards and went into hiding.
The only way to know that I had not wiped my neck with a sharp blade was that I was writing, spewing all thoughts and emotions out into cyberspace, emptying my grief unbridled.
And, it took me a long time to crawl out of my little dark hole.
At one point, I felt I better be out. My girls need the sunlight, they need a social life, in some form of guise.
But being social was so hard. Talking to other people, I keep making mental footnotes like--
I can't believe I am standing here talking, my son died.
I can't believe I had a stillbirth.
But, you know, my son died.
How can babies die?!
I am not normal, even if I can stand and talk, do you understand?
I've never ever been the life of any party, even though for years my horoscope kept insisting that if you would just invite me to your party, I'm gonna kick it up a few notches at least.
Still, I do not consider myself a difficult person to be with. I am usually civil and pleasant, and don't bite too often. (Really!) I do enjoy being social, and (dare I say it) can be fun to be with.
I know for some, keeping with the social life they once had helps with the grieving/healing. It allows the support network to be available, it makes one feel alive and still be part of the fabric of society.
For me, I just want to rip the thread that is me right out of that fabric that is society and announce, with a wave of a black lacy handkerchief, "Forget I ever exist." I feel like I wanna turn my back upon society, upon life, and just be a vagabond, traveling to the farthest corners of the world, dragging my tattered heart in a quaint and worn leather bag. I no longer wished to participate in life.
But, how is that possible?!
It just is not, unless I check myself into some remote mental institute and spend the rest of my days forgetting my name, drooling strained spinach out of the corners of my mouth, rubbing dirt into my hair, and basically just waste away until my body decides it is time.
So, slowly, somehow I became "social" again. And I will admit, sometimes it helps. To just participate in life, be useful from time to time (when I first held a door for someone, I felt... alive), interact with strangers. Instead of just mumbling to the cashiers or pretending to be busy and not want to talk, I reached into the space that contains my heart and give it a squeeze and focus on being attentive to people I talk to. I mean, I really wanted to know about their day. And if they went beyond the usual "Great!" or "Wonderful!" and complain about a leaky toilet or having to be on their feet all day, I listened, I empathized and that made me feel more alive. Even though none of that had direct relation to my grief, it made me feel less disconnected and my heart became enlivened, even if only for a little bit.
I am curious about how others are doing and what excites and bothers them. I like to be able to interact and share my thoughts. But being a bereaved sometimes handicaps that. I still keep making mental foodnotes of My son died, I had a stillbirth and sometimes the mental footnote keeps ringing in my head as I proceed with my social life. There seems to be always this tension between wanting a sense of normalcy and desiring an acknowledgement that one is not exactly normal.
I know my social quotient will slowly go up, by virtue of the primal need to be social, by virtue of my children's needs, and I hope, that this scar in my heart that had made me raw in social situations will one day become a glowing light that shines compassion and deep empathy when I one day become a more normal social animal again.
In our deepest moments of struggle, frustration, fear, and confusion, we are being called upon to reach in and touch our hearts. Then, we will know what to do, what to say, how to be. What is right is always in our deepest heart of hearts. It is from the deepest part of our hearts that we are capable of reaching out and touching another human being. It is, after all, one heart touching another heart.
~ Roberta Sage Hamilton ~
And you? How do you do? What's your social quotent, were you a social maniac before, or were you more of a hermit? How did babylosthood affect your social life? What was hard about being social again? How did being social help? What was the first social event you chose to participate in, and why, and how did it go?
"What, honey, what did you say?"
"Mom, I don't want you to hold me and burn me."
We were in a thrift store. Me and my two living children. I was sifting through the racks, tired from desperation. I needed to find something I can fit into. Something that could accomodate my flabby post-birth body and my swollen grief. Then I heard my younger daughter, then four, say those words--
"Please do not hold me and burn me."
I had to ask her to repeat a few times because I was not sure what she was talking about.
And then suddenly, under that fluorescent lighting of the store and amidst the smell of pre-owned clothing I suddenly realized what she was talking about.
They were with us when we looked at Ferdinand and held him for the last time, before his cremation. She saw me holding him, pressing his hard, frozen body wrapped in a blanket against my chest, saying goodbye. We sang to him together, in that little tiny room without any windows. Then, we drove behind the car of the mortuary guy to the crematorium and they saw him being put in a container and then we said goodbye one more time, and he was cremated.
She was afraid that as my child, I will do the same to her- hold her and then burn her.
I cannot even begin to tell you the feelings that coursed through my body upon the realization. How I held on to the shopping cart to stop myself crumbling to pieces and then leaned over and hugged her and assured her that of course, I would not do that. I told her that we had to cremate her little brother because he was dead.::
Children and death. It seems they deal with it with grace and ease, and then it seems they get all tangled up in the concept and get confused.
My daughter was four then. Not having witnessed the process of death with her own eyes, death was a very abstract concept to her. While we immediately treated Ferdinand's death in an honest and factual manner, she did not understand it. When they came to the hospital to see him after his birth, his battered body wrapped up in a blanket, with an oversized cap pulled over his head, all to make him appear as "normal" as possible, she asked me to show her his hand, the rest of his head, and she asked if he has a tongue. Since she did not see him alive, ever, she did not understand why he is dead. What makes him dead? Will he still have a tongue, a hand, a head?
Then, I guess as she tried to figure it all out in her head, she asked me, weeks after, to not hold her and burn her.
What keeled me was the thought that she felt that I had the power over her. I could hold her and burn her, if I wish to. Except of course, that was not the case. I was also afraid that she thought that I killed her baby brother. I held him and burned him, reduced him to but a small bag of ashes. I spent the days after telling her over and over again that we did not know why Ferdinand died, but he did, and after a person die, there are different ways of dealing with the body, and cremation was what we chose.:::
Now, she is a few months shy of becoming six. I think she sort of gets it now. She asks about whether I will bake a cake for Ferdinand this year, as we did last year. She talks about him being dead but still close to us. She no longer asks that I not hold her and burn her. Recently they both had to draw some pictures of our family as they fill in a family tree. She drew her brother just like any other "normal" person she would draw, while her older sister drew him with wings, the way she always envisions him- flying in the sky above us.
I wish there is an easier way to explain death to children, but it is really so abstract. And another difficult thing to deal with after our baby has died. We read some books about death after Ferdinand died, but I think the one we liked the most and found the most comfort in was the book Lifetimes. It explains about life, living and death in easily understood terms, and at times I find solace, comfort and strength in these ideas. Not always, but at least, some times.
How about you? Did you have to explain death to younger children, or to children of friends and family? How did you do it? What reactions did you get? What made you keel? Was there anything out of children's mouth that had comforted you? Do you have a book you can recommend for children to talk about death?
Today's post is an interview with my chiropractor, Dr. Jenny Dubisar. I have felt that my pregnancy with Ferdinand brought me in touch with much beauty and grace, and Jenny is one of those graceful gems. She is the sweetest soul ever, I am so lucky to have met her and be in her care. She has answered the interview questions in great detail, even when I gave her such little time and at a time when her schedule is choked full. She has really put her heart into the answers, you will find grace and compassion sparling and glittering throughout her answers.
Also, note that Jenny practises a type of chiropractic technique known as Network Spinal Analysis, or Networking. It is different from the traditional chiro technique, so much more gentler and relaxing. Jenny explains beautifully about her work and the relation between grief and chiropractic health. I am deeply thankful for the time she took to explain and share.
One day, two summers ago, about 36 weeks pregnant with Ferdinand and after having spent the previous three days running around like a lunatic headless chicken trying to get stuff done, I thankfully laid down on my chiropractor's adjusting table, desiring relief. She inspected how my spine laid, touched me lightly, and then said, "You have been overdoing it, haven't you?"
And I thought, "Dang! How did she know?! My body must have betrayed everything!"~~~
About two weeks after Ferdinand died, I experienced intense sensitivity in a few of my teeth. This sensitivity quickly escalated into excruciating pain. I could not eat, for the most tender contact with those teeth sent me into stabbing throes of pain. We wondered if I may have a root issue and contemplated driving back down to the valley to the dentist. But my husband called my mother-in-law and she said she sometimes have teeth sensitivity like that and suggested a couple of homeopathic remedies. I happened to have those on hand and took them, and the pain went away.
But, not for long.
About a week later, the pain in the teeth came back. This time, homeopathics did not help. We tried acupressure while I writhed about in pain on the floor. I caved and took Tylenol, something I never took. (And those freakin' did not help either.) I was so weak mentally and emotionally after Ferdinand's death, this pain was an extra hard punch in my guts. It felt as if I did not have enough pain in my life. I felt the Universe gave me more pain to mock me further. It was like being kicked down into vile dirt and then having my nose pinned down into the smelly dirt as well, my hands and legs tied.
Just take a gun and shoot me! I cannot stand this! I want to die!
I pleaded with my husband R. My two young daughters stood by and watched as tears rolled down my face and my toes curled with agony.
During such a time of intense grief, how could my body hurl me an additional insult and start causing such pain to me? How could my body betray me with pain in grief?
I went to the dentist. He took x-rays, he looked and poked and even though there was no sign of teeth damage or defects, he told me I needed a root canal. I was not going to get a root canal for nothing so I went for a second opininon. Second dentist was honest and said he was totally puzzled. "Everything looks fine!" he said. Then he noticed on my chart that I was pregnant and asked, "Maybe it is the stress from the new baby?"
I shook my head, my lips pursed. (I did not wish to discuss, or reveal.) He smiled, "Yes, yes, I know, new baby is adorable, but you could still be stressed. Lack of sleep, perhaps?"
He suggested relaxing, meditation, deep breaths.
Back home, I hopped online and consulted with my nutritionally-minded friends. Soon, research have been done for me and here's the verdict: Grief is a stress factor. It depletes the adrenals. Weak adrenals can cause person to wake up between 2-4 am (right on). It can lead to teeth grinding at night.
And get this: teeth grinding can wear down dental nerves and lead to extreme pain.
I went to a holistic dentist and he confirmed that. He could detect huge stress being put on those few teeth that were hurting me to death. That could only be caused by my grinding at night, or even during the day, he said, without being aware of it. He apologized for my son's stillbirth and recommended that I get a night-guard made and wear it while fixing other areas of my life so my stress level can go down.
"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding." ~ Kahlil Gibran
I am no longer wearing the night-guard. It made me talk real funny.
The thing is, my body was not betraying me. It was sending me alarm signals. When I overdid it, it sent me signals that my chiro could see, so she could fix me up. When the stress of grief got too much, and I was (honestly) just neglecting my health (and that of my family's), my body went on to take even more drastic measures to send extreme signals that I simply could not ignore. It caused me so much pain I had to sit up and take note of how I had been treating it. It was not going to watch me abuse my body, so it sent me a severe warning before all systems crashed and it was too late to do anything.
I wrote about that on my blog. How that crazy teeth pain that nearly caused my death was really caused by the stress of grief. Who knew?
My chiro, a sweet, beautiful and gentle soul read that and sent me an email right away. She gifted me with free adjustment sessions. Please let me offer my help, she said. I keeled with gratitude. For this Physical Healing series, I have also invited her to share with us the special chiropractic technique that she uses, and the relation of grief to physical health, especially that of chiropractic health. She gave me wonderful, detailed answers despite her busy schedule. I am eager to share this interview with you all. It will be posted here on Thursday.
How about you? Has grief caused your body to react with pain, or other unusual physical signs? What did you do about that? How did you connect the dots? How have you cared for your body then?
This post is a part ofThe Body Shop at Glow in the Woods -- a month of themed reflections and memes that explore what we do in an effort to occupy these physical selves with grace after babyloss.