Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How the light gets in...

You want to know the kinds of things people say to you after a baby dies?  It is ridiculous, really, the way people feel like they have to say something.  So they do.  They say things like, "She was too beautiful for this Earth," or "Now you'll have an angel in heaven," or "At least you have living children," or (my absolute favorite), "Everything happens for a reason."  (I don't know a single babylost mama who doesn't have the urge to yell BITE ME and punch the face of the person saying that last one.  We rarely react to it, but the urge is there.  In all of us.  Really.)  People will also repeatedly tell you that time will heal.  They told me this after Sophie died, they told me this after Amy died, and I heard it again after my father died.  Now it has been 8 years since Sophie died and I'm trying to figure out if it is true.  Does time heal?

What does it mean to heal?  Because if I cut myself, my skin opens up and I bleed.  I might need stitches or a band aid or something along those lines to close up the skin, but it will close.  A scab will form.  Eventually (over time), the scab will fall off and new skin will be left.  Perhaps there will be a scar, perhaps the scar will be permanent, but there will no longer be a cut.  In many cases, there will be no indication that there ever was a cut.  And VOILA, time has healed.  I don't think that is true of the loss of a loved one, especially the loss of a child. I think time helps you integrate, but it doesn't heal.  It can't.  I truly believe that there are some wounds that simply will never heal.  Ever.

When you ask the doctor how they are going to save the baby (because since it isn't the 1800's, the assumption is that it will happen, we only need to know how) and the doctor responds with, "I don't think we can," your world cracks.  When the inevitable becomes the reality, you find yourself with a completely shattered heart and soul.  Shattered into a million pieces that are so scattered into all corners of the universe, they are never coming back together.  Never.  Inevitably, in the weeks and months that follow, someone (with really good intentions) will tell you it all happened for a reason (resit the urge to punch them).  They will tell you that time will heal your broken heart.  "Really??" you'll want to say, "Really?  Time can't even FIND all the pieces of my shattered world, never mind put them back together!"  And yet...yet.  Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, you will find yourself crawling back into the world you left.  You will claw your way up out of the hole and sunlight will fall back on your face.  You will breathe again.  You will smile again.  Did time heal?  I don't think so.  I think that instead, you found the strength to get up with the broken heart.  I think you clawed your way out of the hole because it was the only option you had.  I think there is still a gaping hole in your heart and in your world.  I think, like Leonard Cohen says, that eventually, that's how the light gets in. 

And so here I am.  Eight years to the day since the doctor looked at me and said, "I don't think we can."  Eight years of finding my way in this world of being a Babylost Mama.  Eight years of helping others on their own babylost journeys.  And while I miss her more than seems possible, I do know I'm far enough out to say for certain and beyond a shadow of a doubt that the hole she left in my heart, the gaping wound that time will never heal, that, my friends, that is how the light gets in.  Every single day.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Smuttynose 2014

Ahhh Smuttynose....

I so missed my father's presence on the island this year.  I missed the way he never jumped in to Haley's Cove, but rather inched in slowly, as if waiting for the tide to submerge him instead of having to take the plunge himself.

I missed the quiet moments in the harbor, fishing silently together, connected by a mutual love of a moment that needed no words.

I missed the hike to the cairn and Maren's Rock with him smiling at his grandkids talking a mile a minute about what they might find on the trail.

I missed coming into the house at noon to find my dad sitting in the corner reading, trying to get out of the often intense sun.

I missed his amazing zest for life that was so evident off the cliffs of the dyke at sunset as he would fly through the air and land in the sparkling clear, wonderfully cold water with a tremendous splash and a huge gasping smile.

I missed him planting the hatchet with red paint on the handle into the sign for the Honvent House.  Only some will understand that one...but I missed it.

I missed his kite flying.

The light of sunset on the windows of Haley just didn't look the same this year.

Friday, July 11, 2014

I am from...

At a writing camp this week, Megan was asked to write a poem about where she is from.  Here is what she wrote:

I am from waves crashing on the shore.
I am from sap, oozing out of the tree onto my hands.
     From warmth and my mothers arms.
     From snuggling down under the covers on a cold night.
I am from the moon and the sun.
     From butterflies and flowers.
I am from sparks flying from the camp fire.
I am from sledding and the sparkle of the snow.
     From family and friends.
     From the smell of pine trees.
     From the croaking of frogs.
I am from the fun and disappointments.
     From happy and sad.
I am from peace and fright.
I am from the fresh smell of books.
     From the sounds of birds and sitting in the garden.
     From rocks, sea glass, and shells.
I am from laughter and tears.
     From writing and reading.
I am from my dreams.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

My Dad's birthday was a few weeks ago...and yesterday was Father's Day.  He hadn't wanted to celebrate either of those things lately, but maybe this year would have been different.  Maybe we would have done something together, the way we used to--perhaps a sushi lunch in Portland, or a trip out to Smutty for some kite flying.  Maybe we would have gone out for ice cream and, faced with 50 exotic flavors to choose from, he would have picked French Vanilla.  Maybe he would have come to my house and let the kids make him a cake, even though he didn't like cake and would have preferred lemon meringue pie. Maybe.

Right now, as we head into a beautiful summer, I'm reminded to focus on the amazing way he lived his life, and not the sad loss that was his reality at the end.  I'm grateful that, at his Celebration of Life, who he was became so apparent and the incredible depth of his talents and personality came shining through.  My dad touched so many people's lives, and it was really nice to be surrounded by people who remember him the way he was before depression took him away.

I've spent the past few weeks thinking about this juxtaposition, this seeming incongruity between who he truly was and who he became.  I've been wondering what would have happened in my own life if I had zigged instead of zagged at different points.   And what it comes down to is that any different turn would have put me somewhere else and I'm so, so, so very happy with my life right now.  As an example, I think all the time about where we would be if Sophie had lived.  To have her live, however, means recognizing that I probably wouldn't have Evan and I almost definitely wouldn't have Jordan. And my life would be SO horribly incomplete without them that in a strange, sounds horrible kind of way, I'm okay with her death. My father is gone--and as horrible as it is, the possible inheritance (assuming the house sells!) will open up a HUGE world of travel that has been knocking on our door for AGES. Megan has wanted to go to Scotland since she first learned about castles. Erin wants to see Mt. Everest. Even...well, Evan just wants to travel the country and see all the baseball parks--but that is still something! So I know know know that I'll look back at this twist and be thankful. I know Dad is much better off now than he has been the past few years. He had SO MUCH holding him back. So much that he wouldn't or couldn't change, and that is all gone now.

And while I'm still sitting in a place of pain because of everything that could have, should have, would have, I also know it will get more integrated with time.  I know this. I've walked this road before and I am intimately familiar with grief's path. My biggest hope is this--that in time, when I look back, my dad's death won't be a simple zig or zag...that it will be a significant life-changing turn for the better that I can look back on with the same yes my heart is broken AND it is FILLED TO THE BRIM with gratitude-type thoughts that I have about Sophie. My dad gave me so much in life and I want to make sure I come out of this fog of death a better person, as a final gift from my dad. 

All that AND, I wish I could stop crying because he is gone.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Now comes the hard part.  The part I have been dreading.  I have to continue to live the rest of my life without my father by my side.  How does that work, exactly?  Over the past few months, I've been thrown so many life lines--some I know are firmly attached at the other end, having been thrown by family and friends who have always been there for me.  Other life lines feel loose, like there is a risk of losing them again, as if they aren't as firmly attached at the other end.  The past few weeks, I have felt myself clinging to some of these and grieving again as they slowly drift out into the sea of life.  Each one that drifts now feels unrecoverable.  Maybe because it was attached to someone who knew me through my father but doesn't necessarily know me now.  Or maybe because it was attached to someone who lives far away and simply needed to head back to their life.  Whatever the reason, as they drift, I panic.  If they all drift away, how do I continue to feel my father's love and connection to my life?

Long story--so stop reading if you don't have the time, it is going to take a while to explain all this, as it goes back to Amy's life and death.  Way back in 2010, after Amy stopped chemo but before she was too sick to live, she and I were hanging out in her apartment having just had lunch out.  We were watching stupid daytime tv, some show about the paranormal and ghosts and stuff.  In this episode, a woman was being kept up at night because her feet were feeling "wrong"--like they were under pressure or something like that.  It turned out (if you believe this stuff), that her deceased husband was coming back each night and rubbing her feet.  Apparently it was his way of telling her that he was okay and that he missed her.  Whatever--it was creepy.  Amy and I laughed and I made her swear that she wouldn't come back and haunt me like that.  This started an interesting conversation in which her final question was, "Well?  How am I supposed to make sure you know I'm okay?"  I thought a minute and then remembered something I had read in a Dear Abby column called Pennies From Heaven.  This is a collection of stories from readers who have found pennies with a year significant to them and/or their loved one in completely random places--places where they would later swear there was not a penny earlier.  Anyway, I told Amy to leave me pennies.  We sat down together and made a list of years that were important to the two of us; 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003....  We had about 6 or 8 years that were the most significant in our nearly 20 years of friendship.  Fast forward to two days after Amy died.  I was at a store buying something for her service and the woman in front of me was clearly in a hurry-the store clerk gave her some change and she moved too quickly and dropped it.  Although she glanced at it, she was already on her way out of the store.  I bent down to pick it up and hand it to her, but she was gone before I stood up.  When I looked down there were three pennies.  All three were on our list of significant years. Really. I did what any normal person would do--I brushed it off.  Coincidence, obviously, and way too soon for Amy to be sending me "our signal."  Three days later, I was out running, doing an out and back route on a low traffic, dirt road where running in the middle of the road is truly the safest option.  On the way back, there, in the middle of the road was the shiniest penny you have ever seen.  I'm quite sure I would have noticed it if it had been there on my way out.  I picked it up--1992, the year we met.  I stopped to catch my breath, but still thought it was simply a strange coincidence.

There were probably three more incidences like this one--pennies popping up at unexpected times.  Finally, about 2 or 3 weeks after her death, our whole family went skiing because we simply needed to spend some time together after the significant toll Amy's final weeks had taken on us.  This trip was made possible, in part, by some money Amy had left us.  On the final ride up the chair lift, I was sitting with Megan, who would have been nearly 6 at the time.  She was waving her mitten slowly back and forth, so I asked her what she was doing.  "Oh, " she said, "I found a penny down by the lodge and I put it in my mitten."  I looked at it.  You guessed it, it was on the list.

I finally told one of our mutual college friends about all this and she laughed, clearly having believed in the pennies much earlier than me.  She said, "If you don't start to open your mind to the message she is sending, she is going to resort to simply pelting you with pennies as you walk down the street!!"  I gave in.  I started believing, no, knowing that Amy is okay.  I know this because when I was pregnant with Jordan, I had 4 ultrasounds and not once did I fail to find a penny either going in or coming out of the office.  Not a single time. 

Now back to the reason I'm telling you all this--my need to continue to feel my father's love around me.  A few weekends ago, we were at a good friend's wedding.  It was such a beautiful weekend that actually started off as a parent's nightmare.  It was incredibly challenging to get there (the kids were tired of the car, Chris and I were tired of packing up and heading out, the driving is getting annoying, the kids fought and we yelled...)..But, we had promised the young, excited bride and her family we would be there, so we went, bad moods and all. We got there and it was at a beautiful YMCA camp that was deserted except for the wedding weekend people--there was a waterfront, tennis courts, a baseball field...basically my kids' version of heaven. We all began to relax a little. Of course we were late, so the girls and I quickly changed and went to the ceremony, while Chris played with and changed clothes on the little ones.  We all went to the reception which started off what would become, simply, a really fun family weekend.  Because the camp was empty, the kids were free to be kids, going back and forth between our cabin and the hall, or heading down to the waterfront to skip stones.  I was having fun reconnecting with people I hadn't seen in years, and began to feel the stress of the very difficult past few weeks start to peel away.  Then, while not paying attention at the reception, I found myself looking up to see the father/bride dance being announced.  As I watched them take the floor arm in arm, I suddenly became overwhelmed, panicked, weepy.  The weight of my father's death fell on me and I knew I couldn't stay in the hall.  I stood up and calmly and (hopefully) casually, walked outside, heading to our cabin. I felt as if I was suffocating, but I knew the feeling would pass if I could just get to my family. I walked over to our cabin where the kids were playing and in various states of bathing suits, pjs, and baseball gear.  Megan, who was wondering around the cabin, suddenly bends down and stands up again, "Hey mom! Look what I found!" She hands me a penny...1974 (the year I was born).  And while I never sat down with my dad and made a list of years, I'm pretty sure that was an important one for the two of us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dear Dad,

Dear Dad,

Oh you left a mess.  You knew that, didn't you...that it was a mess.  And yet, in the mess I'm finding myself so many memories!  I'm scanning pictures of our life together and there are so many questions I want to ask you.  Who is that woman we are with?  Where are we flying those kites?  Buck naked, Dad?  Really?  Did we need a picture of that?  Oh, and what is with the fish and the chainsaw?  No, seriously Dad...what is with the fish and the chainsaw?

I had to move your memorial service--Moritomo simply couldn't hold all the people coming.  You touched so many lives.  Mark is coming from California.  Heather and her mom are coming, but you know they would never miss this.  You were so important to them.  I asked for 30 seconds of audio for your slide show and, true to form, Heather sent 30 seconds and Mark sent 7 minutes.  So many people, Dad, so many people.

I'm feeling a lot of pressure to Get This Right.  I have once chance, Dad, one chance to say goodbye to you.  One chance to help all these people say goodbye.  One chance to share everything you were with the world.  I'm not sure I'm doing a good enough job.  I'm working hard on this video, but as I add audio, the slideshow part gets altered and then I add a picture and then the whole thing is off.  Technical problems, really, but I just want it to be right.  So I keep working.  And the food...what do you want me to order for food?  I'll definitely get sushi, but what else?  And how much will we need?  I guess I just have to do the best I can.

These are the things I lie awake thinking about at night.  And know what else I'm thinking about?  How scared I am for all of this to be over.  For the past 6 weeks, your life and death has been my whole world.  This week is going to be awesome--to reconnect with Mark and Mark, to hear all the stories (many I've heard before!), to sit at your house and cry with Heather.  It is going to be amazing.  And then?  And then it will be over.  I'll come back here with my family, Chris will finish the business of your estate, we'll sell your beloved house...but there will be no more.  Then what?  Do you really expect me to live the rest of my life without you?  This is the part that scares me.  What do I do next week?  And the week after?  All the work I have done on the slide show has put me right back into the past--you are so alive and so present in all those pictures.  When the last slide goes up at your service, when the last note rings out, when the last person wipes their eyes and heads for the door...does that mean you are really gone?  I'm so afraid of what I'll feel after that and I'm terrified of the expectations next week.

But that is all part of your lesson, isn't it?  Like Heather said so amazingly for the slide show.  Life, in all its precarious little twits and turns, is meant to be lived forward.  So forward we will go--savoring every bit of this week. 

And I'll try to find out what the deal was with the fish and the chainsaw.  Because I really want to know.

Your Daughter

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Grief is so different in this fast-paced world of Facebook and high-speed connections to everything and everyone all the time.  I'm looking at some of my FB posts in the past two weeks and I just have to laugh.  If you only know me from FB, you would think, "Oh...her dad died.....but oh look, she's taking her kid to baseball practice--she must be over it!"  If you only know me from the parenting group I help lead, you think, "Oh, her dad died...but look!  She's totally able to help me breastfeed and listen to all my problems, so she must be over it!"  If you only know me from the dozens of activities I bring my kids to each week, you would think, "Oh, there she is...wait, didn't her dad just die?  Well she is here, so she must be over it!"  Obviously none of these are right.  I'm not "over it" by any stretch, but life with kids hasn't stopped!  It isn't fair to make them stop and it seems so awful to me to keep going.  The world SHOULD have stopped spinning because such an important part of my life is gone, but it hasn't, so I have no choice but to keep going.

My dad passed away three weeks ago, today.  Three weeks ago.  I look at things I agreed to a month, two months, six months ago, and I realize I was a completely different person then.  I feel like a whole lifetime has passed in the last three weeks.  Three weeks is nothing--but here we are more than halfway through April, heading to May, and I'm not sure where that time has gone.  Do you have it?  Can you bring it back?

I feel like I'm riding a bicycle on a trail and I just hit a rock.  I haven't fallen off, yet, but I'm in that brief moment where you are madly adjusting the handle bars, trying to balance and still maintain forward momentum.  I can't look ahead on the trail so I just have to hope another rock isn't in front of me.  All I can do is cling desperately to belief that my center of gravity is okay--that I'm not going to fall off--not this time.  With a few more adjustments, I'll be riding on down the trail.  But right now, in the moment of swinging handle bars and held breath, right now, I'm struggling.  FB doesn't show it, can't possibly show it, because one lives life in two sentence bursts.  Yesterday I bought a kayak so our summer adventures could fit our expanding family.  On FB, this seems so nice and normal.  It seems uncomplicated, like a fun thing to do with my gang on a random Friday morning.  But do you know where my love of sea kayaking and everything ocean came from?  Dad.  Do you know where Erin is excited to use the boat?  Smutty.  So that little adventure to go buy a boat, that simple, uncomplicated action that we did with no tears or regrets and I then summed up in 2 sentences on my FB status...well, it turns out it isn't as simple as it seems.

I know three weeks is a short amount of time to regain your balance after hitting this kind of rock.  I know I have to be gentle with myself.  I also know that it is painful to have the world continue to spin the way it is.  I WANTED to go to Fenway with Evan last week, I WANT Erin to do her fencing tournament this weekend, I WANT Megan to perform in the state meet.  I want all this stuff...AND, I want to crawl under a rock.  I'm pretty sure I can't have it both ways.