Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Only on the Eves

From Christmas Eve to New Year's Eve. With lots of nothing in between (save the busyness and feasting of Christmas day, of course).

But since then it's been long stretches in our jammies, chocolate in hand and endless hours of Mad Men on the tube. We blew through all 13 episodes of the first season in three days.

Heaven, I tell you. Heaven.

If, of course, you don't count what's missing. Which I do, naturally. But I'm also paying close attention to what isn't, and enjoying all that very much.

As for 2009 knocking furiously on my front door, I just don't know. I'll answer it at midnight. But I'm wary of the new guest blustering in with such universal fanfare and promise. And so I have no expectations.

I have only a plea for a kinder year. For peace. For direction. For guidance.

And for happiness that I once feared would elude me forever, and which I have worked very hard to cut and paste back into my life in a patchwork of moments and memories. I've papered over some of the badness. Replaced some of the sorrow with quiet peace. And my plan is to keep on going. To keep adding and building.

The little house of my soul might, to some eyes, always look like it's in tatters; bits torn out, patches taped over top, small cracks letting the cold in now and then. But it's still standing. And this is what it looks like as I work at the job of repairing it piece by piece.

Eventually, I hope, turning it into a mosaic.

Because even things that are broken can be beautiful again.

They can.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Christmas Eve...

...and I'm okay.

I hope you are too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

This 'n that

Remember those ridiculous fingerless gloves that were popular in the 80s? The hand part of the glove was in tact but the fingers only came up to about your first knuckle. Remember those? Remember how useless they were for keeping your fingertips warm - the part of your hand that usually gets the coldest; The part they are known to amputate if your frostbite is severe enough?

Remember those gloves?

Why are they back?

___________________________

Despite eating a ridiculous amount of chocolate and very little vegetable matter over the last several weeks, I seem to be losing weight. Not huge amounts, mind you, but a half a pound here and there (which Weight Watchers is very happy about).

So either I'm dying or I've discovered a whole new way to diet.

I'll keep you posted.

___________________________

The Duggar family had another baby. That's 18, if you're counting.

And I'd prefer not to.

___________________________

My eyes flew open a little before 4:00am this morning, and haven't shut since.

My therapist gave me a foolproof way to lull myself back to sleep for occasions just such as these (and it has proven 100% effective in the past), but this morning I couldn't be bothered.

Seriously, how lazy do you have to be to find yourself unwilling to work at going back to sleep?

You'd think, being that lazy, that I'd be all over her method. But I just. couldn't. be. bothered.

And now I'm stupid tired.

____________________________

Speaking of Therapist Lady, after a full year of talking, I recently discovered that I'm no closer to resolving my guilt issues.

I feel better about everything, in general, but that specifically? The poor woman hasn't even made a dent.

The other day after My Beloved and I had a very minor argument about something small, I found myself alone and sobbing my heart out.

He had said, "Don't you know that you can love someone and still be angry with them?"

My response was, "Of course I do". Of course. But then my mind drifted to the dark side and I thought, "But how can he love me when I am responsible for Thomas' death? I blame myself - how is it that he doesn't? And what's going to happen when he finally realizes that he DOES?"

And on, and on, and on.

Luckily he was at work and I was here. No one needs to witness that kind of unattractive neediness first-hand.

But yeah, Therapist Lady and I need to work on this.

A lot.

__________________________

I think the grieving and infertile, in all our varied forms, need to work on cutting ourselves some slack over the next few days.

Because maybe it won't quite feel like Christmas. Maybe it won't be happy. Maybe we'll be angry. Maybe we'll be quieter than we used to be. Maybe we'll cry. Maybe we'll need reassurance. Maybe we'll need to be alone. Maybe we'll hurt more than we have in a long time.

And maybe we won't.

But people, if we do, it's okay.

Okay?

Okay.

________________________

One of the odd side effects of grief is that I now look forward to January. I used to see it as a bleak, cold, empty month. But now I see it as a time when the nothingness spreads out in front of me like an exciting blank canvas. No expectations, no commitments, no additional responsibilities. Just time and endless, beautiful space.

I can breathe in January. I inhale and exhale without thought; without trying to remember how.

I'm looking forward to jumping back on the Weight Watcher's bandwagon (all the chocolate, cheese and cookies should be gone by then) and starting in on a regular exercise routine (although the specific details of said routine are TBD).

As much as I do enjoy Christmas, the fact remains that I still have work at it. I spend a lot of time taking care of my mind during the holidays, sometimes at the expense of my chocolate and Bailey's laden body.

And so the easiness of the January emptiness is endlessly comforting. And very, very healthy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The three of us

Christmas looms.

And it's not as hard as it was last year, fresh from the loss of the twins. And it's not as hard as it was the two years before that (time has given me distance and an effective arsenal of coping mechanisms).

But still, amidst the happy bustling and the busyness, there's a sadness that I suppose might always be there.

Because there's no little boy to rush down the stairs on Christmas morning, tousle-haired, bleary-eyed and all excited to open his stocking and see what treasures Santa has left him under the tree.

We have quiet, sweet Christmas mornings, My Beloved and I. Our cozy time together, just the two of us, is one of the things I treasure most about Christmas. Next to unbridled chocolate consumption, of course.

But I don't think either of us forget for one second that there were supposed to be three of us.

That there should be three of us.

Sometimes I look at the tree for Thomas. I try to see it through his eyes. The twinkle of the lights, the ornaments new and old, the shiny bows on the presents beneath. I imagine his wonder. The questions he'd ask. The stories we'd tell. The glow of the lights bathing his sweet little face in red and green as he took in every sight and every word.

My imaginary Christmas.


The real one isn't so bad. Truly. I have love and family and friends all around me. And I am happy. For real.

But my heart also longs for the imaginary Christmas it will never have. And the boy.

The three of us.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In his shoes

I had to make a last minute trip to the vet with Lucy yesterday to get a nasty little rash on her chin looked at.

She's fine. It's either feline acne or an allergic reaction to a new food I gave her. We left with reassurances and an antibiotic to clear up the infection.

I'm sure it would have gone away on its own, to be honest, but late Thursday night Dr. Google told me it could be cancer and I panicked. As I am wont to do.

Especially at this time of year.

In fact, this will be the first Christmas in three years that I haven't run to the doctor with a suspected life-threatening aliment of my own. In 2006 it was breast cancer. Last year a serious heart condition.

This year I opted to subject the cat to the drama instead, since I can't seem to find anything wrong with myself. Knock on wood.

Anyway, as we were sitting in the waiting room prior to her appointment, I overheard the vet give an elderly couple very bad news about their dog. I only heard bits and pieces, but there was an enlarged heart, fluid in the lungs and nothing to be done but minimize the symptoms of whatever was eventually going to kill her. Finally, I heard him tell them they had a difficult decision to make.

And I felt the panic rising.

No music to distract me, no chatter from other pet owners, no ringing phones. Just me and Lucy and the vet's words of doom creeping out from beneath the exam room door.

A minute or so later an old man left the exam room, his eyes red and wet with tears, and went to walk the parking lot while his wife stayed with their dog.

It was agonizing.

And all I could think was, Please, please don't put their dog to sleep while I'm sitting her. Please don't make me watch them pay for their dog's euthanasia while I sit here, useless and small, in your hard gray office chair. Please don't make me."

In the end, because I guess they've done this sort of thing before, they took me first. And so I was the one who stood at the counter paying while the teary-eyed old man, who'd come back into the office while Lucy and I were in the exam room, sat behind me and watched.

I tried to keep my voice low. I tried not to sound happy that my cat was alive and well. And I didn't look at him on my way out in case he didn't want me to see his pain - or my relief that I wasn't in his shoes.

It wasn't until later that it dawned on me. This is what people with living children must think about me. I must look like the sad old man on the bench in the vet's waiting room with tears in my eyes.

Well, to those who sneak a glance, anyway.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

'Tis the season

We have our annual Family Christmas Tea on Saturday - an event also known as "the cookie party" because really, that's what it is. I bake as many kinds of cookies as I can in the weeks leading up to the big day, and we spend the afternoon eating them up and washing them down with wine, eggnog and coffee. With my family and the in-laws, of course. It's not a two-person gorge fest. I swear.

It's a tradition I started in 2005 - the first Christmas without Thomas.

I needed everything to be different that year. I refused to put up red and green lights outside. They were blue and white that year. I refused to have a real, red and green tree inside decked with all of our old, cozy ornaments. We adopted my parents artificial tree, pre-lit with white lights, and covered it in all new white and silver ornaments and balls. I refused to open presents Christmas morning in the living room by the tree. My Beloved and I carried our stockings and presents into the family room and opened them there.

I was simply unable to bear the idea of seeing Thomas missing from the Christmas picture I'd had in my head while I was pregnant. Without him there, I had to change everything.

And I did. With painstaking attention to detail. I changed it all as much as I possibly could.

I have no idea if it really helped or not, but because I believed it would, I did it anyway. I suspect that having red and green lights outside wouldn't have added to my pain or made me miss my baby any more than I already did, but the busyness of changing everything was like an addictive salve. Once I started, I couldn't stop. I felt productive. And healthy. And smart.

I fooled myself good.

The lights outside are red and green again, and now we have two trees every year - the artificial one in the living room with the white and silver finery I bought to mask my sorrow, and a real one in the family room heavy with the weight of our treasured old ornaments and trinkets.

But the cookie party tradition has stuck. I started it because I needed to create a new memory - I needed that first, lonely Christmas without Thomas to be about more than just the first, lonely Christmas without Thomas.

So I slapped on a happy face and baked my heart out.

They came. We ate. And a tradition that I now find cozy and sweet was born.

Today, in between the chocolate marshmallow meltaways and the magic cookie bars, I paused for a moment and admitted to myself that even though the motivation for having the event isn't fully therapeutic any longer, it is still a salve on an unhealed wound.

I know part of the reason why I'm still doing this four Christmases later is because it keeps me busy and gives me purpose during this season that is sometimes so hard on my heart.

Christmas is for children, I hear over and over and over again. But for people like us, it's also about survival. And making the most of a difficult situation. And finding sweet moments wherever you can.

Even when you have to bake them one by one.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Something's missing



In the midst of the construction I suddenly felt him missing. Suddenly noticed the Thomas-sized hole beside my chair in the kitchen.

I stopped, looked out at the gray sky drizzling cold rain down onto the freshly fallen snow, and told him, for the millionth time, that I miss him.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, this is what Christmas looks like in our house.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It was only a matter of time...

Me, reacting to a gaggle of teenagers wandering through Zellers laughing and talking: "Good God, young people are loud."

It's finally happened. I'm officially old.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It changes

I finished writing my Christmas cards today, but they've gone out without the tiny angel stickers included in the signature - something I vowed to do that first lonely Christmas without Thomas in 2005, and something I did in 2006 and 2007 too.

For some reason this year, it didn't feel necessary. And I'm not entirely sure whether to be happy or sad about that.

Over the last year I've found that I need those kind of visible remembrances less and less. It always startles me a bit when I find that I'm content to keep him in my heart instead of on my sleeve, but I don't have the energy to dissect the reason why. It is what it is, and it feels right.

Sometimes I dig too deep to figure out the motivations for the way I think and feel, when sometimes it's best just to think and feel and move on without question.

I don't need the angel stickers this year. End of story. I love Thomas every bit as much as I did last year when I used them - maybe even more. I just don't happen to need the stickers anymore. It's as simple as that.

I think I'm just whittling down the rituals - condensing them, maybe.

Maybe it's all part of the slow acceptance process. At first you need outward signs of grief and remembrance - you need to actually see tangible things that might help you explain the agonizing pain you're in. But eventually, as time passes and the sorrow becomes more a part of who you are rather than something foreign you're constantly fighting to make sense of, you're content to be quieter about your ways of remembering and grieving.

But whatever the reason, I'm at peace with what I'm doing. And how I'm doing it.

I have ways I remember and honour him that I'm pretty sure I'll never change. The special candle at family dinners, the new ornament for his cemetery wreath each year, and the request for good deeds to be done in his name on his birthday. I can't see those ever changing. They are too much a part of my relationship with Thomas to change.

But other things have quietly slipped away, just like he did.

And it's okay. Somehow, it's okay.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I just can't stop...

...but it's not my fault! How many look-alikes doesn't this dude have anyway?!



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Remembering

A year ago today a friend I never knew outside the virtual confines of my computer screen died suddenly just a few weeks after giving birth to her second child.

She died. Just like that.

There is a widower suffering the anguish of unthinkable grief and no doubt clinging to his two motherless children for dear life tonight, and I feel selfish taking up even the tiniest amount of space talking about how her death affected me when I know for a fact that their sorrow is utterly matchless.

So all I'm going to say - because for some reason it feels important for me to say it - is that I haven't forgotten her or the kindnesses she showed me.

I will never forget.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Two steps forward, one step back

Yeah, yeah, I know I said I'm at least as big as my sorrow now, but sometimes I still worry that if I let it go unchecked, I could quite easily turn into one of those ugly people who let a wound fester until it becomes so big that it's all they feel. And when it eventually scars over, instead of shrinking and disappearing it turns into a gigantic chip on a self-absorbed shoulder. An excuse to think bad things. Say bad things. Feel bad things.

I don't want to be that person. I don't. But sometimes I feel her lurking quietly inside, waiting for me to fall asleep at the wheel so she can kick me out of the driver's seat and commandeer the bus.

My Beloved and I had a "discussion" on Friday that has had me thinking about all this ever since.

Misdirected anger. That was the topic.

I was blowing off steam in a spectacular non-stop tirade. When I finished, he pointed out that I wasn't angry - I was simply jealous.

I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.

And he was, of course, right. I didn't want to hear it at the time - and I still maintain that some of what I was venting about was actually warranted - but still, I know a lot of it was fueled by something uglier.

And I hate that it's in there. It's demoralizing to know that some of the goodness you once had has been displaced by bitterness. It makes the struggle so much harder when it feels like you're battling from the inside out.

And I feel like I've somehow cheated My Beloved by changing into someone who has the capacity to feel spectacular anger and bitterness.

I was never perfect. But at least I wasn't this.

My only defense is vigilance.

I will always need to vent. I will feel jealous and bitter. I will want to rage at the world and have the one person who lost the same child as I did understand that sometimes overwhelming need.

But I will be careful never to let myself get too comfortable or like it too much.

I will be watchful.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"As you wiiiiiiiiiiiish!", says Brad Pitt

Look. Now he's channeling Cary Elwes' Westley...



Monday, November 17, 2008

Jesus and then some

During the SARS outbreak back in 2003, Catholic churches in the greater Toronto area advised their congregants to take communion by hand instead of directly into the mouth. It was a practice most people were doing anyway, but after the edict came down from above in the midst of the SARS pandemonium, pretty much everyone opted to follow the new rule.

Because SARS scared me, I obeyed too, even though I was used to simply popping out my tongue and being served.

We stopped shaking hands at the sign of peace for quite some time too. They were strange times, that frightening Spring of long ago.

Anyway, for some reason I never got back into my old full-serve habit and have been taking communion by hand ever since.

And it's been working out just fine.

But...

On Sunday...*shudder*...on Sunday, in that fraction of a second when you see something that isn't quite right but don't have enough time to react to it, I saw a hair on my host.

A. Hair.

And I know it wasn't Jesus'.

With absolute horror, I saw it laying across the top of the host sitting in my upturned palm. "BLOW" was my first thought, but it somehow seemed wrong to dust off the body of Christ before putting it into my mouth. I didn't want to offend. Or cause a scene. Or get Jesus all mad at me.

So I ate it. Hair and all.

I can only assume that it belonged to the Minister of Communion. The good news is that she looked nice and clean, albeit colour processed.

But still, dudes, I ate her hair.

I didn't sign up for this. I totally did NOT sign up for this.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mark your calendars

A while ago I mentioned a documentary called Capturing a Short Life...

Dimestore Productions Inc. in association with CBC Newsworld have just released a new documentary film called Capturing A Short Life, by noteworthy Toronto director, Sheona McDonald.

This beautifully photographed film uses verité footage, interviews and still photography to tell intensely emotional, poignant film about the tough, and often taboo, subject of infant loss. It hits right to the heart of the matter and allows the viewer access to situations rarely experienced.

“You, as parents, form a bond. And the moment that you feel that baby move inside you, you’re attached and you’re talking to it and you’ve got a relationship, you have hopes and dreams and wishes...and it all just shatters, right in front of you”
- Amanda, Hailey’s mother, Capturing A Short Life

For many, the idea of even talking about the fact that babies die, may seem disrespectful or inappropriate. Sometimes, however, the opposite is true. In many cases, parents want to talk about their babies to acknowledge that they existed.

Few people are aware that in North America every year, tens of thousands of families are having to say goodbye to children they’ve only just met and millions more lose babies to miscarriage or stillbirth.

When a baby dies, it is not only an infant that is lost, but a toddler, a child, a teenager and an adult. An entire life, an entire future, disappears. There will be no first birthdays, no first steps, no first report cards,no first loves…instead there is an intense, impossible, few moments to say hello and goodbye.

Capturing A Short Life is not a film about death, it is a film about how critical it is to remember and celebrate the beautiful babies who are only with us for a moment, and how impossible it is to forget them.

This is a must-see film about a subject that we, as a society, need to learn to talk about.


Capturing a Short Life will have its premiere broadcast on CBC Newsworld's series "The Lens" on Tuesday December 9, 2008.

For more information click here.

It looks like they're be releasing it on DVD at some point, so if you miss the broadcast or just want to have your own copy, check the site for updates.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Smile

If this doesn't make you smile, I don't know what will.

Enjoy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The rules of cake

Last night I got to thinking about the way people recognize the birthdays of the children they have lost.

I do it. Most of us do, in some way.

For me, it begins with cake. Every year on Thomas' birthday I make a small cake for My Beloved and I to share, complete with candles which we both blow out together.

We take the day off, do a special annual good deed in remembrance of our boy, have lunch together then come home for cake. There's a great deal of comfort in the repetition of this now annual rite; In wrapping ourselves in the warmth of shared love and collective sorrow as we take the same familiar steps every March 9th.

Some people release balloons, some make donations, some light candles, others take flowers to the place their child is buried or to the spot where their son or daughter's ashes caught the wind and swirled up to the heavens.

But more interesting than what we do, is the fact that we do something at all. I don't celebrate the birthdays of any other dead people. Well, except maybe Jesus - but his is kind of hard to avoid. And somewhat mandated if you're Christian.

I think about my Grandmother on her birthday, but I don't stop to ruminate on how old she'd be, what she'd be doing, what present I'd get her, how excited she'd be - or any of the other things I think about when Thomas' birthday rolls around.

Dead baby birthdays are a whole different animal.

Sometimes I worry that I'm walking the fine line between remembrance and morbidness (a fact that is in itself a hard thing to reconcile - that anything about your child should be even remotely morbid). Is it "off" to make a cake for a dead child? Is it strange to make a point of doing something to mark the day?

Maybe it is. But maybe only to people who've never had to.

The rules are different for the rest of us.

And until the world at large learns to feel more comfortable dealing with and acknowledging our sorrow, we'll have no choice but to continue making the rules up as we go along, teaching them to those who will never have to use them, and gently passing them on to those who will.

*****


Naomi - I'm so sorry. In three and a half years I haven't read a story that is so much like my own either. I just wanted you to know I'm thinking of you.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Out of the fog

As we drove through the fog on our way home from dinner tonight, I told My Beloved that I think my own fog is lifting. In the last few weeks I've been noticing almost imperceptible little hints of "me" coming back - in small glimpses and in tiny moments.

I can feel again in a way I'd forgotten I ever once knew how to.

I think the difference is that I'm living with the sorrow instead of living through it. It's there, but suddenly I'm there too. And I'm almost as imposing as my grief, which is a tremendous shift in the balance. For more than three and a half years it has dominated me body and soul, but we are nearly equal now.

I think we can live together peaceably. I'm almost sure of it. I've figured out its demanding ways and its all-consuming neediness, and I know how to manage it. I know how to feed it so that it stays quietly beside me without screaming in my ear. I know how to soothe it so that it rests softly in my heart instead of pounding inside my brain. I know how to accept it so that it feels like it belongs.

Because of course, it does. It always will.

I'm not naive enough to think that things won't still shake me. Sneak attacks will still catch me off guard and bring me to my knees. I will cry. I will rage. I will curse.

But I can feel again. I can feel more than my sorrow.

At last.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Today...

It feels like a whole new world.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Is it just me...?

Or is Brad Pitt...



...starting to look an awful lot like Burl Ives?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Things you'd think I'd have learned by now...

1. It's not wise to gorge yourself on dried apricots a few hours before going to evening Mass. That's juuuuust enough time for them to make themselves known in a most uncomfortable, cheek clenching sort of way.

2. Perfume will not cover up the stink of just cooked fish clinging to your clothes and hair. Attempting to disguise it in this manner simply renders one smelling like a fisherman's wharf inside a perfume factory.

Yeah, at Mass.

3. People will butt in front of you no matter what kind of line you're in. Even if it's one that has formed in front of a Book of the Dead where people write down names of those who have died so they can be prayed for during the month of November.

Seriously. Butting.

4. The pressure of a long line of people waiting behind you will make you edit your list of names down until you have just one.

Thomas.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Imagine that

"I just read your "about me" section", she wrote in a Facebook message to me.

"I am sorry to hear about your baby tragedy :( I didn't know."


She wasn't afraid of me. She wasn't afraid to speak of the unspeakable. To acknowledge my sorrow and my loss. To risk reminding me of my grief (as though I could ever forget it). To reach out to me.

She wasn't afraid.

And my heart feels as light as a feather.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My elf

You never forget your first.

A week after the miscarriage in October 2003, I sat slumped on the love seat in the family room watching the clock. It was a dull, foggy Saturday morning. November 1st. My Beloved was busying himself in the kitchen. Clinking dishes, washing pots, moving, moving, moving.

While I sat.

I remember feeling like I'd never be able to move again, so deep was my sorrow. My little baby, so wanted and already so adored, was gone forever.

I watched My Beloved shuffle dishes from sink to cupboard. I watched my arms lying still on the couch cushions at my sides. I watched the clock count down the useless seconds that now meant nothing. My baby wasn't growing anymore.

"Go out", My Beloved urged me gently.

I'd been planning to go to a Christmas Craft show at a nearby high school. Before. But instead I was helplessly glued to the couch listening to time slip away in each tick of the old wind-up clock I'd rescued from my Grandparent's cottage before it was sold years earlier.

I don't remember my arguments against moving off the couch, but I'm relatively sure they weren't valid ones. I was healing well from the D&C and physically felt just fine.

Which is, of course, the worst part of dealing with the loss of a child through miscarriage. You look just fine. There's no way for people to know the pain you're in. There are no scars to show the battle you've just fought and lost.

You become the invisible walking wounded.

And that's exactly how I felt. Broken with grief, but whole to the rest of the world.

Eventually his pleadings won me over. I got dressed and drove through the fog to the Christmas Craft show.

I aimlessly wandered past booths of knitted potholders, summer jams, walnut mice, Christmas wreathes and other assorted festive paraphernalia until I spotted a booth crowded with exquisite handmade dolls.

They drew me in. Lit a tiny spark in my burned out soul.

I stood transfixed, staring at the whimsical faces the artist had so painstakingly created. Dozens of dolls, their gray hair curled in clouds around their wizened faces, smiled back at me.

I couldn't tear myself away, and eventually I came home with an octogenarian elf tucked up carefully in miles of tissue paper.

It was the sweetest possible retail therapy.

And when I look at that elf (which I still can't bear to put away with the other Christmas decorations - she sits in the curio cabinet all year long) I remember the little one I lost, the wisdom of My Beloved, and the strength I somehow found to drive through the fog in search of the light.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A journey of a thousand miles

Five years ago today we lost our first baby. For 10 weeks and 6 days I carried what we thought was a healthy baby until a long, painful night in the ER revealed that our child never really started growing at all.

"Products of conception" and "blighted ovum" were the words they used to describe the baby we so desperately wanted. I became a statistic instead of a mother that night, and My Beloved began his studies in how to survive being a bystander; desperate to help, but completely unable to do a single thing to fix what was going so catastrophically wrong.

I remember the pain, the blood, the fear and the numbness. The miserable, condescending nurse and the kind one that glowed like an angel. The unsure young doctor and the terse veteran. The reassuring anesthesiologist and the brusque OB. The D&C, the recovery, and the chest wracked with sobs.

And so began our journey.

Sending kisses to heaven with assurances that you are not forgotten, wee one.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's worth repeating...

I made this for my sibling's 40th birthday last year, but I think it's totally fine to recycle it for #41 - especially since it's all still very, very true.

Happy Birthday Kathy!
oxoxox

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More this 'n that

I have a great big gnarly, multiple-pronged ball of rant stuck in my throat. But if I cough it up I know I'm going to offend, so I'm going to continue to drink lots of water in the hopes that I can get it to go down.

Swallowing my words.

Mmmm. Delicious.

____

It annoys me that I so often type "and" instead of "an".

____

I've been wondering a lot about of couple of faltering relationships; wondering if they have been irreparably damaged.

I want to sulk and plead innocence. Stamp my foot and say, "But I'm the one dealing with the combined tsunami of grief and infertility - it's not my fault" - but I probably need to take some responsibility for their slow decline.

The thing is, I have wonderfully strong relationships with lots of friends and family members who still want me, tattered soul and all.

So a little bit of me wonders how much I meant to those other people in the first place.

_____

I'm procrastinating. I'm supposed to be writing a rush ad right now.

Don't tell my client.

_____

I started Weight Watchers (again) on Monday.

I'd forgotten just how agonizing that first dreadful week is when all you can think about is every single delicious morsel of food you were gleefully able to jam down your great gaping pie whole just a few days earlier.

And now it's 20 nuts and low fat cheese. With a water chaser.

My body and I have been at war since I lost my very first baby five years ago Saturday. I have hated it since then for its inability to keep our babies safe over and over and over again. For its stubborn betrayal and frustrating defects.

So my theory is that if I can find a reason to be proud of it again - to see it losing weight and changing for the better - maybe I can resolve some of the antagonism I feel towards it.

Or maybe I'll just look better in a pair of jeans.

It's win-win either way.

_____

I should really stop procrastinating.

Or maybe play just one more game of Word Twist...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And nothing but the truth

If you knew an almost 39-year old woman who'd had three miscarriages, a massive placental abruption during delivery that killed her son, and unexplained hemorrhaging during a D&C, would you wonder why she would even consider trying to get pregnant again?

What if you found out that she also has one blocked fallopian tube, a bicornuate uterus, and an issue with high blood pressure?

What if she'd already had one lap surgery because she was "riddled with scar tissue" from a C-section and subsequent blood infection, and that her OB suspects that she may also have Asherman syndrome, a "rare condition" where adhesions form inside the uterus?

What if she'd been told that the scar tissue her OB removed during the lap may have all regrown more than 6 months ago?

Would you think she was certifiable for continuing to try to get pregnant - particularly when it seems so difficult for her to stay pregnant?

Would you encourage her to keep trying?

Would you tell her that the odds are so stacked against her that it might be wiser and healthier to move on?

Would you keep her at arm's length?

Would you tell her to pray harder?

Would you tell her to send positive energy out into the universe?

Would you tell her what she wants to hear?

Would you tell her what you'd want to hear?

Would you tell her the truth?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This 'n that

I eat stuff off the floor. MY floor, I mean. Okay, and maybe my Mom's floor. And other floors belonging to people whose homes and feet look especially clean.

I'm a firm believer in the 5 second rule, particularly where chocolate is involved. Or candy. Or anything sweet, really.

So I was kind of gob-smacked to discover that my 8-year old niece is not a follower of said edict. She fumbled a fresh-out-of-the-oven cookie while she was at our place on the weekend, and, giggling at her clumsiness, threw it out.

THREW. IT. OUT.

I'm not exactly sure what I'm more bothered by here - the loss of a perfectly good cookie, or the fact that apparently small children have better food-related hygiene than I do.

I mean, it's not like I keep a fork in my pocket in case I see something interesting laying in a discarded heap on the sidewalk or anything. But a cookie meeting tile for less than a fraction of a second? Come on - that's totally good to go!

Right?

Right?

Uh...right?
___________________________

The other night I had a dream that I had a baby. One of those I've-woken-up-and-it-was-so-vivid-it-must-be-real dreams.

Soul crushing.

But the problem is, in addition to the cloud of sorrow it cast over me, it's made me start second guessing the decision I made about not having "just one more surgery".

Because what if...?

Fuck.

______________________________

I often wonder if, once the baby-making days are long gone, all this will still consume me the way it does now. The what ifs. The regrets.

Thomas.

What will it be like, as a mother in mourning 20 years from now when all hope truly is lost and my lady bits have ceased to function at all? How will I feel then?

I think about Thomas so much. Not all the time, but still, so very, very much.

I suppose parents of living children think about their little ones as much as I think about Thomas. Probably a lot more.

Tonight I'll take comfort in that, given that it makes me feel less like a lunatic for regularly finding myself caught in trances filled with images of my boy.

I miss him. So much it feels like it could eat me alive.

__________________________

A friend posted this on her blog on October 15th.

I need to pass it along...

Don't Tell Me...

Don't tell me that you understand, don't tell me that you know,
Don't tell me that I will survive, how I will surely grow.
Don't tell me this is just a test, that I am truly blessed,
That I am chosen for this task, apart from all the rest.
Don't come at me with answers that can only come from me,
Don't tell me how my grief will pass, that I will soon be free.
Don't stand in pious judgment of the bonds I must untie,
Don't tell me how to suffer, don't tell me how to cry.
My life is filled with selfishness, my pain is all I see,
But I need you, I need your love, unconditionally.
Accept me in my ups and downs, I need someone to share,
Just hold my hand and let me cry, and say,
"My friend, I really do care."

Author Unknown


Beautifully said. So beautifully said.

Monday, October 20, 2008

So, whatup with you?

Last night I had a dream about having another baby that has left me wistful and melancholic. I have a pile of work to do (which is great, but also a little daunting). This dreary Monday seems to be sorely lacking in sunshine. And, after an abysmal early morning meeting with the scale, I decided to start Weight Watchers today. Again.

I'm whiny and tired. And hungry.

So instead of listening to me mope, why don't we talk about you. What's on your mind today?

Amuse me.

Please?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's the best I can do

Today, being Thanksgiving here in Canada, the priest challenged us to think of two new things to be thankful for this year. Which is an especially challenging task for me since the holidays tend to bring out the big blue funk in me - and I'm usually anything but thankful when I'm feeling funky and blue.

But I'm nothing if not determined, so here we go:

1. I'm glad that when we came home from our first Thanksgiving dinner of the weekend tonight we found the cat vomit on the bed before it had a chance to soak all the way through to the mattress.

2. I'm thankful that I haven't had any surgeries or miscarriages this year. Granted, that also means that I'm probably still full of scar tissue (having opted out of surgery in September), and that I haven't been pregnant at all. But still.

There. Done.

Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No surprises

Last night we went out to get a baby gift for friends who just had another baby girl. In the parking lot I discovered that the clerk forgot to swipe the little socks we bought to go with the Pooh sleeper.

$4.97 in reparation from the universe.

That's less than a dollar for every loss, and each year we've struggled. But I suppose that's about what I'd expect from the universe.

Yeah. Fuck. That's about what I'd expect.

Monday, October 06, 2008

They say you can run...

...but you can't hide.

You can, however, keep trying.

And so we do. Every Autumn when My Beloved is finally able to take some time off work, we make good our escape. Usually not far, but we flee just the same.

Although it's entirely too true that you do, in fact, take your worries with you, it's still nice to give them a change of scenery every once in a while.

And it's been a while. As a freelancer my schedule is much more flexible than My Beloved's, and his has been anything but flexible for the last 9 months. We're long overdue for some R&R and we're making the most of this blissful week off.

So I'll be quiet for a few days while we're vacating.

Until we meet again, happy trails, my friends!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I'm a blogolympian...



...for one day, anyway.

So today this is where you can find me, blathering on about God and grief and miracles and demons.

You know, same old same old.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday in my head

I gleefully added our phone number to Canada's brand-spanking-new "DO NOT CALL" registry this morning.

And then immediately set to work editing a telemarketing script a client sent me.

Because, it seems, I am a conscienceless whore.

_________________________________________

I Kissed a Girl has now replaced Jeremiah was a Bullfrog on my mind's inner play list.

Over and over and over it cycles through my brain. I kissed a girl and I liked iiiiiit!

What's worse is that I don't know most of the words (something about cherry Chapstick - or maybe it's cherry cola), but I sing it loud and proud just the same.

It seems like a perfectly reasonable anthem for a 38-year old married woman who lives in the suburbs and makes turkey chili while she edits telemarketing scripts.

_________________________________________

This is the first telemarketing script I've ever edited, by the way. I swear.

Please don't send hate mail...

_________________________________________

I bumped into a girl I knew in high school the other day coming out of the post office. I haven't seen her in probably more than 22 years.

We fell into an easy conversation almost immediately, and when I commented on her gorgeous four-month old baby she said softly, "It took us five years to get her."

I understood the love and pride in her eyes as she gazed at the evidence of her hard fought victory.

And I was happy.

Later I caused those eyes to fill with tears when I told her my own battle story, but she was kind and understanding. And not afraid.

Not afraid.

When we parted she said she was going to say a special prayer for me, and while I'm still hesitant to believe that prayers of this nature do anything at all, it gave me a lot of comfort.

Part of me almost believed her prayer might be answered.

___________________________________________

We had a painter in last week to do our living/dining room. It has a vaulted ceiling and we figured it was best to leave that job to a professional, what with my fear of heights and My Beloved's fear of painting.

He wasn't in the house 15 minutes when I caught myself singing "In the Ghetto" up here in the office while doing some invoices.

Clearly I'm alone entirely too much. And have a lot of issues with that stupid inner play list...

__________________________________________

I have already answered two telemarketing calls since I started writing this blog.

Divine retribution, I suppose.

_________________________________________

My Dad's colonoscopy has still yet to be scheduled. My parents seem to be taking comfort in this - as though the delay means that they should somehow be less worried.

Me? I just worry that the delay is going to cost us in the end, and that the reason for the holdup is that they just don't hustle a 78-year old cardiac patient into a costly test procedure when someone younger and healthier might benefit from having it sooner. I think he just keeps getting bumped in favour of people they think deserve it more. From a this-is-an-old-guy-who's-living-on-borrow-time-anyway standpoint, I mean.

But the good news is that he has gone through the first three treatments for his macular degeneration and the doctor who gave him the first of three needles in his affected eye (eeew) said he's hopeful that they'll be able to reverse some of the damage.

No guarantees, of course, but hope is always welcome. Sometimes somewhat warily, but welcome just the same.

_______________________________________

My toothless feline has pretty much fully recovered from the trauma of her recent dental work. She is as delightfully insane as always and is currently curled up on the pajamas I neglected to hang up this morning after I took them off.

Nothin' like kitty love. And furry jammies.

_______________________________________

My Beloved is finally able to take some time off. After more than 9 straight months during which he's had just one day off (not counting weekends - although he's worked through a lot of those too, including almost every single long weekend of the summer) he's got a week off starting Friday!

I'm giddy.

We have no concrete plans, but sometimes a planless week off ends up being the very best kind of vacation.

I predict lots of lazy mornings, drives to see the changing leaves, day trips and just general guiltless slothfulness.

Ahhhhh.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog

Don't you hate it when you get a song stuck in your head? Especially one you don't even like?

And it just won't. Go. Away.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's dark in here

I was wandering through blogland last night catching up on blogs I haven't read in a long time (shame on me), and reading the news that I've missed while I've been quietly keeping to myself.

And, of course, there is pregnancy news - in a few blogs. Which somehow still always surprises me, as though I think since I'm still broken everyone else must be too.

But clearly this is not the case. In fact, in some cases these are second generation pregnancies - babies that have come after babies that came after a loss.

I'm so far behind. If I ran at the speed of light it feels like I'd still forever be so far behind, shackled to my infertility and dragging my busted uterus behind me.

Anyway, I stumbled across a blogger who is newly pregnant via a surrogate, and something interesting happened in my tiny little brain.

"That's okay then", I reasoned, "she's still broken too." It's fine for someone to be expecting a baby, apparently, as long as they aren't actually the one carrying it. Because that would make them whole and capable and fertile - all the things I'm not.

I'm not totally sure what this line of thinking says about me, but I'm pretty sure it's nothing good.

It all makes me wonder what it is about losing a child and dealing with infertility that makes it so hard to be happy for others who make it past the agonizing limbo of childlessness, or infertility after a loss.

I hate that I feel this way. I hate that time hasn't eased the feelings of sorrow and jealousy when someone else - even someone who has struggled - finds themselves pregnant.

It's so ugly. It's so unbearably ugly to think that I should feel anything other than complete joy and happiness for someone whose dream has come true when I know how bright and beautiful that dream is - and what devastation and havoc losing it wreaks.

And yet last night I found myself comforted that someone had to resort to surrogacy.

It's so unfathomably ugly that I'm even ashamed to write it (and, frankly, have no idea why I'm admitting it). But there it is. It seems that I have let go of none of the bitterness.

Maybe it's not surprising given the decrepit state of my own fertility, my advancing age, my reluctance to have "just one more" surgery to fix what allegedly ails me.

The trail of death and destruction in my wake.

Maybe it's normal to still feel this way. It probably is. But it doesn't change the fact that it makes me feel small and ugly and horrible.

Lest one be forced to surmise that there isn't one single ounce of goodness left in my battered soul, I should clarify that I do manage to feel joy for others. I do. But the bitterness is always following right on its heels. Not towards those who are pregnant, exactly, but more at the universe, at God, at fate - at whatever seems to be preventing me from finding my happy ending.

I just want my happy ending too
.

And seeing others get it reminds me of how much I want it. And how far I am from having it. And how close I once was. Four times.

I read about how healing it is to have a baby after a loss, and I rage against the universe for denying me that chance to heal. I read about how apparently you can't know the true depths of your sorrow until you hold another child of your own, and I rage against the universe for denying me the chance to complete my grieving process (although I also bristle at the suggestion that if I never have another child my sorrow is somehow less than someone who has gone on to have another baby - because I'm pretty sure that just ain't the case).

Today at Mass I watched an old lady gazing at someone's child the way old ladies do, with that serene, loving half-smile. And as I watched her, I realized that I will never be that old lady. I will never, ever be able to look at children with the simplicity of thought that many people do, a blissful smile playing on my lips. Other people's children will always remind me of my loss and my agony - of my own missing children. Even if one day I have another child.

But especially if I don't.

And I'm not at all happy that this bitterness seems to be planning to dog me for the rest of my life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

oxox

I was cleaning out my overflowing in tray this morning and found an old love note My Beloved wrote to me a week after our first date, a little more than 9 years ago. It's all raggedy and battered from the number of times I've read it and carried it around and held it to my chest and smiled.

His words have the lightness of feathers. He was so young and so completely unfettered by sorrow and tragedy. I can hear his joy. His hope. His love.

And what he wrote about me? The girl he saw through rose-coloured glasses? I sound like a completely different person too.

He once told me, long ago, that I was like a perfect doll that had somehow gotten thrown into a box of broken toys, ending up overlooked and unloved.

And I think about how battered and bruised and jaded I am and wonder if I'm now one of the broken toys too. I must be.

I am no longer the person he fell in love with. I'm not the girl he describes on that page.

I know that's how it goes. You fall in love with someone and together you grow old, facing everything life throws at you along the way; huddling close during storms and turning your faces to the sun when the skies clear. Things change you, both good and bad, and the bond deepens and strengthens - if you're lucky. And we are. We are.

But when I read the note I found myself missing those two people who were on the brink of a great romance, dizzy with the flush of new-found love. I miss their innocence and their optimism and the promise that they believed life held for them.

Luckily, with time and experience comes the ability to see the bigger picture.

Because even in the midst of our loss, we have somehow gained. Our love - older and wiser - is not less than it was simply because we're no longer those young, undamaged people we once were. It's actually very much the opposite. It's bigger and deeper than it has ever been because in many ways we have become one, united against our grief and in our mutual determination to find happiness. Together.

We are warriors now. Fighting for survival, sanity and peace.

I miss the man he was. But I love the man he is.

And when I need to, I have a silly love letter to remember once upon a time while I'm walking towards happily every after.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I miss you too

I loved shopping for Thomas when I was pregnant. The tiny, pessimistic voice in my head screamed, "But what IF" every time I handed over my credit card, but as the weeks and months wore on, I found myself more and more able to stifle it and revel in the sweet little outfits, blankies, toys and nursery accoutrement I brought home.

It was bliss. I still have bulging boxes of baby things packed away in the basement that prove just how much bliss I experienced during those precious 9 months.

At some point I ordered something from a website called Dreamtime Baby. I think it might have been his "man in the moon lamp", which I absolutely ADORED.

It's so cute I wish there was a way I could incorporate it into our decor now. But with no child in the house, it would no doubt elicit some odd, pitying looks from friends and family. So in the basement it sits.

Anyway, Dreamtime Baby, it seems, has a looooooong memory. More than 3.5 years after Thomas' birth and death I'm STILL getting regular sale reminders. I could take myself off their list - and that would obviously be the sensible thing to do - but after all this time the notices are more of an annoyance than a stab in the heart. For the most part. I just keep forgetting to click "unsubscribe" before I hit delete.

But today I won't forget.

Today they sent me a plaintive "We want you back" e-mail, and dangled a $15 coupon in my face.

Dreamtime Baby, I want you back too. But if I've learned one thing over the last five, desperate years, it's that we can't always get what we want.

So, dear Dreamtime Baby, it is with sadness and regret that I have to finally tell you that as much as we both might want it, you can't have me back.

Now please go away and leave me alone. I'm busy. I have moon lamps and bulging boxes to ignore.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In a fog

Bear with me. I'm a little lost in a sea of anxiety at the moment.

I really need to do the "Mind Over Mood" homework that Therapist Lady gave me. I really, really, really need to figure out how to roll with life's constant flurry of punches.

I'm just worried about my Dad. Scared that the test (as yet frustratingly not scheduled) will reveal something that I haven't prepared myself for.

Although one would think I'd be used to random shitstorms by now.

He has a very serious heart condition. He has had for years. So I always imagined the end would come in the form of "the call". Sudden, but not necessarily unexpected. I never, ever thought that his last years might be characterized by a slow, painful decline.

Complicated by blindness.

Yeah. Blindness. Only partial and in just one eye, but fuck - where did THAT come from?

It's not about me. It's about him. But I feel all this in my chest. In my head. In my heart. It feels like all I do is struggle and lose. And watch people suffer. And stand helplessly by while life pulls the energy from my body and hope from my soul.

It is a marathon, this life. A long, steady march through the unthinkable.

There is light. There is happiness and love and joy. But there is just so much struggle.

Too much.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Please, no more

Suddenly and without warning I found out that we're waiting to find out if my Dad has cancer. The bomb dropped on Tuesday. He might not. He probably doesn't. It could be a medication he's on that caused the false positive. It could be a couple of other things, according to the good doctor.

But it could be cancer. It could.

And today I took Lucy to the vet to have some dental work done. In the end, they took out four teeth. Four more teeth from my impossibly sweet and now nearly-toothless companion.

The receptionist laughed when she answered the phone at 1:04pm. She said she knew as soon as it rang that it would be me - calling as soon after 1:00pm as I could - asking how the surgery went.

She was kind. She clearly deals with animal-loving lunatics all day long. But make no mistake, I presented myself as a complete nutcase today. Without question.

The thing is, I'm worried that my Dad has cancer and I had to surrender the only tiny little thing I have in my care to the cruelty of dental surgery and the uncertainty of anaesthetic.

I am a nutcase at the moment.

I would cry "Uncle", but I just don't have the energy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One Day I Will Lie Down Beside You

From today's Toronto Star...

This week, TouchWood Editions publishes Nobody's Father: Life Without Kids – a collection of essays by men. Today, part three of a five-day series of reprinted essays from the book.

Our only child, Josh, died from cancer and now we are alone, in our house, and in ourselves. And yet we do go ahead with work and friendships, we laugh and sometimes tap our feet to a tune or get involved with a film or with travelling, with teaching, with caring for someone else's children. We breathe in the hard peacefulness that is borne out of the 10 years that spanned our son's diagnosis, hope, relapse, terminal diagnosis, death and then our living after his death.

My heart is 100 years old. I can sit and let the light warm my face today, I can listen to the "Flower Duet" and catch the milliseconds of silence between the notes and know that peace exists. I can look at the farthest edges of the sky and know that something is beyond all that. I can sit comfortably in his room and absorb the calmness, feel it making my heart heavier, richer.

Reader, I want to tell this story: it is what I have left of him, a narrative as unwieldy and disjointed as life itself. You can learn from this.

I remember a business conference in Chicago in the fall of 1983. I got the call that the baby was early, so I hopped on a flight, arriving in Vancouver four hours late. When I saw Josh in an incubator, I cried. He was fine; just a bit jaundiced and premature. Sandy was already able to walk around; she had been so collected and natural that she took photos during the delivery, using the overhead mirror.

I remember bringing Josh home a few days later, getting out of the hospital, into the car and into the apartment, wrestling with the confusing physical tasks of first-time parents. As soon as we closed the apartment door, I felt a clear line of demarcation: he was now with us, and everything changed.

I remember Sandy making him an orange spaceman Halloween costume. When someone asked him who he was, he would say, "Orange spaceman Eliot Wilson happy 2-year-old son Joshua." The next year she made him into a blue corduroy stegosaurus with spikes, a hood and a tail.

"Don't you think it's neat to have a mum like me to make you a costume?" Sandy asked him.

"Don't you think it's neat to have a kid like me?" Josh answered.

I remember the "Summer of Josh," as he called 1997: a February trip to Disney World, a summer drama camp with a part in A Midsummer Night's Dream and a week of rafting, biking and camping in the mountains.

I remember the next winter, his physical education teacher telling us: "If I were to have another son, out of all the students I know, I would want him to be like Josh."

I remember that in March Josh started to have a sore knee. We thought it was growing pains. It began to hurt more often: after a ski trip, after delivering papers, after slipping on an icy sidewalk. Then at school another boy checked him hard during floor hockey and he went down in pain. Sandy took him to the clinic for X-rays. Then we crossed that invisible line.

It was a cold spring afternoon when Sandy called me. Before she said anything, I knew something was terribly wrong.

"Josh has cancer." The words hit me in the chest.

"The doctor says it's 99 per cent certain. It's above his right knee. We have to go to the Children's Hospital tomorrow."

"How is he?"

"He cried a bit. He's okay now. We'll be home soon."

I hung up the phone and tried to let the information settle. I had to sit down. There was a tightening across my chest, inside my breathing. I came to the realization of any frightened parent: I would do anything for my child. I would cut off my hands if that would help.

But nothing worked. I look back on the 22 months that followed as the hardest journey ever. Diagnosis, treatment, amputation, treatment, reprieve, relapse, terminal diagnosis, death. And since I had to support Josh, to find ways to be with him and distract him and have a few cramped bits of comfort and laughter amid the fear, I could not give way to my pain in his presence. Although he knew how hurtful it was for me, we faced the facts but tried to find ways to enjoy what little time we had.

When went to the hospital for the last time he soon began to drift away. By morning, he could only keep awake and respond for a few seconds; the rest of the time he was babbling as the tumours on his heart and lungs restricted the oxygen to his brain.

We made the phone calls and gathered around him on that last morning. We told him how much we loved him, how he was such a wonderful son. By 12:45 he could no longer respond to questions and I turned his head toward me.

His eyes were looking at me, but it was as if he were asleep. I looked at Sandy and said, "He can't respond any more."

A minister came and said a prayer: all I remember was that it was about God. A nurse from the cancer clinic came in and suggested we give him a bolus, an extra hit of pain medication. His breathing remained shallow and fast for the next 15 minutes.

Now there was only Sandy and me, Josh's friend Matt and Matt's father. Others waited in the hall. I felt calm, watching his chest rising and falling while I held his hand.

Soon there was more space between his breaths. And then I watched as he took a breath, paused, took a breath, paused, took a breath, paused longer, took a breath, paused longer, took a breath – and then not another. His chest was still. I looked to Sandy and we nodded. I turned to Matt and said, "He's gone."

We were silent. The nurse came in with a stethoscope, put it on his chest, nodded to us and went out. I shook a bit, had tears at the edges of my eyes but was calm.

Sandy went outside to tell those waiting. I remember looking at Josh as he lay peacefully with the grey window light on his face, the delicate frost on the trees outside. I thought, "Well kid, you made your mark, you really did this well."

Two and three at a time, his friends came into the room. A few shook with grief and all shed a lot of tears, but I was turned away from them, stroking my son's hair. I told them the briefest details of how he died: his heart wore out, it slowed down and stopped, it was peaceful.

Focus on these seven words for a moment: bereaved parents have an indifference to life.

Psychologists and psychiatrists who have no direct experience with such a loss would prescribe medication, analysis, counselling. They believe indifference indicates suicidal tendencies, but that is not the case. It is a sort of lifelong tiredness. As one bereaved father said to me, "I just want to lie down beside her." I know what he means and I know him well. He is energetic in most things, a good father for his surviving child and a responsible husband. He will not purposefully give up living, but if his life should end soon through no plan of his own, he wouldn't be overly concerned.

I returned to teaching after several months. Initially nervous about resenting healthy, obnoxious students who had every physical advantage but weren't living up to their potential, I hid the brief times of anger.

Over the years, I have found myself becoming a better teacher, reaching out to the students more than ever. I wrote a book to guide them, Standards of Excellence: for Students of Life.

Sandy has had some difficult times, as all bereaved parents have.

She loved being a mother and was so good at it and then it was taken away. There was nothing to do, the doctors did their best and only the fantastic luck of having an X-ray of my son's leg four months before diagnosis could have possibly saved him – the tumour was already six inches long when they first saw it. After many stops and starts, she has found providing daycare to little ones the most fulfilling. She volunteers and keeps socially active.

We are more respectful to each other than we were before the diagnosis. I know of the hurt I went through and everyone grieves differently, but I know her pain is equal to mine. Whatever she has to do to maintain equilibrium, to get through the day, is acceptable.

Although this half-life we have is quieter and emptier, in some ways we are now better at living together.

And so it comes back to you, dear son. Here I sit in the quiet of the study, surrounded by books, tapping away on the keyboard, looking around the room and counting the photos of you: more than a dozen from your short, brilliant 16 years. This mountain of hurt and loss is now part of my landscape. I think of you often, your jokes and smiles and friendship. I can imagine part of you is in the delicate light of sunset at the unseen edge of clouds, beyond even the clouds I can see.

I will keep going, teaching, writing and trying to help others. Just as you bravely lived 22 months with a deadly disease, I will try to turn this into a meaningful experience. And, one day, I will lie down beside you.

Allan Wilson is a teacher and writer living in Lethbridge, Alta. His play, Walking Upright Through Fire, has been performed in Lethbridge, Calgary, Toronto and Saskatchewan. His book, Standards of Excellence: for Students of Life, was published by Blue Grama Publications. He is working on a novel and a screenplay.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Definition

I had a great big cry for Thomas this morning, which is something I haven't done in a while. It always amazes me that my loud, angry, weeping grief is still so easy to access.

Admittedly, sometimes it shocks me a little too.

It makes me feel like the only thing between the composed, healing, functioning me and the open wound of my sorrow is a thin layer of gauze.

I don't feel like I'm walking the razor's edge. I don't feel especially weak. I don't feel fragile. But the truth is, that deep pool of sadness is still right under the surface just waiting for me to peel back the film and find it again. The rawest, most primal agony.

And then my heart screams for my son.

When it's finished, I lay the gauze back down, dry my tears and carry on.

I suppose that's the anatomy of a sorrow that can't possibly ever end; an infinite black pit with a gossamer cover.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The sound of silence

"Any babies to speak of?" was the last in a series of I-haven't-talked-to-you-in-seven-years questions a newly acquired Facebook friend recently asked. We knew each other when we worked for the same advertising agency a thousand years ago. She found me, friended me and asked me what was new.

In that explicit, gut-churning way that always give me pause while I debate exactly what to say and how to say it.

And think I did. Long and hard. I considered sending her a private message instead of replying to her query on her wall (which is where she posted the questions to me), but finally I decided that if I had living children I wouldn't respond in a way that made it appear as though I was somehow ashamed of them. Or wanted to hide them.

I took the risk. With courage and pride I told her exactly what I'd been up to. That no, there were no living babies. But there were dead ones.

But, of course, I said it differently. I used the language the non-bereaved find palatable. I was quick, succinct and to the point. Not morose. Not self-pitying. Just the facts.

And I haven't heard from her since.

Not a whisper.

She's been on Facebook. I've seen her online. She has, of course, read what I left on her wall. She has to have.

And either she doesn't know what to do with it, or I've somehow upset her by posting something sad and creepy on her wall.

But she asked. And this is my truth. And I won't apologize for it or hide it.

I. Will. Not.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Boy Wonder

Thomas - the very idea of Thomas - is now almost an abstract thing. He was a child, yes, but in his death he has become somehow so much more. Bigger. Complicated. Intangible. Undefinable.

It's hard to explain and even harder to articulate, but I think this strange feeling of abstraction is unavoidable because he represents so many things. He's so much more than just the tiny bundle I held in the hospital wrapped up tight in his going home blankie.

He is the embodiment of our love and has been the bearer of exquisite gifts. But he's also the source of our grief and the reason we trudge so slowly some days.

He is our love, our sorrow, our lost hope, our joy. He is somehow everything.

As the years pass, I'm able to see more clearly what exactly it was that we lost when he died. What we will spend the rest of our lives losing every single day. Because make no mistake, when your child dies, you lose them every second of every day for as long as you live. Over and over and over again.

He's a contradiction in terms. A being whose very existence elicited so much exquisite bliss and so much dark despair.

He's not just my lost child. He's a million emotions. He's my son. My pride. My angel. My sorrow. Sometimes, my secret. He's the thing some people are afraid of. He's the name some people won't speak. He's the moment that my life changed. He's the saddest I've been and the happiest I've been. He's friends who have walked away and friends who steadfastly refuse to leave.

His 20 hours has given me new eyes. Changed my heart. Made me weak. Made me strong.

I live with the weight of his life and death each and every day. Happy. Sad. It colours everything. Everything I do, everything I see. How I speak. How I feel. How I think. How I breathe.

But sometimes, when I see a child his age, he becomes real again. He becomes a 3 1/2 year old boy. I see his smile. His eyes. I feel his hand in mine. I see My Beloved. I see me. I see what we were too many hospital delays away from having.

And then, in an instant, it's gone and he is once again that mysterious collection of contradictory emotions, fractured memories, and the dull, quiet ache in my heart. All tied up with the most unimaginable love I've ever felt.

Baby loss is a mystery. An unending, ever-changing, unsolvable mystery.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Family Tree of Grief

Novelist Elizabeth McCracken was living a fantasy life in France with her husband, eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child whom they'd nicknamed Pudding. When she learned her baby would be stillborn her world fell apart. Searching for a geographic cure for her sadness, the author writes in this excerpt from her new book, she found an unexpected community.

An excerpt from Elizabth's book, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir (which I am now going to have to immediately run out and purchase).

But first...

To all the mothers of dead babies who I have found in my travels online and in the world, and to whom I owe so much credit and thanks for where I am today, I just want to say that, like Elizabeth McCracken, I love you in a way that no one who has not walked in our shoes can ever begin to understand.

And I will always, always remember.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I remember...

On August 21st of last year, I lost the twins. My tiny Tigers who we desperately willed to live over and over again. Who we begged to be more than just empty sacs. Who gave us the kind of hope and joy we hadn't felt in more than two years.

I finally had a D&C at 12 weeks after a compassionate OB took pity on us and put us out of our collective misery.

The day passed without me remembering until late in the evening. A flash. The date. My sorrow.

I felt a flicker of guilt, but the thing is, we lost them countless time during the 6 weeks I knew I was pregnant. We rode the roller coaster of hope and despair so many times - being told they were fine, being told there was nothing there, being told there was "something" there, being told that there was, finally and conclusively, no hope at all.

We mourned and hoped so much during those torturous 6 weeks that the date I finally said goodbye doesn't seem particularly momentous at all.

Plus, it was complicated by hemorrhaging and a hospital stay.

'Cause that's how I roll.

But I do think of them, my little Tigers. I sometimes stop and marvel at my body's ability to get pregnant with twins without any help at all. And I revel in a brief flush of pride - until it is replaced by anger at this same body's inability to do what it should. What it was allegedly born to do.

And, of course, I think of what might have been.

I realized, a few weeks after the D&C, that I had unconsciously named them. I called them the "Tigers" while I was pregnant, but after they were gone, I started thinking of them as Molly and Joseph. A boy and a girl.

And the names stuck.

We don't actually know what they were, of course, but they are Molly and Joseph to me - for absolutely no good reason other than the fact that names seemed to want to belong to them.

And today, more than a year after they came and went, I wanted to say that I remember.

And I love you, little ones.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I didn't choose this

Sometimes, when I'm in the mood to delve, I sit and think - really think - about what my life might be like if there's never another child.

Will it be enough, I wonder. Will I find fulfillment in other things? In other ways? In other journeys?

Will I eventually one day feel complete, or will this nagging feeling that a piece is missing ever go away?

I stumbled across a "childless not by choice" chat board a few months ago, and lingered for a few minutes. Just long enough to browse through a "what will your legacy be" thread where members were exchanging ideas on how to ensure that you've changed the world without leaving it a child.

It was both inspiring, beautiful and desperately sad.

They certainly weren't looking for pity - mine or anyone's. They were people, it seemed, for whom the childless reality wasn't so fresh it was still oozing. They had passed over to a place of acceptance and were almost excited about planning for ways to leave their mark - and eager to share those plans.

But yet, it still seemed sad to me that people have to think so hard - work so hard - to fill that void. No matter how much they've accepted their fate and moved past the rawest part of the sorrow.

I know that having a child isn't the only way to "leave a legacy". Millions of people live and die without having children, and their stories live on. Their contributions to history, art, literature, science - to the world - they remain for generations.

You can touch a life without using a child to do it. You can touch thousands of lives. Millions.

But you have to look for it. Work for it.

Which, under the circumstances, doesn't seem fair at all.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The new me

I have so many thoughts rattling around in my head lately. And that's fine - better lots of thoughts than none at all - but every time I think I'll sit down and sort them out, a whole new pack push in and scatter the crowd.

But one thought that seems to keep pushing its way to the front of the pack - a thought that has been slooooooowly dawning on me these days - is that I don't have to pretend that everything is as it was. That things don't bother me now. That nothing is harder than it used to be. That I'm always okay in every single situation.

When I asked, hypothetically, what people think of me now - what they see when they look at me - a friend recently told me that they probably don't think anything at all. Because, she explained, after three years they likely just think "I'm over it."

She fought an epic battle with infertility. She knows you don't "get over" things like struggling in vain to make your family complete.

But I was startled to think that other people may simply assume that I'm fine - all back to normal - just because I can and do manage to function. And because the calendar has flipped 41 times since Thomas died.

On the one hand I'm happy to think that I look and act like a person who has her shit together. This is excellent news. But on the other hand, I was very taken aback by the notion that people might truly believe that trauma as terrible and aching as losing a child simply slips away like smoke up a chimney.

But I suppose I have myself to blame. I'm an enabler. I've been a "grin and bear it" baby loss survivor, subjecting myself to things I wasn't ready for in order to make other people more comfortable. And, admittedly, in order to deflect attention from my sorrow in a desperate attempt to shut down the great, big pity machine that makes me want to run screaming into the night.

I'm not a saint. I did what I did for me - because it made me feel better to make other people feel better. And because it made me feel like I must seem more "normal" in their eyes. More like the old me they used to know. And I wanted to be that girl. Badly.

But I think I'm slowly accepting the fact that she died with Thomas. In fact, part of her died with that very first miscarriage nearly five years ago. And pieces of her have died with each loss and with every moment I have struggled with infertility.

And that's okay.

I mean, it's not okay that all this happened. Of course not. But it's okay that I have changed. Because how on earth could I not? How do you lose your heart five times and remain unchanged?

Now my challenge is to let this new person be. To let her feel what she feels without guilt. To help her understand that she is brand new in a million different ways. To allow her to advocate for herself and stand up to ignorance.

To teach her to embrace herself with kindness, respect and love.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What's my first line?

I had a dream last night. An annoying, recurring dream. Different characters, same plot.

I'm in a play - last night it was The Sound of Music - and I'm woefully ill-prepared. I know none of my lines and the curtain is about to rise. My fellow actors think I'm joking or that it's just a spectacular case of stage fright, but they don't understand that I truly don't know a single word. In most of these dreams I'm pretty sure I haven't even seen the script, let alone read it.

They carry on completely unaware of the true nature of my panic, and I desperately ransack the backstage area looking for a script that I can somehow tuck into my costume and read from while I'm on stage. Allegedly acting.

I never actually get to the stage. I wake up searching for a script and worrying that I don't have single clue what I'm doing. That I'm going to ruin everything for everyone and look like a collosal fool in the process.

I would like to think that these dreams that see me ill-prepared for a scripted performance mean that I'm living my life day by day, not obsessing about the future, not trying to orchestrate things that are simply beyond my control.

But from my state of panic in these stress-ridden dreams, I know this is not the case.

I think instead they're reflecting my anxiety at feeling like I'm the only one who doesn't seem to know what the hell is going on. Kind of ever.

I'm watching other organized lives around me as they follow the plans they made and somehow managed to stick to, fate and happenstance aside. And there's no way I can keep up with them. There's no way I can be as prepared or as calm or as sure as they are.

I've lost my script.

Goddamn it, I've lost my script.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And who were they?

My Great-grandfather died in Toronto during the flu outbreak of 1918. He left his wife and 5 children behind, the youngest just a baby. Because his family never accepted my Great-grandmother after they discovered that she conceived their first child out of wedlock, they snatched him back and buried him in a cemetery filled with his ancestors - away from her.

When she died just five years later (of a broken heart, my Grandma always said), she was buried with her parents. In a different cemetery altogether. Eternally separated from the man she adored, much to the satisfaction of his remaining family, I'm sure. There was space to bury her with her husband, but she wasn't.

There's no one left to confirm why this happened, although it's pretty easy to speculate that the simple reason was because she wasn't welcome there.

Years ago my parents and I paid a visit to the cemetery where he was buried. It's tucked away in an old residential area of the city, sun dappled and quiet. We hunted for his stone, anxious to find the resting place of the man we knew so little about. A man who had become somewhat mythic over the years, mostly because he was willing to forsake the support and affection of his family to marry the woman he loved.

We found the little pocket of ancestors all bearing my Grandmother's maiden name. Dozens of them scattered along the sloping hills of the cemetery where they'd been laid to rest generations earlier.

But we couldn't find him.

A visit to the cemetery office confirmed that he was indeed buried there, and they gave us the reference points so we could return to the specified row to check again.

When we did, all we found was an empty space. No marker. No stone. Nothing to indicate that he was buried there at all.

For whatever reason, his family saw fit to reclaim him but not to mark his resting spot. Presumably his window, left to care for their five young children, didn't have money to spend on a stone for her beloved. His grave was indistinguishable from the lawn around it. Unless you were looking for him, like we were, you'd never have known he was there at all.

I happened to pass by the cemetery after a meeting last week, and the story of the missing marker popped back into my head.

I was talking to my parents about it yesterday. It has probably been 15 years since we discovered the missing marker, and I couldn't remember if it had been taken care of or not.

As it turns out, his grave still remains unmarked. Life got in the way and no one got around to getting a marker.

"Oh", I said, feeling sad for the man who remains invisible in death.

"But you know what?", My Dad said, "It doesn't matter at all now, does it? It just doesn't matter at all."

I think he meant that in the grand scheme of things, an unmarked grave isn't a big deal, especially when it has been unmarked for 90 years. He's in heaven. He's been reunited with his beloved. We know where he is, body and soul, even if the world at large doesn't.

All's well that ends well.

But of course, my mind wandered to where it was lingering last night.

It doesn't matter because it's possible that soon there will be no one left to care. After we die, the simple fact is that there's just no one left to care. No one to remember him, or the love story that was so sweetly passed down through the years.

And this is what eats at me.

It's not that I think the story of my family is more interesting than anyone else's, and I realize that that it doesn't hold great historical importance to anyone but me. But it's just heartbreaking to think that it's conceivable that those stories may one day simply disappear. That all those people who lived and loved and died will truly vanish when I close my eyes for the last time.

I never imagined that this would be something I'd find myself absorbed in, this fear of being one of a forgotten people. When I was actively researching my family tree back in my early twenties, the farthest thing from my mind was the notion that there might be no one for whom my hours of research would one day be a cherished gift.

My Dad's right. It really doesn't matter. There are greater worries in life. Far, far greater tragedies. I know this to be true.

But it's another sorrow to add to the list. A small one, true. But yet another sorrow just the same.

And it's not fair. It's just. Not. Fair.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What was her name?

We were out for a walk tonight, My Beloved and I, when we passed by a house from which the most delicious smells were emanating. Dinner. Dinner done right, as far as I'm concerned. Smells that have people passing by on the sidewalk trying to figure out a way to wrangle an invite means clearly you're doing something right as far as meal prep goes.

My Beloved thought it smelled like some sort of a casserole - a conglomeration of delicious scents indistinguishable from one another lead to his conclusion. And that's exactly what it smelled like to me too.

And so, naturally, my mind drifted back to the 1970s. The time of innocence, safety and casseroles.

You know that scent memory thing that happens when you smell something that takes you back? It's more than just a "hey, I remember that smell" experience. Your body floods with images, feelings, memories and emotions all triggered by that one brief hit of familiar scent.

So I'm walking through the casserole scented air and feeling my childhood.

Feeling it.

I stayed outside skating in the backyard for so long that night would fall and my fingers and toes would be numb. I'd come in through the back door and find myself bathed in the warmth of the kitchen's glow while I sat on the stairs to unlace my skates. I'd smell dinner on the stove. I'd watch my Mom busy herself with the last rushed tasks before serving while I took off my coat and mittens. I was warm. Safe. Spent. Happy.


It all rushed through me in an instant. And while I tried to hang onto its sweetness, a sadness crept into my heart.

I don't have a child who will remember coming into the warmth of my kitchen when it's cold outside.

This thought - this reality - makes me unbearably sad. For me, for Thomas, for all the babies who almost were.

I have it to give, and no one to give it to. The simple, tiny pleasures I'm not sure some people are even aware of - they are lost to me. My kitchen still hums with activity, but there's no one to remember any of it. There is no one for whom my cookies hot from the oven will one day be a comforting memory they cling to for a moment's respite from the cruel world.

And...if there is never a child, one day I'll be forgotten too.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Was that YOU?

My Beloved and I went to the Canadian National Exhibition on Wednesday evening. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's a fair. A big, big, big fair right in the heart of Toronto. Carnival rides, midway games, amazing deals on really shitty merchandise, weird exhibits like "The History of the Toilet", people hawking Ginsu knives, unhealthy food on sticks - it's all there, God love it.

While wandering through the midway, I spotted a game booth strung with Rudolph and Abominable Snowman stuffed toys - prizes for the lucky winners able to catch bright orange balls in tiny nets as they drifted over a fast running waterfall. The balls, not the players.

Kind of weird, but whatever. Rudolph was the prize and I neeeeeeeded to win him.

It was all a little confusing, and even now I'm not sure I fully understand the rules (or why we paid one price and both got to play, or how we ended up with a medium size prize when all we caught were balls marked with an "s" for small), but it doesn't matter. I won a Rudolph.

He was a little wet - a casualty of the leaky waterfall, I suppose - and his neck was sewn too tightly on one side giving him a permanently cocked head, but he was mine.

Rudolph is the physical embodiment of my happy place. He and Snoopy never fail to calm my inner beast when it's raging against the cruel world or merciless fate.

And yes, I know full well that this makes me a simpleton, and I don't particularly care. You take your happy place triggers where you can find them. Just because mine are cartoon characters doesn't make them any less valid, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, in addition to the ill-sewn neck, my new Rudolph's mouth - an inverted V meant to sit just below his big red nose - was stitched sideways. A sideways stitched V, in case you've never seen one, looks a lot like a smirk.

So there he was, a slightly wet, smirking reindeer with a cocked head and ears flattened back against his head from being squished in a box with 9 billion other Rudolphs.

He is, of course, the Rudolph I would win. Misshapen, weird looking and wet. He looked like he'd just been told something really offensive, or possibly just smelled a very, very bad fart.

Smells a Fart Rudolph. Yup, totally the one I'd win.