Thursday, May 19, 2011


I haven't been paying all that much attention to the alleged facts behind the claim that the world is going to end at 9:00pm on Saturday, but I have given a little thinking time to the concept itself.

Let me be clear: I have no wish to die. There are a lot more things I want to see and do here. I don't feel quite done.

But the truth is, when you've buried your only child and know there are no more coming, the idea of death - even at the relatively young age of 41 - isn't quite as daunting a prospect to consider. I am by no means sitting around waiting to die, and that's not how I'm living my life. But I'm also not living the same way people with children do. I'm not marking time with developmental milestones, birthday parties and school graduations. My child won't have a first date, first prom, first day of work. He won't get married. He won't call me, half out of his mind with excitement, fatigue, and relief, to tell me that I've become a grandmother.

People with children live for these things, and I can guarantee they've thought of half of them before changing that first diaper.

Those who are childless-by-choice are probably shifting uncomfortably in their seats right now, irritated that I'm suggesting that life is somehow less important, less interesting or less fulfilling without a child in it.

That's not what I'm saying. Well, not exactly. 

What I'm saying is that when I was carrying a wriggling, healthy baby boy in my tummy, I looked out at the vast expanse that was rest of my life and expected him to be in it. You know, alive and everything.

But he's not. I'm passing time without him instead, and that's the difference between someone who wanted it and someone who didn't. I missing him, and all the future he was. It's not that my life isn't fulfilling and often very happy, it's that it always has that empty spot where Thomas - and his own big, full life - might have been.

So to me, life is less fulfilling, less interesting and less important than it would have been with my son in it. How on earth could it not be?

Which means that if I do die on Saturday - if those placard carrying doomsday enthusiasts are correct - I won't be leaving one of the people that I love most in the world, I'll be meeting him again. And sooner than I'd expected at that.

I have so much to live for - so many wonderful things I haven't done, seen, read, heard, and experienced. But I have a lot to die for too.

That's just the way it is.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


They want me to write about rental housing and life insurance and private home care for the elderly, but the only words that really matter today are: I miss you Dad. Happy birthday.

He was one of the best people I've ever known. And I'm almost positive I'm not being selectively blind about this, viewing him through a gauzy haze of grief and longing that's blurring out his rough edges. Because he had those. He totally did.

But he also taught me to notice things like a golden autumn leaf or a long dormant tulip bulb poking its way out of the earth in early spring. He saw small beauties everywhere, and the wonder he had for those everyday miracles radiated from him like summer heat off the sidewalk. He had a way of talking about the people he'd lost that somehow showed more of his love for them than his sorrow over losing them. He was joyous, relentlessly pursuing the things that made him smile and brought him comfort. He fully immersed himself in everything he loved: church, sacred music, sports memorabilia, and his family. He was settled, secure and confident about himself and the people and things that he believed in.

He also once hauled some guy halfway out of his car window and punched him, punishment for a driving offense of some sort that Dad felt wouldn't otherwise be properly meted out. In his much younger years he took to the streets of Toronto late one night looking for crimes in progress that he could bust up. Irish temper. He had that too.

But the Dad I knew best went to Christmas craft shows with me. Once he bought himself a tiny gingerbread house - something that still somehow makes me want to weep, because that's just the kind of person he was: a great big man with a great big laugh who won (and lost) bloody fights when he played hockey, and bought gingerbread houses with his daughter.

Last summer, as we sat on the deck while he ate an old person's snack of digestive cookies and water, he told me he'd had a good, happy life. He reminded me that he always managed to find joy, especially in simple pleasures. His eyes shone, looking beyond me into the past.

And oh, I miss him. I first knew I would lose him when I was a terrified 13-year old sitting in the emergency waiting room late one winter night. Twenty-seven years later I finally did. And it was every bit as awful as I'd been imagining it would be for all those years.

But I'm looking at spring buds, and taking solace in the simple pleasures that make me happy. Because that's what he taught me.

I miss you, Daddy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Widow's Story

Yesterday I heard a portion of an interview with Joyce Carol Oates on the CBC radio. It was about her new book, A Widow's Story, which is a memoir based on the time after the sudden loss of her husband of 47 years in 2008.

I listened to it with the kind of rapt attention you probably shouldn't when you're driving. I can't remember getting to my destination.

It's just that she spoke so honestly and simply about loss. She was unapologetic about the ravages of grief and the toll it took on her after her beloved husband died. She didn't look on the bright side. She didn't claim to have learned anything from it. She didn't praise it for making her stronger, more empathetic or more patient with others. She didn't use it to find ways to do good.

She just endured it.

And coming from the world of babyloss where we're always trying to make sense of it and find something good to take away from it, this was a breath of fresh air.

Losing someone you love is bad. Period. It hurts, it isolates, and it scars.

I'm sure, like everyone who struggles to find meaning in loss, she has done some of the mental gymnastics the newly bereaved engage in to keep the ground from moving and shifting beneath them every moment of every day. She probably has tried to make sense of it and find lessons from it.

But she didn't say she did. At least not in the interview. She said she made a nest of her bed, taking refuge there through sleepless nights surrounded by books to comfort her. She admits she thought about, but then dismissed, suicide. She said she regularly impersonated the "old Carol" while she was working as a professor at Princeton, then returned home to be a grieving widow once again.

I haven't lost my husband so I have no idea what this particular of grief is like, but so much of what she said resonated deep within me. Especially the notion that we impersonate the person we used to be. I suppose it's some sort of ancient survival skill, not unlike the way cats can literally be dying but still successfully pretending to be a-okay.

I've done it. I still do it.

And then I come home and I can be the girl who lost all her babies and then her father.

I ordered A Widow's Story for my mom, and I'll read it when she's finished. There's something deeply necessary about people sharing the grief journey, and I'm so grateful that people who have walked this sad, lonely road do talk about it.

For us, and for themselves.

Monday, May 02, 2011

What remains

Yesterday I hosted a jewelry party - a fabulous girly event attended by some of my closest friends and lady family. I put out a little cookie spread while my incredibly talented friend (accompanied by her helpermom) arranged her gorgeous handmade pieces in my dining room. She works in stone and sterling silver, and oh my - such loveliness my dining room table has never seen!

It was a too-quick sort of affair for me. I was, as it turns out, starved for this kind of joy. The house rang with the sort of raucous laughter that can only be generated when women are under the spell of lovely things and in the company of good friends.

I spent the evening buzzing in the afterglow of the happy energy that filled my house for those three perfect hours.

And what I realized, after thinking so much about each of the lovely people who flitted around the dining room table snatching up Donna's bracelets, earrings, and necklaces as they laughed and chatted; is that I love my life.

There are great holes in it. There are massive sorrows. There are missing people. There are scars that will never fade. But I love what's here. What's here now.

What I do have, as it turns out, I adore.

I watched my friends - people I have cared about and known for years - as they flooded my house with their joy, and found myself pulled in. I have danced on the periphery for so long. I have spent endless days, months, years; waiting, trying, struggling. I have pretended to be happy. I have lied about being happy. Even to myself. Often to myself.

But yesterday I really was happy. And it occurred to me for the first time that I love this life.

I love what remains.

This is not to say that I'm happy that this is how my life has turned out. This is not what I chose - it's not what My Beloved and I wanted or planned. But in the aftermath I've somehow managed to carve out a sweet and happy place, and I'm grateful for the peace. And for the friends who helped me realize that I have it.

 (One of three (yeah, three) of my pretty new bracelets. Seriously, it was a good day all 'round.)