Friday, September 14, 2012

Perception vs. reality

Back in the spring of 2010, when Thomas had been gone just over five years, I had a meeting with my very first boss about some freelance work he wanted me to do. Actually, it was with one of his underlings, but on my way into the boardroom we popped into his office so I could say hello.

I hadn't seen Ted in years. The last time I'd had any contact with him was just after Thomas died. Immediately after, actually. When I was about 8 months pregnant he'd contacted me about doing some work for him. I naturally expected I'd be having a live baby in a few weeks (and told him so), so I turned it down. Work was the farthest thing from my mind in those heady pre-baby days.

The next time I contacted Ted was to tell him that, as it turned out, I didn't bring Thomas home after all. His response was lovely. Sweet and sympathetic, with a good dose of concern and disbelief mixed in. I remember him saying that after he'd gotten my e-mail, he and his wife sat on the couch together in shock, talking quietly for hours about life and death and tragedies like mine.

So when I stuck my head into his office that spring morning in 2010, I expected him to see the mother of a dead baby. It's all I could think of--that he hadn't seen or heard from me since that horribly unexpected e-mail five years earlier. In fact, I briefly wondered if he was giving me the work out of pity.

The first words out of his mouth? "So, how's motherhood treating you?"

All he'd remembered was that I'd had a child. He'd forgotten that it died. 

He was, of course, horrified when I gently reminded him that motherhood wasn't all that great when all your children were dead. Although I didn't say it exactly that way, of course.

And then I made fun of him for forgetting, because that's what I do. And oh how we laughed.

Okay, we didn't really laugh and my joke probably wasn't all that funny, but I wanted to let him off the gigantic fish hook from which he was dangling as fast as I could.

I think about that day a lot. I should have been upset. I should have been hurt. I should have been desperately angry that he'd forgotten about something so huge that it consumes my life and has changed me forever.

But instead I was relieved. Buoyant, even. Because the fact that he'd forgotten meant that maybe, just maybe, people really do see more than just a bereaved parent when they look at me. Granted, most people don't forget entirely (although my new hairdresser did, asking me again if I had any children at my second appointment after we'd had a very long and thorough conversation about the fact that I don't at my first appointment), but it means that it is possible that I am more than the sum of the sorrows that I carry.

I don't know if Ted remembers any of this. Ha, probably not. But I'm grateful to him just the same for his ability to see and remember me.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Hats Off To Liz!

Huh. I guess I've gone a little quiet here lately. I haven't even made it up to 10 posts yet this year, for heaven's sake! I've started a bunch of 'em, but I can never seem to get them squeezed all the way out of my brain, so they sit in the queue unfinished.

Luckily I have been able to follow through on something...

There's this:

And there's the website that goes with it.

Wait, I didn't design the logo (that's one of My Beloved's awesome creations). I just had the idea and called upon my generous and talented friends (far and wide, as it turns out!) to help me get it up and running.

And it's been kicking it marathon-style ever since. We've been able to donate close to 150 handmade chemo caps and dozens of infant loss items (tiny blankets, burial buntings and hats) to the hospital where my friend Liz was treated - which happens to be the same hospital where Thomas was born and died.

I'm kind of proud of this little handcrafted, grassroots effort. But more than that, I'm unbelievably grateful to the friends and family who have supported it with such a passion.

People are awesome.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Back to school

Thomas would have started grade two this week. On the first day of school, I lay in bed and told him about the day that would have been. The special breakfast I would have cooked, the way we'd have walked to school together, the treat I'd have made him to snack on after school while he told me about all the adventures he'd had as a big boy in grade two.

Then I got up and carried on with my day. I don't remember what I did, I just know it was painfully ordinary.

Back to school pictures, which began popping up on Facebook back in mid August as children of my American friends headed back, reached their agonizing peak this week. The annual assault.

I would have done it too, of course. Thomas all dressed up in his first-day best, smiling at the camera as he headed out the door to grade two. I would have sent the picture to his grandma and his Auntie Kathy. And his bubby and nonno too.

I would have.

Ha. Would.

It was wearying. My last grief-frayed nerve about to snap on Tuesday, when a new friend e-mailed me and asked how I was coping with the onslaught. She barely knows me. We've met once. But she has been a staunch supporter of Thomas' Random Act of Kindness Day since a mutual friend told her about it a few years ago, and she has a rare kind of sensitivity that I'm discovering is like a cooling balm on a sunburn.

A blissful salve on time-worn grief.

It didn't occur to anyone else. And nor should it, really. I'm not the centre of anyone's universe but my own. At seven-years old, my grief is seasoned. And besides, I don't tell people that eleventy-billion milestone pictures coming at me for two solid weeks eventually starts to erode the stitches holding my heart together. So how could anyone have known?

But thank God for that one friend who did think to ask. It's all I needed.

All the bereaved moms I know say the same thing: every once in a while we just want someone to acknowledge our loss. Not all the time and not out of guilt or obligation. But maybe once in a blue moon; just a quiet nod to the ongoing agony of loss that ebbs and flows as life marches on. Especially as life marches on.

Because grief marches in place.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Brainpower is overrated

Okay, so here's the weird thing: I don't know what to do when there's nothing to worry about. My dad had his first heart attack when I was 13. On that sunny February day in 1984, something in my brain clicked on and it appears as thought I'm powerless to turn it off. I worried about him endlessly, right up until the night he died when I cried myself to sleep before I even knew he was dying in his.

I worried all through my tragically flawed pregnancies (and with good reason, as it turns out), and I worried during the endless hours I waited for doctors and tests results at the fertility clinic. I worried about the work I wasn't doing and the money I wasn't making because I was trying to make live babies. And then I worried some more about my dad.

Then the time for having babies came to an end. Then my dad died.

And now there's this peace that I can't seem to find a way to properly embrace, no matter how much I want to. There's peace and there's work and there's this lovely, quiet life waiting here for me - and all my brain wants to do is latch onto another problem and get to frettin'.

Who knew peace was this problematic?

So I've turned inward and I've started worrying about myself. I've worried myself all the way into a scorching case of acid reflux - which is, apparently, what happens when your brain is frantic to find something to do with itself after 27 years of hardcore worrying.

Eventually your body rolls its eyes, sighs resignedly, and gives Brain something real to fret about just to shut it the hell up.

On a related note, I hate Dr. Google. He will tell you you're dying almost every time. Doesn't matter if you have a gunshot wound to the head or a stubbed toe, Dr. Google will kill you either way.

I don't actually think I'm dying (mostly). And as of last week I'm on medication that will, with luck, see the symptoms improving soon.  I'm also working to adjust my diet (which means cutting out all my go-to comfort foods, naturally), and losing weight is penciled in on my calendar somewhere...

But still, I'm annoyed with myself and my all-powerful brain that seems to take such great pleasure in thwarting me at every turn.

I bet if I went back to the beginning of this blog and read it straight through, I'd find dozens of instances where I begged for peace - for things to be calm and normal and quiet.

And they are. Just not in my head.


Friday, March 09, 2012


"I miss him so much! I can't wait until he's home!", she said. Her boy was away for a few days and, like all mothers, she missed her child desperately. She was excited knowing that she was soon going to have him back home, safe in her arms.

"I'm miss him so much."

Multiply that by forever, I thought.

I have absolutely no idea how anyone survives the loss of a child. Every day I do it, and after all this time I still don't really know how.

Thomas would be seven today. He is gone. And I still breathe and the world still turns - and I just don't know how any of it is possible.

But somehow it is.

And so once again, I'm sending all my love and big birthday kisses heavenward to the sweetest and most beautiful boy I've ever seen.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just thinkin'

Mass is always an interesting experience for me. I find my mind wanders to places it doesn't often go during the rest of the week. I think the internet, television, work, and yarn have a lot to do with the reason my brain is so distracted and otherwise employed during the other 6 days of the week.

But the quiet of the church and the fact that I can't easily supplant deep thoughts with shallow diversions means my mind wanders its way along roads that often lead to Thomas. And not just Thomas, but this life without him, and what that means and what it looks like now and what it'll look like 20 years from now.

It's not always a fun walk. But I think these moments of contemplation are an important part of the healing process that continues for the rest of a bereaved parent's life.

On Sunday, while absentmindedly scanning the congregation, I noticed that a reader I see all the time was sitting with an altar boy that I also often see. I'd never noticed the connection before, but seeing them side by side made mother-son relationship obvious. He was the image of his mother, in tall, strapping, teenage-boy form.

I couldn't take my eyes off him. I kept looking back from his mother to him, noticing how much they look alike. It's still astonishing to me that it's possible to make something that so clearly belongs to you that it actually has your face stamped upon it. Magical.

I was still watching him as he took to the altar in preparation for handing out Communion (he's now a Minister of Communion, having graduated from altar serving, I suppose).

I stared at him, thinking how incredibly proud his mother must be of this lovely young man - both because he came from her, and because he's obviously as committed as she is to participating in something that's an important part of her life. As I watched him, I imagined what it would be like if he were my son - if it was my son standing there on that altar, tall and handsome and demonstrating his commitment to his faith at a time in his life when it's probably really, really not cool to do so.

I stared. And I thought, "She must be staring in awe too, the mother that created this perfect boy version of herself. I wouldn't be able to take my eyes off him if he were mine." I looked over to where she was sitting, and saw she had her head bowed, her eyes either on her missal or closed in prayer.

And I realized that people who have living children don't need to stare at them in awe they way I imagine they must. They do sometimes, of course, but seeing her son on the altar isn't new for this mother. Seeing her son isn't new for this mother.

I have no idea what it's really like. Thinking that a mother wouldn't be able to take her eyes off her almost grown son for even a second proves this. What a sad thing to have had a child and to still not know what any of it is really like.

There are times, during Mass, when I want to pick up my things and walk out. It's not from anger anymore, but from a feeling of not belonging that sometimes overwhelms me. I'm watching the children of others grow before my eyes. Little boys now tower over their mothers. Little girls now wear women's clothing. It's a strange feeling when all I've done is sit in those pews alone - with, perhaps, five little spirits hovering nearby.

Family and church are inextricably linked in my brain, and when it can't escape into the internet it sometimes wills me to think that I don't belong where families are. And that makes me want to escape from places where families are.

But I stay. And I wait for my mind to take me to places that are sometimes hard to go because I have no choice but to let it.

I suppose my fractured little mind knows best. And anyway, I have the busyness of 6 other days to recover from the revelations of the 7th.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


If you've seen mine, please give it some cookies and milk and send it home.

On a related note, I'm shocked to discover that the only thing worse than a bone-chilling, snowmageddon style winter is a dreary, spring-like one.

Huh. Didn't see that coming.

I'll try to remember that next year when I'm (hopefully) up to my eyeballs in snow drifts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The unberable lightness of being

It's not like I'm walking on sunshine and floating two feet off the ground or anything. But this morning it dawned on me that life is sort of good right now. Uncomplicated in a way it hasn't been in, well, in virtually my entire life, really.

We're not trying to have a baby anymore. So my body has ceased to be a science experiment/means to an end/poorly constructed baby-making machine. It's just my body again. Arms, legs, graying head and a busted uterus that can just fucking relax now, since it's not going to be called into action ever again.

If you listen closely, you can probably hear it sighing happily from all the way over there.

I pay little to no attention to bodily fluids. I have no idea what my temperature is on any given morning. I've stopped shelling out a fortune on sticks designed to be peed upon. I no longer mark the passage of time in 28-day units. I don't have to decide if just one more surgery or fertility treatment will do the trick. I no longer live in fear worrying about what one more loss would do to my already-fractured brain. And, perhaps best of all, the end of a cycle doesn't shatter me to my very core like it used to. Every single time.

People are no longer depending upon my body to produce a child, grandchild, cousin, niece/nephew. No one's crossing their fingers or praying or hoping or giving us knowing glances. The pressure cooker existence I once boiled away in has cooled to a lovely lukewarm bath.

The guilt is still there. It will always be there. I couldn't produce a living child, grandchild, niece/nephew. But at least the trying is over. We can all just agree that I failed and move on.

Or I can agree that I failed and everyone else can be mad at me for calling myself a failure.

Either way, we all move on.

And then there's the other shoe. The one that dropped on January 4, 2011 when I got the call that Dad had died. He got horribly sick (sicker than he'd ever been, which is saying a lot since he'd been in fragile health for 27 years), and after tenaciously battling a host of medical issues that would have immediately felled a lesser (or less stubborn) man, he quietly slipped away in the night.

I no longer panic when I hear the phone ring. I don't dwell on what it's going to be like "after" because I'm living it now. My stomach doesn't clench in anxiety when I pull up to their house. I don't have to wonder about what kind of day he's having - if he'll fall, if he'll die in front of me, if he'll be so confused he won't know who I am. I don't ache as I watch him suffer unthinkable fatigue, pain and indignities. Most of all, he is no longer suffering.

As I said yesterday, I am breathing these days. The good kind of breaths. Better than I've breathed in almost as long as I can remember.

My life is more about me than it has been in a very long time.

I'm not 100% carefree or without responsibility. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, here. But the fact is that I am living a more peaceful life right now. Work is plentiful enough, My Beloved is still beloved, my mom is in relatively good health, and I passed my annual physical with flying colours (which is astounding given the grief eating I did during 2011, not to mention all the stress).

Sorrow is still an ever present interloper, but it's a snarling beast I've mostly learned how to tame. I know to lure it into its cage when I need relief, and let it out to be walked when it needs to stretch its legs.

We have it mostly figured out, me and Sorrow.

So life is these days. Quieter, less complicated and much prettier than I've seen it in a very long time.

I could get used to this.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The long goodbye

The other day I read an article about the formalized mourning rituals observed by Jews. Being married to someone who is half Jewish, I'm familiar with some of those rituals - like sitting Shiva for 7 days, and the unveiling of the monument one year later.

But what I didn't know is that they understand that that grief takes a solid year to truly process. They figured this out, wrote it down, handed it out and now they all just know to treat each other a little more gently when the heart is healing post-loss. Imagine that.

It has now been one year and five days since my dad died.

Losing Thomas taught me that you don't get over a loss, you simply learn to live with it. So I knew I wouldn't magically feel like "the old me" when the sun rose on January 5th. I knew I would feel like the new me: the one who now lives in a world where my dad does not. The one who lost someone whose voice has been dear to her since before she was even born. But the one who is, nonetheless, still alive.

That's why I also knew I'd probably feel like I could take real breaths again on January 5th. Long, slow, deep ones - not just short, quick gasps designed to keep me alive.

And I did.

The hellish first year is behind me.

And I can breathe.