Wednesday, July 13, 2016

And then my cat died

It's been quite a spring. There was the brain tumour, then there was the 20-year old cat who had a stroke, rallied, then quietly died 2.5 weeks later on the table at the vet's office while I sobbed and sobbed over her tiny, frail body.

2016 has been a bit...challenging.

But what I'm finding pretty fascinating is that I seem to be handling it all with a shocking amount of competency (for me, anyway). I'm not sure if I'm just immune to trauma at this point, or if Therapist Lady was onto something when she suggested I try EMDR a few years ago. I very reluctantly agreed, and plowed my way through several agonizing sessions from the summer of 2014 through to early 2015.

They were unpleasant (understatement). But I felt calmer afterward - more relaxed than I had been in years. So when disaster struck and I thought I would lose My Beloved, my brain didn't implode; I didn't lose my mind. I went to the specialist appointments, I went to the hospital, I waited during the 3-hour surgery, I saw him lousy with tubes and hooked up to monitors and leaking blood from that precious head. All the hospital sounds, sights and smells - all those triggers.

And I didn't lose my mind.

I did come close to having what I suspect would have been an epic anxiety attack while we were in the pre-op waiting room just minutes before they wheeled him into the operating room. But I dug deep into my bag of "Calm the hell DOWN, Kristin!" tricks, remembered some breathing exercises I could do without him noticing, and managed not to pass out, throw up, or run screaming from the room.

I admit I'm bone tired. My nerves are frayed. If possible I'd like there to be a nice long break before the next crisis arises (because one always comes). But I am still putting one foot in front of the other.

So kudos to Therapist Lady, the family and friends who once again stepped in and offered exactly the kind of support we've needed over the past few months, and to My Beloved for somehow managing to host the best possible kind of tumour in his noggin.

And as for you, Lucy, you were the best kitty that ever lived. Even though you were, in the end, barely 6 pounds, you've left a huge hole in my heart and in our house. Miss you, pretty princess.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Brain tumour? Why not?

So to recap, there were the five lost babies, the failed fertility treatments, the depleted bank account, the busted mind, the therapy, further depletion of the bank account (re: therapy), resignation, childlessness, a little more therapy, fragile peace.

Actual peace.

It took several years to get to the point where I was mostly okay with this life. I mean, never completely satisfied because of all the missing kids 'n stuff, but mostly okay. Happy even. I got into a cool groove with my niece and nephews and felt them filling in little gaps I didn't know could be filled, and I started to relax into this unwanted life in a way I didn't know was possible.

And then on my motherfucking birthday an optometrist told My Beloved that the weird test results from his visual field test could only mean two things: a stroke or a tumour.


I mean really, no fluff in the eye? No mechanical error? No, "I just got my license and I don't really know what I'm doing"?

Nope. Just a stroke or a tumour.

And, to make a long story short, of course it was a tumour. Of course. Because we don't do anything small around here. If we're going to lose babies, we're going to lose five of them. And if one of us is going to have weird vision issues, it's going to be because of a brain tumour. Obviously.

And just like that, we were once again thrust into a situation for which there is no survival manual. I mean, if you don't count medical textbooks. And we handled it with our usual weirdness. After the diagnosis came, we went out for hamburgers and bought Lego mini figures like there was nothing wrong at all. And we sighed and held hands and said how relieved we were to finally know for sure. THAT HE HAD A BRAIN TUMOUR.

I lied my way through the next two weeks telling My Beloved everything would be fine. Side note: I learned I can lie like a rug. It was truly some Oscar worthy stuff. In fact it was so good I almost believed it myself, at least when he was within arm's reach. But every day when he left for work all I could feel was the crushing weight of his absence, and it terrified me. I couldn't bear him not being with me because I was so desperately afraid that soon he wouldn't be with me.

To be clear, there are other very, very dear people in my life who I love and rely on - but he is my person. He is literally my better half (really - I do mean that literally), and he is also the only person who completely understands this weird life I lead because he leads it too. We are parents to the same missing boy and the same four little sprites who were too tiny for us to meet.

So in addition to all the lying, I did some of my very best praying during those weeks between diagnosis and surgery while he was at work. Actually, it was mostly begging and sobbing, but we'll call it praying.

I got so used to saying, "You're going to be okay" with conviction I didn't feel and confidence I didn't have that the lying became second nature. I hardly had to think about it. I'd hear him sigh, or catch him looking pensive, and the words would come. "You're going to be okay."

Because if you say it enough, maybe it comes true.

I did mostly think he'd be okay, but only because the alternative was too chilling to contemplate. All I knew was that 17 years wasn't even CLOSE to enough time to have together, so to think it was going to end in that operating room on that sunny May day was inconceivable.

And it didn't. He is here and the tumour is gone. Best of all, it was benign. Benign, thank God.

At today's 2-month follow up we got the official all clear. Not only is the surgeon very happy with My Beloved's recovery, the interloper is completely gone and no new hitchhikers have taken up residence in the meantime, so it's back to business as usual.

If you don't count all the blinking, staring into space, and muttering, "What the hell just happened!?"

Yup. Business as usual.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Travel plans?

My Beloved and I have never been big travelers. In fact, the last time either of us was on a plane (or out of the country, for that matter) was more than 13 years ago when we went to Las Vegas for a short mid-winter vacation. We even went low key for our honeymoon, taking the train to Montreal (which was so fabulous. If you've never been to Montreal, go. Go NOW).

Travel has just never been particularly high on our priority list. Babies were.


So now that babies are not on our list at all, pretty much everyone wants to know why we don't travel. Because I guess after people have finished grilling you about why you aren't adopting, the next thing they want to know is why in the hell you aren't traveling. You know, since now you have this fabulously carefree, responsibility-free, kid-free life that parents of young children can only dream of.


To be honest, I had to stop and think about why exactly we don't travel. For a big chunk of my 30s it was because I was immersed in the drama of trying to conceive, being pregnant, and losing babies. I had laser-like focus on family building, and that didn't leave room (or time or money, once we started visiting the fertility clinic on a regular basis--ah, weren't those the days) for planning much of anything else, especially vacations.

I couldn't wrap my head around anything except the idea of bringing a live baby home to stay. That was all that mattered.

And, of course, no babies came home. So we consoled ourselves by cocooning: watching endless hours of Mary Tyler Moore, going for walks together at night, visiting local farms on the weekends, losing ourselves in comic books (him) and yarn (me) and whatever else soothed our pain and took the ache away for a few blissful moments.

That just happened not to include travel.

For some people it does, I guess. But we were battered and bruised and just wanted someplace warm and safe to rest for awhile. And so we did play it safe, sticking close to home where our comforts are, in an environment over which we have as much control as you ever can in life.

As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with that. We all heal differently, after all. Maybe the travel bug will bite us one day. Maybe once we've healed a little more we'll get the urge to throw caution to the wind, pack our bags and run away to some exotic locale. But for now we've had more than enough excitement. Enough to last a million lifetimes, really.

Also, we happen to be content with the way things are. Maybe it appears as though we're frittering away our child-free life by not taking advantage of the kinds of things people with kids can't do as easily. Maybe the Hollywood version of our life story thus far would end with us climbing Mount Everest, cruising the Caribbean or  kissing atop the Eiffel Tower.

But right now it's just us curled up on the couch reading comics and playing with yarn.

Which sounds perfect (for us), if you ask me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Thomas' birthday came and went. Mixed in with the annual busyness of trying to promote his Random Acts of Kindness Day (thanks to everyone who participated and made the world sweeter on my boy's birthday, by the way!), were the usual flood of memories.

It's interesting how the brain protects itself. The unthinkable happened eight years ago. We held that little boy--a tiny, motionless bundle of beauty that I still can't believe I had any part in making--as his fierce little heart fought to beat. We held that little boy after it finally stopped. We buried that little boy in a cold cemetery on a mercifully sunny day in March.

And for most of the year I just think about the ways I miss him and the ways my life is different than the one I'd come so close to having. For most of the year I am okay, triggered now and then by life and the joys others experience that I'll never know, but generally okay. Functional despite the tear in the fabric of my heart that will never mend.

But on and around his birthday, my mind sinks back to those early days of deep, dark confusion and grief. I hear the sounds, I smell the smells, I see the shocking and disturbing detail that my mind somehow locks carefully away for the rest of the year. It floods back during those first days of March. Every year.

I don't know how we're meant to survive this sort of thing. But yet somehow we do. Time pulls us forward, willing or not, and suddenly we're in the next minute, hour, day, week, month, year. Still breathing, still walking, still being.

My mind is quieter now. The birthday is past, the cake is eaten, and the acts of kindness have been recorded, so the memories have quietly started to pack themselves away for another year.

I'll bump into some of them again in the months to come--those sneaky stray bits and pieces that escape now and then--but they'll unpack themselves completely again next March.

And so it goes.

Thomas Joseph, March 9 - 10, 2005
I love you, sweet boy, and I'll miss you forever and ever.

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.