Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Love...

Jackson, I love to listen to you sing "Jingle Bells," especially when, instead of saying "Oh, what fun it is to ride," you say, "Old MacFun it is to ride," as if you're singing Old MacDonald. I'm already sad thinking about the time, very soon, I'm sure, when you're big enough to sing the words correctly.

I also love how you say "Yes" so deliberately and earnestly when responding in the affirmative.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Love Is Alive

Today we decorated a Christmas tree for the first time in our new home. And after five years of being parents, we had the help of a child for the first time. Jackson couldn’t get enough of putting ornaments on the tree—he loved every minute of it, concentrating so hard to open the loops on the ornament hangers and finding a good place on the tree for each of the ornaments I let him hang. Throughout most of it, he sang, “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree” over and over and over (he hasn’t mastered any of the other words just yet).

It has been such an absolute joy watching him catch my love for Christmas. I have been trying hard to share it with him, playing Christmas music all the time, talking with him about Santa and his reindeer, letting him open a Christmas book each night as we count down to Christmas. And he really has taken it all in with gusto.

When we were mostly finished and had started getting dinner ready, this song came up on Pandora:
It was the most fitting ending I could imagine to what had been a very bittersweet afternoon as Jackson and I hung up all our turtle ornaments and looked at Hudson’s picture (he first guessed it was a picture of him). So much sorrow, but so much hope and joy, too.

This is my winter song.
December never felt so wrong,
cause youre not where you belong;
Inside my arms.

I still believe in summer days.
The seasons always change
and life will find a way.

Ill be your harvester of light
and send it out tonight
so we can start again.

Is love alive?

This is my winter song.
December never felt so wrong,
cause youre not where you belong;
inside my arms.

This is my winter song to you.
The storm is coming soon
it rolls in from the sea.

My love a beacon in the night.
My words will be your light
to carry you to me.

I wrote about this song two years ago when I first heard it. It brought me to my knees then, and it did so again today. It started with me facing the stove, trying to wipe my tears away quickly and not let on that I was crying. It ended with me sobbing in Ed’s arms on the couch, Ada sandwiched between us, and Jackson looking on, clearly confused and a little concerned.

I knew this time would come. Up until this point, while I have cried in Jackson’s presence many times, I’ve largely been able to do it without his noticing. I’m not ashamed of crying in front of him, but I do worry about how it will affect him, particularly when he’s not yet quite old enough to fully understand why I’m crying.

He looked at me, brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what was happening, and finally, he said, “Mommy’s crying.” And I said, “Yes, sweetie, Mommy’s crying. I’m feeling a little sad right now. Do you want to give me a hug?” And he came over, climbed into my lap, put his arms around me, and put his head down on my shoulder. We sat there for a few minutes. Then he got down and said, “Mommy needs some medicine!” clearly associating tears with pain, for which he usually takes medicine. Ed said, “Your hug was the best medicine Mommy could get, buddy.”

This moment felt like the beginning of something, a new chapter in this life without Hudson, the one where we begin to try to help her younger siblings understand death, grief, missing, the power of tears, the power of naming our sorrow and sharing it, where we begin to try to help them understand that grief and sorrow are simply another facet of joy and love, and that light will always follow darkness.

Because in our house, love is alive. Even while some remnant of that long, dark winter will always be with us, love is alive.

Friday, December 6, 2013

I Love...

Jackson, I love that in one short season, you've already caught my love for Christmas. Today, you've been wandering around singing, "I wanna wish you a merry Christmas! I wanna wish you a merry Christmas!" I am grateful to you for helping me regain some of the joy of this season I have always loved so much.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy Fifth Birthday, Sweet Hudson

My dearest, sweetest girl,

Happy birthday, my dear one. Today you would be five. Five years old. Five years. It’s the fourth birthday we have spent without you, and we have never missed you more. If I have said on each birthday before that it felt like such a big-kid age, none has felt more so than this one. We see photos of all of your friends from when you were little, and we barely recognize them anymore, so big and kid-like they have grown, all arms and legs, no more little baby chub on their cheeks. I wish I could see you at five. I wish I could hear you at five. I wish I could hug and kiss you at five. I wish I could know you at five.

Our lives tumble along, precious girl—somehow the wide world remains unfazed by your absence even as our own little piece feels it so keenly. Your little brother Jackson turned two in May. Although we talk about you all the time, he still doesn’t yet understand who you are. He knows your face and your name, and when prompted, he knows to say that you are his big sister, but he doesn’t yet comprehend what it means for him to have a sister who is not here. When we told him it was your birthday today, he got very excited—he knows birthdays are fun—and kept saying, “Wanna go to Hudson’s birthday?” and “Wanna go to Hudson’s house?” He doesn’t yet have a concept of the fact that he doesn’t actually know you in real life. But what do I know? Perhaps he knows way more than I realize and knows exactly who you are. Perhaps he’s known you for longer than I could imagine. I certainly like to think so. I think over the course of the next year, he will begin to understand more and ask more of the hard questions that I don’t even have an answer to. Where are you? (I don’t know.) Why did you die? (I don’t know.) Why aren’t you with us? (I don’t know.) Can you still see us and hear us? (Oh, I hope so.) Can we still see you and hear you? (I like to think so, if we look and listen very hard.) I only hope that when these questions come, I will find a way to answer them that helps him feel close to you, that helps him feel like you are right there with him all the time, that you are his big sister every step of the way, even though you can’t walk right beside him. I have a feeling you will help me with that when the time comes, just like you have helped me with so many other things in the past five years.

And Hudson, oh, Hudson. Your baby sister Ada was born in August, and she, too, looks just like you and Jackson but in her own little way. Right now, at about three-and-a-half months, she looks much like you did when you were about a month old. I can’t wait to tell her all about you one day. But oh, how sad for her I am that she will never get to know her big sister in life. She will need you so much, and I am so sorry that she will only get to have you in spirit, in her heart. She deserves to have you right here with her, bossing her around, locking her out of your room, hugging her tight while she cries on your shoulder, screaming at her to get out of the bathroom, whispering secrets that only sisters can share. She will need you, and I wish so much that she could have you. I promise you that I will do my very best to make sure she, too, knows that you are always there with her and for her, even when you can’t be right beside her.

So many people celebrated you today.  All your friends from our old home in D.C., where you were born and died, got together today at your bench at the Arboretum to celebrate your birthday. Their moms and dads posted pictures and videos of them eating cupcakes and wishing you happy birthday. It looked like a great party—the only thing missing was you. Like we have in years past, we spent our day together, remembering and loving you in a very special way, by sharing pieces of your spirit with the world. We donated some doggie toys to a few different places that take care of animals. We took a bunch of toys and books to the Ronald McDonald house. On the way in, we saw a little statue of an angel holding a turtle. Jackson handed the toys to the weekend manager and told her that they were for your birthday. I told her your story, and she told me that her older brother had also died before she was born, and that her life was different because of it. That made me sad and glad all at the same time, for although my heart is as broken as ever that you are not with us, the idea that your absence will make all our lives different, in a good way, brings me so much comfort. It is the only thing that does, for what I want more than anything is for your spirit to keep on working its magic, in big and small ways, forever.

We did these little One Good Things, but somehow they didn’t feel quite right—not necessarily that they are not enough, not that they are not “good” enough, but just not quite right anymore. I’m going to keep thinking about new ways to honor the amazing little person you were in the years to come. Your little brother has already started one new tradition for your birthday. He overheard me mention to your daddy that your old friends had celebrated at your bench with cupcakes, and he said, “Want some cupcakes?” How could I refuse? So from now on, we will add birthday cupcakes to our annual celebration of your birthday. I’m sure as your brother and sister get older, they’ll have even better ideas of how we can remember you and honor your life on each first day of December—kids’ hearts are just the right size for those kinds of things.

I miss you more than ever, sweet girl. As I’ve known ever since you died, watching your younger siblings grow and change and flourish only makes ever more evident what we lost when we lost you. We spent a good portion of Thanksgiving weekend decorating the house for Christmas and playing Christmas music. Your brother is already eagerly crooning, “Do you hear what I hear?” and “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose” and snippets of so many others of my favorite Christmas songs. And when your dad plugged in the first string of lights to test them before hanging them outside, Jackson’s face lit up with a huge grin. He has already caught my love of Christmas, and while I am so happy to share it with him, I am so very sad that I’ll never get to share it with you, or hear you sing, or see your shiny smile in the glow of a string of Christmas lights. But One Good Thing is that your face, your smile, your spirit, your heart—YOU—are alive in your little brother and sister. I can see you in Jackson and Ada in so many ways, and I am so grateful.

We will spend the rest of our lives keeping you alive in us, sweet Hudson. As your mother, it is the most important job I will ever have, and next to being able to mother you in life, it is the one I will cherish most dearly.

You are gone but you should not be. But, following your lead, I will cherish what is— that your dad’s and my lives, and so many others, are changed forever because you were in them. Your smile, joyful laugh, mischievous ways, sweet voice, and wise countenance are indelibly burned on my heart-- I would do anything to hear you say “Mama” just one more time. You are gone but you should not be. Thank you for helping me cherish what is. I love you.

Happy fifth birthday, my dear girl. I am going to eat my cupcake for you now. I love you and miss you, always.

Love,

Mommy

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Do One Good Thing for Hudson’s Fifth Birthday



Five. In five days, Hudson should be turning five. This birthday feels bigger, more momentous somehow than birthdays past—unfathomable. It is our fourth without her—unfathomable. We’d be getting ready to send her to kindergarten next fall—unfathomable.

It occurred to me this morning that for the first time since she was born, her birthday falls on Thanksgiving weekend. She was born the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2008. When I left my office on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I did some wrapping up and packing up, because I just had a feeling that I might not be back. It was an odd hunch, because she was not due to arrive until December 10, and first babies are not necessarily famous for coming early. But my hunch was right, and I woke up early on the Sunday after Thanksgiving with regular contractions that increased over the course of the day. She was born at 7:19 the next morning.

And here we are. Five years later. Another Thanksgiving weekend. Another birthday. But no Hudson.

I wrote at this time last year that she felt farther away from me than ever. This year, she feels closer than she has in a long time. That is what grief does to you. What it does for you. I have felt the weight of my grief more acutely in the last few months than I have in a long time. On Friday night, I cried myself to sleep for the first time in as long as I can remember (and woke up the next morning with the accompanying intense ache behind my eyeballs that makes me wish I never had to open my eyes again). And because I feel closer to my grief, I feel closer to my girl. Such an strange ebb and flow.

But here we are at another birthday. Last year, we had to find some new One Good Things to do in honor of Hudson’s life now that we live in our old home again. We again took toys and treats to the animal shelter, and instead of taking toys and books to the children’s hospital here, we opted instead to give them to the Ronald McDonald House nearby. And we made our annual donation to the National Arboretum, where Hudson’s bench and a very tiny portion of her ashes remain (the only portion that is separated from the rest, which sit in a ceramic jar on my bedside table). We’ll do these same things again this year, to celebrate Hudson’s life in ways that we know honor the wonderful spirit that she was and the things that she loved and the people who cared for her in her last hours.  Thanksgiving weekend seems like an especially lovely time to do these things in her memory.

As we have in years past, we also invite you to do One Good Thing sometime this week or on December 1st. And please share with anyone else you know who might want to help us celebrate her life in this special way. And as in years past, if you are so inclined, we would love to hear from you about your One Good Thing, so feel free to leave a comment here about it.

I will end the way I always have: We can’t stop it from coming. We can’t bring Hudson back. But in the spirit of the lesson she taught us, we can continue to help her light shine in the world by finding the One Good Thing, and this week, that means doing One Good Thing. Thank you all so much.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Things We’ve Handed Down

I recently read Liane Moriarty’s new book, The Husband’s Secret. One certainly could not have guessed from the title or description of this book that dead and maimed children would figure so prominently in it, so I dove into it unsuspectingly, only to find myself reading words that I could have written myself as the author describes one mother’s deep grief over her daughter’s death nearly thirty years before. Some of her descriptions were so apt that I found myself researching the author on the internet to see if she herself had lost a child (she hadn’t).

At one point this mother, whose daughter died at age seventeen, wonders aloud whether her daughter would have liked Tupperware parties. The passage continues, “She tried, and failed, as she always did, to imagine Janie as a forty-five-year-old woman.”

And I thought about the countless times in the last three-and-a-half years that I have tried to do this very same thing, tried to imagine what Hudson would look like, tried to imagine what she would be like, tried to imagine what she would be interested in. But even as I watch all of her age-group peers grow up in Facebook photos and videos, I find it impossible to imagine her face, her personality, her voice.

When I read that passage and thought about how impossible it is to imagine Hudson at almost five years old, I was suddenly jealous of this fictional grieving mother. Irrationally and in my head, I yelled at this woman who does not even exist. “At least you have some idea of what your daughter would be like at forty-five! You knew her at seventeen! You knew what she looked like as a grown person! You knew her personality as a young woman! You think YOU can’t imagine what your daughter would be like at forty-five!”

Now that we have two children at home, I find myself trying to picture her here in our lives far more often than I ever did when we had just Jackson. Somehow, the hole where she is supposed to be feels bigger now that we are four instead of five than it did when we were three instead of four. It’s almost like now that we have two at home, it’s what it was supposed to be all this time, and yet it’s not at all what it’s supposed to be.

What role would she play in this barely controlled chaos that is our daily life? Where would she sit at the table? Would her brother idolize her? Would her hair have gotten curlier as it grew or would it still be stick-straight, thin, and wispy like it was the day she left us?

And then there are all the years and questions that remain. What would she be like? Would she be stubborn like me? Silly like her father? Would her hair turn redder as she grew older, like mine did? Would she adopt some of our mannerisms like so many children do? Would we be close? Would she hate me for a time? A long time? Would I pass on to her my worst qualities? My best? How would she spend her life?

I don’t know. I’ll never know. While I’m so incredibly grateful for the seventeen months and twelve days I had to know her, it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t nearly enough.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Undone

Tonight at dinner, a woman at a nearby table was admiring Ada in Ed’s arms. Then she said, “And she’s got a good big brother, too!” I just looked at Jackson, who smiled at her goofily, as he does with most strangers. “A boy and a girl. That’s good.” Or maybe she said “perfect” or “just right”—I have no idea, because I’d stopped listening after “a boy and a girl.” I smiled at her half-heartedly and looked away again.

I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve endured the different permutations of this same conversation over the last few years.

“Is this your first?”

“How many kids do you have?” “How old are they?”

“What are you having?” “And what do you have at home?”

And for some reason, everyone thinks that a boy and a girl is “just perfect.”

And maybe it is for some. But it’s not for me.

Because of course, Ada and Jackson have a big sister, too. We had a girl and a boy (“Oh, perfect!”) when Jackson was born, and now we have two girls and a boy. And it’s not even remotely perfect.

I have entered the deepest period of prolonged sadness over Hudson’s death that I have experienced in a long time. Perhaps it is because the first of her peers celebrated his fifth birthday last month with a trip to Disneyworld. Perhaps it is because her own fifth birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Perhaps it is because I can see her face in her little sister’s face every time I put Ada’s cheek next to mine and look in the mirror.

Mostly though, I think it’s the terrible sense of incompleteness. In everything. We’re supposed to be complete now.  We’re supposed to be done.

Although we hadn’t completely decided before Hudson was born, Ed and I both usually talked about having three children. Two seemed too few, four seemed too many. Three seemed a good number. (“Perfect!” “Just right!”)

After Hudson died, I think I became even more convinced that I wanted to three living children. Having lost one child already, having learned how little control I have over the fates of my children, I felt ever more vulnerable to the possibility of losing another. And if that happened, I didn’t want the remaining child to be all alone, with no sibling to share the grief with, with no sibling to help care for aging parents (and we will age earlier in their lives than a lot of other parents will because we were older when we started—and after Hudson died, we were even older when we started again).

But being pregnant at 37 was a much different, and much harder, experience than being pregnant at 32. That third pregnancy was tougher in many ways than the first. And I didn’t plan on going through the really intense newborn and young infant period four times, either—the crying, the constant nursing, the sleep deprivation—all of that is really different at 37 than at 32, too. And if we wait another two years for another baby, it will then be another two or three years after that before all of our kids are finally semi-independent, before we will be in a position to really do lots of adventurous things with our other friends, most of whom are now done having kids. We’ll have almost seven more years of worrying about childcare, rather than three or four. I’ll be almost 40 if and when we have that fourth, which in and of itself is not a big deal, but when I remember that my own mother died of cancer at 56, the calculus changes somewhat.

None of that really matters, of course, in the grand scheme of things. Those difficulties are mostly short-lived, and compared to the lifelong joy that a fourth child, a third living child, would bring us, they can hardly justify a decision not to have one. And yet.

But that’s not the point. The point is that we’re supposed to be done. I’m supposed to be done. I’m supposed to have my perfect three right now. I’m supposed to be gearing up to send a kid to kindergarten next fall. I’m supposed to be busy explaining to my big girl why Disney princesses are not the end-all, be-all of womanhood. I’m supposed to be protecting my two-month-old from two overly enthusiastic siblings, not just one. I’m supposed to already be asking for tables of five. Already booking plane tickets for five.

I’m not supposed to still be thinking about whether to have another child. I’m not supposed to be weighing the pros and cons of enduring another pregnancy, another infancy. I’m not supposed to be thinking about whether I’ll live long enough to get all of my kids at least off to college.

I’m not supposed to be mourning a child.

I’m supposed to be done.

And yet I feel totally undone. Completely, totally, utterly undone.