Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More Surprises

I was remarking to Ed that I was sad that the last picture I thought we had of Hudson and me together was this one from our visit to the cherry blossom festival in early April:

When I mentioned it to Ed, he remembered all of a sudden that we had a few pictures from our trip to Chicago a week or so later that we’d taken on his Blackberry (mine, as you may recall, had been “disappeared” by the munchkin earlier in the weekend at our friends’ apartment—this was the same trip from which our friends recently discovered a video of Hudson we’d never seen).

After Hudson died, I remember being so upset that we hadn’t had room to take our camera on that trip (we were trying not to check any bags so we could avoid the ridiculous bag fees). Hudson had her first (and sadly and unexpectedly, her last) visit with her own personal petting zoo at her aunt and uncle’s farm outside of Chicago, where they raise Icelandic sheep (one superbly named Tar Heel), llamas, and chickens. She was particularly enamored of the chickens and busied herself with chasing them around as much as we (and they) would let her.

So you can imagine my excitement to learn that we actually did have a few pictures of her from that visit. I was again filled with anticipation to see what the pictures might hold. And was I rewarded. They are grainy, but otherwise perfect. Look how fascinated she was. I just can’t get enough of that face—inquisitive and piercing, yet decidedly impish and joyful. And yet I’m filled with sorrow to know that I will never see it again, that its bearer was taken from us long before she ever had the chance to explore all the adventures to which her curiosity would have drawn her, that these are, I think, the last pictures I have of us together. My girl, so amazing.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Talking, Part Two

Many folks commented that it seems like a bit of peace has woven its way into my posts, if not my actual day-to-day experience, as of late. And you’re right. One of the benefits of regular writing is that I can look back and see where I was at any given point in this process and where I’ve come since then. And when I read my entries from last week, I, too, can see a subtle shift. But I felt the shift, too, a break of some sort from the persistent, deep, painful sorrow that seemed to pervade my days during the first three months since Hudson died. During those three months, I definitely experienced momentary relief from the burden of that sorrow here and there, but last week was the first week where the pattern was the other way around, where the weight on my chest felt lighter for all but a few very low, anguished moments.

And that is hard. It’s difficult to explain why it is so very hard to even acknowledge that I had a week where the good moments outweighed the bad. I don’t totally understand it myself—I just know and feel it very profoundly in my heart. As Claire commented on Saturday’s post, my desire to remain intimately connected to Hudson is equaled only by my desire for some relief from this awful pain, and those two desires have long seemed to be conflicting, as I’ve written many times. It is just terribly difficult to be able to appreciate the respite when it feels, simultaneously, like leaving her behind somehow. What I should hope for, and what I am trying to figure out how to actively work toward, is the day when I can reconcile those things, when I can know in my heart, and not just in my head, that I can get relief from the pain of losing Hudson without feeling like I am losing her again.

Many times since Hudson died, I have found myself just spontaneously talking out loud to her. Sometimes it happens when I am looking at a picture. Sometimes it happens when I just wander into her room for no reason. Sometimes it happens when I am in the playroom where her ashes sit in a ceramic lidded jar, hugged by her Elmo doll, on the memorial table that remains covered with her pictures, books, and artwork. Sometimes it happens in the car. Today, I stopped in front of her Easter egg picture, my very favorite of her because it just radiates her great big joyful bubbly spirit. I stopped in front of that picture and just started talking to her. Tears came immediately to my eyes, a lump immediately to my throat, but I kept talking. I told her that it is the first day of kindergarten for lots of our friends, and how sad I am that she is never going to have one of those. I touched her nose and her hair in her picture, and told her how I can’t believe that it has been three and a half months since I last held her, or kissed her little cheek, or swept her hair out of her face, or stroked her nose, or heard her say “nose” and “eyes” and “mouth” and “mama.” I told her how sorry I am that I couldn’t protect her, that I couldn’t save her, so that she could be here with us now, so that we could tell her we love her in person. I told her that I miss her so much, every single day, that it is impossible to say how much I miss her. I told her that I hoped she could somehow hear me. I cried hard.

And then I felt better. Almost immediately, I just felt lighter. I was actually surprised at how much so. I don’t recall this happening when I’ve tried talking to her before.

There is no explaining any part of this process of grief. There is nothing rational about it. There is nothing neat about it. There is nothing linear about it. It just is what it is. And it generally stinks. Any time I have tried to bend it to my will, tried to anticipate and avoid triggers, tried to escape its clutches, I have only ended up sorely disappointed and smacking my forehead for my inability to recognize the futility of such efforts.

But talking to Hudson today helped. And you can bet I will do it again in hopes that it might be one way to seek some peace while keeping her close at the very same time.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


We took a long bike ride up the gorgeous C&O Canal trail this morning, from the Chain Bridge to Great Falls, about 20 miles roundtrip. Ed and our friend Shawn kept a pretty good lead on my sadly too-long-sedentary self, leaving me a lot of time to myself to think. As we near the end of August, the sun is already starting to cast its light in that way that reminds me of the photographs taken during my young childhood in the late seventies, the kind with just a hint of sepia haze over them. The changing light always makes fall such a nostalgic time for me anyway, but I imagine never moreso than it will this fall.

When we got to Great Falls today, we wandered down the boardwalks, looking out over the grand rushing Potomac. Moms and dads ambled around with babies in backpacks, strollers, carriers. I wanted so much to be one of them, to have my girl up in her backpack, chattering away to us about the birds, the dogs, the other babies. I said to Ed, “I miss her,” a thought I have so many times each day that it might as well just be one continuous thought. He said, “I know. She would have had so much fun here.” And she would have. It’s so very hard to contemplate all the things she would have enjoyed. All the things we would have enjoyed with her.

On our way back from our bike ride, we stopped by the Subway on our street for some lunch. We drove by a grassy spot nearby what used to be the Sunday farmers’ market in our neighborhood. Last summer, we spent many a Sunday afternoon grabbing a sandwich at Subway, having lunch in that grassy spot, with Hudson learning to crawl around, and then checking out what was on offer at the market that day. We parked the car and walked up the hill and I said, “I sure do miss her.” And he said, “Yeah.” I squeezed his hand. Neither of us ever need say more. We do this so many times each day that it would seem almost meaningless if each of us did not know the deep yearning behind those few little words.

Every moment of every day is filled with longing—all that changes is the quality of the longing. Sometimes the longing is intense and piercing, an agonizing reminder of all we have lost—this kind can quickly bring me to tears, and then sobs. Sometimes it is more like a subdued ache, coupled with sweet memories of how good we had it—this kind makes me pensive and wistful.

As the fall sun that I used to love so much begins to cast longer and longer shadows on the ground, as the light grows hazier, as the air grows chill and the leaves begin to crunch beneath our feet, I am hopeful that the longing, too, becomes less piercing and more subdued, less painful and more pensive. Fall has always worked a little magic on me. I hope it will this year, too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Sad-Happy Day

Another (mostly) good day. Hooray. I had a really great time with my dad and brother—the camaraderie shared over mutual enjoyment of thrill rides is pretty awesome. Even coming home to find that the brand new A/C is not working again (ARGH) didn’t put too much of a damper on the lingering warm feelings from the day.

The only sad moments I had today were not unlike the ones I had the last time I went to an amusement park, about four weeks after Hudson died, right around the time I started this blog. But today’s sadness felt more wistful and nostalgic than sharp and painful. Today, my eye kept being drawn to the many little girls at the park, little girls of all ages, from Hudson’s age up through teenagers. I just couldn’t stop wondering what my little girl would have looked like, what she would have been like at those ages. Would she finally have gotten enough hair for some pigtails? Would she have grown tall and lanky? Would she be a squirmer or would she have been patient? (I have a pretty good guess on this one.) Would she still have let her daddy hold her hand even when she was eleven or twelve? Would she have liked roller coasters like her mama?

Long before Hudson died, Ed and I used to talk about how weird it was to not know what your child will look like when she is older, when she is five and ten and twenty years old. I am sitting here just growing sadder and sadder thinking about how we will never know (have I mentioned how much grief sucks this way?). This picture is the oldest she will ever look. Oh, my girl, we miss you so much.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nothing to Report

I’m glad to report that there’s not much to report today. I had long conversations with three dear friends and put another coat of paint on the new blue bathroom. Best of all, I smiled to myself when I brought some laundry up from the basement, thinking about when Hudson used to wait for me behind the door at the top of the stairs. I’d call to her as I was climbing up and she’d bend over to peer underneath the door and then giggle (“sssstttt!”) when she saw me. I’d stick my fingers under the door and play with hers, and then open the door and swoop her up into a hug. My sweet girl. 

It was a day with only one brief teary moment, when talking with a friend at lunch. The last time I had a day like that, I felt terrible and filled with guilt, wondering what was wrong with me that I hadn’t cried harder that day. Today, I see it as a good thing, even if it ultimately proves just to be a time of rest before another round of acute grieving.

Tomorrow, I’m meeting my dad and brother at an amusement park near Richmond, where we’ll ride roller coasters all day. Is it too much to hope for three pretty decent days in a row?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Physical Spaces, Visceral Reactions

A lot of you already know that I decided back in June that I just couldn’t return to my job as a federal public defender. There are lots of reasons why that I’ll write about later, but one in particular became painfully clear to me this morning when I went in to the office for an hour or so to talk to my boss and a law firm associate who will be helping with the murder trial I was working on during the four months I was there before Hudson died. I went in on the early side so I could look things over before this meeting, and stopped at the deli downstairs for a bagel and a Coke. Just like I used to do many, many mornings between January 4 and May 7, my last day in the office before Hudson got sick. Before I even realized what was happening, I was taking a deep breath and blinking back tears. I felt like I had been punched in the face, as I took in the realization that I was going through the morning routine of my life as it existed on May 7, when, in fact, that life no longer exists. I was beginning my day like I often did, but now with the knowledge that I will never end it the same way again: by picking up Hudson at school. And that just wasn’t right.

Since we got back from North Carolina after Hudson’s memorial service, Ed and I have been hard at work on a number of repairs and improvements that have been on the back burner since we moved into this house three years ago. We put them off at the beginning because we were both working long hours at our new jobs and the last thing we wanted to do on the weekends was more work. Then Hudson was born and brought with her joy like we had never experienced before and the last thing we wanted to do on the weekends with her was work.

No more job. No more sweet Hudson. A totally different life. I started calling repairmen and contractors. We got a new porch and painted it gray instead of the dark blue it was before. We replaced the leaky skylight in the bathroom, and in addition to solving the leak problem, the new skylight brings a lot more light into the room. We painted the downstairs bathroom a smoky mauve color and put a new toilet and vanity in there.

Today, I painted the upstairs bathroom, changing the walls from an ugly canary yellow to a peaceful ice blue. And for the first time today, it occurred to me that all this activity around the house may not be just about finally having the time to get it all done. It might seem to an outsider like we are trying to leave an old life behind, to forget about it. And maybe there is something to that notion—certainly it’s possible that by painting the bathroom blue, I am somehow trying to leave behind the space where I bathed Hudson in that cool bath early that Monday morning to get her fever down so we could wait for the pediatrician’s office to open, that by changing the physical space, I might somehow also leave behind me the terrible guilt that is still associated with that image in my mind. That’s possible. Even though I know it won’t work.

But I think it’s more likely that perhaps we’re trying to transform our physical space so that we have a tangible way of remembering (and telling everyone else) that we’re not living the same old life in the same old space. A way of saying that we, too, are transformed. We’ve already pondered at great length what we might do with Hudson’s room if we end up having another baby while we still live in this house. If she were still with us, we’d have done nothing at all—the new baby would have just taken right over and Hudson would have moved into her own room. But we don’t live in that life anymore. We thought that at a bare minimum, we would switch the positions of the changing table and the crib so that at least the room won’t feel the same, like we’re somehow living the same life we had with Hudson except with a new child. At least that baby would go to bed with his or her head facing a different direction, looking at different scenery in the room.

Blue walls. Not starting over (as if we could start over). Not forgetting (as if we could forget). No, it’s a way of remembering that our lives will never be the same because of our amazing child who was with us for far too short a time. Our lives are transformed. Maybe our physical space should be, too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Seeing Through

This afternoon, I was at home making some homemade banana pudding (had to do something with those too-ripe bananas; I still have enough left over for banana bread, too). In the process of making the custard for the pudding, I found I needed both a wire whisk and a mesh strainer, two of Hudson’s favorite utensils to pull out of the drawers and play with. I examined them, remembering that beautiful, curious creature turning them over and over in her hands, putting them in her mouth to see what she might discover about them. I smiled. I didn’t cry.

Then I decided after my last good experience listening to music in the kitchen without her, maybe I’d try it again. Carolina in My Mind came on. These days, I’d usually immediately skip past it, thinking I wouldn’t be able to bear the sadness that would ultimately come as I remembered singing this song to Hudson all the time when she was much younger, rocking her on my shoulder, rubbing her back in the crib, trying to get her to go to sleep. But I steeled myself and hung in there. And it was OK. I sang along. And I smiled. I didn’t cry.

A few songs later, Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work was up. It’s hauntingly beautiful and would easily bring me to tears on a happy day even before Hudson died. Since she died, it has taken on a new meaning for me when I think about all the things we’ll never get to do with our girl. I’ve listened to it only once, on the day I last wrote about it. Anytime since then, when just those first few notes were enough to put me on the floor, I’ve quickly and purposely skipped it. Today, I decided not to. As I listened, I tried to focus not on those words that are saddest for me (Give me these moments back…), but the ones that are most hopeful:

         I know you have a little life in you yet.
        I know you have a lot of strength left.

I sang along. And I smiled. And then I cried.

So many of you have offered so many welcome words of encouragement these last few days, days that have again been sadder than usual. You have so much confidence and optimism that someday joy will break through this sorrow, that there is light at the end of this very long dark tunnel, that hope remains even on the most desperate of days. And I know you are right. I KNOW you are right, but some days this omnipresent grief just makes it harder than others to remember that.

So on afternoons like this one, when I can see through the grief even for a moment, I grab on. I may not be able to hold on for very long, but I figured I’d seize the chance to write about it while I could. And then maybe tomorrow, when I’m fogged in and grasping again, I can come read this. And I can remember. And I can smile. And maybe cry. But crying through a smile is surely better than just plain crying.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Hate Weekends

I used to love the weekends. When Hudson was alive, I pretty much lived for the weekends. Weekends were the time when Hudson, her dad, and I had uninterrupted time to hang out, have fun, and just be together.

These days, I hate the weekends. I really hate them. This seems a little counterintuitive that the weekends are worse than the weekdays, since I spend the weekdays mostly alone at home, whereas at least Ed is at home with me on the weekends. While I am glad to have him home with me on Saturday and Sunday, it is these days when I feel Hudson’s absence the most, when I am reminded the most of what a complete 180 we’ve been forced to make in our lives completely against our will.

Some of our favorite things we used to do on the weekends:

Say hi to all the animals at the zoo

Visit Poppy and Grandma and Grandpa in North Carolina and tool around in Poppy’s boat

Hike around the Arboretum and look at all the flowers

Run around and play at the National Mall


Hang out with Bess

Hang out with Bess some more

Watch planes take off and land at Gravelly Point

Chill with our mama- and daddy- friends at happy hour on Friday afternoons (and eat black beans)

Play in the snow in the winter

Rock in the rocking chair (saying “rocky-rock, rocky-rock”)

Name all the animals at the Museum of Natural History
Play with cool toys and run around the HUGE atrium at the Building Museum
Go to the farmer’s market in the summer
Make cinnamon raisin French toast and cheese grits for the munchkin on Sunday mornings (with leftovers for Monday’s lunch)

Other things we’d be doing on the weekends this summer if our sweet Hudson were here:

Swimming at our many community pools or just in a baby pool in the backyard
Teaching our big girl how to use the potty and sleep in a big-girl bed
Checking out the many county fairs around DC
Taking long bike rides in the bike trailer we were getting ready to buy right before Hudson died
Picking our own strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and any number of other summer fruits we could find at local farms
Baking pies with Hudson using the fruit we picked together
Reading bigger and more complex books with her
Helping her learn to use crayons and markers
Going to playgroups with all of her friends
Attending the birthday parties of her many friends who are turning one and two years old
Teaching our girl to learn to love camping in our National Parks
Taking her to Jazz in the Sculpture Garden on Fridays
Visiting the National Gallery and letting her start learning about art

Things we would not be doing on the weekends if our Hudson were here:

Sanitizing and packing her toys away in boxes
Running errands without regard to nap schedules and mealtimes
Going to the movies regularly
Writing thank you notes for all the innumerable kindnesses we’ve received in the last three months
Painting our new porch ourselves (we’d have paid someone to do it so that we could spend the time with our girl)
Avoiding eating French toast and cheese grits, because it’s just too damn sad
Writing on this outrageously sad blog on days when my stat counter shows readership drops off (presumably because everyone is out doing fun things, including our friends with kids, who are out doing fun things with them)

I know that there are lots of fun things that Ed and I could be doing on the weekends without Hudson. We did them together often before she was born. But that, of course, is totally beside the point—doing all of those things feels equally sad, because we should be doing something else. I also know that if we’re lucky, these sad weekends will one day be different, and we’ll have more children to cherish and enjoy and savor these days with. But for now, the weekends are one of the worst reminders that for the time being, I am a childless mother. And for that, I hate them.

Friday, August 20, 2010


This morning, I took the van to get the oil changed for the first time since right after Hudson died, when Ed took it in before we drove to North Carolina for the memorial service there. I had an appointment but still had to wait almost an hour and a half. In the meantime, there was a little boy there in the waiting room, sitting with what looked like his grandma. He was probably about two and a half or three years old, with tight curls all over his head and big brown eyes. He was squirmy and didn’t want to stay in his chair, and every time he got up, his grandma told him to sit back down. I tried not to watch as she gave him a fruit bar, as he sucked down whatever liquid was in his sippy cup, as he crawled all over his grandma, sometimes sitting straddled in her lap with his head on her chest. He babbled a fair bit and either I didn’t understand what he was saying or just wasn’t paying attention enough to hear the details of what he was saying.

Until, out of nowhere, I looked over and he held his hands in the air and said, “Up!” and then put them down and said, “Down!” I wasn’t sure I’d heard right, so I watched him for a minute, only to see him repeat the motion and the words again. I managed not to cry and actually felt a smile rising to my face, as I remembered this very same, very precious gesture by my little Hudson on many, many occasions. She’d say, “Up!” (hands in the air). Then, “Down!” (hands to the ground). She’d repeat it again and again, so delighted with her skills. “Hudson, which way is up?” (points to the sky and smiles). “Which way is down?” (points to the ground). Even though I have no idea what I believe about what comes next, I smiled to myself, thinking maybe Hudson was stopping in to say hello, there in the Midas waiting room, after her mama’s really crappy week. Then I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and held back the tears.

Later, as I picked up a few last-minute things to make dinner, I realized I was about to make chicken quesadillas for the first time since Hudson died. These were a staple around our house when Hudson was with us, and always made the perfect leftovers to send for her lunch. As I was cutting up the rotisserie chicken to put inside the quesadillas, I was consciously thinking I didn’t need to cut it into such small pieces as I used to, but I was subconsciously doing it anyway. I looked down and realized I’d cut the whole chicken breast into Hudson-sized pieces in spite of myself.

I was feeling quiet and sad as I made dinner, wishing I could remember the time I’d last made quesadillas for her. I did it so often. I thought about turning on the iPod for some company, then rejected the idea. It had been a long time since I’d put music on while making dinner—it was just too much like all the evenings she and I spent together after school, listening to music, me making dinner while she played around in the kitchen and playroom. But finally I decided I’d try it, thinking maybe, just maybe, it would feel OK. I turned the iPod on and couldn’t believe it when the first song on the shuffle was Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” one of mine and Hudson’s favorite songs to dance and sing to together. A few songs later and up came “Seasons of Love,” from Rent, one of Hudson’s all-time favorites. Every time it came on in the car, on the CD we’d made for her 1st birthday party favor, I had to prepare myself to listen to it over and over again, because as soon as it ended, she’d say “Mo? Mo?” and I could see her in the car seat mirror making the sign for “More!” If I even tried to let the CD go on to the next song, she’d start to complain. So I just set the CD player on “repeat,” figuring there were much worse songs to have to listen to many times in a row.  It was the theme of her memorial services, and the last song in the slideshow. 

I said to Ed, “Wow. Hudson’s just talking to me today.”

As “Seasons of Love” wound down, Ed came up behind me at the stove and wrapped his arms around my waist, laying his head on my shoulder. The song ended. I was already crying. I said, “Mo? Mo?” If only I could have more.

Books for Hudson: Still Collecting Them Until September 1

Just wanted to post a reminder that if you want to participate in this particular One Good Thing, Lynn and Rich Matheny will be collecting children's books to donate to the DC Public Library in Hudson's memory until September 1.  Thank you so much to everyone who has sent a book already.  As of August 12, the book total was at 145, including one from the UK.  Such a beautiful way to remember and honor our girl.  How I wish we could sit and read all those books with her. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hidden Treasure

In mid-April, about a month before Hudson died, I took a trip to Chicago to interview a witness. Ed and Hudson came with me to visit some friends and family who live there. On Friday night of that week, Hudson and I had dinner at the home of my college friends Jason and Megan and their two kids. Ed was not feeling well so he stayed back at the hotel. Ed, Hudson, and I had spent a beautiful afternoon at the Lincoln Park Zoo, where Hudson had gotten some incredible close-up views of gorillas and the big cats, two of her favorite animals. She wasn’t sure what to make of being able to be so close to the gorillas—she was utterly fascinated, but kept one hand on my leg at all times, clearly not totally aware that there was a sheet of glass between her and the big apes.

Hudson had a blast playing with Megan’s kids, 3-year-old Eve and 13-month-old Logan, especially playing with their kitchen set, a toy we had not yet gotten around to getting for her. I had great fun drinking Megan’s fantastic margaritas, made with not only tequila, but also Captain Morgan’s. Ed called around 6:30, and I answered my cell phone and after talking to him, I put it back in my purse on the floor down the hall. Megan and Jason and I chatted while the kids played. Later, when Megan dropped us back off at the hotel, I fished in my purse for my phone as I headed to the front door and couldn’t find it anywhere. I got upstairs and texted (or emailed? I’m not even sure how I got in touch with them, since I had their numbers in my phone, which was lost) Megan and Jason and asked them to see if they saw the phone anywhere in the apartment or the car. It was nowhere to be found. We went back over the next morning and helped them look and it was just gone. I had a sneaking suspicion that my little monkey, who had recently started enjoying placing items inside other things (like bags and pockets, etc.), had “disappeared” my phone somewhere in the apartment. To this day, it hasn’t been found. The last phone call made to it was when Ed called me earlier that night.

The phone was lost, but out of nowhere, something very special was found from that visit. Megan emailed me earlier this week and told me that while going through pictures from the last few months, they had found a video Jason had taken of Logan pushing Hudson down the hall on a ride-on toy (one of her favorite toys at home). I was floored. Here I thought I had seen every last image of my little girl that I would ever see in my life, and all of a sudden, there was a new one. I would get to see another picture of that beautiful face, those plump cheeks, and, if I was lucky, that smile that made everything OK, even on the worst days.

I waited anxiously while Megan tried to figure out how to get the video to me. I wanted to see it before she shared it on Facebook, because I knew that watching it was going to be intensely emotional and personal. Since it was such a large file, we figured YouTube was the best (and quickest) way for her to share it. I literally had knots in my stomach while I waited today for her to get it to me (and I’m so grateful to her for working so hard to figure out all the privacy kinks).

Finally, the video was sitting in my inbox, waiting for me to watch it. Megan’s message said, “One of my favorite parts of the video is watching Hudson smile until she realizes that Jason is taking the video and then she won’t take her eyes off him. My other favorite part is watching my friend who is happy and at peace, and with time you will find it again.” The smile. There would be a smile. I had such mixed feelings. I couldn’t wait to see it, but I also knew how sad-happy it would make me, to see my girl again, but also to know, again, that it was probably the last “new” image of her I’d ever get to see.

Here is what I saw:

I immediately started sobbing, like I knew I would. I cried and cried and cried. I cried because I was so happy to see her again. I cried because I will never see her again. I cried because this is one of the only videos I have of her and me together (Ed was much more of a picture-taking guy). I cried because I barely recognize the woman in that video anymore—I recognize her clothes, her hair, her voice, but other than that, I have no idea who she is. I cried because the video is such a perfect illustration of the amazing creature that Hudson was. Her impish grin along with that “sssstt” sound she always made with her tongue when she was really getting a kick out of something. And then her serious, observant, perceptive “Whatchou talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” face when she realized she was being filmed. God, how I miss that grin, that face. And she’s wearing her now-iconic (to us, at least) turtle shirt. From the pictures of her last few months, you would think she never wore anything else. And now she’ll never wear it again.

Oh, my amazing, precocious, beautiful, sweet, loving, charming, brilliant little girl. My turtle. I miss her every agonizing second of every mind-bending day in this new world without her. I’m so grateful to have seen her face again, even for only 26 seconds. They may never find the phone, but this video of her that we didn’t know existed is an infinitely better hidden treasure. And maybe, like Megan said, just maybe that unrecognizable woman in the video is still hiding somewhere, too, waiting for the right moment to be found.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When It Rains…

It was gray outside and pouring rain this morning when I woke up, and not much has changed the rest of the day. Pretty fitting for my mood, really.

I made a commitment to myself to try to write every day (allowing for the occasional break on Saturdays, when I will hopefully find myself doing something fun outside of the house). Even when I’m not writing here, I’m still trying to write, just for my own eyes. I guess writing every day is one more way to keep honoring and remembering and holding close my sweet daughter who I miss so much.

I haven’t felt much like writing the past two days. I’ve been trying to figure out why and the best explanation I can come up with is that I am just wallowing. I’ve just had it with the universe for the time being and am busy feeling sorry for myself, I guess. Doesn’t leave room for a lot of inspiration to write. And I kind of hate myself for that, the more I think about it. Certainly there is a time for wallowing in grief and a time for feeling sorry for myself, but sometimes I feel like just letting myself sink into it like this somehow dishonors Hudson’s beautiful spirit. 

But these past two weeks have given me a run for my money. There were the major things. Our friend Neil’s death and memorial service. The three-month anniversary of Hudson’s death. My overwhelmingly sad day.

Then there were the minor things. Our gas being shut off due to an unidentified leak, leaving us without hot water for a weekend when we were having guests. The air conditioning breaking the same weekend. Having to pay three grand to replace the A/C. Getting the A/C replaced only to find the guy (who did a great job repairing our heat in the middle of February’s snowstorm) apparently has no clue what he’s doing, resulting in a giant leak and huge hole in the ceiling a few hours later.

And then there was today. I got a parking ticket while at a doctor’s appointment. DC has this new system where you can pay by phone. I had quarters ready, but the stupid meter wouldn’t take them. I had never done the pay-by-phone before and was in a hurry to get to the appointment, so was dialing the number as I walked away, not realizing I would need the car’s license plate number. I remembered it, though, so I just plugged it in. When I got finished with the appointment, however, there was that nasty pink ticket on the windshield. I looked at it and realized that in fact, I had misremembered the license plate number and since the meter guy didn’t have me in the system, it looked like I hadn’t paid. Even though I know I can get the ticket taken care of by showing that I paid, I still cried. When Ed and I talked about it, he said, “Sweetie, it’s OK. It’s just a parking ticket.” And I said, “I know. But it’s just this on top of everything else!”  My brain is just shouting, “ENOUGH!”

Obviously, all of these little things are completely trivial compared to what we have been through. And as much as I know some of you will have the instinct, I am not looking for others to feel sorry for me (I’m doing a good job of that myself) or offer any words of encouragement. Really, I’m not. I’m just trying to figure out why I haven’t felt any motivation to write and this is what I came up with—I’m just sick and tired of all this damned bad luck. It feels like piling on and I’m just done.

The other alternative for why I don’t feel like writing is just as depressing. Sometimes there is just nothing more to say than the same few things I seem to say in every post: I miss her. I want her back. I can’t believe she is gone. I don’t understand why she is gone. It’s not fair. I want my old life back. There’s only so many different ways one can say these things.

I said in the beginning that I hoped to embrace Hudson’s message of One Good Thing, but that I knew that would be only part of this journey. It’s times like these, when it is so hard to see the One Good Thing, that the best I can do is just try to remember how fortunate I am to have a home, food, clothing, insurance, incredibly loving family and friends, and the most amazing husband I could imagine. I just have to keep telling myself that I am still lucky. Even when it doesn’t feel that way. Even though my little girl is gone. I just have to keep telling myself that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ambulances and Anguish

We live about three blocks from a major hospital here in DC. As a result, ambulances and fire trucks speed down the street pretty regularly. When Hudson was alive, she had bat-like ears—she could hear an ambulance WAY up the street, definitely before I heard it, and say, “Am-lance!” Sometimes we’d go open the door and watch it race by. This happened so often that it became routine. I did not think much about why ambulances exist or the fact that it might be sad that so many pass by our house every day. I did not think about ambulances much at all, except when my little girl would say the word that sounded so smart and so precious to me.

That is, until she died. Now, when I see ambulances, I think about how paramedics so often see people at their worst moments. The very sick or the critically injured, and maybe their loved ones, possibly in a fight for life right there in that little truck racing down the street, sirens blaring. And then I think about how angry I get sometimes that we never got to fight for Hudson’s life that way. It was over almost before the battle even began. We never even got a chance to fight for her.

But yesterday, I read about another family in their worst moment. The parents of a one-year-old little boy in Northern Virginia just got the news that their son’s cancer had spread and that there was no further treatment they could pursue. The entry on their blog said that they were watching him sleep for possibly the last time. (When I read that, I got my first real sense of what it must have been like for all of our friends and family when they read my Facebook post from the morning of May 13 announcing that Hudson would be declared brain dead that night—I can’t even describe how it felt to be an onlooker in that situation, even after I’ve been on the other side). There were pictures of this sweet, precious boy in a hospital room, roped up and tubed up and hooked up to every kind of machine possible, eyes sunken, head bandaged from brain surgery, but still fully conscious, smiling and interacting with his mommy and daddy. I could not read past the first page.

For that instant, I felt bizarrely blessed that Hudson’s illness was quick. Part of me feels awful even saying this, for fear it will be misunderstood. If we’d had the chance, we would have fought tooth and nail to keep our girl here with us, no matter what it took. But if the outcome would ultimately be the same, if we had no chance of fighting for her other than the small 12-14 hour window during which the antibiotics might have worked and during which they gave her drugs to try to reduce the swelling in her brain, then I am grateful that it was not prolonged. As inconsolable as I remain every single day that our precious Hudson died, I cannot even fathom the pain of those parents, who have had to watch their little boy endure the unimaginable for 6 months—major surgeries and presumably chemotherapy and radiation (I couldn’t read any further to see). Especially when that sweet little soul could not understand why he had to suffer so much. Especially when they fought so hard for him, only for the outcome to be the same. I think about how horrible it feels to remember Hudson reaching for me and me being unable to scoop her up and hold her close because she was all wired up, how awful it is to wonder now whether she was in any pain before they sedated her (with the infection and swelling in her brain, she must have had at the least a very severe headache, and I don’t think they were giving her anything for pain). And I take that feeling and multiply it by a million. And that’s what I imagine that little boy’s parents must feel every day.

So today, in spite of my unending heartbreak over the loss of my little girl, I thought about that little boy, and his mommy and daddy, and felt fortunate, if that is possible in these terrible situations, that my Hudson did not suffer long, if she suffered at all. My heart just aches for that family. I imagine that the only thing worse than watching your child die right in front of you is watching your child endure that kind of suffering. I guess I just feel lucky (somehow?) that we did not have to do both.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Paradox of Better Days

A group of my high school girlfriends came to visit this weekend. We laughed, reminisced, and ate a lot of good food. It was a good and welcome distraction after the multiple heavy sorrows of the past week.

Better days like these are hard, though. I get a glimpse of what it might feel like to just be normal again, and yet, I don’t feel normal at all. I catch myself wondering what I am doing being so distracted from my grief, as if being distracted somehow takes away from my love for my sweet Hudson.

I realize that it will be a very long and arduous process to convince myself that enjoying a day away from the grief does not mean I am forgetting her. I know it in my head, and when I start to feel the guilt sneaking up on me, I try to convince myself that I don’t have to let go of her or forget her in any way in order to just move forward, that moving forward and trying to be happy is the best way to honor her memory. But sometimes that just sounds like a rationalization to me, like I’m just trying to make myself feel better when ultimately what I still feel is guilt for thinking about being happy without her. It feels like the proverbial angel and devil sitting on my shoulders, each tugging on my subconscious, trying to convince me that his/her view of things is the right one. It is a tug-of-war, a constant struggle.

“It’s okay to be happy.”

“No, it’s not—being happy means leaving her behind.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Then why does it feel so much like it does?”

And so on and so on. It’s amazing that my grieving brain can drag me into this struggle even on the edges of my sleep. Often when I am trying to fall asleep, my brain manages to wander off into neutral or positive territory, allowing me to start to drift off. And then, I’ll have one semi-conscious moment: “Wait, how can you be doing such a good job of not thinking about the terrible stuff?” Which immediately triggers recall, against my will, of those images that remain seared upon my brain from those awful final four days, and I am suddenly awake and sleepless again.

The pull of the grief is powerful. It is sometimes overwhelming. It sometimes takes on a life of its own altogether. Those are the worst days. I am working hard at doing exactly what many of you have suggested: when the dreadful images appear in my head, I try to think of counter-images—our many joyful memories of Hudson, how much we loved each other, how well we lived our lives during the short time she was with us. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

The next step is allowing myself to have better days without experiencing the corresponding guilt and sorrow at the feeling of taking a step away from Hudson. I don’t want to be an inch away from her.  I don’t know how long this will take—a very, very long time, I am sure. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep hoping for more better days.  Practice makes perfect.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Three Months: Remembering

Three months. 1/4 of a year. More than 1/6 of the time that Hudson was with us on this earth. The months go by and these fractions get bigger and Hudson’s life gets farther and farther away from us. I want so badly to remember every little thing. I’ve started a habit of sending myself an email when a memory comes to mind—I have to write it down for fear I won’t remember it again. My poor little baby girl, missing out on so very much. So very cheated. As are we all.

I mentioned a while ago that within a few days after Hudson died, Ed and I started making a list of all of the words she could say. We kept going back to it every time we remembered another one.

I am devastated beyond belief that we have only one video of her saying a single word—“No!” It is also the last, and in some ways, the best, video we ever took of her. It was taken on May 2, 11 days before she died. I'm so grateful we managed to at least get this one one tape. It was by far her best party trick. 

Sadly, I think “No” is probably also the last word I ever heard her utter, in response to repeated requests, even in the ER, for her to try to drink something.

Why it never occurred to us to make videos of her saying all her words and making all her signs and animal noises, I have no idea.  I guess we figured we had plenty of time to make memories of her when she was little.  Certainly we never dreamed that we'd need them to remember her at all.

So instead of the videos I desperately wish I had, here is a list of Hudson’s words (with her pronunciation in parentheses), signs, and animal noises in no particular order. It’s still not exhaustive—every once in a while, Ed and I still think of words we forgot to add. And I could never even count the number of words she knew but still could not say.


Airplane (ai-pane)
More (mo)
Please (mease, complete with a rub of her heart for the sign)
Ambulance (am-lance)
Helicopter (heh-cop)
Mouth (mow, like cow)
Eyebrow (eye-bow, like cow)
Car (cah)
Hair (heh)
Breakfast (bek-fah)
Snack (nack)
Shoes (sooze)
Bath (baff)
Banana (nana)
Grass (gas)
Up (with hands over head)
Down (with hands pointed down to the floor)
Open (with hands wide like doors on the bus opening)
Close (kose—with hands together like doors on the bus closing)
Up above the (uppa-bub-ba, like in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” with hands opening and closing like a twinkling star, and pointer fingers together like a roof for “like a diamond in the sky”)
No (obviously)
Sneeze (sees, complete with a fake “achoo!”)
Water (wah)
Rock (and its corollary, rocky-rock, often said while sitting in the rocking chair)
Teeth (teef)
Barbara (ba-ba)
Justin (juh-tin)
Braxton (brah)
Elliot (eh-yah)
Daddy (dah)
Poppy (bop-pa)
Belly button (bell bah)
Outside (ow-sigh)
Truck (tuck)
Hudson (ud-son, pointing to herself)
Row, row, row (complete with motions of rowing oars toward her chest)
Uh-oh (her first word)
Boo boo
Balloon (boon)
Star (tah)
Octopus (ah-puh)
Crab (cab)
Turtle (tuh-tuh)
Diaper (di-pah)
Ant (ann)
Pelican (peh-cuh)
Amen (they always said grace before lunch at St. Ann’s—imagine my surprise when I heard her say this one)
Dook! No! (ahem… see video above)
Butt paste (buh pay; her first string of two syllables together, said at around 10 months or so—she can thank her dad for that)
Mole (like the one on Mommy’s neck that she was always fascinated with)
Flower (fow, like cow)

Animal Noises

Chicken: high-pitched “bock bock”
Elephant: high pitched squeal with forearm up to her forehead, fingers pointing out, like a trunk (she learned this one from her friend Sophia, who lives in San Diego now)
Duck: “kak-kak,” with her hands tucked up under her arm pits and flapping like duck wings
Cat: mow (rhymes with cow)
Dog: oof (she never quite caught on to the “w” at the beginning)
Snake: “sssssssssssssssssssssssss”
Rooster: high-pitched “oo-oooooooooo”
Lion: “RAWR!” (her first and best animal noise)
Pig: a little snort (followed immediately by a giggle)
Owl: “hoo hoo”


Please: she rubs her hand straight across her chest
Thank you: she puts her hand on her chest then extends it toward you
More: the classic sign—she touches both pointer fingers and thumbs together
Done: she waves her hands face-down toward the table, one over the other, like she’s wiping off a mess (or making one)
All gone: she waves her hands in the air, like they were empty
Wash hands: she wipes her hands together, like wiping them on a washcloth
Eat/hungry: she puts her hand to her mouth, with fingers and thumbs together like she’s holding a piece of food
Milk: the classic sign—she opens and closes her fist (yes, like milking a cow—nice, huh? Especially for us breastfeeding mamas)

And my favorite sign, the one I wish more than anything I could see again:

I love you: She points to her eye, then crosses her hands over her chest, then points at me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One of Those Days

I don’t know if it was the lingering heavy sorrow over yesterday’s memorial for our friend Neil, or the prospect of tomorrow, the three-month anniversary of Hudson’s death, or nothing in particular (which is likely), but it has been one of those days.

We spent most of the day in the car on the way home from Charlotte. I drove the whole way so that Ed could try to get some work done (he drove the whole way down there on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in return). I was in tears off and on most of the ride home, working hard to choke them down because it’s not very easy, or very safe, to drive when your eyes are tear-filled. I didn’t want to stop and get a good cry over with because I just wanted to get home.

So when I got home, I cried.  Hard. And then stopped. And then started again. And the second time, I couldn’t stop. For almost an hour. It was one of the hardest cries I’ve had since the hospital. There’ve been only a handful of this kind—stomach clenched into hard little knots, loud moaning not unlike what I remember from being in labor, snot and hot, salty tears streaming down my face, at times sobbing so hard that I feel like just can’t get a breath. World-collapsing cries.

And I just couldn’t stop.

Ed had gone to pick up dinner, and when he got back, he found me upstairs in my glider, utterly unable to get a hold of myself. So he nudged me over, sat down in the glider with me, tucked me up under his arm, and just rocked me, back and forth, as if I were a baby myself. Until finally, the sobs came less frequently, less forcefully, until they finally faded into sniffs and silent tears, until they finally stopped. I truly do not know what I would do without that man.

It was just one of those days. And I just have to let them come and do their thing, and try to live through them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Like Yesterday

Another grieving mom who visited the blog yesterday said, “I would love to tell you that time heals everything… but it doesn’t. I’m still heartbroken beyond words. I still cry every day. I still wish/replay every moment of the morning we discovered Matt dead.”

And I absolutely believe her. I was thinking last week, before I read her post, that here, as we near the three-month anniversary of Hudson’s death, I still feel like it all happened just yesterday. I know in my head that almost three months have gone by. I can call to mind many things that have happened since then—places I’ve been, people I’ve seen, conversations I’ve had, books I’ve read, visits with the grief counselor and support groups. Many days and many moments separate today from the day Hudson died.

And yet those four horrible days still seem like they just happened. Like I just went through them. I still feel like I did right when after it happened. In fact, I feel even worse than I did then, the protective coating of shock having long since worn off. I keep thinking that as each day goes by, the pain will lessen, but it doesn’t. Every single day is still a struggle—a struggle to keep going at all, a struggle to comprehend, a struggle to process, a struggle to even imagine the future, let alone plan for it. There are certainly lighter moments in most days, but those moments only fleetingly lift the crushing weight off, just long enough to catch a breath and brace myself for the next wave.

I think this has to be one of the hardest parts about the process of grief. Just as in the beginning, you cannot comprehend how the world can even keep turning outside the horror that you are enduring, so as time goes on, you cannot comprehend how the world can keep turning faster than you are ready for it to. People outside your smallest inner circle are moving on. You are at least moving forward. And yet, in a heartbeat, in one note sounding at the beginning of a song on the radio, in one glimpse of a photo that you look at every day, or with no trigger at all, you are transported right back to that horrific moment when the world was ripped out from under you.

I know that time will never fully heal this wound, but I do look forward to a tomorrow where it doesn’t feel like it just happened yesterday.

As for this tomorrow, we are on our way to Charlotte to say goodbye to another beautiful, brilliant, funny, high-spirited, loving girl taken from her family and friends far too soon. My heart is just so heavy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Anticipating Joy

I spent some time last night looking over my Facebook posts, going back about a year or so. I desperately miss that lighthearted, relaxed, untroubled girl who delighted in her sweet daughter, posted all kinds of articles for discussion, obsessed over college basketball, and poked fun in a good way at the world’s many incongruities. But I know that I am not that girl anymore—she died the day Hudson did.

A little over a year ago, these two kids, Kevin and Jill, got married. I have no idea who they are, but when the video of their wedding processional went viral, I actually cried when I watched it. What could this possibly have to do with my grief, you ask? Well, when I watched it a year ago, I was so moved by what seemed to me like a joyous celebration of love, friendship, and community. I thought back to the most joyful times in my life, and each included those three important elements—love, friendship, and community. The most significant ones were the day I married Ed in the midst of a small group of cherished friends and family, and the day Hudson was born and the weeks following, when we introduced her to a world that she would change forever. Although Ed and I had both suffered very sad times before we met, it seemed to us that the world shifted on its axis when we found each other—we believed that our future would be filled with many, many exquisite moments of joy and that the worst times in our lives were behind us. We were so right. And so very wrong.

Today, for no reason at all, I thought of that wedding video and those kids dancing gleefully down the aisle. I watched it again. And I cried again. This time, I cried for different reasons. I cried for our devastating losses—of Hudson, of the future we had planned for ourselves with her, and of that carefree happiness, that unadulterated joy that characterized most of the days in the six years Ed and I have spent together.  That is, until May 10, when our daughter was diagnosed with what would ultimately be a fatal illness.

So many of you have sent constant wishes for a day when we will experience joy again, for a day when you can come to the blog and celebrate with us, instead of only grieving with us.

I know that day is out there. And I look forward to it, too. But there is some dread mixed into that anticipation as well, because experiencing joy means taking a big step away from the grief. And right now, the idea of taking a big step away from the grief feels like taking a big step away from Hudson. And that makes me incredibly sad.

But the reason I wanted to write about Kevin and Jill, whoever they are, is that when I watched that video again today, I cried not only for our loss, but also because I realized that although that carefree girl I once was is gone, love, friendship, and community remain. Love, friendship, and community are constant. Love, friendship, and community will not let us fall. Until that day when we can experience joy again, those three things keep us afloat. And that is One Good Thing.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Might Have Beens

I heard an interview on NPR this morning with Sean Forbes, a 29-year-old rapper from Michigan who lost his hearing as a baby. I had to get out of the car for the middle portion of the story, so I wasn’t sure how he had gone deaf. But I had a hunch. I got back in the car for the end of the story and googled him on my Blackberry. I was right-- he had meningitis at about a year old. Now he has a major record deal, has created a nonprofit for deaf performers, and is being interviewed on Weekend Edition. Very inspiring. Goddamn it.

I drove the rest of the way home in hot, rib-shaking tears.

Given her big spirit and her already-obvious intelligence, there’s just no telling what Hudson might have done, even if she’d lost her hearing. She deserved the chance. She deserved a long, beautiful life. We deserved a long life with her in it.

It’s just so ridiculously unfair.

Friday, August 6, 2010


As I contemplate the future without Hudson, the multiple layers of our loss are just astounding. One of the saddest and most important ones is the giant hole that will always be present in our family for as long as we live. When we have another child, there will be no Hudson to stare in awe and confusion at the new baby that has come into her life, no Hudson always trying to “help” me take care of the baby, no Hudson to keep me laughing and engaged through those first very isolating months of mothering an infant. If we have three more kids, no matter where we go or what we do, I will always think that there should be six of us, not five. As our kids grow up, their big sister will not be there to show them how to do things or help them out in a jam. Whenever we take a family photo, there will always be not only a metaphorical hole, but an actual hole where she should be sitting with us. At every major milestone, like starting kindergarten, graduating from high school, going off to college, getting married, having children of their own, I will always, always wonder what Hudson would have been like at those stages. Would we have been friends or would she have hated me? Would she have a singing voice or not be able to carry a tune at all? Would she be an athlete or a bookworm, or both? And it brings me to tears every time I realize again that I will never know.

This is just such an incredibly difficult future to face. As real and raw as the pain still is now, thinking about these holes in our future breaks me even more. And it kills me to know that forever and ever, our lives and our family will be incomplete. Every joyful moment will always be either happy-sad or sad-happy, depending on what the dominant feeling is.  And no matter how hard we try (and we will), our kids will never really know how wonderful their sister was and how special she would have been to them.

Since Hudson died, I have understood for the first time why people would go see psychics to try to communicate with their loved ones. I still don’t think I would do it (although I’m less sure about that possibility than I was before), but I truly understand the urge. When faced with the unspeakable reality that I will never see Hudson again (at least not in earthly form, and as you know, I’m totally unclear about any prospect beyond that), the idea of somehow being able to communicate with her is a pretty tempting one. I read in one of my grief books that many bereaved parents have turned to the “paranormal” in their grief, and almost without exception, they come away from the experience comforted. My skepticism says they are comforted because they want to be comforted and that they hear what they want to hear, whether real or not, but still… the possibility is not without appeal. I’ve already allowed myself to simply be comforted by anything that feels comforting, like a star in the sky or a dandelion in the yard, without regard to whether I think those things are “really” Hudson being present with me. Why should seeing a psychic be any different? (Well, with the exception that if you really are a skeptic, you don’t necessarily want to fork your money over to people who take advantage of the bereaved at their most vulnerable.)

I doubt I would ever seriously entertain going to see a psychic. But then again, never in a million years did I think I would ever consider getting a tattoo, and yet here I am, pondering daily where I might put a small hieroglyphic turtle that would help me feel like Hudson is always with me. I guess I’m just saying that I get it. When death rips this enormous hole in the fabric of your life, a hole that will never disappear no matter how much you try to fill it, I get that you might consider a lot of things that you might never have considered before in your desperate attempts to do so.

I just miss my girl so very much.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Can't Let Go

Well, we didn’t hear anything earth-shattering at our meeting with Dr. X and Dr. Y yesterday. They said pretty much exactly what I thought they would say, which is that no one can definitively know what would have happened if we’d taken Hudson to the ER 9 hours earlier. Dr. Y, the infectious disease specialist, said maybe, maybe if they’d started treatment for meningitis right away at that point, maybe it would have made a difference in the outcome, but both Dr. Y and Dr. X (the PICU doc) said they thought it was highly unlikely that anyone in the ER would have done that for Hudson at that time based on what they knew about how she had behaved the night before (she ate a big meal, seemed chipper, fever went down), and how she presented clinically later that morning at the pediatrician (normal white blood cell count, fever back down, still responsive, said bye-bye to the doctor and waved). Lumbar punctures have risks and given that Hudson was 17 months old (and therefore not in a high-risk group for meningitis) and probably looked like she just had a nasty virus, it’s unlikely that ER docs would have taken that step at that point, absent seeing some evidence of neurological involvement. Dr. X says that evidence must not have been there, because Hudson’s pediatrician did not notice anything like that later in the morning. This is one of the things that continues to torture me—Hudson had a droopy eye along with her fever the day before, and as the day and overnight went on, it actually got swollen. The pediatrician saw this, too, and thought it was just an eye infection of some sort, or just related to whatever infection was causing the fever. So the thing I keep hanging my hat on is maybe an ER doc at a children’s hospital would have seen Hudson’s eye and heard about the fever not responding to medication and been more suspicious—after all, they deal with those kinds of crazy things much more often. That said, I don’t blame the pediatrician at all, which does make you wonder how, then, I can blame myself (and indeed, someone commented to this effect before). [ADDED AFTER POSTING (and I'm doing this to remind myself of yet another important fact for when I read this again in the future:  It is also highly unlikely that Hudson's swollen eye was a neurological event, since it would only be "droopy" if swelling in her brain was already putting pressure on her brain stem-- her first CT at the ER showed no such thing, so the swollen eye was, in fact, probably just related to the sinus infection behind her right eye, and not evidence of "neurological involvement" at that point in time].

They also have no way of knowing when the infection actually spread into her cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)—Dr. Y said given the rapid progression of the infection, it was certainly possible that even if they’d done a spinal tap earlier in the day, it might have been clear at that time. They just don’t know. All they know is that at 9AM that morning, her white blood cell count was a very normal 6.5 (normal is between around 4.5 and 10.5) and by the time they took her blood, around 4PM that afternoon in the ER (after we waited almost 2 hours in the waiting room and triage), it had dropped to .87 (which is what a post-chemotherapy inpatient might exhibit—it is dangerously low). By the time they did the tap, which was not until around 6PM, 4 or so hours after we got to the ER, her CSF was already cloudy. Dr. Y said usually when they see cloudy CSF like that, it’s due to the patient’s white blood cells replicating rapidly to fight off the infection. In Hudson’s case, it was cloudy due to the bacteria itself replicating so rapidly. The infection just totally overwhelmed her little body, never even giving her immune system an opportunity to fight it off. No one, not the pediatrician, not the ER docs, and not even the PICU doc or the infectious disease doc, expected the outcome we got—they knew it was a nasty infection, but they do not understand why it progressed so quickly to the point that Hudson was basically brain dead 18 hours after she was diagnosed. Dr. Y said the only other cases he’s seen where an infection overwhelms the system like that is in patients who do not have a spleen (your spleen is one of the main infection-fighting organs in your body—it produces the white blood cells that make antibodies against bacteria and viruses). He said they don’t know whether Hudson had a spleen or not (we didn’t do an autopsy), but he had looked at her microscopic blood slides and those showed none of the signs they would normally see in a patient without a spleen. They ran a few other immunology tests on her while she was still alive, to see if she had any other immunosuppression issues that we were unaware of, but those all appeared normal (although given that her immune system was literally in a battle for Hudson’s life, those results may or may not be accurate). And anyway, kids with immune system problems usually end up in the ER long before they are 17 months old. So it really did just come down to the world’s worst luck—she was exposed to a strep pneumo bacteria strain that is not currently included in vaccinations (Hudson was vaccinated on schedule for everything, but current vaccines are effective against only about 10% of strep pneumo strains) and it behaved in a way that no one can really explain.

But like I said, we knew most of this already. I finally just came out and told them that the main thing I was hoping to hear (because I have just been beating myself up about it) was that we did everything right from beginning to end and that there’s nothing more we could have done. Dr. Y said, “Well, this case is the closest I could ever come to saying that.” Dr. X agreed, saying that if he could tell me something that definite, he would, and reiterating how unlikely it was that Hudson would have been tested and treated for meningitis at 5AM Monday morning.

But still I wonder. Still I want my goddamned second chance. Still I just want to rewind, take her to the ER as soon as her fever quit responding to the medication, and see what happens. In my mind’s eye, they see the droopy eye, see how sleepy she is, ask me if she’s had any leg pains, which I then remember that yes, it seemed like she had an hour before at home. They do a CT, see the sinus infection behind her right eye, and decide to do the spinal tap, because infections like that are often associated with meningitis in kids that age (which is what the ER docs told us later that day). Or they at least run a blood culture that shows she has an infection in her blood and that her white blood cell count is off the chart high (and went into free fall the rest of the morning, which is why it was in the “normal” range at 9AM). Either way, they start antibiotics immediately, killing off the relentless bacteria before it can progress to the point of no return. Hudson gets admitted to a general ward, where we have to entertain her for three weeks while she continues the IV antibiotics. At worst, she loses her hearing (which would have been awful, but I would have cut off my own ears if it meant she would be here with me today). And she comes home with us. And now she is gearing up for a new year at school and making me laugh every single day.

I think I realize now that no matter what they told me, my grief would still try to tell me differently, because I just want Hudson back so badly. Nothing they could say will ever change the fact that I want to be able to rewind so that I could at least know that I had done everything I possibly could. Of course, I know, too, that if we’d done that, and she had still died, I’d then be wondering why I didn’t take her to the ER on Sunday afternoon, when her temp spiked to 104, and so on, and so on, and so on.

There’s just no getting around it. Ed told me very gently yesterday, “Sweetie, I think you’re just going to have to find a way to let it go.” I know he’s right. And I really want to. Now if I can just figure out how.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I had a hard time falling asleep last night and then slept fitfully the rest of the night. This could be because I had three (count ‘em, THREE) sodas yesterday. After having successfully given them up just before Hudson got sick, I started drinking them again in the hospital, then gave them up again several weeks ago, only to start again about two weeks ago when I was having a really low week. Coke is comfort food for me, like ice cream is for others. It is familiar and reassuring—it makes me feel better to know it is there. I laugh at myself for being so self-critical about this, as if I had started drinking alcohol again, or smoking, or doing cocaine, instead of co-cola—of all the vices I might have, it’s a pretty minor one. But all that caffeine and sugar, when I hadn’t been drinking as much lately, might have had something to do with my heart pounding in my chest half the night.

But I think it’s much more likely that I couldn’t sleep because today is a really big day. This afternoon, Ed and I will go back to the hospital to meet with Dr. X, the PICU fellow (now an attending) in charge of Hudson’s care, Dr. Y, the infectious disease specialist who worked with Hudson, and the hospital social worker. The hospital offers this meeting for every family whose child has died there. Usually it is done about eight weeks after the fact, when autopsy results come back. We did not have an autopsy done, since we already knew how Hudson died and an autopsy was highly unlikely to produce any additional information about that. Even if there hasn’t been an autopsy, they still wait about 8 weeks, because by that time, most parents can better process the information. Here we are 12 weeks out, and I really fear just totally falling apart anyway.

I don’t really know how I feel about this meeting. It is an opportunity to ask questions that might not have occurred to us during the trauma of a three-day ICU vigil ending in our daughter’s death. But as I’ve written before, there’s only one question that I really want an answer to, which is whether we could have done something to prevent Hudson’s death from this fiendish infection. And the only answer I want is, “No, Ms. Hitchcock, there is nothing you could have done. You did everything you could exactly right from beginning to end and the infection just did everything better and faster than we could.” I hope that is something they can say, but I just don’t know.

And I don’t have the same feeling that I had in the beginning, which was just this intense need to see the PICU again, to see the doctors and nurses involved in Hudson’s care. I don’t have a clue what that was about, but I definitely don’t feel that way anymore, maybe because we already went back to the PICU in early June to get Hudson’s keepsake box with her handprints and footprints, and maybe because we already ran into and spoke with Dr. X at a restaurant recently.  Now, I think I want to stay as far away from the PICU as possible, so it’s good that the meeting is going to be somewhere else in the hospital, probably near the doctors’ offices.

I guess I am looking forward to it, in the speculative hope that something happens there to help me feel better somehow. Maybe it will help me in the process of accepting that this has really happened, that she is really gone. I keep telling myself that if I can just accept it, and not keep thinking that there is some way she can come back to us, then maybe the pain could start to lessen and this process will get a little easier. But I guess I am also dreading it, because it’s just been hanging out there for two months, and once it is over, my chance at total absolution will be gone.

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I’ll remember my sleepless soundtrack from last night. On nights when I sleep really fitfully, in that bizarre state between consciousness and sleep, my brain often keeps replaying one or two lines from a song, usually just something I’ve heard on the radio recently. For whatever reason, the soundtrack last night, over and over, was this one line from Leona Lewis: “It’ll all get better in time.” Hopefully that bodes well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Relics and Ruins

relic, n. Something that has survived the passage of time, especially an object or custom whose original culture has disappeared, for example:
  • The safety gate around the fireplace, which I finally had to take down today because we have a small leak in the gas logs that needed to be repaired
  • The car seat in the basement, which thankfully I removed from the car on the day of Hudson’s first memorial service because we needed the room; otherwise, it might still be there
  • Latches that no longer serve any function on drawers and cabinet doors in the kitchen
  • A bottle of Aveeno baby soap I can’t bring myself to remove from the shower caddy in our bathroom
  • The positive pregnancy test from when we found out we were having Hudson, which I found recently in the top drawer of my jewelry box
  • Hudson’s green shirt with three turtles down the front, which would have been a hand-me-down if Hudson ever had a sister, but which will now be packed carefully away in a box of things that can never be anyone’s but Hudson’s
  • A copy of the invitation to Hudson’s first birthday party, still hanging on our refrigerator door
  • Two sets of fingerpaint handprints, the first made at school in June 2009, when Hudson first started daycare, the second made in May 2010 at daycare as part of Hudson’s Mother’s Day gift for me, also the last art she ever made

ruins, n. The remains of something destroyed, disintegrated, or decayed, for example:
  • Airports, which I used to adore, especially for all the exchanges of love during hellos and goodbyes, but which now I can barely walk through without tears
  • The National Arboretum, a favorite and incredibly beautiful spot, but one where I have never been without Hudson
  • Our driving route downtown, which passes right by Children’s Hospital where Hudson died
  • The car, which feels totally empty without my girl in the backseat and her music in the air
  • The Museum of Natural History, where Hudson could have spent every day, looking at and learning about all the different animals in the world, and making her trademark “RAWR!” when she saw the lions
  • My glider, where I spent hours and hours with Hudson, nursing, reading stories, cutting her fingernails while watching cartoons (the only time she ever saw any TV), and, on her last day at home, where we sat for several hours, her asleep on my chest, her head on my shoulder, me thinking she was sleeping off a nasty bug

archeology, n. the study of past human societies

That is, the study of our life that no longer exists.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Shaking My Head

I do this often. In the midst of my crying, I just shake my head. Because it just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t understand it. I want to know why this happened to Hudson, to all of us. I want to know why I don’t get to be with her anymore and she doesn’t get to be with me. I want to know why I will never get to watch her grow up. I want to know why she will never look any different than she does in this, the last photo we ever took of her (in which, very sadly, she is not smiling her trademark smile).

I was telling Jess yesterday that I still just don’t get it. Ed and I are good people. We are great parents. We are good to each other. We are good to our families. We are good to our friends. We try to be good to the world in the best ways we know how. So it just doesn’t make any sense at all why Hudson was taken from us when so many other parents have children they don’t want, children they neglect, children they abuse. I just wish I could understand.

Of course, I know there is nothing to understand. I know there is no why. I think I read somewhere that this is just another form of magical thinking, really. I still can’t accept that Hudson is gone, still can’t believe that I will never see my little girl again. So if I keep questioning why, maybe somewhere along the way I can figure out where the mistake was made, who fucked up. Because surely this was a mistake. Surely someone or something fucked up. Whether it was God, the gods, fate, the universe, life, “what’s meant to be,” whatever the hell it is, it obviously seriously fucked up when it took Hudson. If I can just figure out where along the road the screw-up occurred, we can go back there, and whatever it is can get it right this time, and we can have Hudson back.

But I know I’ll never figure it out, so I just keep shaking my head. Because I honestly just don’t get it.

On Friendship

“Your friend is your needs answered.”*

It’s been another long weekend with no writing, but with another good excuse. I spent the weekend with my dearest friend, Jessica. We met in Minneapolis, a city almost exactly in the middle between our two homes, and one of only a few places where Jess can fly direct out of Helena.

Jess and I have known each other for 16 years. We became friends almost immediately in the fall of 1994 as freshmen at UNC. We met because we both attended Carolina on the same scholarship, and then we took similar classes (at least at the beginning, when I thought I was pre-med, too), spent many weekends together during the summer of 1996 (when we were both doing internships in the San Francisco Bay area), traveled through Kenya together in the summer of 1997, and lived together with another dear friend, Beth, during our senior year of college. We still saw each other frequently, though not as often, during her years at med school at Carolina, and since she moved to Montana in 2002, we still saw each other regularly—I visited her and her family in Montana in 2004, 2006, and twice in 2008, and she came east many times to visit her family, most of whom are still in North Carolina.

Before Hudson died, Jess and I had already suffered together through losses very significant for our young ages. I lost my mom in 2002 to pancreatic cancer. I was 26; she was barely 57. She lived only 8 months after her diagnosis, and spent most of that time in either great pain or in a morphine haze. In 2007, Jess’s mom, Caroline, died suddenly from Rocky Mountain spotted fever (another lightning strike in the world of things that are likely to kill you). Jess was 31 and almost eight months pregnant with her younger son; her mom was 61. Jess and Caroline were best friends; my mom and I were not (we wanted to be but could never figure out how to do so). So when Caroline died, I could only offer so much empathy, even though I had lost my mom as well. Jess was mourning the loss of one of the best relationships in her life, whereas I had mourned the loss of a relationship I had always longed for but never had.

When Hudson got sick, the progression of her illness was eerily similar to that of Caroline’s, down to the days of the week when Jess received a call for advice about an unusually high fever (Sunday) to when she flew east once it was clear something was terribly wrong (Tuesday) to the day both Caroline and Hudson died (Thursday). Caroline died on May 3, 2007; Hudson died on May 13, 2010. Hudson and Caroline both got the infectious disease equivalent of the world’s worst lottery ticket. In both cases, before we knew anything was seriously wrong, it was too late. I was with Jess and her family at the hospital when they got the devastating news that Caroline’s pupils were no longer responding to stimuli. It was all I could think about when Hudson began exhibiting the exact same symptoms. Up until that point, I had every reason to believe that she was going to respond to antibiotics and recover fully. After that point, I had little reason to believe she would survive. And I was right.

Needless to say, as Hudson’s illness progressed, Jess was practically thrust right back into the nightmare she had just lived through with her own mother three years before, complete with an ultimately hopeless vigil in the ICU and an unbearably painful goodbye. And yet she was there. She sat with me. She cried with me. She comforted my family. And when it was all over, she took over the task that would have been impossible for anyone in my family at that moment—planning Hudson’s memorial service. She found a venue, coordinated everyone else who wanted to help, managed visitors and friends, gave feedback on the programs and the slideshow, and yet still found time and energy to sit with me. To cry with me. To comfort my family. All the while dealing with her own grief over Hudson’s death and her continued grief over her mother’s.

So 11 weeks later, almost exactly halfway until the time we would see each other again in October at her sweet grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, a long weekend in a city where we knew no one was just what the doctor ordered. For both of us. We sat. We cried. We comforted each other. We drank red wine and margaritas. We talked and talked and talked, until the point you’d think there could be nothing else to talk about, and then we talked some more. We walked and walked and walked, as if with each step we might pound some of our grief out of the soles of our shoes. We looked to the future, gravely hoping that we’ve borne the worst of what our lives have in store for us.

Friendships like ours are rare gems, both in my own experience and in what I know of others’ experiences. Between us, there is no pretense, no need for words, no words that can’t be said, a near-reading of minds, a shared understanding of both how wondrous and how wretched life can be. Although Jess and I would trade it back in a heartbeat, the depth of the friendship that has resulted from our terrible losses is a gift. This past weekend, and every day, while we spend our fair share of time mourning for all that should and shouldn’t be, we also cherish what is—that in our grief, we share a friendship largely unequaled in its ability to bear that grief and in its ability to find hope in the depths of despair. And that is One Good Thing that our dearest Caroline and our dearest Hudson left behind for us.

* Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, “On Friendship”