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.


  1. It's quite remarkable what color, light and sound can do to help get you through. After Lily died, I made one of our guests rooms into a "winter garden room" using branches for curtain rods and painting the walls and furniture tones of ice blue and light, greyish lavender the color of snow under a winter sky. The colors and it's location on the northeast side of our house actually made the room feel cooler. I went there a lot when I was nothing but one big sobbing raw nerve to counteract the hot flushed creature I'd become. Do what you have to do to cope, Mandy. Thinking of you and Ed with love and empathy. ~Lesley

  2. I've been reading along silently this last week at I've made all the adjustments that going back to work for the first time in a few years brings. I feel a tiny bit of lightening in your words-- not that the burden is any lighter, but that it is, minutely, at least, easer to bear. Hudson is making her presence felt, it seems-- she will never be gone, even though she is no longer here. I hope that the road to healing comes through being able to remember your sweet girl with more happiness than sorrow.

  3. There is no reason for you to feel guilty. Not one reason in this entire world.

    Be good to yourself!

  4. I made some changes in a room once for the simple exercise of honoring a very sad event. Paint, rearranged furniture, new lighting-made all the difference. Although the sorrow of that time is mostly memory now, the room itself is my badge of survival.
    Blessings on your heads. I'm sorry.

  5. Moving forward...not moving on.

  6. What a good way to feel in control of SOMETHING amidst the turmoil over which you have no control! Transformation (of space, of self) can be daunting but it sounds like you and Ed are so purposeful in your actions and so aware of the meaning of your work right now.

  7. I was so happy to see you yesterday, but I know that coming in was really difficult. You should be really proud of yourself. I think of you everyday and hope to see you again soon. love, nicole

  8. I think changing physical space can be very cathartic. We have actually just last week moved to a new home, so your post was timely.

    I thought it would be difficult leaving the only home Veronica knew, as if I would be leaving her behind. But surprisingly, the change of scenery has lifted a tremendous weight. In the old place, every time I stood outside my home at night, especially if the weather was warm, I was transported back to the horrible night when I found Veronica dead. Now I can sit outside my house at night and note the lovely flowers, or the way the sun is setting in the sky, or the many other beautiful things that surround me. I have more peace than I have had in the 14 months since she died. And I didn't leave Veronica...she made the move with me -- just some of the old baggage stayed behind. :)

    Mandy, I hope that these changes to your home bring you some peace as well. As another poster wisely noted, you are moving forward, not moving on. Hugs to you.

  9. After we lost our baby, I went on a rampage in our house. We moved our living son to a new room and repainted the nursery (although obviously, there's no baby moving in and we weren't planning on repainting it back when we thought there would be), we redid the countertops and sinks in my bathroom, we got new bedding, I went on a Pottery Barn shopping spree and redecorated practically every room in some way, and I bought a whole slew of new appliances. I also went through all of our closets and old toys and things and gave tons and tons of stuff to Goodwill. At the time, I thought that it was just stuff that I had been meaning to do and had been putting off but now...I don't know. I do think it was part of dealing with the grief, just wanting to surround myself with new things, things that I didn't have or touch during that pregnancy. A cleaning house, of sorts. And you know what, it kind of helped. I think maybe after your life becomes a disaster, you crave change as a way to move forward.

    And PS, although I know no matter how many times you hear it, it might not sink in for a while, but you have NO reason to feel guilty Mandy. You loved that sweet girl and did everything you possibly could to save her. I know it's hard not to think of all the "what if" scenarious but they are not reality. You did EVERYTHING right but in the end, you could do nothing. And that sucks so bad but it's not your fault. xoxoxo

  10. Wasn't blue Hudson's best color? It sounds like you are making positive changes in your home that might bring all your happy memories of Hudson even closer to you rather than taking any steps away from her. No it's not the exact bathroom Hudson inhabited for all those happy bathtimes or that last, awful bath, but it's still the same room and now the color is Hudson herself in her prettiest color, a happy way to think of her. Put a picture of her in her pretty blue dress on the wall and hang a vase of dried hydrangeas and own that space for smiling memories.

    Doing things that have been on the agenda for a long time is just satisfying. It is moving forward with your life and your plans, just as you would have if Hudson were still here, maybe just on a faster timeframe. Even though the things you are doing is changing the appearance of the physical spaces Hudson inhabited, it does not change all the happy memories you guys made there. Hopefully time and positive change in your life will help for all those happy memories that make you smile to come to the surface more than the awful ones. It sounds like you are taking steps toward your own happiness but these steps are not taking you away from Hudson but bringing her happy memories and the joy of her life closer to you!

  11. Adding a little light and color (especially blue) sounds like adding a bit of healing to your physical world. I have learned from others who have eperienced tragedy and trauma that when the pain seems to not end "adding to" (color and light) is often more helpful for the moment then trying to stop or pause the pain. Not to mention that light and blue feel like honoring Hudson and transformation. love and support mandy from mandy

  12. I've been reading your blog for some time, but this is my first comment. I used to live across from the Monestary at 13th & Quincy and my son went to St. Ann's until he was old enough for school. We moved earlier this summer to TX. Anyway, my husband and I lost our daughter shortly after she was born.. a total suprise, since I was full-term & up until then it had been a normal pregnancy. I, too, never returned to my job as a CCAN attorney (representing kids in foster care). I went back one afternoon for a CLE-type training & a colleague asked me "how's the baby doing?" Never set foot back in the courthouse after that. I realized that my earth-shattering event barely registered on other people's radar.

    I busied myself working on our 100-year old house. For many reasons: to stay busy, in hopes of cheering myself up, & my therapist suggested it was also to do something that didn't require going out or seeing anyone from my "old" life. All I know is that it got me through the day.

    Do whatever you need to get thru. I'm 2 years down the road and wish I had more guidance to offer, other than telling you that you are not alone. I feel your pain. -annecshevlin@gmail.com

  13. Wow, I'm having an incredibly visceral reaction to this post. Right in the gut. On at least two different levels.

    1) How easily your story could be mine -- or any parent's. I think back to a visit to my folks in Florida, when our baby "blissfully" slept away an afternoon at the beach. It wasn't until we were ready to go that we realized that he was actually sick. I remember all too well the series of unexplained 104/105-degree spikes we tried to bathe away over the next few days. And I remember the guilt at not recognizing right away that he was ill and for just la-di-da enjoying my book and my comfy lounge chair while my son was beginning to burn up. After 4 days -- which included a trip to the ER and two trips an urgent care center, it finally revealed itself to be roseola, but doctors seemed clueless and we were scared.

    I'm in tears as I write this and think about how it could have turned out so differently. And I am just so, so sorry it didn't turn out differently for you.

    2) I just returned from a weekend at my parents, where my husband and I now stay in my brother's old room because it was the easiest place to put my parents' old king-size bed for us to use. Other than the bed, the room remains eerily the same as the day my brother died in a car accident in 1993. (Of course, that means it looks pretty much the way it did when we moved in there 1972.) His stuff is still there ... his glasses, his papers, his stuffed animals. I don't know that my parents purposely "keep" it this way. I think they just don't deal with it. The same way they haven't dealt with his stuff in his bathroom. (17-year-old shower soap -- yuck!)

    I can't say for sure why, but my intuition says it's healthy that you're dealing with these spaces. Yes, they are painful, but you aren't avoiding the pain. As with this powerful, insightful blog, you are finding creative ways to be present with this godawful, inexplicable thing that has happened to you and your precious little girl.