Sunday, November 21, 2010

It Takes a Village (Part Two)

I started a post titled “Nothing New To Say” and was simply going to refer you to Friday’s post, because at first, it seemed to me like it has been one long sad weekend of the same: I just want her back.

But then I realized that it wasn’t true—well, not totally true, at least. Yesterday, I got together for the first time with my Brookland moms’ crew since a few weeks after Hudson died. This is the group of women who I met for the first time when Hudson was about 2 months old and I organized a weekly meeting at our neighborhood coffee shop for any mom who was on maternity leave and needed to get out of the house. All of our babies were born within about 4 months of each other, with Hudson being one of the oldest. That weekly meeting turned into an occasional playgroup, babysitting co-op and go-to get together group for Halloween and birthday parties. About half of us ended up putting our kids into day care at St. Ann’s together, where we then picked up a few other moms who joined our group, too.

The last time we all got together when life was normal was the Friday before Hudson got sick—we all met at our local Tex-Mex restaurant for happy hour. It was there that we took the last photo we have of our sweet Hudson, nom-nomming on her yummy black beans and practicing using a grown-up spoon.

The next time we got together was about three weeks after Hudson died, to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of our mamas. We went back to the same Tex-Mex place, and all the husbands and babies came. I was overly optimistic about my ability to handle such a situation. It did not go well. The longer I sat there thinking about how completely fucked up it was that all the babies were there except Hudson, the more and more stunned I became. I somehow kept it together until we left, but barely.  I knew it would be a long time before I could be with all those babies again. 

Since then, I’ve seen several of the moms (and sometimes the dads) off and on, usually without their babies, unless I ran into them at the market or elsewhere in the neighborhood. I’ve seen a few of the babies here and there—all of them are now older than Hudson was when she died. The oldest have just recently hit their second birthdays. Every time I run into one of the babies, I am struck by how much they’ve grown—their legs are long and lean, much less baby-like. It is so hard to have reached a point where I can’t imagine anymore what Hudson would be like now. So much happens between 18 and 24 months—the ways she would have grown physically and developed cognitively are now beyond my ability to picture in my mind.

But that’s not what I’m meaning to write about (it’s so easy sometimes to get so caught up in the grief that I forget about the gratitude). About a week ago, one of our mom friends emailed the rest of us to see if we wanted to get together for a ladies-only lunch—no kids, no husbands. A few weeks ago, I had emailed the director of the day care at St. Ann’s and asked her to put the Penguin on the list for a spot next fall. Just the act of writing the email exposed a mountain of raw feelings about how much I miss that place and all the people in it—just another layer of the loss (there are so many still to be revealed). So the idea of getting together with all my mom friends, whose company I had missed so much, was really appealing. I immediately responded that I would be there.

As the lunch drew nearer, I got more anxious. Had I overestimated my readiness for this again? How would it feel to be in my moms’ group again when everyone else still has their children and my child has died? Would I burst into tears just seeing them all together in the same place? Would I need to just “act as if” and try to seem somehow normal through it all?

Well, I needn’t have worried. Seven of us met at a pizza joint downtown and sat around a large round table. Three of us are pregnant with our second babies (along with two others who weren’t there—one just had her second a few weeks ago, and the other is due with her second several days from now). At one point (or maybe two), I did cry, but just a little, and shared with them my fear that I would break down and cry in the middle of it all, to which they all replied, “But that’s just fine, Mandy! You can do that!” And even though I knew that was true, it was still good to hear that my crying didn’t make them uncomfortable (that is really the main fear I have when this happens around other people—I worry that it makes them feel bad or awkward or embarrassed or unnerved). Or maybe it did, but they were still OK with it.

The thing is, I could talk about Hudson without fear or self-editing. Everyone there knew her, and knew her well, and everyone there misses her terribly. No one there would ever expect me not to talk about her or about my feelings about her. Everyone there was happy to talk about her, too.

We talked about anything and everything, and most importantly, we laughed, for almost three hours before we all realized that our partners were probably wondering where the heck we were (and that the waiter really wanted us to get out). It was wonderful.

In hindsight, I think I probably did a fair share of “acting as if,” but that was a lot more for my own benefit than it was for theirs. I remember having a few of those moments where I was looking at myself from the outside and thinking, “Who is that girl? Because I certainly don’t feel as animated as she seems.” One of my friends, whom Ed and I see more frequently, as we get together with her and her husband fairly regularly, told me afterwards that she was really glad that she reads my blog, because after the last time we got together for dinner several weeks ago, she would have thought we were doing really well. And we talked about how it really is possible (thankfully) to feel terrible pain at some level almost all the time, but to be able to take breathers from the worst of it every now and then. I told her that I had learned that important lesson as early as the first hours when we were in the hospital—the body can really only take so much at one time, and without those breathers, I would never have survived the past six months. The pain is always there—it never goes away. Many times, certainly at least once a day and often more frequently, it is overwhelming, and I have to let myself feel it. I have to cry and wail and shake my head and bang my fists and kiss her pictures and hold her things. But when the pain is just simmering rather than boiling over, I can breathe. I can remember Hudson and smile. I can laugh. I can be silly. I can hope. And even when those moments are only fleeting, I am grateful for them.

But what I am most grateful for is a community of women who understand that I can (and must) feel (and be) all those things at the same time. Thank you, mamas.  I am glad you are in my life.


  1. Mandy,

    I'm so glad you've reclaimed a bit of your identity as a member of that community. I am positive they value your presence and that you add so much to their lives. Continue to press into those in your circle(s). I feel certain they, in turn, will add much to your ability to find laughter - and eventually joy - in this season of grief.

    Good for you. Keep swimming.

    Much love,

  2. Thank YOU, Mandy. I have been grateful to you since the first moms' meet-up. I still remember Hudson - even then - with her big welcoming smile. Yours too. We cherish all those moments. The tragedy of Hudson's death would be even worse if we never got to see you and Ed. I look forward to meeting Hudson's bro or sis. But before that little Penguin arrives, I am looking forward to some more ladies-only activities. Thank you for letting us stay a part of your life and for being such a special part of ours. And as always, thank you for sharing your beautiful words with us all. love, Kate Z.

  3. Mandy,

    It was one of the best girl outings I've ever had and you being there meant so much. You are the core of this group - you created us and you have kept us together. Just as you welcomed us in without hesitation - some weirdo couple with a 10-day old ordering triple shots of espresso looking to crash your Moms party - we are here for you and for whatever you need and at any junction. And I assure you, you can break down and have your worst cry yet when you are around us and we will join in with you and make an outrageous scene together if that's what evolves. We are in this with you. Please don't ever hold back unless you feel you need to for yourself, as you said. We've got you and we have some strong hugging arms and so much love for you and Ed, just as we do for beautiful, brilliant Hudson.

    I am also so proud of you for taking that big step - and having the confidence to reopen relationships that are so very connected to Hudson. You have guts, and a big heart, yet you stay true to yourself and your feelings. You are an amazing woman, and I'm so glad to get to spend a little more time with you.

    Much love,

  4. Oh, Mandy-what wonderful friends! Reading your post and their comments gives me such pleasure. Women are wonderful friends. I'm so glad you have them. Many, many more smiles to you and Ed, and the friends who surround you with love and protection.

  5. Good for you, Mandy! Good for you!

  6. After I left that amazing marathon lunch and found Craig again (after shooing him away the first time!), I explained to him how I felt like I had stumbled into something truly great :) That group of moms is phenomenal and you, Mandy, are definitely the anchor.
    I remember so vividly that Friday in May when Hudson was pulling your hand to get you through the double doors at St. Ann's but you made a point of turning back over your shoulder and inviting Emma and me to join the Mamas for happy hour that afternoon. It's such a gift to find someone as warm and inviting and truly inclusive as you are. Thank you for sharing that gift with so many of us.

  7. That luncheon rocked! There is nothing like the strength and beauty of my sister moms. I also realized that it is such a sacred mama space that we get to talk about, remember, laugh, cry, scream, yell, curse the gods and just "be" with Hudson. Whenever I feel the sadness of missing our sweet girl coming on, all I have to do is lean on one of the members of our included of course; because we all get it. At work, when I'm asked what the bracelet is about...people stare and mumble WOW! They don't know what to say or do with such tragedy, hope and love. We are living it and we embrace each other with grace. Sitting next to one of our mama's who is coping with the sudden loss of her dear friend, I found that we were not only able to absorb her raw pain, we invited her to lean on us. Simply put...WE JUST ROCK! My heart burst with awe's love for you all.

  8. You have some wonderful friends. It is really great that you have such a fantastic support system.

  9. Mandy, I am so deeply touched at the level of support you have from your real-life community. That seems to so often be missing for bereaved parents.

    And their beautiful comments here just confirm to me that you are an extraordinary woman.

    Thinking of you all the time.