Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Party

This afternoon was the law school holiday party. I got the invitation several weeks ago, asking me to RSVP with the number of children who would be attending from my family, and their ages, because Santa would be making a visit from the North Pole. I ignored the invitation (as I had already done for the law school Halloween trick-or-treat—it is so bizarre to wish that Hudson were here for these events, because if Hudson were still here, I would never have quit my old job and wouldn’t even be working at the law school). But then I got an email last week asking me if I was planning to attend. I wanted to ignore that, too, but had to respond that we couldn’t make it (which was, of course, not true).

The party started at 4, which is the time I usually leave. I had totally forgotten that it was even happening until I ran to the bathroom before packing up to leave and heard the Christmas carols wafting down from the atrium upstairs. I went back to my office, packed up my things, and put on my coat and hat. As I was leaving, I said my customary goodnight to the others in the office, and my boss said, “You’re not going upstairs?” I had not exactly been prepared to answer questions about the party. I said, “No, I’m not much for holiday parties.” And then I thought, “Well, that doesn’t sound right. I used to love holiday parties.” Before I could stop myself, I blurted out to all three people still there, “Well, not this year, at least. Not when there’s going to be a Santa and small children.” No one really said anything. One coworker asked if I’d be in on Wednesday (she only works Mondays and Wednesdays), and I said I would, and then we all said goodnight again.

After I left, I felt awful for having said that. I generally hate putting people on the spot, and I would never purposely want to make anyone feel bad for saying something without thinking. And yet, because I came to that office four months after Hudson died, I feel like no one there really gets it (with the exception of the person who hired me—I cried in her office during the interview and even though she’s moved to a different position and is not the boss anymore, she still regularly asks me how I am doing). I feel like, to them, Hudson’s death was just an event that happened sometime in the past, before they knew me. I guess I feel like maybe they don’t understand how much of an effect it still has on me, how hard it is for me to get up and go there every day, where every single one of my colleagues has children, most of them little, and I have to listen to them talk about what their kids are doing, or even meet them when they bring them in. So in that instant, I guess I just wanted to remind them that my incredible child died only 7 months ago and even though I am pregnant again, now visibly so, and even though I can put on a pretty good front most of the time so that no one has to feel uncomfortable around me, I am still really, really hurting in this world without my little girl.

Again, this is where a sign around my neck would really come in handy.


  1. Mandy,
    I thought of you and your post about signs that someone is in mourning. I read an article in the NYT about a photo recently uncovered of a girl whose father had died during the Civil War. In the photo, she was wearing what the historians called a "mourning dress" and was wearing jewelry that indicated she was in mourning. I wished I could send you something to wear so everyone would know what you are going through. Maybe someday we will evolve to that...
    Thinking of you guys.

  2. I know how hard it is...I am going ahead day by day, trying really hard not to think or feel. It's the family Christmas picture cards that get me...and no one seems to understand how painful it is to see these festive photos of intact families. Today I sent out a very few cards (5) to close friends....they were cards that were Matt's that he sent out last year, so I said that they were from all of us, and that we were still a "family of four." I included a picture from August 09 of the four of us...

    Anyway, yea, it's hard...every single day is harder than anyone can imagine unless they've been there. Luckily I have you and three other friends who HAVE been there and who totally get it. It helps to know you're not alone...

    Love you, Mandy---and Ed and Penguin, and Hudson, because to me you are a family of four.


  3. Oh Mandy, I wish I had a magic answer for you...a special combination of just the right words to make everything seem ok. I can see where you are coming from in your thought process that this group of people never knew you "before", only "after", and it must be difficult for them to truly grasp because they never got to meet sweet Hudson ~ so therefore don't truly know what (who) you are missing. Please don't feel badly about saying things that make others feel awkward or on the spot ~ it's important that you still talk about your beautiful girl, and if others feel funny about it, that's their problem not yours. So often, we fall into the trap of not knowing what to say, so we don't say anything at all...hence the quick change of subject to if you'd be there Wednesday or not.

    I hate everything about this for you, Mandy. I hate that you feel you have to gaurd your words, or pick them carefully to avoid discomfort for others. I hate that others don't know how to react, and I hate the awkwardness that ensues after a seemingly innocent-enough comment. I hate that you pick apart everything you have said, and find fault with your words simply because you are so compassionate towards others. I hate that the joy of Christmas parties is gone for you (this year at least!), I hate that you don't have current stories to share of Hudson's antics, and I hate that your coworkers will never get to meet her. I hate that you feel the need to put on a "pretty good front." But mostly I just hate that she is gone.

    However, with that being said...I love how you write about her. I love how your love for Hudson shines in every single word on the screen, in every picture you share of her, and in every precious video clip. I love how hands-on you are as a mother, how you jumped in with both feet and figured it out, even without your own mother to guide you (and you DEFINITELY had it figured out!) I love how you can open yourself up and pour out your heart and soul and create this beautiful website that inspires SO MANY people out there. I love how you & Ed are such a strong couple, facing this terrible thing together without wavering. I love how your friends (both real-life & online) offer you support, and I love how you graciously accept it in whatever form helps you the most at any given time. I love how you are excited about the Penguin, but openly feeling mixed emotions...and that is OK! I love how, every now and then, you mention something that has made you smile. I love that you are starting to show, and I love that that makes you feel good. I love that you are willing to open the door to motherhood again. But mostly, I love that you had Hudson, and I love that she is the one who first showed you that door.


  4. It's okay to let people know what you need from them. And by telling the truth about the party you were telling your coworkers that you needed them to treat you like a woman who had recently lost a child. You weren't putting them on the spot, you were reminding them of the spot you're on, because you need them to remember, especially now that it's Christmas, and especially now that you're visibly pregnant. You're not only carving out a space for yourself, you're making the people around you more likely to be sensitive to others from now on. Good for you for telling them the truth.

  5. They asked you a question, and you answered. Unfortunately your answer was a sad one, but hopefully it will shed some light to them on how you are feeling. You never know, perhaps they appreciated your speaking your truth. But it doesn't matter anyway. They were your feelings, your truth.

    Death is such a part of life that I so wish we had better skills to talk to each other about it, particularly in social situations. I for one sorely lack them. There's got to be a better way. In addition to the primary fact that your blog is a beautiful tribute to your precious girl, I think people appreciate it because it is a way to communicate and share about that which can be challenging to talk about. Thinking of you and sending love.

  6. Sending much love. I agree with others; our society doesn't have enough language about grief. We are supposed to grieve in silent and in private. To me, that's wrong. Everyone should be able to honor all our emotions, even the less-than-happy ones.
    I grieve with you, and I'm proud of the person you are.

  7. So sorry Mandy. Totally have been there...Hugs to you. Olivia

  8. I have come to believe that we, as bereaved parents, are not responsible for the feelings of others. I know how you feel- not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable or sad, but I feel that when I think about holding back on Cullen's story (even if it is just the simple acknowledgement that he was here for those months) I am making life even harder for myself. I live with the sadness and grief every day... it doesn't go away- so even if someone gets sad for a moment at the mention of him I remind myself that they feel it for only a moment, and then get to go on with their own life. I wish I had that luxury.

  9. I am thinking of the button that you wished for that says, “My child died. It’s OK to talk about her. I might cry and that’s OK, too.”

    You said, "I felt like I am going to be OK there, even if I do have to tell my story over and over. I imagine there is some healing, and obviously even some good (in sharing that Hudson joy), that can come of my doing so."

    I wonder if you have you told the story since that first day? If they been included in it... You included them today. Grief is uncomfortable, but as the response to your blog confirms, sharing it is comforting.

    You were authentic, as were your colleagues. They'll look for a chance to offer some comfort to you. And it will do you good.

    I used to have a button press. I could make a button to say anything I wanted. I think I could find it....You want one?

  10. Last night we had our neighbor and his son over for dinner. He and his wife have just recently separated; she's a good friend of mine, as is he.

    As I sat uncomfortably at dinner last night listening to a man grieve the loss of his family and the life he knew and thought was ok, as I sat and watched him, broken, I tried hard to listen with an empathetic ear, to not think about how awkward I felt. It's not about me.

    As cullensblessing said above, you are not responsible for other people's feelings. You are an unselfish, empathetic person yourself, so you care that you possibly put some people on the spot when you let the truth come out. But the thing is, there's no other way to be but truthful if you hope to heal.

    I know you've done a tremendous job of getting up and going there everyday just by the simple fact that you've done it. Period. And yes, people will slip up and say things that are thoughtless because they're living their lives without the grief and weight that you are, and for that we should be glad. But it's no crime to let them know how you're living yours.

    Love you.

  11. Mandy,
    This post is a reminder that everyone has different and real and significant experiences that shape their lives. While so many people are focusing on the craziness of the parties and the presents, your feelings about this Christmas are just as valid and important as ever.
    There is a great big gaping hole where Hudson should be - as I uploaded pitcures last night from the day care Christmas party, I couldn't help but linger over the shots of the girls in the class and it's so painfully obvious that the picture is incomplete. It's horrible and real to those who know that this Christmas is fundamentally flawed because your girl isn't here. Once again, just last week, I hesitated when someone asked me how many children are in Emma's class. There are six - there should be six - but one is missing. It's a painful truth but I hope that by sharing this unreal loss in an honest way, we heal just a little more each time.

  12. I generally hate putting people on the spot too, but sometimes it's just necessary. I think, like you said, most people just think of all that has happened to you this year as being "in the past" and they don't realize that there is no past tense when you lose a child. You don't get over it. You never will. I can only imagine that people's attitudes about that will get worse once the Penguin is born; now that your "replacement" baby is here, it's all fine, right? People just don't get it, and it's not their fault, but it is your perogative to remind them of what you've lost whenever you feel like it. I dislike bringing the subject of my son up in normal conversation, I know it's going to be a downer, but sometimes I just do it anyway. I am very proud of you for continuting to get up, go to work, and live your life at a time when lots of people would just give in to the sadness. xoxo

  13. Some beautiful and hopefully comforting words

    On Children

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable.

    Kahlil Gibran

  14. It's so hard for people to get Mandy because no one wants to. We would rather "get" your post of the funny stories you would likely be posting about Hudson and her toddler antics. I have been thinking of you and Ed always and hoping that this holiday season passes with grace. Loving you Big...Renee P.

  15. Mandy,

    I'm a hospice social worker so I deal with death on a daily basis. I can't, nor will I try to attempt to say anything that will help you to move to a better place, because words can't move your mountain of sorrow. It will take time and new experiences to ease your anguish, at which point you will climb to higher ground and see the world a bit differently.

    Hudson's death is a part of your life and nothing will change that; therefore, you are shaped differently from those of us who haven't had a child die. You must always be honest and true to who you are!

    My work gives me good insight to know that our society is fearful of death and/or unwilling to discuss death; especially when it involved a child.

    I remember when my dad was nearing his death from colon cancer, I was 35. I went into Macy's to buy him a new pair of jeans and a nice sweater vest for his burial. As I was paying, which caused me to cry, I thought to myself, "these people in line have NO idea that I am buying these clothes for my dying dad who will only wear them in a coffin." I felt angry that life was going on around me...people were shopping for birthdays, the nearing holidays or just out treating themselves to something new. I so badly wanted to wear a sign on my back telling everyone that my purchase had nothing to do with any of those reasons! I didn't want anyone's pity, I just wanted others to know that I was in mourning and a bit envious that my purchase was one of the very saddest moments in my adult life and not a happy day shopping at the mall.
    I was a changed person from that experience. Although, I was already kind, I knew now that it is important to be kinder, gentler and more compassionate, as we NEVER know what someone "at the register" may be going through.

    Finally, I do beleive that there should be universal sign of mourning that each of can wear; such as a black cloth found in the Jewish community. It should be one that gently reminds people that your life is forever changed and to be a bit more gentle in their approaches. A symbol that is recognized and respected by all of us. A symbol that you may choose to wear daily, on occasion or for the remainder of your life. I have often considered designing such an symbol/item, and now I know I will.
    Mandy, I don't know what it's like to have a child die but I was never able to conceive a biological child so I have spent many years mourning an experience that so many others take for granted.
    My goal of the universal mourning design is only to generate more compassion, which can only be a good thing, right?
    Take care of yourself and as always, go easy on yourself as well.

  16. Mandy: I thought your answer was perfectly appropriate, and I wish you wouldn't feel awful about it. My daughter and her husband are going through a similar experience this holiday season and I continue to be stunned at the lack of sensitivity of some people. I found much wisdom in the comment written above by the hospice social worker. You don't have to apologize to anyone -- Prayers and hugs -- Mariann

  17. Mandy, I imagine they were glad to know how you felt and to have a glimpse of what you are going through. They likely don't know your preferences with regard to talking about Hudson, etc. Maybe your honesty will have broken the ice, and will lead to you being more comfortable with your new colleagues. I hope so. Regardless, don't feel bad about your answer. It was the right one.

  18. I don't have much to add but, please don't feel bad. You were honest and I think that is very important. It won't hurt your co-workers to feel a little uncomfortable. And, I think that, even if it makes us uncomfortable, it is good for us to be reminded that someone around us may be hurting.

  19. I imagine it would feel strange to work with people every day who never knew you before you lost your sweet Hudson. But the only way you can truly connect with new people and let them know you in a way that actually matters, is to be honest about what your life is like now. You didn't say anything to them out of anger, or in a way that would have shamed them for not realizing why you might want to skip the holiday party. You just told them the truth -- your truth -- which they needed to hear in order for them to have the chance to show you compassion and true friendship. If I worked in your office, I would be glad to know what was really going on with you and honored to be able to offer you friendship through it.

  20. Oh Mandy, I can only imagine! But, as the queen of foot-in-mouth, I think you were perfectly within your rights to voice the true reason of your discomfort. If they love you, they will understand...and if they don't understand, then you probably don't need to worry about what they think!
    But I know (in a very small and different way) how you feel. I have not had the guts to explain to my coworkers why I am declining the invitation to attend (yet another) baby shower. Three of us became pregnant around the same time at my school. Now two of those women are great with child, and I'm still trying to work off the extra pounds from my failed pregnancy. I don't know. I was not acutely feeling any grief until recently, watching them walk around school in their cute maternity clothes. Hearing all the comments about "little one on the way!" Listening to them commiserate about pregnancy discomfort. My fellow inclusion teacher who keeps showing me pictures of his newest, littlest one. It's not that I want to deny them any happiness, and it's not that I'm not happy for them. It's just hard sometimes.
    Courage and peace, my friend. That's my wish for you this holiday season. And, as always, I am holding you and Ed and the penguin in my heart! - Abbey Foster