Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

Well, our trip to Paris has served its primary purpose: taking some of the sting out of what I knew would be terrible pain during this Christmas holiday. We arrived in Paris on Christmas morning, but we’d never have known it given all the hustle and bustle of this major European metropolis that does not really even stop for Christmas.

But as so many of you seemed to anticipate with your comments and well-wishes (I hope Paris will make Christmas a little less painful...), this trip has been little more than that—a brief, and inadequate, distraction. I cannot shake the sense that we should not be here, that we should be at home in North Carolina, still enjoying the remnants of a white Christmas with our snow-loving child (seriously, hearing about the snow on Christmas Day felt like the biggest middle finger the universe could have flipped us right now). As I told Jessica in an email earlier this week, this all just feels like a grand charade. Just as the city itself puts on a big show of lights and sparkly things at Christmas to try to liven up the dreary gray of urban winter, so too, am I putting on a show of going on a “vacation” that is no more than a predictably futile attempt at escape.

And good grief, there are children everywhere. Not that I expected this vacation to be child-free, but I just wasn’t thinking too hard about the fact that I was coming to a city where 2 million people are also raising kids, not to mention all the tourists who have come here to celebrate their holidays with their little ones. And while we would never have brought Hudson on this kind of trip at her young age, I am still filled with longing as I see parents toting their exhausted little toddlers in their arms or holding sleeping children in their laps while the rest of the family tours an exhibit. I have never wanted to have tired, aching arms from carrying a child so much in my entire life. My arms ache for the lack of ache. And seeing children of so many ages touring the city with their parents hurts, too—watching the different ways they interact at age 4, age 10, age 13 only reminds me over and over that we will never know Hudson at these ages, will never get to show her the wonders of Paris or any other such place. She is everywhere we look and yet she is not here.  We’re not Catholic, or even religious, but we lit a candle for Hudson inside Notre Dame and cried—it was all we could do.

This is not to say that I have not enjoyed anything—I have. The city is old and beautiful and enchanting—it just doesn’t have the kind of spells I need. Nothing looks like it should. Nothing feels like it should. Everything has a dull finish to it. I wrote before that I am fundamentally altered—being in another city across the ocean doesn’t change that. The old me would have wanted to document this trip in words and tons of photos. Now it’s the best I can do to hold feebly still while Ed takes pictures (an art in which he still finds meaning and joy), dreading the expression I know I will see on my face when I look at the resulting image. I am not myself. And I hate looking at these pictures of myself, because I can see and feel the pain and effort behind the expression. It is effort that I have never before had to muster for a photo in my entire life. And it hurts to look at that.

I feel ridiculous and terribly ungrateful to have this opportunity that many may never have in their lives and yet be so morose, but as I have learned during this course of this terrible journey, the grief will be what it will be. And all I can do is let it.


  1. Mandy,
    You put one foot in front of the other and got yourself across the ocean during this crazy difficult season - a feat in itself! The pictures Ed posted are just beautiful but you most certainly don't look like you :( It's so painfully obvious that you're just aching and, for that, I'm so, so sorry.
    We don't want to face a new year without Hudson; we know, though, that 2011 will bring us her beautiful little sibling, and that's one good thing.
    Lots of love,

  2. Your picture made me cry. I wish I knew for a fact that it would get better. I think it will, I feel it will, and of course I hope it will. But gosh, Mandy, it's still SO SOON. I had hoped the change of scenery might distract you enough, but I'm not surprised that it hasn't. How can you distract a broken heart?
    Ride the waves of grief, secure in the knowledge that you are doing the best you can. I wish I could fix it for you.
    Peace and tranquility to your heart, Mandy-

  3. Mandy, you are not ridiculous or ungrateful. You knew this trip was the lesser of two evils, that Christmas without Hudson would be Christmas without Hudson, regardless of geography. That you have been able to enjoy anything on the trip is a testament to your strength. I remember lighting candles in the Notre Dame for family members, and it makes me happy to think of you doing the same for Hudson. Thinking of you guys, and wishing you peace during the rest of your trip.

  4. Dear Mandy,

    The day Ed posted photos of your trip on FB, we got your lovely holiday card. Hudson's beautiful face looked out at me as I handled that card, and I just felt so sad and angry that she is no longer here. It's just so wrong.

    I'm sorry the trip has been less of a respite than we all hoped. I see what you are talking about in the pictures -- a beautiful, but very changed, you (although if I didn't know you and know what you had lost, I wouldn't know anything was the matter). I'm not sure I have any kind of point, except to say that I'm sorry and still hopeful for happier times ahead in 2011 and beyond. I wish I could take even an ounce of your pain and bear it for you.

  5. Bonjour, Mandy. Thanks for keeping in touch from Paris. I am always grateful for your communications - their honesty and poignancy. YOU have no reason to feel that you are "ungrateful or ridiculous", of course. You are just where you must be in your feelings. AND you are so grateful for Hudson, Ed and the Little Penguin. You are a gem of a person, wife and mother - please never forget that.

    With love and compassion,

    [by the way, I cannot access the "Merry Christmas, Sweet Angel" video which opened only once when I could not view it; hope it can be remedied when you are back home or perhaps it's my computers' faults.]

  6. I so wish this weren't the life you were forced to live. Surrounding you with love, Renee P.

  7. At every single moment each of us is doing the best we can with what we've got... hope you are finding ways to just let yourself "be who you is" without too much expectation and judgment... One day (or one moment or one breath)at a time whether you're in Paris, or DC, or trapped inside your won head... You are a survivor even in the face of this seemingly insurmountable challenge and just as you survived yesterday, you will make through today AND tomorrow... There is such grace and poise is just being able to open your eyes and face each new day, you needn't feel pressured to put on a smiley face until you feel like smiling!!

  8. Hugs, Mandy. As stated in an earlier comment, not much time at all has passed since Hudson's death. All those first milestones are so hard. I remember vividly saying last Christmas that being happy was no longer reflexive as it had been before V. died. I know our situations are different, but I do believe that in time happiness will come more easily for you. Olivia

  9. Sweet girl, you are doing the very best that anyone could do. Go easy on yourself.

  10. I am so sorry that there is never a break from the grief-- I had so hoped that this trip would be a way to give you a few days to rest, heal, and prepare for the future a little more. I hope that you will find moments to laugh and enjoy, and that the grief will stay at bay a bit more. Take care of yourself and the little Penguin.

  11. Mandy -- Please be kind to yourself -- Please do not think yourself ungrateful or are neither. Of course you feel that you should be at home in NC with your beautiful Hudson -- that IS where you should be. There just aren't any answers as to why awful stuff happens to good people. And, I agree with what someone else wrote: not much time has passed since Hudson's are still so very much in the early stages of grieving -- you are doing the best you can do in an impossible situation......and I think you are doing an amazing job. Hugs, many kind thoughts, and prayers for a safe return. I love that you lit a candle in Notre Dame -- I did the same when I was there many years ago. Mariann

  12. I went to Paris in October for a similar reason, to escape and I felt the exact same way you did. About the city, about myself, about pictures. I can completely sympathize.

    You survived it though.

  13. Oh little Hudson - she did love the snow didn't she? She looks so at home amongst it, sitting there in that pretty lavender snow suit. I'm not surprised that all that snow felt like the Universe flipping you the finger. So unfair.

    I think I know a little of what you mean when you write that everything has a 'dull finish' to it.

    Please don't feel ridiculous or ungrateful Mandy. You are neither of those things, truly. xo

  14. Mandy, I have recently been working on a book by a woman well versed in grief, and she speaks often about the haunted, empty, heartbroken look she sees on her face in pictures of her in the early days after her loss, and how she now recognizes it in other people fresh to their own losses. She doesn't wear it herself anymore, though. It won't always be such an effort. You are not alone, and you are not abnormal, and someday you will see that look on someone else's face and reach out to them, remembering, rather than feeling, the same excruciating unyielding pain.

    There is no way you should expect yourself to feel grateful for anything short of the one miracle none of us can create for you. I hope you've had some good pastries, at least.


  15. May God bless your family. God IS with you on this journey.