Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jealousy

I have to start this post with a foreword (I guess this comes with the territory of writing a blog that people actually read). When my mama- and daddy-friends read this, I just want you to know that I love you, I love being with you, I love your children, and nothing that you have ever done has caused me any pain, so please, please, please don’t feel bad when you read this. Please. The pain is just there, whether we like it or not, and this is where I process it. It just is what it is, no matter what we do or say about it.

Here’s the thing. I knew from early on that being around my friends’ kids who are near Hudson’s age would be hard. At the hospital on the day Hudson died, I remember saying to Ed that I did not know how we could possibly go on seeing our dear friends and watching their children grow up when Hudson never would. Watching their kids graduate to toddler beds, potty train, learn to talk in sentences, learn to ride bikes, learn to swim, play at the beach, pick berries, have fun with their friends. I knew all of these things would be hard—every moment would be loaded with thoughts of what Hudson would be like doing those things. This is why my love affair with Facebook has become a love-hate relationship.

But I also knew that at some point, I would have to deal with it. We are just at that age where the vast majority of our friends have children, and the vast majority of their children were born within a year or so of Hudson. At the very beginning, I tried it on for size, snuggling with all the babies at the memorial services and at our house when their parents visited. I think I thought I was OK, but I know that part of me was just trying. Really hard. Then, about three weeks after Hudson died, we all went out to celebrate our dear friend Renee’s birthday at our local joint where we usually did our moms’ happy hour. Everyone came—moms, dads, and babies. I was OK at the beginning, but as the evening wore on, I began to feel like I was floating outside myself—I could hear myself talking and interacting, but I was totally detached from the scene. By the time the evening was over, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to be around those kiddos for a long time. I was broken.

But I had anticipated that.  What I never anticipated, or even considered (again, how these things elude me until they happen is just beyond me) is the incredible envy I would feel of my closest friends. Today, I had lunch at a dear friend’s house. This friend is a mommy-champ, truly one of my mom heroes—her daughter was born six months before Hudson, so our pregnancies overlapped for a few fun months, and I often looked to her for advice about how to handle everything from sleep to feeding solid foods. We’ve had lunch at her house on many, many occasions in the past, both before and after Hudson died. Since Hudson died, my friend has tried hard to make sure her sweet daughter is down for her nap by the time I get there. But her little one is recently potty-trained and has been fighting her nap, so when I arrived today, my friend was still working to get her off the potty and into bed, and later, when she woke up early and still tired, my friend did all the right things, soothing and comforting a still slightly grumpy little girl.

Watching them together, I certainly felt, as I always do, sorrow for all the things that Hudson will never get to do. But for the first time, I recognized the terrible jealousy I feel of my friends themselves when watching them parent their kids or hearing about their interactions with their kids. I miss mothering Hudson almost as much as I miss Hudson herself. As I just wrote recently, being unable to mother her has stripped me of the most central part of myself. As it turns out, seeing and hearing about my friends in action with their kids is as hard or harder than seeing the kids themselves. And frankly, it just sucks to feel jealous of your best friends, especially when you love them so much and when they are working so hard to love and support you, and doing a damn fine job of it, too. 

The layers of loss just keep appearing. And I have to just keep peeling them back and exposing the raw skin underneath. It hurts. Bad.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It Takes a Village

A group of families in our neighborhood, all of whom have young kids and only a small fraction of whom we actually know, got together to make this lovely quilt for us in Hudson’s memory. A few moms did the piece work, another mom quilted everything together, and then each of a large number of families worked to tie the pieces of wool yarn at each corner where the pieces come together. The result, as you can see, is stunning, both visually and symbolically.















Back in my church-going days in high school, I used to attend an Episcopal youth conference at Kanuga in Hendersonville, NC every year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It was called Winterlight. Someone with a better memory than mine can tell me at which Winterlight the following thing happened (and if someone has a picture handy, I’d be happy to post it here, too). A large group of kids, maybe 25-50 or so, stood in a circle with a ball of yarn. One person started with the ball of yarn, held the end, and tossed the yarn across the circle to another person, (and I think they were supposed to say something they valued about that person). The second person held the yarn and tossed the ball across to someone else, and so on. I may not have the process just right, but you can picture how this progressed—bit by bit, strand by strand, a giant web of yarn was formed inside this circle. The point, of course, was to show how community is created between individuals, what a critical role each individual plays in the community, how a community is stronger than each of its individual parts, and how each of our lives touches many, many other lives in ways we don’t always realize.

When one of the neighborhood moms delivered this quilt the other day on behalf of all the families who helped make it, the yarn web from nearly 20 years ago is what came to my mind. Hudson touched so many lives in ways we never realized, and the community that has formed around and underneath us as a result is lifting us up in so many ways, both tangible and intangible. This quilt, and everything it represents about what is good and kind in the world, is my One Good Thing today. Many, many thanks to the Brookland families who made it for their love and support, and to everyone else who is part of our web.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Identity

I took Bess for a walk by myself today. Usually, Ed and I take her together after he’s gotten home from work—it’s been too hot to go much earlier than 8:00 at night anyway. But we had dinner plans with a friend from out of town tonight and it was overcast and not as hot today, so Bess and I went out by ourselves around 5:00. I was about halfway up the block from our house when I was struck by the idea of what people driving and walking past must see when they see me. I thought, “They see a childless woman walking her dog.” And then I thought, “Is that what I am? What am I? Who am I now that my daughter has died?”

My dear old friend Page recently posted on her (uniquely awesome) mommy blog some advice for those of us who are “Climbing Out of Hell,” meaning all those of us who have suffered losses of many kinds. At the end, she says, “The last thing I want to say is that you are ‘The One.’ You know, ‘The one whose parents died in a plane crash.’ Or, ‘The one whose sister killed herself.’ Or ‘The one who was raped.’ Whatever the atrocity is, you are ‘The One.’”

She is spot-on, like she is about so many things. But God help me, I don’t want to be “The One.” Even during those horrible days in the hospital, when we were faced with the fact that Hudson was not likely to survive, I remember thinking, “I don’t want to be ‘the parents who lost a child.’” I’m not totally sure what that was about. I think part of me couldn’t bear the thought of that new identity, of being an object of pity, of being a person people feel like they have to mince words around. But I realize now that part of me was already trying to come to grips with what it means to be a mother without a child. When Hudson was born, I think I felt for the first time in my life that I knew who I was and understood my purpose. Although I was (am) certainly more than just “Hudson’s mommy,” I derived more meaning out of that identity than anything else I have ever been or done. I cherished that identity. It was (is) not all of who I am, but it was (is) who I am nonetheless. I don’t want to be anything else.

But who (what) am I now? I am still Hudson’s mommy, but yet I don’t get to actually be her mommy anymore. My identity as I knew it two and a half months ago no longer exists. I walk around the block without my little girl in a stroller. I drive a minivan with no kids in the back. I can do whatever I want all day long without planning around naps, meals, and bedtime. These are not things that mommies do. “Childless mother” is not an identity I ever anticipated. I really have no idea who I am in this new world into which I have been thrust, quite literally kicking and screaming, against my will.

Page says, “How you choose to deal with your oneness is going to make or break the way you live in your ‘After.’ The good news is the more time goes by, the more people forget about your oneness.’” Once again, I know she is right. As we are forced ahead in this “After” without our sweet Hudson, we will never forget our girl, nor will anyone who knew her and loved her. But as time goes on, I hope I will feel less like “the one who lost a child.” And I certainly hope I will not always be a “childless mother.” Because honestly, there’s just no worse identity in the world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Longing

We spent the weekend at the Bele Chere festival in Asheville with good friends from law school. The weather was incredibly hot, so enjoying ourselves outside was not all that easy, but we saw a few good bands, ate a lot of good food, and saw some other parts of Asheville that were air-conditioned. And it was great to be with our friends, Angie and Chad, who we don’t see nearly often enough, and who, among our many friends, are uniquely equipped to make us laugh. A lot. And we did laugh. A lot. Which was good.

For some reason, though (and I don’t know how I continue to fail to anticipate these things—probably because I have still just not accepted that this is our new reality), I just didn’t realize how many children would be at Bele Chere. The last time I went to Bele Chere was in 1992, and the time I spent there was mostly at night, after dark, and I don’t really remember much at all except there being a lot of drunk people and loud music. Why would anyone bring their kids to such a thing? But in fact, the festival is huge, including lots of music all day, arts and crafts of all kinds, an entire children’s program at one building, face painting, mimes, dancers, carnival food, a splash park at a fountain downtown. . . In other words, who wouldn’t bring their kids there?

And bring them they did. In droves. There were kids everywhere. In their parents’ arms. In strollers. In carriers. In backpacks. In wagons. Walking. They. Were. Everywhere.

When we got there Friday afternoon, we headed down to a particular stage to see Angie’s friend’s band play. As we walked, I actually said out loud, “I can’t believe I didn’t think about how many kids would be here.” We got to the stage and of course, right in front of us, was a chubby little boy, just about Hudson’s age, red-faced and sweaty (it was in the high nineties and there was no shade anywhere), bopping around with his mom to the music. She had him up on her shoulders and was swaying and bouncing; he was clapping his hands and grinning. I purposely tried to position myself (and the enormous brimmed hat I bought) so that I couldn’t see him. It didn’t really work, and I kept sneaking glances. It was hard not to look, even though it hurt every time.

The next day, we tooled around Asheville and did not head downtown until after 5, because it was so hot. When we finally did go downtown, we went to a bar almost immediately to cool off. For the first time, I thought maybe it would be nice to have a drink, catch a little buzz, and maybe try to lose myself in it for just a little while. Until very recently, I have had absolutely no desire to be in any kind of altered state whatsoever, partly because of my fear that while the buzz itself might be fun, coming out of it might be not very much fun at all. I was right. I had a very strong vodka tonic at the bar, and then we went to another bar where I had a few more lighter drinks. We went outside and listened to a bluegrass band for a while and then headed down to the fountain/splashpark in front of Asheville’s town hall and court house. I was pretty buzzed by this time so I didn’t think in advance about whether this was a good idea. We sat down on the steps across from the fountain and watched all the kids running around as the spouts of water started and stopped, catching them by surprise every time. We sat there for a long while, and in the heat, the effects of the alcohol began to wear off, but I still felt like I was in a fog. You know how when you are watching a movie and some kid is about to get snatched from an amusement park or something, and everything goes into slow-motion, and the picture looks a little blurry, and you can hear kids shrieking in the background, and you’re just waiting for something to happen? That is exactly how this felt. I was watching these two kids, a shirtless little blond girl between three and four, and her little brother, who was probably two and still in diapers, climb up a set of three stairs, come and stand on top of a stubby column, and then reach their arms out to their dad, who grabbed them and swung them up high and then back down to the ground. Over and over again. Climb, reach out, fly with Daddy. Hudson loves to climb stairs. Hudson and her little brother. Aren’t they beautiful? They have so much fun together and they love their daddy so much. No, wait… Hudson isn’t here. And I don’t know who those kids are. By the time we left, I felt like I’d been hit in the face with a brick—stunned and aching, but forced to keep moving.

The worst, though, didn’t even happen at Bele Chere. Yesterday, as we were driving back home from Asheville, we stopped at a gas station/convenience store to go to the bathroom. I headed through the store behind a mom and her daughter. The mom was probably a little younger than me, wearing a navy blue shirt dress and a baseball cap. The little girl was about three and was wearing a pink cotton t-shirt dress with puffed sleeves and a smocked front. The little girl kept trying to walk where the mom couldn’t hold her hand and the mom kept trying to corral her a little bit closer. We all crowded into the bathroom where there was a short line for the stalls. As we waited, the mom picked the little girl up, swung her on to her hip, and gave her a kiss. I immediately felt hot tears spring to my eyes and I had to look down so no one would see and then had to close my eyes and take a deep breath to keep from bursting into a sob.

I want my little girl back. I want to swing her around on my shoulders and clap to music and worry about her getting too hot or getting sunburned. I want to watch her playing with her daddy in a fountain on a hot summer afternoon. I want to swoop her into my arms for a playful kiss while we wait in line for the bathroom. This longing is so deep and so powerful that it still physically hurts. These days, I check my email compulsively, waiting for messages and comments on my blog posts—I realized for the first time yesterday that some part of me does this in the frantic and insane hope that she will just materialize there before my eyes. Last night, when we came home to no power, we were sitting on the couch, and I imagined that Hudson was upstairs in her bed—I thought that maybe Ed and I could be the first humans on earth who were so distraught over the loss of our loved one that we actually got to get her back?!

This weekend did offer some comfort other than the company of our good friends, though. For the first time this weekend, I felt a longing for something else: a second baby. At the restaurant where we ate Friday night, there were two little boys sitting near us, one right next to us and one over our right shoulder. Both were probably around 6 months old. We left after we ate, but I ran back inside briefly to go to the bathroom. As I passed the table next to us, I looked down and saw the baby boy laid back in the crook of an elbow, eyes closed, sucking on a bottle in that unconscious way babies do when they are sucking in their near-sleep. I immediately thought, “I want that. Now.”

And then tears. I don’t know if they were tears of longing for a second baby or tears of guilt at the thought of longing for a baby other than my girl or tears of sorrow that I will never get to have both Hudson and a second baby. Maybe this is the same kind of longing all parents get when their toddler gets too old and too busy to really care about snuggling in to the crook of an arm for a nap or a bottle. Maybe I really was just longing for Hudson and it manifested itself into longing for an infant. Maybe I will never be able to tell the difference. I have to say that it felt good, even if for a fleeting second, to feel like it might even be possible to long for a second child. Because I have had my doubts. I miss my girl so much that sometimes it seems like I might never be able to love another child again, not the way I love her. But for that one second, when I saw that delicious little boy floating away into a milk-induced coma, for just that second at least, I knew that I could.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Away

We are in Asheville for Bele Chere. Our dear friend Angie (for whom Bele Chere is the highlight of the year) called me last week and said, "Y'all should come." So we did.

I don't really have access to the laptop or the internet, and am posting now for the first time from the Blackberry. It has been strange, even difficult, not to write. But I am going to see if I can let go of all of this, at least a little bit, at least for today, and enjoy good friends, a beautiful town, and a great celebration of arts and music.

There's a lot to write about. Tomorrow.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just Another Way to Remember

I got a pedicure today.  I picked this color with Hudson in mind:

It's a little more teal than this picture shows. 

I wasn't sure I could pull off the greenish-blue, but those were her best colors:
 

(here with sweet friend Ellary)

And, as you know, she was a loyal Tar Heel fan:



























And Hudson, with all her unbridled joy and spirit, was game for just about anything:



So I said, "What the hell?"  These toes are for my little monkey-- just another small way to remember her and to honor her.  Thank you, Hudson, for helping Mommy be a little more adventurous, even in the tiniest of ways.  Here's hoping there's much more to come.  Who knows?  This may be the first step toward a tattoo. 

Guilt Trip

I had another guilt dream last night. In this one, I was taking care of someone else’s baby (I have no idea whose). I laid the baby back in a sink to give it a bath. I turned the hot water spigot on first and before I could even turn on the cold water spigot, the baby started to scream. I realized immediately that the water had come out of the spigot scalding hot—it had not taken the customary minute to warm up like it usually does at my house. I looked down and saw the baby had a fiery red blister coming up on its right arm, just where the water had hit it. I was beside myself—I started to try to explain to someone what had happened, that usually the water has to warm up and I had no idea it would come out so hot. Whoever I was talking to looked down at the baby. I looked down with them. We both saw that in fact, there was no welt there at all.

Maybe this is my subconscious struggling to help me forgive myself. I really have been trying. I just re-read the section of Harriet Schiff’s book, Bereaved Parents, about “Bereavement and Guilt.” There, she says, “People logically should not blame themselves for things they did not know they were mishandling.” I have turned this over and over and over in my mind, trying to make it stick (and of course, trying to remind myself that really, the judgment we made about waiting a few hours to go to the pediatrician probably was not even “mishandling” the situation). Certainly it is only in the unforgiving light of hindsight that I can see that maybe there were signs of meningitis that an aggressive ER doc would have seen, if we’d only taken her to the ER first. I read recently that leg pains are now seen as one of the early warning signs of meningitis, and immediately remembered that when Hudson woke up at 4AM, her fever having risen since her Tylenol dose an hour earlier, I touched her leg and she shrieked. That was the first time I remembered saying that something seemed wrong. But I just figured she felt so crappy that she didn’t want to be touched anywhere, didn’t want us to mess with her at all. Even now, I have no idea whether she really had leg pain, because she couldn’t tell us what hurt. Hindsight is so incredibly (even if falsely) clear.  And it is so incredibly agonizing.

And sometimes it’s more of a generalized feeling of guilt, not even related to the decision to wait a few hours for the pediatrician to open rather than going straight to the ER. I just think about her not being here, enjoying all the magic in this world that she adored. I think about all the things she’ll never get to learn or do, all the places she’ll never get to see, all the adventures we’ll never have together, and I just have the overwhelming sensation that it is my fault, that I should have prevented it. And that everyone looks at me and thinks the same thing—after all, I am Hudson’s mother (and yes, I know this is not the case, so please don’t feel the need to reassure here—I am rationally aware that this is totally irrational).

I have been trying so hard to get to the bottom of why this keeps plaguing me, despite all evidence that it should not, in hopes that logic will ultimately prevail. Last night, I asked Ed if he was dealing with any feelings of guilt. Once, a while back, when I was going through one of these bouts with wishing we had taken her to the ER instead of the doctor, Ed said that sometimes he felt as though maybe if he’d also gotten up when I was up with her overnight, he would have seen that she looked pretty bad and would have helped me decide just to take her to the hospital. At the time, I told him I didn’t want to hear that, because it sounded as though he thought he might have seen something that I missed. But he explained that he just meant that I definitely shouldn’t feel bad because he didn’t even get out of bed when all this was going on. So I asked him about it again last night, wanting to drink in whatever wisdom he had that kept him from getting dragged down into this like I do. He said that while he does get that feeling every once in a while, he just believes that what happened to Hudson was simply not in our control, no matter how much we wish it could have been, and that even if we’d taken her to the ER instead of the doctor, it would not have made any difference.

In my heart, I think I know that this is true. I started wondering last night if this sense of overwhelming guilt is generally stronger in bereaved moms than it is in bereaved dads. After all, I was primarily responsible for Hudson’s life and nutrition for the first twenty-one months that she existed. For the nine months that she was in my belly, I was responsible for trying to make sure that she got all the nutrients she needed to grow, for shielding her from all manner of teratogens, for giving her a safe place to develop into the amazing 7lb 6 oz creature that emerged from my body on December 1, 2008. And then for the next twelve months, I was still her primary source of nutrition—both her day and mine revolved around a seemingly endless cycle of nursing, pumping, and feeding, for a whole year, well past the six-month mark when she started eating solids. (None of this is to discount the extraordinarily important role that Ed played in our family during all of these times—one of my favorite pages in the book The Very Best Daddy of All, which I gave Ed for Father’s Day when we were pregnant with Hudson, says “Some daddies take care of your mama, so she can take care of you.” And of course, that is only the tip of the iceberg of what Ed does for us.) Maybe the real source of this guilt is not guilt at all, but anger and frustration at this total and utter helplessness (and many of you have touched on this before, including my friend Kate, in her comment on my first post about this). When you so wholeheartedly believe that you are in control for so much of the time, it is difficult, if not impossible, to concede that maybe you are not in as much control as you thought. Maybe you are not in control at all.

I think about parents who lose their children to birth defects, lifelong illnesses, cancer, or accidents away from home, parents who had absolutely no control over what happened to their kids and I think, “Well, at least they will never feel like they had any responsibility for their children’s deaths.” And then I think, “What the fuck kind of thinking is that, Mandy?” Because I am absolutely certain that every parent feels responsible, somehow. I recently heard an interview on Fresh Air with comedian Louis C.K.— he said during a standup routine once that a parent’s primary job is to make your kid “not die.” And I thought, “Shit, I couldn’t even do that.” As parents, any outcome that results in us outliving our children feels like utter failure, no matter how illogical or irrational that may be. And yet, every one of us has to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much we love our children, we cannot control everything that happens to them any more than we can control our kids themselves. It is a hard truth, but I know it is the truth.

I hope (God, I hope) this is at least the beginning of my making peace with this monster.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Labor

It has been, as you can probably tell, another string of hard days. On days like this, mostly all I feel like writing is “I am sad. I am sad. I am sad. I am sad. . .” over and over again, knowing that in a million years, these words would never communicate the depth of this pain. Our lives in Hudson’s absence are in such stark contrast to what they were before; the grief feels much like a being caught in a vise, the tension of which we simply can’t control or predict. And some days, I feel like I just can’t, won’t, make it through.

But I can’t go one more day without saying something important. So many of you have posted comments and sent messages of many kinds to us saying that if there was anything you could do to take away even a little bit of our pain, you would. I know this is true. I also know that there is nothing you can do that can take away the pain, now or ever. The pain will be with us and part of us for the rest of our lives, which is yet another layer of this unbelievable loss.

But I know something else is true, too. Back when I was pregnant with Hudson, our Lamaze instructor/doula used to tell us that there was nothing we could do during a drug-free labor that would take away the pain. But there were things we could do that would change the sensation of the pain—breathing techniques, different positions, motion, heat, meditation. And when I went into labor with Hudson, I discovered that the doula was exactly right. During the twenty-seven hours that I labored with her, without drugs, the pain went from uncomfortable to miserable to excruciating. There were many, many moments where I believed I would never make it without an epidural.  The pain never went away. But using all the comfort measures we learned beforehand, we were able to change the sensation of the pain. Despite my doubts, I was able to bring that precious creature into the world naturally, just like I wanted to.

This is a labor of a much different kind. I survived a drug-free labor and delivery partly because I knew that it would eventually end and that the ending would be glorious. Not so with this terrible pain—it will never end and nothing wonderful is waiting if we could just get to the other side of it, because there is no other side. But still, comfort measures work. Love, support, prayers, thoughts, shared tears, comments, messages, phone calls, visits, cards, memorials, tributes, memories…all of these things help change the sensation of the pain. I remain so incredibly grateful to all of you, those I know and those I don’t know, for continuing to coach, coax, and encourage us, for crying, screaming, and grieving with us, for continuing to believe and tell us that we will make it through, despite our doubts. So thank you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Water and Light: From Hudson's Daddy

So much of life is light. We all carry a flame, but there was one little flame that lit my whole world. (How is it that such a young small person who lives such a short life could make such a big light?) But she is gone now and it is dark, and my own light is doused to embers. It feels so empty. And so I live by the light of our friends and family. Their breath keeps my embers glowing. In some ways, life has been so unfair to me, but this is not one of them. The day after Hudson’s death, my friend Lisa posted on my Facebook that she “found a place of peace tonight shortly after 7pm, gazing at Hudson's photo praying for a miracle, when clarity came to me that her life--however short--has been a miracle, and that we're all blessed to be part of a community that surrounds her, and you, and Mandy, with so much love.” She’s right (I keep finding myself saying that in response to the wisdom of my friends). Mandy and I are blessed by the people in our lives. Their love has found its mark and I want them to know that.

And I am most blessed to have Mandy. I cannot fathom being in this time – or any time, for that matter – with any other person. At times it feels like we are clinging to the bottom of a capsized vessel in stormy seas, and it is her voice and soft touch that keeps me present and holding on. And even though we are both adrift together, she still remains my magnetic north.

So much of life is also water. And grief often feels like drifting and floating (and sometimes drowning). I guess it’s no surprise that I find myself wanting to be near the water as much as possible. A few weeks ago, I went to visit my friends Claudia, Cal and Chuck in North Carolina. Claudia runs a retreat center on beautiful farmland near a small town called Mebane. She lives in a cozy house filled with the art and love of her friends, and the front of the house overlooks a small farm pond. It was a clear day, and you could see on the water the reflection of the sky broken by the occasional cloud and the watchful cedars that line the southern bank. After a yummy lunch, Claudia and I were drawn to go for a swim. We hopped in while Cal basked on a small dock that jutted out to the pond’s deepest point and Chuck roamed the land nearby. After taking a few laps, Claudia and I started floating on our backs, our arms to our sides, spinning on axis around each other like binary stars. It smelled like home, like the organic red clay of the North Carolina Piedmont. I rested my hand on my belly and felt myself breathing; my body rising and sinking into the sun-warmed water with each breath. Claudia noted that if you breathe just right, you can float forever with very little work. She’s right, of course. The breathing. It’s a foundation; a fundamental of staying afloat. I am adept in the water, but at that moment, I just wanted to float with my people among the comfort of our gentle ripples. It was – they are – exactly what I need.

* * *

A number of times, I’ve thought about Aeschylus’s famous quote on suffering (Robert Kennedy used a slight variation in his memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.): “[E]ven in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom by the awful grace of God.”

This quote is commonly understood to mean that suffering brings wisdom, but in some ways, it is about the acceptance of suffering. And that is related to the lesson that keeps hammering me with every drop: that life is simply unfair and there some things you cannot control, and to survive, you just need to accept it. The drops look like this: Hudson as she was when I first arrived at the emergency room - splayed out on a hospital bed just staring off into space while two or three doctors and a crying Mandy hovered worriedly over her. Her bed being rolled into the intensive care unit, the useless antibiotics flowing into her arm. Her reaching for her mother – and her mother’s palpable desire to hold her – while the doctors held her back. The somehow gentle yet cold mechanical embrace from the tendrils of life support equipment after she fell into a coma. The way her eyes did not move during her brain death exam. The limp warmth of her body after she was taken off life support. And then there are the contrasting sister drops: Hudson’s involuntary smile as we swung around the kitchen singing Wagon Wheel. The way she paused in anticipation just before I snatched her up when we were playing run and hide. Her reflexive “No” that sometimes came out with a question mark. Her earnest look while trying to sing along to Row Your Boat or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The famous Easter egg picture: her hand proudly showing the first egg she found at her first – and only – Easter egg hunt, her giddy, infectious smile commanding all attention. Sometimes, it pours.

But here’s the thing. I don’t need this lesson anymore. I was mired in it when I was a gangly 13 year old and everyday after school my mother would make me roll up my sleeve so she could check my undersized forearm for needle tracks because she was convinced that I was a 7th grade dope addict and that my sisters were prostitutes and my father was plotting to kill her. She was losing her mind and I was deep in the midst of losing her in a painfully drawn out way. The loss wasn’t slow – time was slow. Crazy stopped the clock while her sanity raced away. It’s the same with grief. There is always plenty of time to listen to the drops and to contemplate the stolen days that would have inevitably raced by.

Before my mother’s mental illness, you could describe her in ways similar to Hudson – beautiful, vivacious, and intelligent. There is a great photo of her taken by her cousin when she worked as a journalist in college. It’s an 8 x 10 black and white of her laughing at something off camera. She’s gorgeous - she could have modeled – and there is a light in her eyes. But in some ways, my mother was my first child. So much of my youth and young adulthood was spent trying taking care for her - although I did a lousy job taking care of her since I was mostly learning how to take care of myself. And like with my real first child, I watched her die in a hospital bed surrounded by beeping instruments. She was finally taken by cancer, when I was twenty-five. The actual cause of her death was internal bleeding. Right before she died, she kept crying out for water.

It’s the grief for the loss of Hudson that owns me now, not the grief of losing my mother twice. But these losses, they run together. They have to – they are conjoined by love and life incomplete and utter unfairness. My friend and co-worker Grace popped into my office a couple of weeks ago and asked me if Hudson came to play with me at night. Grace lost her mother a few years ago and now her mom visits her regularly in her dreams. They have normal conversations about every day life. I had not then and have not yet dreamed about Hudson. I want to so badly, and Grace said that it would come soon. But as it would go, a day or two after Grace’s visit, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in a very long time. I was a finalist in one of the American Idol/America’s Got Talent shows and it was the day of the final decisive show. There were five of us, and we all showed up to the auditorium a few hours early to prepare (it was Beatles night, but for some reason I was singing Bohemian Rhapsody). My mother dropped me off in her burgundy Dodge Shadow and I realized I was wearing the wrong suit and I didn’t have my sheet music. I was completely unprepared and feeling panicky, and my mother – who seemed somewhat with it – promised me that she would go back and get her stuff. She left, and I waited. And she never came back.

It’s transparent that this dream was about my mother, but actually I think it was more about Hudson. She’s not coming back either, as much as I wait, as my dreams without her tell me every night. I would do anything to have her back. But I can’t. And although I’ve already had a life time to get used to the dripping, and to accept it, it still hurts like hell.

But what else am I to do other than to be. My friend Tony has created an internet based public art project – WDYDWYD. It’s a participatory project that invites anyone to artistically answer the question, “Why do you do what you do?” It’s a brilliant idea and elicits some really creative and poignant submissions. Many are in the form of self-portrait photography, as would be mine. I’m outside. It’s sunny and I’m standing in front of a body of water. Pinned on my shirt over my heart is a photo of Hudson – the Easter egg photo. My left hand is by my side and it holds the black and white photo of my mother. My right hand is in front of me, an open compass in my palm. Somehow, the words “Because the world is unfair enough already” are scrawled at the top of the photo. The bottom reads, “And there are some things we can control.”

Chance Encounter

My dad and older sister, Diane, are in town for a few days. Last night, Ed, Dad, Diane, and my nephew, Ben, and I all went out to dinner at Colonel Brooks’ Tavern here in our neighborhood. The original plan had not been to go out to eat—I had bought groceries for two nights’ worth of dinners, but ultimately didn’t feel like cooking. There are only two sit-down restaurants in the neighborhood—Colonel Brooks’ and San Antonio Bar and Grill. San Antonio, just a block up the street, was a favorite hangout for us with Hudson—I went there often with my Brookland mom-friends and all our babies. The last photo we have of Hudson was taken there at a mom-baby happy hour on the Friday before she went into the hospital. I’ve been back there only once since Hudson died, to celebrate one of our mom-friends’ birthdays—I haven’t been able to go back since, so that was not really an option. Plus, Ben had scored us a $25 gift certificate for Colonel Brooks’, so Colonel Brooks’ it was.

We walked in, told the host there were five of us, and then started to follow him around to a table at the back of the restaurant. I walked about 3 steps, looked up, and froze. There, looking right at me, at a table of about 20 people, was the PICU Fellow in charge of Hudson’s care at Children’s. He looked away, then looked back. I was stunned—it seemed like 100 thoughts went through my mind in the course of one second. I finally settled on this one: I could either look away and pretend like I hadn’t seen him or just say hi. Looking away somehow did not seem like an option—although I didn’t consciously think this at the time, I think now that it would have felt like some kind of betrayal of Hudson’s existence, much like it would feel for me to lie if asked if I have children.  So I said, “Oh, hey, Dr. X, how are you?” And he nodded and said solemnly (he’s a pretty solemn guy—young, but solemn), “Hey, how are you all doing?” I think I said, “We’re good” or “Fine”—not sure which, or even if I said anything at all. We kept walking to our table.

It seemed like he was there for some sort of work-related outing—our neighborhood and the restaurant are only about five minutes from Children’s and it looked like it was probably a group of doctors. I had no idea if he knew exactly who I was—given the number of patients and patients’ families he sees on a regular basis, I figured it was entirely possible that we looked familiar to him (all five of us had spent significant time at the hospital while Hudson was sick) but only as that—some patient’s family. I didn’t know if he knew we were Hudson’s family, or if he remembered who Hudson was, or if he remembered Hudson had died. It was a bizarre feeling, because of course, we will never forget his face.  Ever. 

We sat down and all of us started to talk about how strange it was to see him there. I think I was in shock. Just yesterday morning, I had been reading Heather Spohr’s blog about the first time she saw one of the doctors after her 17-month-old daughter died in the hospital from an infection. So I had just been thinking about how I would feel if I ran into Dr. X somewhere, but I don’t really know what I thought I would feel. I guess I figured it would trigger some kind of PTSD-like reaction where I would relive all those terrible days again, but unfortunately, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that on my own without any help.  Whatever I expected, I actually felt OK to have seen him.

The main thing I thought about was that at some point soon, the hospital is supposed to invite us in for a consultation of some sort, literally a post-mortem, I think, where they would talk with us again about what happened, and we could ask any questions that had come up since Hudson died that we’d been unable to conceive of under extreme duress. I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading this, because the only question I want an answer to is a question I am pretty sure they won’t answer: whether she would still be alive if we’d brought her in to the ER 12 hours earlier. And really, I only want an answer if the answer is “No.” I so want someone in charge to clear me, to tell me that even if we had done that, it still would not have made any difference, either because the infection had already progressed too far by that point, or because Hudson’s symptoms at that time would not have warranted suspicions of meningitis and they’d have sent us home. I am pretty sure no one at the hospital would speculate like that, regardless of what direction the speculation would lean. But I am desperate for absolution.

As our dinner was winding down, I could tell Dr. X and his group had not yet left and I was hesitant to pass back by their table. And then, all of a sudden, he was passing by ours on his way to the bathroom. I don’t even know what made him stop but he did. We all said hello again and he said, “I didn’t expect to run into you all at a bar.” And I smiled and agreed that it was an odd experience, and told him about my thought earlier that I could either ignore him or say hi, and ignoring him seemed not quite right. He said he remembered us and Hudson well.  Dad mentioned that we were glad about all the donations coming into Hudson’s fund for the PICU. Dr. X said, “You know, it’s always really nice when something good like that can come out of something terrible.” And we agreed. And then he continued, “But it doesn’t change the fact that it is really fucking terrible.”  Indeed. 

Overnight, I dreamed about Hudson for the fourth time since she died. The details of the dream are mostly fuzzy, but the general gist of it was that I was supposed to be watching her and wasn’t doing a very good job. I remember one scene where I was up on some kind of balcony above the room where she was—I looked down and saw her sitting on top of a glass coffee table, crawling toward the edge, where she would surely fall off. The only other scene I remember was holding her in my lap, trying to pry chewing gum, a silver chewing gum wrapper, and some other small pieces of trash out of her mouth—she had picked all of this off the floor and tried to eat it while I wasn’t watching her. I said to someone (I have no idea who it was), “I’m such a terrible mother.” I don’t need a dream interpreter to tell me what that one was about.

I haven’t yet figured out the reason why, but I feel like we were supposed to run into Dr. X last night. It was all too weird—I had just been thinking about him that morning, our plan to go out to eat was very last-minute, we had this coupon for Colonel Brooks’, all five of us were together, and it triggered a dream about Hudson. Despite my shock and despite the seemingly negative thoughts and dreams that ensued, I’m glad we saw him. Really glad, actually. Maybe it’s simply knowing that I can survive an encounter that, in my imagination, seemed like it might be pretty scary. Maybe it was just satisfying an intense but unexplained need I’ve been feeling off and on to see someone connected to that experience. Maybe it’s that he understood Hudson’s One Good Thing without us even telling him about it.

Maybe I’ll just take it as a totally incomprehensible blessing of some sort and hope that understanding comes later.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ten Weeks

Another sad day. Well, let’s get real.  Every day is a sad day, of course. Our home is empty, still, quiet, strangely and uncomfortably uncluttered. The only parts of my daughter’s physical body still with me are her ashes and two locks of her hair that we cut in the hour after she died. The dog spends more of her days upstairs under the bed than downstairs with me because she can’t stand to hear me cry. Every day is sad. But some days the sadness just swallows me whole, leaving me wondering if I will ever survive this, or if I even want to. The former question can only be answered with time, and hope, on the days I am lucky enough to feel it. The latter question is always answered by recalling that Hudson loved life so much that to even think that this pain makes it not worth living is to dishonor her spirit. But that reminder is a double-edged sword, because it is also a reminder that she is not here enjoying that life—playing in the pool with her friends on the weekends, seeing her first fireworks, eating her first popsicle in the summer heat and turning her whole face cherry red around that brilliant smile.

It has been ten weeks today since I took Hudson to the ER. Ten weeks today since I last heard her utter a word (the last two things I can recall her saying were “Bye-bye” to the nurses at the pediatrician’s office that morning, and “No” when I tried to offer her something to drink or eat later that day). Ten weeks today since I last believed that no terrible things could ever happen to me again. Ten weeks. One-fifth of a year. Almost one-eighth of the time that Hudson was with us on this earth.

I don’t know what I thought it would be like at ten weeks out. I think I imagined, definitely hoped, that this would feel both more real and less raw by ten weeks. It feels neither. There are still many, many days, including today, when I still can’t bring myself to believe that I will never see her again (at least not here on earth, and beyond that, I have no idea, only a vague hope). I look at pictures of her, of us, and I just cannot fathom how life can be going on without her in it. I cannot fathom that she is not coming back. There’s no trick of imagination my mind can play on me—I can’t imagine that she is just on a business trip or out with friends and will be back soon, because she never did anything without us—but my mind is just set against the concept. My friend Ann sent me an excerpt from a recent book review in the New Yorker. Nox, by poet Ann Carson, is what Carson calls an “epitaph” to her brother, who died after being basically estranged from her for over 20 years, and it is assembled essentially in scrapbook form. The last paragraph of the book review made Ann think of me:
When Herodotus was recounting a story he didn’t fully believe, Carson notes, he wound up “with a remark like this: So much for what is said by the Egyptians.” On the next page she has pasted a typed phrase on a slip of paper, which is folded over on itself so that we must strain to make out these sentences: “I have to say what is said. I don’t have to believe it myself.” It’s a piercing summation of the mourner’s secret position: I have to say this person is dead, but I don’t have to believe it.
My secret position indeed. I have to say Hudson is dead, but I don’t have to believe it. Ten weeks later, I still don’t.

Nor does the grief feel any less raw than in the days following her death. If anything, on some days, it feels moreso. The days and weeks after Hudson died were filled with a million tasks, visits from friends, distractions of many kinds. And a protective numbness brought on by living purely on adrenalin. Ten weeks later, it is a struggle to motivate to do many things, a struggle to feel up to visiting, and distractions only work so well. Tears lurk just below the surface of every word, pain below the surface of every thought.

Ten weeks later, the rest of the world is turning at its regular pace, but our world rotates much more slowly, like we are living at the North Pole—all the times zones converge and it is just one long day or night. I have this way of thinking about time—I used to do it a lot when I was a kid, and still do it occasionally now. When I was really looking forward to something, I would think about how many more days or weeks I had to wait until the big event. Then I would count backwards in time that many days or weeks and think, “OK, great, that doesn’t seem like very long ago, so it won’t be very long until [name my favorite event.]” The last time I really remember doing this was when I was waiting for Hudson to be born. I was so ready to meet her and so burned out at work—I used this counting backwards method all the time so that I could feel better about how soon she would be here. Now, though, it works differently. I think about how many weeks it has been since Hudson died and think what she was doing that many weeks before she died and can hardly believe it. Ten weeks before she died, she was at the doctor for her 15-month checkup, impressing the pediatrician with all her words. We were still reveling in how much fun we’d had in the snow. We were looking forward to the kite festival coming up.

But even as our world keeps turning at a snail’s pace, it is turning. I still try to trick my mind into thinking differently about time. A few weeks ago, I was momentarily horrified to have counted only six weeks since Hudson died. Then I re-counted, and you can’t imagine my relief at discovering that I had counted wrong and it had actually been seven weeks. For some reason, it gave me immense comfort to know that we had survived seven weeks instead of only six—six seemed like nothing, seven seemed like something.

I don’t really know what ten weeks seems like, but here we are, I guess.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

God, I miss her.  I just want her back.

Sometimes there's just nothing else to say. 

Push

I woke up this morning feeling completely overwhelmed by my sadness. I don’t know why, but I guess one of the things I have learned about this thing they call grief is that it doesn’t matter why. I had thought at one point that if I could identify what things triggered the onset of deeply sad moments and days, then maybe I could either prevent them or at least be prepared for them. But grief does not allow such luxuries. Its whims are its own.

Yesterday evening we had some friends over for dinner for the first time since Hudson died. We spent the day running errands, preparing food, straightening up the house. After they left last night, I realized that I had spent most of the day in a fog. I was quite literally just going through motions without any real sense of doing anything at all. I talked at the appropriate times, read recipes and prepared them correctly, served dinner, and was fairly good company, I think. But I don’t think I was really even there.

As part of our errands yesterday, we went to Costco for only about the second or third time since Hudson died. Costco was another regular outing with her, and I rarely came out of there without a new outfit of some sort for her (at $5 a pop, it is hard to resist). Ed and I were just wandering around, up and down the aisles, and before I knew it, I was crying, right in the middle of the effing Costco.

It’s incredible how pervasive the grief can be—no matter how much you try to push it away, aside, off, back, behind you, it is always, always there, just one fraction of a millimeter below the surface waiting to push you right back.

Just this second as I was sitting here writing this, and thinking what to name this post, the word “Push” came to mind, as I thought of this constant push back and forth between me and my grief. And out of nowhere, in the midst of this sadness, my One Good Thing pushed itself to the forefront. Sarah McLachlan’s song, Push, is Ed’s and my song. One day, about four months after we started dating, we were on our way home from a trip to the mountains, and Push came on the CD we were listening to. I’d never heard it before, but Ed said it always made him think of me. Once I listened to it, and ever since then, I have always thought it is much more fitting the other way around—it always makes me think of him. We danced to it at our wedding.

This morning in bed, when I started to cry, then sob, Ed put his arms around me and just sat with me until the heaviest sadness began to subside. Although it pains me deeply to know that grief will be my constant companion for the rest of my life, it brings me solace, hope, and joy to know that Ed will be, too.


Push

Every time I look at you the world just melts away
All my troubles all my fears dissolve in your affections
You've seen me at my weakest but you take me as I am
And when I fall you offer me a softer place to land

I get mad so easy but you give me room to breathe
No matter what I say or do 'cause you're too good to fight about it
Even when I have to push just to see how far you'll go
You won’t stoop down to battle but you never turn to go

Your love is just the antidote when nothing else will cure me
There are times I can’t decide when I can’t tell up from down
You make me feel less crazy when otherwise I'd drown
But you pick me up and brush me off and tell me I'm OK
Sometimes that’s just what we need to get us through the day

You stay the course you hold the line you keep it all together
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in
You're all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Give Them Back To Me

I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things we should’ve said,
That were never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did...

Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

Give me these moments back.
Give them back to me.*
Hudson - May 046Hudson - May 084Hudson - May 049Hudson - May 037 IMG_1431IMG_1910
Hudson - May 001IMG_1999
IMG_2054
 
 
*Kate Bush, This Woman's Work

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wanted: Pensieve

Ed and I were just sitting here, with Bess in our laps, thinking about Hudson. Bess lazily opened her mouth and absentmindedly licked the remote control, which was also sitting in my lap. After the appropriate scolding, Ed picked it up, put it up to his ear and said, “Hudson used to answer the remote.” And she did. And I had forgotten about it.

How many more things am I in danger of forgetting? I only got 17 months’ worth of memories, so I’m pretty desperate to hold on to all of them because I don’t get anymore. But I already find sometimes when I sit and try to think about things we used to do together, things she used to do, the memories seem to be starting to elude me. I can remember things like our rituals easily because we did them every day, in the exact same order. I saw them all the time in real life, so I can easily see them over and over in my mind’s eye. But I so fear losing these quirky little things. Like how Hudson would answer the remote. Or how when we were downstairs in the basement doing laundry together, she would climb in and out of her far-too-small-for-her-anymore bouncy seat to entertain herself. Or how one time she managed to put three pairs of my underwear over her head before I even realized she was into the clothes. Or how she used to pull all the cookbooks off of the bottom two shelves of the bookshelf in the kitchen and rifle through them like she was looking for the perfect recipe. Or how she loved to crawl into Bess’s bed even though she knew we didn’t like it (my plan had been to get her a bean bag chair soon, but I never got the chance).

In the week after she died, Ed and I made a long list of all the words Hudson could say when she died. I just went and looked at it and am already feeling so grateful that we made it. I’d already forgotten that she knew some of them. I can still remember how her little voice sounded saying them, but I am terrified that I will forget that, too. (I had 26 years with my mom—she died eight years ago, and many days, I struggle to remember how her voice sounded). Already I fear that the way my mind is recreating them doesn’t sound right.

Even worse, right now the memories I can most easily call to mind are the ones I most want to forget: the images of her in the four days between early Monday morning and late Thursday evening. These images are so awful (to me, at least) that I don’t even want to share them here, although I’ve dumped them onto paper elsewhere, in hopes that they might someday leave me.

So I told Jess today that what I really need is a pensieve (forgive me if you are not a Harry Potter fan). But I want it not just to siphon out and save all the memories that I want to keep, but also to siphon out all these terrible memories and let me be rid of them. If I could just get rid of them, maybe I would be sure to have enough room for all the good ones.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Good Day

Things I did today:

Had a dream about Hudson after telling myself before I went to sleep last night that I wished I would

Told a stranger for the first time that Hudson died—and cried, just a little

Started reading a novel

Bought a new cookbook in hopes I could be inspired to start cooking again

Faced my (unfounded) fears about having lunch in Ed’s office cafeteria—no strangers looked at me with pity or felt compelled to say how sorry they were

Actually picked up the phone and called three people rather than telling myself that I didn’t feel like talking to anyone

Took Bess to the dog park, engaged some people in conversation, and only worried a little bit about someone asking me if I had children

Saw twin boys around Hudson’s age delight in watching the dogs at the park—and I smiled instead of cried

Told Ed a story about a little boy I saw giving his dad fits on the sidewalk—and we laughed about how Hudson probably would have been doing the same thing in a year or so

Forgave myself, at least a little, for not taking Hudson to the ER sooner after reading a story in a grief book about another mother who had the same terrible experience

Said out loud that if there’s one thing I know for sure, it is that Hudson knew she was loved from the second she was born until the second she died


It was a good day.  I needed one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Our Girl


Just really feeling this picture tonight.  I can still remember exactly what it felt like to stroke that gorgeous little nose.  And to sweep that hair out of that beautiful little face.  And to hold those chubby, precious little hands in mine.  And to get a kiss from those sweet little lips. 

Her daddy's eyes. Her mommy's hair.  That observant look with just a hint of mischief in her eyes.  Our girl.     

Lightning

I’ve joined an online community for mothers grieving their children. I’ve read several books already about parents grieving their children. I’ve heard story after story about children who have died, and how their parents have somehow manage to go on without them. There is healing to be found in the stories of these parents’ journeys. But recently, knowing that I want to have more children, I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer possibilities of all the different ways that catastrophe could befall them. Genetic abnormalities that cause miscarriage or neonatal death. Miscarriage of unknown cause. Very premature birth. Very late-term still birth. Tumors. Falls. Accidents. Overdose. Suicide. Murder. So many others, including, of course, sudden illness. Holy shit.

When I was a mother who had not lost a child, I worried, of course. I worried about all the normal things parents worry about. Is she growing fast enough? Is she sleeping enough? Are the baby gates closed so she won’t fall down the stairs? Am I giving her the right foods? Am I cutting her food small enough so she won't choke? Am I limiting her exposure to chemicals, the sun, and anything else that might cause cancer? Do we have the safest car seat? Am I doing everything I can to protect her?

But I didn’t worry about her getting struck by lightning. Sure, on rare occasions, thoughts would cross my mind about childhood cancers and car accidents, but I always pushed those thoughts aside because 1) they were just too terrible to even consider and 2) those things could never happen to my child.

And then Hudson gets bacterial meningitis. Having no idea how very sick she is, we don’t get treatment soon enough (if there even was such a thing). And she dies.

I don’t know the exact statistics about the incidence of bacterial meningitis, but I know that it is very rare. And I know that even among those who get it, only about 15-20% actually die. In other words, I’m pretty sure that Hudson was as likely to get killed by lightning as to die from bacterial meningitis. And that we had just about as much control over it.

And although I wish the universe worked in such a way that those of us who have suffered more than our fair share already would not have to suffer anymore, I know that it doesn’t work that way. If it did, Hudson would not have died, for Ed and I had already suffered our fair share, having both lost our moms to cancer in our twenties, among other things. How many people lose both a mother and a daughter before they turn 40? And I’ve recently read gut-wrenching stories about mothers who have lost entire families in accidents or who have lost more than one child to any number of calamities. I know all too well that there are no cosmic guarantees.

So while I have found hope and comfort in these communities of grieving parents, so many times, I find myself struggling to offer the same hope and comfort in return. Because many times, I just want to close the book, turn off the computer, and never hear another story about a dead child again. Because the very idea of losing another child—well, honestly, I can’t even express in words what that idea does to me.

Yes, I know that I am exploring a community that represents only a tiny percentage of parents. And yes, I know that the vast majority of parents are fortunate enough not to outlive their children. But when you’ve been hit by lightning once already, well, any damn thing seems possible.  Sometimes, it makes you just want to stay inside.

How Can It Be?

When they say that the “stages” of grief are not linear, they are so right. I naïvely thought I was “done” with the denial stage and the bargaining stage. I went through a period, although I guess it was a pretty short one, where I at least felt like I had accepted that Hudson’s death had occurred, even though I had not accepted a damn thing else about it.

But the more I think about it, the more I think, How can it be? Yes, I know that she is dead, but really, what the hell does that mean? I think hard about what it means to be dead, and I just can’t get my brain to make any sense of it at all.

I look around at grown people around me all the time and think, How is it possible that ALL these people made it to adulthood, and Hudson never will?

I look at all the places her feet have touched, all the spots her head has rested, and I think, How can it be that she was here and now she’s not here? Every time I drive by the National Mall, I think about her running around with Bess in front of the National Monument at the Kite Festival and I think, How can it be that her little feet were just here on that grass, and now they will never be there again? We take Bess up to the field behind the seminary near our house, a favorite spot for walks, and I think the same thing. How can she not be here, watching Bess chase squirrels?  I see her sippy cups in the cabinet (complete with a label with her name so they could keep them straight at school) and her spoons and forks in the drawer and think, How could it be that her little hands were just holding those, her little lips were just touching them, but now, somehow, they never will again?  I look at her crib (we’ve finally started leaving her door open, although I don’t think it was a conscious decision as much as something we let happen once and then it was just supposed to be that way) and think it again. How can she be gone when she was just here, laying down on her tummy, snuggled with her bear? How can she be gone when she was just here, lifting her little head off the mattress and grinning when Bess and I opened the door to wake her up in the morning? How can she be gone when she was just here, standing up and crying over the railing when she was ready to get out of bed, then smiling and lifting her arms to me when I finally rescued her?   DAMN IT, SHE WAS JUST HERE!

And then I think back to times “before.” Sometimes they seem like yesterday. Sometimes they seem like multiple lifetimes ago. Our bar trip/honeymoon to Hawaii. The day we found out we were pregnant with Hudson. The day Hudson was born. Our trip to the pumpkin patch last October. Hudson’s first fun with unwrapping gifts. Our sledding adventures with her during DC’s historic snows. Hudson’s first boat ride on Jordan Lake. We were so happy. So carefree.  So innocent. So very naïve. How can it be that we will never be that way again?  How can it be that we can’t go back and do this over? Some way that ends up with Hudson alive?

It just doesn’t make any sense.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two Months: Remembering

I have been waiting until today to write about another of my favorite memories with Hudson: our evening rituals. Not sure why I have been waiting, except that this seems like the right way to mark each passing month. Memories are a double-edged sword—they keep her close, but they also make me long for her to actually be close. And I worry about losing them, too. This is at least one way to keep them alive.

When Hudson and I got home from picking her up at school, I usually set immediately to getting dinner ready so that when Ed got home, we could all eat and still get Hudson to bed at a reasonable hour (at our house, this was 7:30 at the latest). I started pulling things out of the refrigerator and cabinets and Hudson set about doing any number of things. Reading books or playing with her toys in the playroom, which was right next to the kitchen. Climbing in and out of the rocking chair in the living room (she’d say, “Rock, rock, rock”).
Chasing Bess around or just standing with her by the front storm door (I kept the front door open and the storm door locked so the two of them could watch the world go by outside. It was one of their favorite activities). Pulling all the dishtowels out of their bottom drawer and putting them back in (it finally occurred to me to put the good dishtowels up in a cabinet and put the ratty ones in that drawer so I didn’t have to wash them all the time before using them).
Opening all the cabinets and pulling out the pots and pans (often so she could climb in herself).  Making use of any number of kitchen utensils that I kept in the lower drawers for her to play with (with me having to wash any of these before use, too). Balling up pieces of paper and putting them into the trash can (or at least trying to—the cabinet had a toddler lock on it, but she’d seen us put trash in there so many times, she wanted to do it, too, so she’d pull it open as far as it would go and just drop the paper inside.)

When dinner was ready, I said, “OK, let’s go to your highchair!” and she would immediately wander over there. I put her in and said, “It’s time to wash hands!” She held her hands out, one by one, while I wiped them with a wet paper towel. I put her food and a cup of water (poor kid never got juice—she’d probably had 2 or 3 cups of juice total in her whole life) on her tray and she got busy. With gusto. My biggest irrational fear was that she would choke on something (I mean, really, who the hell sits around worrying that their kid will get meningitis, damn it?), so I still cut her food up pretty small even at 17 months. This is probably why she shoveled huge handfuls in at a time, though, because she couldn’t get a decent mouthful of food otherwise. Oh, well.

Lots of nights, Ed wouldn’t quite make it home for the start of dinner, so when I heard him come up the stairs, I said, “Who’s that?! Who’s coming?” and she broke into a grin and kicked those little feet up and down, knowing Daddy was home. He opened the door, peeked his head around, and said, “It’s Daddy!” (this was one of Hudson’s favorite lines from one of her favorite books, “Daddy Hugs”—she got such a kick out of the first page where the daddy comes in and says, “Here I come! It’s DADDY!”) Hudson laughed and let herself be kissed, but quickly got back to the business of eating, about which she was very serious. Her only bad habit was that she loved to watch Bess eat food off the floor, so she often purposely held her hand or her spoon out and dropped food on the floor, looking straight at us the whole time, waiting for a reaction. All she usually got was, “Hudson, food goes on the tray, not on the floor, please.” When she was finished, we took her tray away, but often she apparently did not think she was done, and would keep fishing food out of the pocket of her bib. The girl loved to eat, I tell you.

We washed hands again and then we asked, “Hudson, what time is it?!” She smiled and said, “BATH!” If Ed was home, he took her upstairs to take a bath while I cleaned up the dinner dishes. When I heard them wrapping up and walking over to her room to put on her pajamas, I knew one of my favorite moments of the day was coming up. After she was in her pajamas, she walked over to the top of the stairs, leaned her face against the baby gate, and said, as loud as her little voice could manage, “Mama!” (Her daddy taught her this trick—he taught her all her best tricks, really). I can still hear it in my head as clearly as if it had happened last night, but it is one of those sounds I fear losing the most. I dried my hands, climbed up the stairwell on my hands and knees, and gave her a snuzzle (cross between a snuggle and a nuzzle—it was really just a nose-rub) and a kiss through the bars of the baby gate. Then I stood up and took her into my arms and we gave each other a great big hug before her daddy took her into her room for storytime. This is one of those moments I go back to many, many times every day.

If Ed wasn’t home, then I would take her upstairs for her bath. I usually let her climb the stairs on her own, either on her hands and knees, or, in the later days, with great big steps while holding on to the spindles in the railing. At the top, I closed the gate behind me and we went into the bathroom. I put her toddler tub in the bathtub and started drawing the water and told her to go get a washcloth. She wandered out of the bathroom and into her room, opened the cabinet door in her dresser, and grabbed a washcloth (or, usually, several). I grabbed a towel and we went back to the bathroom, where I told her to pick out her toys. She poked through her bin of tub toys—mostly squirting sea creatures and one plastic turtle with three building blocks for his shell—and picked out a few, which she threw into her tub. Then I sat on the edge of the tub, pulled her into my lap, undressed her, and plopped her in.

This was undoubtedly Hudson’s very favorite time of day. She had the undivided attention of her mom or dad, lots of water, and tons of toys. I picked her squirty toys up out of the water, set them on the edge of the tub and then launched them back into the tub with a flick of my finger and a “Wheeeee!” while she laughed and laughed. She pushed the squirty toys under the water, squeezed them and watched them make bubbles, and then pulled them back out to squirt. She stacked the building blocks on the turtle’s back or used them as cups to pour water. But the thing that got her giggling the most, her very favorite thing, was splashing. She kicked her feet or flailed her arms, throwing water everywhere, and I would exaggeratedly shriek and hold the washcloth up to protect myself, saying in a high-pitched voice, “No, no!” She just laughed her little head off and, egged on, would do it some more—the cycle of my shrieks and her laughs continued until I’d had enough (she would never have had enough).

Every other night or so, we bathed her with soap and washed her hair. Once she was good and soapy, we stuck her in the Bumbo seat on the floor of the tub (no, not filled with water) and pulled the handheld shower head down from its perch, turned it on, and rinsed her off. When she was littler, she LOVED this--she couldn’t get enough of it (see video below). As she got older, and actually minded getting water in her eyes, she liked it a little less, but still got a kick out of playing with the sprayer.

When we were all done bathing, I said, “Ready for shaky shaky?” In more recent days, she said, “No!” and shook her head because she wasn’t ready to get out of the bath. I grabbed her tight under the armpits and lifted her up, saying, “Shaky! Shaky! Shaky!” and she kicked her feet and wiggled to help shake the water off. Then we twirled around and I laid her down on her towel, which was waiting on the closed toilet seat, and wrapped her up, saying, “Baby burrito!” And then I swooped her up and we looked in the mirror and I leaned her in so she could give herself a kiss in the mirror. We did this exact sequence every time I gave her a bath. Then we sat down on the toilet seat, finished drying her off, and brushed her teeth (not a favorite activity). Finally, as we left the bathroom, she loved to flip the light switches off in the bathroom and the hallway before we headed into her room.

Once we got her jammies on, I sat down in the rocking chair and set her on the floor. We kept all our regular bedtime books in a pile on floor to the right of the rocking chair. In earlier days, I set her on my lap and I picked the order of the books, but later, she liked to pick which ones she wanted to read each night. A recent favorite had become an extra copy of a photo book we had made for her grandparents for a Christmas present—we called it the “Hudson book.” We looked at each page and picked out and named Hudson (at all her different ages), Mommy, Daddy, Bess, and all the other relatives in there. Some other bedtime favorites were Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, (complete with Hudson’s motions of smacking her head when “one fell off and bumped her head” and wagging her finger when the doctor said, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”), Goodnight Gorilla (she loved, loved, loved that pink balloon) and Hush Little Baby (she picked out and named the birds, the moon, the bear—lots of her favorite words were in that book). And of course, the finale was Goodnight Moon. Usually Ed and I had to pick that one up ourselves when it was time for storytime to end—Hudson loved the book but she knew it meant no more stories, so she rarely picked it up herself. She often fussed at us when we tried to pick it up, but that never lasted long once we opened it up. She positively adored the great green room and everything in it. We picked out all kinds of things: the clock, the house, the cats, the balloon, the three little bears, the bowl full of mush, the stars, and much more—she could say many of these words by the time she died, too. But her favorite activity had become finding the mouse—she practically wanted to skip over the pages in between the green room pages, so she could get back to the mouse. She knew exactly where it was on every page, but would look up at me, smiling and sucking air through her teeth, waiting for me to say, “Where is it?! Where’s the mouse?!” and then she’d point to it excitedly, and I’d say “There’s the mouse!” And she’d start flipping ahead to where she could find it again.

When we got to the “Good night stars, good night air,” I would soften my voice, and then finish “Good night noises everywhere” with a whisper. By this time, she was usually already curling up on my shoulder with her thumb in her mouth, ready for her song. We finished our bed time ritual with one round of “Hark the Sound,” her head tucked under my chin, me swaying gently on my feet. When I got to the end of “I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred,” instead of “Go to hell, Dook!” I whispered, “Don’t go to Dook!” which always earned a smile or a soft giggle. Then I hugged her tight, kissed her cheek, and put her down on her tummy. She turned her head to one side, thumb still in mouth, and I tucked her little polar bear and panda bear up under her arms on each side, and she closed her eyes. I said, “Good night, my sweet girl” and closed the door behind me.

On the day Hudson died, her blood pressure and other vital signs were pretty unstable throughout the day. The doctors had talked with us about the possibility that her body might not even make it through until the evening, when they were planning to do the second brain death test, even with all the medications and monitoring they were doing to try keep her alive and stable until then so the results would be reliable. We assured them that if she crashed, we did not want them to take any extraordinary measures—we knew our girl was already gone, but we just wanted a little more time with her before we would never be able to see her again. I didn’t leave the room that entire day. Knowing that this might happen before the planned hour, Ed and I took some quiet time alone with her earlier in the afternoon so that we would feel like we’d had a chance to say goodbye, just in case. We talked to her, cried over her, told her how much we loved her—I remember telling her that there were so many things I wanted to say, but I didn’t know what they all were right then, so I just had to trust that she knew. And Ed told her that we knew she would still hear us when we talked to her for the rest of our lives. Then we read Goodnight Moon. On each page of the great green room, I said, “Where’s the mouse?!” and then pointed to it myself and said “There’s the mouse!” We said, “Good night stars, good night air, good night noises everywhere” and then closed the book and said goodbye to our beautiful girl. We were fortunate to have more time with her and a chance to say goodbye to her again later that evening, but I will remember that most precious moment for the rest of my life.

As parents, it seems we often focus on remembering and documenting “big” moments—Christmas mornings, birthday parties, first steps, and the like. As I’ve said here many times before, now that Hudson is gone, it’s the ordinary, everyday moments that I miss the most. And it is these that I most want to remember.

We love you and miss you so much, my sweet girl. This memory of you is my One Good Thing on this otherwise very bad day.

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