Sunday, December 4, 2011

Life Sentence

These few days since Hudson’s birthday have been harder than I expected. I thought once the actual day was over, the increasing heaviness I’d felt as the week went on would start to dissipate. And it did somewhat. Until the weekend began. A weekend full of fun family holiday activities, activities I avoided like the plague last year but have been bound and determined to at least try to enjoy this year.

On Friday night, my dad and I took Jackson to Zoo Lights at the National Zoo. Well, we didn’t really go for Jackson’s sake—he’s a bit too young to really get much out of it except some visual stimulation, but we wanted to see it ourselves. If you are not from DC, you can still probably imagine what Zoo Lights is. The whole zoo is lit up with Christmas lights—trees, animated light shows set to music, animal displays done in lights. There is a little iceless skating rink (don’t ask—I don’t really understand it myself, but little kids were basically out there on ice skates with plastic blades on a very slick plastic rink) and a choo-choo train that you can ride through parts of the zoo that are roped off to the general public. I remember last year feeling overwhelmingly sad seeing friends post about their trips to Zoo Lights—it was one among hundreds and hundreds of things that we should have been doing with our girl, too. I’ve written before about how I’d realized very quickly that having another baby had done little to take the sting off of thinking about all the things Hudson should be doing now—I think the specific example I gave was how I still cringed when I walked past the aisle full of all the toddler baby food Hudson would have been eating then. Well, as you can imagine, Zoo Lights was full of kids—lots and lots of toddlers and older kids, too, and even if it had been totally empty, I would still have been overwhelmed with the sense of how much Hudson should be there, how much she would have loved it. At one point, Jackson got hungry, and we sat for a while on a bench in front of a group of trees lit up by lights that were animated to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock.” Right at that time, a huge group of school kids walked by and when the song got to the chorus, they all spontaneously started singing it together: “What a bright time, it’s the right time to rock the night away. Jingle bell time, it’s a swell time to go riding in a one-horse sleigh.” Several of the young girls were holding hands and swinging their arms to the beat. All of the children were smiling ear-to-ear as they bounced along singing, full of joy and bright holiday spirit. I started to cry. It hit me, yet again, that Hudson is gone forever. That she will never get to go on a trip to Zoo Lights or hold hands with little girlfriends or smile and sing at the top of her lungs as she looks forward to getting out of school for the holiday break and seeing what Santa brought her. I said out loud, more to myself than to my dad, “This is a life sentence.”

Then yesterday, we went to a wonderful farm about 45 minutes outside of DC where we could cut down our own Christmas tree. Our amazing photographer, Emily Large, came with us to do Jackson’s 6-month photos while we were out there. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and after we found our tree, Emily took some really great pictures of Jackson and of us as a family. We were busy acting silly and trying to get Jackson to smile when all of a sudden, I realized how wrong it all was. Somehow, the thought had escaped me until that moment. Even though Emily and I had just been talking about Hudson twenty minutes before, it somehow had not yet occurred to me how absent she was. For an instant, I pictured her right there, standing next to Ed and tugging on his pants to get him to pick her up and swing her around. Right in the middle of our laughing, tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt what I can only describe as a moment of deep shame and guilt. How dare we sit there making googly eyes at Jackson and laughing and enjoying this beautiful afternoon without her? How dare we carry on so as if we weren’t deeply wounded and sad? Thankfully, the moment passed and I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip, but the shadow of that moment has lingered with me the rest of the weekend.

We had another pretty day today and I suggested we go somewhere and do something outside. Ed reminded me that we needed to put up the tree, so we stayed home, but I found that I just couldn’t get into it. I tried. I really did. Ed put on some cider and I turned on my holiday music and pulled out all our boxes of Christmas decorations (including several that I bought yesterday at the farm, in another attempt to get myself into the spirit), but I dragged my feet. I put the wreath on the door and put several things out around the house, but I finally just sat down with the picture of Hudson on Santa’s lap (the one that I found last year where she is holding a penguin toy) and cried, thinking again about what she’d be doing if she were here with me, sipping hot cider and helping me find just the right place for the Grinch doll and singing Christmas songs with me. I gave up on decorating for the evening, so now there are no lights on the tree and there are half-full boxes of decorations and lights and ornaments strewn all over the living room. And I don’t feel like doing any of the myriad other things I need to do tonight, either.

I hate feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t plan to miss out on all the fun we will have with Jackson this Christmas and hopefully many more Christmases to come. But right now, I just miss my little girl so much. I am still (always) struggling with the reality that this is my life. She is gone. She will always be missing from these moments. Forever.


  1. there are not words, least not words that i can find... although you always find/create a way to articulate yourself. you are an incredible mother, an incredible person. and, it is totally ok to allow yourself space to feel sorry for yourself. it does not take away from the other aspects or anyone else to honor your feelings. thinking of you.
    rachel c.

  2. Baby steps. You are not feeling sorry for yourself. Your are grieving the most unimaginable loss possible. Last year you skipped Christmas entirely. This year, with precious Jackson by your side, you are trying to do it all. It won't be easy. I suspect nothing in your "life sentence" without Hudson will ever be easy again, but you went to zoo lights, you got a tree, you opened the boxes (each one fraught with landmines). Maybe tomorrow you will be able to put lights on the tree. Maybe not. But everything you have done is a baby step. It takes incredible energy and courage to take every step that you do. So if you need to take a break in the middle of it to feel sad that is not feeling sorry for yourself, that is taking care of yourself to feel the emotions and live with them. As awful as it is, I'm sure it's worse to keep it bottled up. Living without Hudson is hard work and you are doing it beautifully. Do what you can today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

    Thinking of you and your family every day.

  3. Those are very wise words from Ericabaugh Mandy. You will do what you feel is right for you if and when you feel it's the right time. And taking time out when the sadness is overwhelming is ok. The phrase "a life sentence" is one I too have uttered over and over to myself. It seems to me though that you're putting one foot in front of the other and that should be enough for now. I really hope those photos you took of Jackson and his first tree will bring you some comfort.You're making beautiful memories with him too. Thinking of you all,
    Kell x

  4. You're not feeling sorry for yourself--you're grieving the loss of your precious little girl. It sounds so unbelievably hard. I'm so sorry she's not here making new memories with you. She is held in the hearts of many around the world, but that is little comfort when she should be here with you. How I wish she was.

  5. Oh gee, Mandy, "that person" is not a bad person. "That person" has suffered an unimaginable blow to the heart, and has every reason and right to grieve. Jackson will learn compassion from you. Compassion, resilience, honesty, and love. These are very good lessons, even though the cost of the teaching in your case is far too dear.
    Please go easy on yourself. The world needs more loving, caring, generous people like you.
    I wish I could change it all...

  6. Mandy, this is not "feeling sorry" for yourself, this is trying to live with the most heartbreaking grief a mother could ever imagine. How can you not feel this way when your heart has been blown to pieces over the loss of Hudson? You are doing the best you can and that is enough. Be easy on yourself, cry when you need to, smile when you feel like it.

    Thinking of you and your family always.

    Best, Jana

  7. You are so brave, and so inspiring and you are a wonderful mother. Thinking of you and Hudson often.