Monday, February 27, 2012

The Beginning of the End

Yesterday was a really, really hard day. The hardest day I’ve had in a very long time. It came at the end of a string of hard days—still suffering from the post-vacation blues—but yesterday was a puffy-eyes, sore-ribs kind of hard day. It’s been quite a while since I had one of those. I was so tired at the end of it that I couldn’t even bring myself write about it last night.  

I finally started packing up all of our mementos of Hudson yesterday. I had told myself I would wait until the last minute to pack them up, but now all of a sudden the last minute is really here. We’re trying to get the house on the market within the next two weeks and have to paint the room that most of our Hudson memorial things were, so it was really time to get them boxed up and ready to move.

I didn’t think much about this in advance, but instead of all three of us going to the grocery store together, I told Ed it would probably make more sense for him to take Jackson to the store so that I could finish getting that room packed up. Good decision. I cried—no, I sobbed almost the entire time. But as painful as it was, I really needed it. I put on some of ours and Hudson’s favorite music, a playlist I had created when she was in the hospital, when we were still hoping she might come out of the coma, when we were trying to think and be “positive.” Among these favorites were Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, Godspeed by the Dixie Chicks, Baby Mine by Allison Krauss, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye, Carolina in My Mind by James Taylor, and of course, Seasons of Love.  Each song made me cry harder than the one before it.

I sat before the little bookcase (all that was left after all the dismantling I’d already done) full of our Hudson things and cried. I clutched every photo and token to my chest, and I told her over and over again how much I miss her, how much I want her back, how much I still just can’t understand why she is gone and not here with us. I opened our keepsake box and pressed my finger into the stony clutch of the plaster mold they made of Hudson’s hand after she died. I looked at her lock of hair and marveled again at how similar it is in color to mine and now to Jackson’s. I held her little lamby tight and gently folded the dishtowel that she always put over him for a blanket. I carefully wrapped all the precious little turtle gifts we received after she died. I folded up the banner of turtle pictures one by one and placed them gently into an envelope.

I had (rather ridiculously) struggled for some time about what container to use for all of these precious items. I rejected the cardboard box—there are too many pieces of precious artwork that I would want to be sure were protected from water damage. I had a few old plastic storage bins that would have worked, but they already had writing all over them from prior moves, and I just wanted Hudson to have something that was her own. Ultimately, I was so concerned about this that I ended up dumping the contents of two newer plastic storage bins into other boxes so that I could use the nicer bins just for Hudson’s things. One day, maybe her brothers and sisters and I can decorate a box to keep our Hudson things in, but these bins will have to do for now.

After I packed away all the things from our memorial display upstairs, I then had to tackle a few boxes of Hudson things in the basement. Some were things I put away after she died, things that will be always just Hudson’s. Her consignment sale coat that she wore every day during the winter before she died (which I looked at yesterday and thought, “Did I really buy this thing that says “Princess” on the lapel?!”). Her Topsail Turtle Project t-shirt, a memento from our lovely trip to the beach with her when she was nine months old. Several heirloom toys that family members gave her when she was born (these I may have to resurrect should we have another girl one day). The snowflake jammies she was wearing the night she got sick, which I can neither part with nor pass on. But some were things I had already boxed away, totally unceremoniously, for us to look at with her later, when she was older and wanted to know about before she was born and when she was a baby. The pregnancy test we took to find out she was coming. The second pregnancy test we took because we weren’t sure we believed the first one. Our first ultrasound showing a tiny little peanut. Our later ultrasound pictures of her little alien face and a waving hand. A baby shower invitation. A card from my OB showing that I had an appointment scheduled for the day that she arrived, nine days early. Our hospital wristbands. A receipt from her first pediatrician appointment. A schedule of classes at the Breastfeeding Center. The daily activity report from her very first trial run day in day care at 5.5 months (I got a kick out of this one—it asked how long the baby had slept the night before, and I remember very vividly how proud I felt when I wrote “6:45 PM to 6:45AM” as if I somehow had something to do with that—we did sleep train her gently, but I know very well now that she was just the kind of kid who took to it quickly). The Christmas card her day care teacher made for us, complete with a photo of her grinning in a rocking chair in front of a Christmas display at St. Ann’s, where sitting right behind her was a giant stuffed penguin.  So many seemingly ordinary little things that, like so much else, now have such extraordinary meaning.

But the shoes? Where were Hudson’s little white and pink Nikes that her grandma gave her? The ones she wore almost every day? Surely I hadn’t misplaced those. And then I remembered. They are still in the diaper bag. Along with the clothes she wore the day we took her to the hospital. Still in the diaper bag, which is still on the floor of her (Jackson’s) closet. When will be the last minute to do something with that?

Needless to say, it was hard. All of it. So very, very hard. Not just getting intimately close with all of these things of Hudson’s for the first time in a long time, although that itself was difficult—so very different from just living in and among them every day. No, it was more the idea that I was packing away our very lives with her. Finally really beginning to come to terms with what it will mean when we leave this house. Wondering what it will feel like when we close the door behind us for the last time. Not feeling even remotely ready to do that.

Among the things I read as I was going through everything was the letter that I wrote to Hudson on the first anniversary of her death. These words in particular stood out to me as I sat there, red-eyed and clutching at the gnawing pain in my chest:

When you died, I promised you and myself that in order to help keep your spirit alive in the world, I would live the lesson that you taught me—to cherish what is, rather than dwelling on what should be. To look for the One Good Thing even when things seem bad. As it turns out, that is so much easier said than done, particularly in these very dark days that we must live without you. So many days, it feels almost impossible—how can I say that anything good could have come from you being gone? At any given moment, I would gladly trade back every ounce of wisdom I have gained from having lost you. I would gladly return to being my naively ignorant self if it only meant that I could have you back.

But I know that no amount of wishing can ever bring you back. So I must continue to let you teach me and guide me every day, sweet girl. You are helping me understand that it is on the very darkest days when I need to look the hardest for the One Good Thing. What an amazing gift you continue to give me, to give all of us. 

I needed to read those words yesterday.  To be reminded. 

So I was particularly moved when I happened upon this quote in another random box of things in the basement yesterday, one that I opened just to see what was in it and found a page with this on it inside:

You cannot stay on the summit forever, you have to come down again.
So why bother in the first place?
Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.
One climbs, one sees.
One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.
There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up.
What one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

~Rene Daumal

How incredibly appropriate for the terrible task I faced yesterday. I found my One Good Thing on another very hard day.  

What one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I Miss Her

Goodness. Not a single post yet in February. Still no 8-month post for Jackson (even though he turns 9 months on Friday). I do have good excuses (reviewing 8 50+-page student papers in one week for my adjunct professor job at GW Law School, preparing for my first big trip alone with Jackson complete with a cross-country flight and packing for two different climates, and the 10-day, 5-flight, 2-city trip itself), but I still miss writing. I feel rusty. I need so much to flex these muscles more, to grasp for more understanding where I have so little, to give myself dedicated room and time to grieve, time that is just for Hudson. So many other things are competing for my time right now—triathlon training, preparing to put the house on the market, reviewing draft after draft of student work—lately, all I can do is just let the grief come when it will, in short bursts of hot tears in the parking garage at the grocery store or stopped at traffic light. I need more time that is just for Hudson. I can only imagine that as time goes on, as life goes on, it will be harder and harder to find. What I wouldn’t give to have this problem with a living daughter, to have to carve out special Mommy-Hudson time so that she wouldn’t feel too often overlooked next to her much less independent little brother. How often I have imagined what we would do on Mommy-Hudson day. 

As you can imagine, my inability to find time to write bears no relationship whatsoever to the status of my grief, no relationship at all to the intensity of my continued longing for my daughter who is gone from me forever.

I have somewhat come to terms with all the “firsts” that still remain ahead of us for the rest of our lives, milestones that will always feel different than they should because she should be part of them. But this does not make them any easier when they come. 

The trip I took with Jackson had two legs. First, he and I flew to Helena, Montana, for a 6-day visit with our dear Jess and her family. From there, we flew to San Diego to see our old friends from DC, Jake and Andrea, and their two kids. Ed spoke on a panel at an ABA conference there and then joined us for the weekend afterward.

While I certainly had my share of wistful moments during our visit with Jess (and regretted so deeply never having taken Hudson to Montana), it wasn’t until Ed joined us in San Diego that I really felt Hudson’s absence so keenly. I’ve written before that I don’t often imagine Hudson in the places where she should be anymore—while I never stop wishing for her to be in those places, my brain no longer sketches her into them like it used to. Is this some part of acceptance, some kind of “integration”? I don’t know, but in just the right circumstance, the brain rebels again, unable again to comprehend what it means for her to be gone forever. 

On Saturday, Ed and I and Jake and Andrea and their two kids all went to Sea World in San Diego. Jake and Andrea had told us that Sea World had both sea turtles and penguins, so we were in. Although I didn’t end up being a giant fan of Sea World (I’m not sure what I expected, but seeing the sea turtles and penguins in that kind of captivity ultimately just made me sad), I couldn’t stop thinking the entire day about how much Hudson would have loved it. As we watched dolphins leaping and dancing in the water with colorful acrobats, my brain sketched her right in. I could just see her there, completely mesmerized by the motion, the colors, the spraying water, the high dives, the gorgeous dolphins. I could see her laughing gleefully when the dolphins soaked the first several rows of the audience with powerful slaps of their tails. I could see her leaving the stadium and pronouncing that she was going to work with dolphins when she grew up. I could see her there. I cried silently behind my sunglasses through half the show. 

As the day wore on, it occurred to me that this was our first big family trip without her. Just when I think I have mapped the perimeter of the giant hole in our lives where she once lived, it changes on me. Just when I think I have plumbed its depths, another cavern opens up. Just when I think I have stopped imagining her where she should be, my brain sketches her right back in again, leaving me breathless to think of all the imagining that must remain ahead of me for the rest of our lives. 

We returned home once again without her. Our family of four with only three.

Over and over. The hole ever wider and deeper. The longing made new and raw all over again. 

I miss her. I miss her. I miss her.