Friday, November 30, 2012

Days of Thanks #9

Today, on the eve of Hudson’s fourth birthday, I am grateful for the community of bereaved mothers that has surrounded me, held me, grieved with me, and lifted me up ever since Hudson’s death.

I received an email earlier today from an acquaintance telling me that one of her friends tragically lost her young son almost a year ago and asking if it would be okay for her friend to contact me, because she has not been able to find anyone who really understands her loss.

The road a parent must walk after the death of a child is a harrowing one. It is dark. It is endless. It is utterly unfathomable in every sense of that word. There are moments, days, weeks, when you feel you just may have turned to putty, that your feet don’t touch the earth but instead plunge through it, that perhaps you will never find solid ground beneath them again.

And it is during those moments, days, and weeks when you most need to know that you are not walking the road alone. That others are walking it in front of you, leaving little cairns here and there to show you where they have been and that they have survived. That others are walking it right beside you, ready to pull you back out when your feet plunge through. That others are walking it behind you, giving your child’s life and death new meaning because now you are the one who builds the cairns, the one who retrieves the despairing. Even as you still sometimes stumble unknowingly through the dark, even as you still sometimes plunge straight through the earth beneath you.

I don’t know how I would have survived without all those mothers walking in front of me, beside me, and behind me during that first year. During that second year. During this third year. A very few I knew before Hudson died. The vast majority I came to know after, most of whom I still have never even met. And yet we are friends. We are family. I feel nearly as close to any one of those women I have never met as I feel to those I knew before and those I have had the pleasure of meeting since. We gush over each others’ photos on Facebook. We send notes when we see or hear things that remind us of each others’ lost children. We remember our lost children together during those hardest parts of every year, year after year, ad infinitum. Birthdays, death days, holidays, regular days, every day. We build cairns. We pull each other up. We give our lost children’s lives and deaths new meaning because we are there for each other.

So it will be my privilege to be in touch with my friend’s friend, because no one should ever walk this road alone.

To all of my fellow mother-sisters in grief, thank you. I love you.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Days of Thanks #8

Today I am grateful for the sweet treats Ed brings me back from DC every week.  I'd much rather he didn't have to travel up there so often, but if he has to go, cupcakes from my favorite place or chocolate truffles from Godiva are a nice perk. He's something else, that one. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Days of Thanks #7

Today I am grateful for that last moment every night before I get into bed, when I go into Jackson's room just to look at him, his limbs splayed in all directions in his deep, toddler-exhausted sleep, his wispy hair sometimes sticking straight up. I listen for his breath and watch his ribs move slowly up and down.  Every once in a while, I risk it.  Every once in a while, I bend over and put my hand on him, on his tummy, or his back, or the top of his head.  Just because I can.  Just because I can. 

I Love...

. . . the way you tuck your hands underneath your belly when you are resting in my arms with your head on my shoulder.  It's as if you are settling in for a good, long snuggle (even though you are just as likely to wriggle away ten seconds later).

. . . how you imitate the noises of inanimate objects, like when I am chopping with a knife, you say, "Ah! Ah!" to imitate the chopping sound. 

. . . that one of the teachers at your school called you "The Greeter" the other day.  Just like your big sister. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Days of Thanks #6

Today I am grateful for a husband and partner who is so much the yin to my yang.  We are alike in so very many ways, but the few ways in which we are very different are incredibly important to the success of our friendship, our marriage, our lives as parents, and our lives in general.  For one of many examples, today we met with our builders about the budget for the remodel of our new house (which we still aren't living in).  The project is way over budget on lots of line items through no fault of our own (meaning the overages aren't due to us making extravagant finish choices and things like that).  In a conversation that could easily have become a little heated (although hopefully it wouldn't have, since we actually like our builders a great deal and now consider them friends), Ed was the epitome of letting cooler heads prevail.  He is so good in these situations where I would be so very bad if left to my own devices, and for that, I am so grateful.  As I have said so many times since we met, he always makes me want to be a better person, which is what I think a marriage, or really any relationship, should be all about.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Days of Thanks #5

I am so grateful for the light in Jackson's eyes and the delight in his voice when he sees me at the end of his day at school.  There's very little that can beat the excited "Mommy!" out of his mouth as he drops whatever he is doing and comes tumbling over to hug me.  And when he puts that head down on my shoulder...  well, most of you know the rest on that one.  Tonight, before Ed put him to bed, I asked him for a hug, and he willingly obliged and then went back to his daddy.  And then he leaned over to come to me again, and I said, "I'll take all that you'll give me sweet boy," and I held him tight for a moment, not a long moment, but long enough. 

Do One Good Thing for Hudson’s Fourth Birthday

I am working hard to write this one. I don’t want it to be hard work. I don’t want this post to be about me. I don’t want it to be sad. I don’t want it to be about anything other than helping celebrate my beautiful daughter’s life on her upcoming fourth birthday.

But this birthday feels so much different than the two before it that we have celebrated without her. We no longer live in the town where she lived. Our dear Arboretum is no longer a ten-minute drive away. I no longer pass the hospitals where Hudson was born and died on a daily basis.

She feels farther away from me than ever. Her death feels more surreal than ever. And what’s even worse, her life feels more surreal than ever. I’ve written many times about how her death seemed like a dream, but only a few where it seemed not that her death had been a dream, but her life itself. I’ve been feeling that so much lately. I feel so separated from her, especially as our lives just tumble forward, totally unhindered by my grief.

But her birthday is here again. Her fourth. Our third without her. And the best (and really only) way we know how to celebrate it is by trying to help her spirit keep working in the world by doing some kindnesses for others. In DC, we donated toys and books that had been favorites of Hudson’s to Children’s Hospital, which took such exquisite care of her until she left us. And we donated dog treats and toys to the animal shelter, in honor of Hudson’s love of animals, especially her Bess. And we donated and visited the Arboretum, in honor of her love of the outdoors and in memory of the many special times we spent with her there. We are still pondering what One Good Things we will do here in our new-old home, where we will celebrate the rest of her birthdays for all the many years we must live without her. It’s part of why this birthday is so hard. I will get back to you once we decide what to do.

But meanwhile, as we have each of the past two years, we invite you to do One Good Thing sometime this week or on December 1st. And please share with anyone else you know who might want to help us celebrate her life in this special way. And as in years past, if you are so inclined, we would love to hear from you about your One Good Thing, so feel free to leave a comment here about it.
I will end the way I have each of the past two years. We can’t stop it from coming. We can’t bring Hudson back. But in the spirit of the lesson she taught us, we can continue to help her light shine in the world by finding the One Good Thing, and this week, that means doing One Good Thing.  Thank you all so much. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Days of Thanks #4

I am grateful that my 18-month-old (I have an 18-month-old-- for a while, it seemed I might never be able to say that) is already developing a keen appreciation of the wonders of the outdoors.  Ed took him outside this evening at the tail end of sunset, when just a touch of light remained on the horizon and a few stars already shone in the sky.  When they came back inside, Jackson kept saying, "Outside!  Stars!" over and over until we took him back out again.  This continued for several trips back out into the chilly night until it was finally time to eat.  With this kind of beginning, I so look forward to the amazing life we will share together. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Days of Thanks #3

Today I am grateful for gorgeous, crisp fall weather and a wide beautiful trail on which to take a long walk with my favorite little boy.  He had a glorious time wandering every which way, checking out the grass and the trees and the sky, and I enjoyed being able to relax a little bit and not having to walk right beside him, hands out, to keep him from falling into or over something. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Days of Thanks #2

Tonight I am grateful for a last-minute date night with Ed, and for his can-do attitude about finding a theater where we could see "Skyfall" when our neighborhood theater was sold out.  And I'm grateful for my dad for putting Jackson to bed for us and making this outing possible.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving and Days of Thanks #1

Another Thanksgiving without our girl. Unbelievably, our third. Another walk down the long gravel road from her grandparents’ house, past the swans and the geese and the ducks, to visit the horses and feed them some apples, just like we did during our only Thanksgiving with her, this time with her little brother kicking his feet as he walked on the side of the road, delighting in the rustling sound of each step through the dry leaves.

So much to miss. And so much to be grateful for.

So today begins my now-annual days of thanks, stretching from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when I most need gratitude to help get me through these happy-sad, sad-happy days. Today, I am grateful just to be here, two-and-a-half years after Hudson’s death, almost seven months after a cancer diagnosis, more than three months after the end of chemotherapy. Somehow, some way, I am still here. And I’m so glad I’m here.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family of four.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Life is a Circle

I wrote in my letter to the babies last night that Jackson was running a fever. A fever on the night of his life where he reached the age his sister was when she died from an infection that started with a fever.

He has had a nasty cough for about a week, but he worsened on Sunday and Monday. He had a very fitful night last night, and Ed and I took turns getting up with him every two hours or so, trying to help him feel better and get back to sleep. He slept on the couch with Ed for about an hour between 4 and 5, and then woke up again. When Ed tried to put him back to bed in his crib, he became inconsolable. I took over, and he was just beside himself. He didn’t want to be put down. He didn’t want to be picked up. He didn’t want to sit in my lap. He didn’t want me to touch him. I was at a loss for what to do.

Finally, I just let him wander around in the dark a little bit while I laid down on the carpeted floor. He came back over to me and I gently laid him down beside me. He started to cry again and rolled away from me, but I just sat quietly and waited. He reached out and touched my hair, which is now very short and very soft and fuzzy as it grows back in after the end of chemo a few months ago. He got quiet as he laid there in the dark, rubbing the top of my head. I was cold and uncomfortable on the floor, I was exhausted from being up every other hour through the night, and I was dreading getting up an hour later to go teach my 8:45 class. But as I laid there in the dark with his little hand on my head, listening as his breathing slowed into a soft rhythm, all I wanted to do was snuggle him even closer. I thought about how many times after Hudson died I longed for the opportunity to be kept up all night with a cranky little girl on my hands, how I longed for the chance to be frustrated out of my wits not knowing how to soothe her.

I grabbed a blanket, ignored the pain in my shoulder, tucked my head into the crook of his little body, and laid there for the next hour awake and aware, feeling so very grateful for this moment with him and so very grateful for this gift from her .

Monday, November 5, 2012

For My Babies

Today, Jackson is 17 months and 12 days old, as old as Hudson ever got to be. To mark this occasion, I wrote them this letter.

My dear, precious little ones—

Today is another sad milestone for all of us. Jackson, today you are as old as your sister ever got to be. Hudson, tomorrow, your little brother will be older than you. There are days when I can still barely comprehend that this ever happened, that this could possibly be true. How can it be that on this same night of your life, Hudson, we were forced to say goodbye to you so many decades too soon and go home from the hospital without you? And on this night of your life, Jackson, you are sleeping fitfully in the next room, running a fairly high fever yourself, something that has become all too common for you. Another awful irony in our lives.

The two of you are so very alike in so many ways. You are both so quick with a grin, with a hug, with a kiss. You both have your Daddy’s eyes and my hair (albeit in the form of a wispy baby mullet in the back and an old man’s receding hairline in the front). You both love to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and you both love our Bess-dog to death. Jackson, you were slower to talk than your big sister, but your vocabulary has grown incredibly quickly and is now bigger than Hudson’s. And Hudson, I can only imagine that somehow you inspired your little brother’s amazing thirst for learning—even though he never got to meet you, at least not here on this earth, I still believe that somehow he got this trait from you. How very much I wish you were here to actually teach him all these things. And Jackson, how very much I wish you had your big sister here to show you the ropes, to be your partner in crime, your greatest torturer and also your best friend. Often times, people, including your daddy and me, inadvertently call Jackson by Hudson’s name. And I smile and joke about how much more often this would have happened if you were both here in the house with us. Tonight, and many nights, I read a book to you, Jackson, that was inscribed to your sister at Christmas in 2008, a few weeks after she was born. How very much I wish she were here herself to read it with you, to point out the turtles and the trees and the moon to you. How very much the two of you deserve to have that. How very much I would have liked to see it.

I think I miss this relationship for the two of you now more than ever, as we make our way through the fall, through Halloween and later Thanksgiving and Christmas, through all those days where we take sibling photos and family photos, and more importantly, where we make memories together. Hudson, we miss you so much, but you are still so very much a part of our lives—you are part of our memories, even though you are no longer here to make new ones with us. Your little brother now points at your photos and, unbidden, says your name. When we ask him where his sister is, he points to pictures of you. We will do our best, forever, to help him know who you are, to help him know that you are always his big sister even as he grows older than you ever did. Thank you for the gift you gave all of us by helping us learn to truly cherish one another, perhaps in ways we never would have learned had we not lost you. Of course, we would have you back in a second if we could, and we would all go on loving each other the best way we knew how, but that is not our reality. And in this reality, part of keeping you alive in our hearts is being grateful to you for that gift and learning to use that gift to the fullest. Jackson, even though your big sister is not here with you, I hope that you always feel her presence in the most wonderful of ways, in the extra snuggles we are always so happy to give you, in the adventures we are always eagerly seeking out, in the wind on your face, in the many rituals we hope will become part of your life story, in the lingering moments where we take time to admire the stars, or a beautiful sunset, or a deer quietly grazing in the yard.

Hudson, my dear sweet baby girl, I am so very sorry that we are all going on without you. I don’t want to. And yet I also know that it is for your sake that we must.

I love you both so much, my sweet babies. You are so lucky to have one another, even if it’s in a different way than most brothers and sisters get to have each other. And I am so very lucky to be your mother.

All my love, dear ones,