Thursday, May 30, 2013

Land Mines

I truly have only barely begun thinking about what it means that I am going to have a chance to raise another little girl. Every time my brain starts to wander into that territory, it veers off unexpectedly, not ready to entertain any deeper thoughts on the matter.

Today, I was forced to dip a toe a little deeper into that water, and yet I was still only scratching the very surface, I think. I finally got down to tackling all of the boxes and junk we’d thrown into the baby’s room in the new house. Not only do I want to get it cleaned up and ready for an actual baby to live in, but I also want to use it as a writing space for the summer, so I needed to make some room.

The room contained several large boxes that have basically not been opened since they were packed from our house in DC over a year ago. I also brought up some other boxes from the basement containing baby clothes, with plans to sort everything out by size and gender (or gender-neutrality as the case may be) so I could figure out what we have for this baby to wear. (You can probably see where I am going with this. This is another one of those posts that just keeps rewriting itself over and over again in new circumstances, I think).

I had already seen some of Hudson’s baby clothes through the sides of the clear plastic boxes I brought up from the basement. Somehow, this was all I was preparing myself for, and it seemed manageable.

But instead of starting with those boxes, the knowns, I opened one of the big cardboard boxes labeled only “Baby Clothes.” And right there on the top, the first thing I saw, were all the 18-24 month size clothing that Hudson was wearing around the time she died. In DC, I’d never been able to bring myself to put them away somewhere, so I simply moved them into the bottom drawer of the dresser in Jackson’s room in order to make way for his clothes. I looked at them from time to time, but for the most part that drawer stayed closed. When the movers came to pack us in DC, it felt almost like a cop out to me that I was letting them pack the clothes in the dresser, another way to sidestep having to ultimately do anything with those clothes I was unprepared to do anything with.

The thing about land mines is that no matter how much you prepare for encountering them, and no matter how many precautions you try to take to avoid them, they can still blow up right in your face.

On top was the grey fleece jacket with the bear ears that she wore so very often during her second and final winter that it was almost like an extension of her:

(I’d originally put this jacket in the box of clothes to be worn again by another sibling, rather than in the special box of Hudson’s clothes that will be only her own forever. Today I changed my mind about that. It’s just far too much hers to ever be anyone else’s.)

Then there were several items I’d only recently bought her at a huge kids’ consignment sale, including the lightweight sunsuit she was wearing in this precious picture with her friend Ellary on the playground at St. Ann’s:

. . . as well as this sweet top that I was inanely worried about getting stained by black beans when I took this, the final photo we have of Hudson:

Some of the clothes from that drawer in DC she hadn’t even gotten to wear yet, because the seasons were still changing and it was not yet reliably warm (we’d planned to take Hudson camping for the first time on the night she fell ill—we canceled the trip well before she ever ran a fever, because the overnight temps were supposed to be in the low forties).

I dug down lower into the box and found a jacket she’d worn regularly as a baby—I’d written her name on the tag so that it wouldn’t get lost at day care:

I shared that last photo on Facebook, with the caption: “Unpacking so much more than mere clothes,” and I am. I’m unpacking an all-too-short lifetime of memories. One of my bereaved-mom friends offered the kind hope for “a time when there is almost as much sweet as bitter in these clothes.”

And the thing is, this is that time. At least I think it is. Yes, finding these clothes when I (stupidly) wasn’t anticipating to (seriously, how does this keep happening?) blew me into a rib-shaking grief wave. Yes, most if not all of these clothes have some Hudson memory attached to them. But isn’t it sweet to have them in our lives again, to share them with Hudson’s little sister, to make new memories in them even as we tell Hudson’s siblings the stories of what their big sister was doing when she wore them? Isn’t that much sweeter than tucking them away in a drawer or a box as if I am afraid of them?

I think so. At least for the time being. I will probably still try to prepare, in vain, for the possible land mine that awaits when I first put one of those items of clothing on my second daughter. And it will probably still blow up in my face. And it will be OK. I’m willing to bet that something sweet will be waiting after the dust settles.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What Memorial Day Is “About”

Today, I posted on Facebook a column contemplating whether Memorial Day should include a commemoration of people like Henry David Thoreau and the many other anti-war activists and conscientious objectors and others who endeavored to prevent or shorten unjust wars. The column prompted some debate about what Memorial Day is “about,” with my two cents being that the purpose of Memorial Day is to honor the dead who gave their lives in service to this country, many of them needlessly in wars of aggression and greed, and that to me, we dishonor their memories if we do not continue to meditate on the need for peace; that to me, it does not take away from honoring the sacrifice of all those who have lost their lives and their families to meditate on the idea that while we are so incredibly grateful for their sacrifice, we are terribly sorry that they had to make it.

As the day went on, though, and I thought more and more about this discussion, it occurred to me that perhaps none of us should presume to say what Memorial Day is “about.” Because I imagine that, like Mother’s Day, Memorial Day is about many different things for many different people—those who have served and continue to serve, those whose family members or friends served and died, those leaders who sent young men and women into war, those of us who have not lost any loved ones in service to the nation but who understand that many of our freedoms, including our freedom to protest unjust wars, are a result of those sacrifices. It may mean to a mother who lost her son in a war she does not believe in something different from what it means to a father who lost his son in a war in which he believed wholeheartedly. So I think when any of us presumes to say that Memorial Day is “about this” or “not about that,” we may risk ignoring the diversity and depth of experiences and emotions that are brought to bear upon the meaning of this day.

So as the day continued, I thought more and more about what this day means to me. Having only a few friends in the military and having never lost anyone I loved to a war, it obviously does not mean to me the same thing that it might mean to my friend, Helen, one of the mothers I have become friends with in this journey of losing a child, my friend Helen who lost her 29-year-old son Joe to an IED in Afghanistan in 2006. It does not mean the same thing to me that it does to Joe’s wife, or to his young daughter and stepson, who lost their father on that fateful day. So what does it mean to me?

As I was meditating on this, I heard an interview on NPR with a chaplain who accompanies the notification officers tasked with the terrible duty of notifying the loved ones of those who have died in military service. The chaplain said that in every case when he has made the walk to the front door of one of those families, as soon as the door opens, before the notification officer can even get a word out of his mouth, the grief has already begun—the sight of the government vehicle in the driveway and the two officers in uniform on the front steps tells them everything they need to know. He said sometimes, family members would see them coming up the walk and simply refuse to open the door, as if doing so would mean keeping their beloved soldier alive.

And when I heard that, when I imagined that moment in my head, that’s when I had at least a better sense of what Memorial Day is about for me. Because what I thought of when I heard that chaplain describe that moment when the grief begins before the officer can even say a word, what I thought of was that same moment when we knew, without anyone saying a word, that Hudson was going to die. We had been waiting for what seemed like hours and hours for the doctor to return and tell us the results of Hudson’s latest CT scan, taken after her pupils stopped responding to light altogether. Finally, the hospital social worker guided us into a private room and sat us down. Then the social worker, two nurses, and two doctors all walked in and sat down in five chairs across from us. It was then that we knew. The words were superfluous. We knew in that moment that our lives would never be the same.

And as I remembered that horrible moment, I had a sense that for me, Memorial Day is about honoring all of those mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children who have had to open that door, who have known, before any words were even said, that their lives would never be the same. And for me, it is about doing whatever I can do to make sure that no family, no mother, ever has to endure that horrible moment without an unassailable reason. I don’t intend that as a political statement but rather as an intensely personal and emotional one. If another mother’s child is going to die for my sake, if another mother must endure that moment when she knows without being told that she will never see her child alive again, then the very least that I can do on Memorial Day is pledge to do my best to make sure that her child “shall not have died in vain.”

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Little Saline

The People’s Pharmacy made me cry today. The effing People’s Pharmacy.

Check out this train of thought. Today’s episode was about managing allergies and asthma. Towards the end of the show, one caller mentioned how she has had great success with managing her spring allergies with a neti pot. The expert agreed that using saline to clean out the nasal passages was a great way to help with allergies and make breathing easier.

And just like that, there I was, back in the summer of 2010, berating myself for not sticking to my off-and-on routine of spraying Hudson’s nose with saline every night after her bath. At some point during that spring before she died, she caught yet another upper respiratory infection. I used the saline to help clear up her stuffy nose and had heard that daily saline could help rid your nose of germs before they have a chance to settle in. So I was giving her a few sprays each night for a little while, but eventually abandoned it not long after her cold cleared up.

And then she developed bacterial meningitis from streptococcus pneumonia, one of the most common bacteria in the world, one that colonizes in almost everyone’s noses and throats, but one that in the vast majority of cases does no more harm than causing a little cold. During that summer after she died, I remember thinking over and over and over that if I’d just stuck with the saline routine, maybe I could have flushed out the strep pneumo before it triggered the little respiratory infection that turned into a sinus infection that ultimately crossed the blood-brain barriers and let that strep pnuemo march right into her cerebrospinal fluid.

A little saline and maybe she’d still be alive today. A little saline.

I keep thinking I’m over this particular part of this grief. Could I have saved her?  How could I have saved her? WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T I SAVE HER?

Just when I think I am over that. And then a little saline triggers a lot of salty tears.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy Second Birthday, Jackson!

Dearest little son of mine,

Today you are two. TWO! How can that be? How can it be two years ago that you came screaming (literally and figuratively) into our lives? How can it be that so much has happened in those two years, enough to make any person’s head spin, and yet here you are, the one that grounds us all. I know that kids are generally pretty resilient, but really, when you tally up all the changes that you have endured in your short life, your ability to maintain the most joyful and welcoming spirit is truly remarkable. You went to day care part-time and then didn’t, had a babysitter for a while and then didn’t, moved to a new house in a new town, had to stop nursing abruptly, had a mommy diagnosed with cancer who then cut her hair into a purple mohawk and then went bald, went full-time to another day care when your mommy went back to work, got used to your daddy being gone for a few nights every other week, moved to a new house again, learned to fall asleep by yourself in your own room when it’s still light outside, and watched your mommy’s hair grow back in and her tummy get bigger and bigger. And through it all, you have remained a delightful and sweet and loving and playful and happy little boy. You have helped keep the rest of us sane (even when you drive us crazy). I can’t tell you how happy and proud it makes me when other parents at day care tell me how you greet them with a big smile and a hug when they come in the door, when your teacher tells me that you try to comfort your friends when they are sad and that you are good at soothing yourself when you are upset or encouraging yourself when you are doing something hard. One of your most precious quirks to me right now is the way that you sometimes interact with the world in the second person. When you want milk, you say, “You want some milk?” When you hurt yourself, you say, “You OK, Jackson?” And when one of us accidentally hurts you, you say, “I’m sorry!” I always know exactly what you mean, but I also wonder if this is just a beautiful form of empathy, for others as well as for yourself, that you have somehow managed to develop.

Of course, you are two, and you have discovered that you are your own person and that the world exists independently from you and that the world is unfortunately not created to satisfy everything that you want, so sometimes, you get overwhelmed by big feelings that you are still unable to tell us about in words. And you cry. And scream. And throw yourself on the floor and roll around. And you know what, that’s okay. That’s just fine, sweetie. That is what you are supposed to do at this age. It’s our job to stay in control for YOU, not the other way around. When you and I were talking this morning about being sad when someone took a toy from you, I heard you say, “Don’t cry, Jackson,” and I was surprised and sad to hear you say that. I am sorry that someone, somewhere, has told you not to cry. I immediately told you that it’s okay to cry when you are upset or sad—it’s just fine. We all need to cry sometimes—I know you’ve seen me cry more than your fair share of times—and little boys and girls need to cry even more than the rest of us, because you are still learning what feelings are, what it’s like to have feelings, how to express feelings, and how to respond to them. And you will keep learning that for a really long time. And that is okay. And I want you to know that Daddy and I will be right here for you as you are learning to deal with all kinds of feelings. And we’ll never tell you not to cry. We’ll sit right there with you while you cry, and just be with you until you are ready to talk about what’s happening or ready to move on to the next thing. And for all the times (and I know there will be many) when we do lose control ourselves, I want to apologize now. I will apologize then, too, but just know that no matter what you do, or how much you lose it, or how long you scream and cry and roll around on the floor, or how long you throw a tantrum in public, or how badly we may react to any of these things, we love you unconditionally and we always will.

You’ve got another big set of changes coming up for you in this next year, too, buddy. Even bigger than all the ones you have gone through so far, which is pretty hard to imagine. In another month, you’re going to start at a new school where you’ll only go part of the day. I think you are really going to like it—you’ll have a lot more time to explore outdoors and do all kinds of creative things. I hope the transition is not too hard for you—I know you love your teacher and your friends at day care. And then not very long after that, you’re going to be a big brother! I know you still don’t understand what that means, but I hope you have some idea of what’s going to happen by the time your little sister gets here. And even though I know that’s going to be the biggest change you’ve endured so far, and even though I know it’s not going to be easy for any of us, I feel pretty confident that you are going to weather it with the same joyful, be-happy-now kind of attitude you exude most of the time. And again, even when you don’t, even when you are having a hard time getting used to not being the only kiddo running this show, we’ll be right here for you while you figure out how to feel about it all. And in the end, I have utter faith that you are going to be one awesome big brother, one of the best ever. You’ve already proven what a sweet, caring soul you are, and I know this will only grow once you realize that you’ve got a pretty big job as a big brother.

And again, as ever, as always, I am so sorry that your big sister isn’t here on earth with you to help you navigate your way through these big changes. I know she’d be right by your side helping you know what to do as a big brother, teaching you all the things she would have learned to do as a big sister if she’d only had the chance. I feel so strongly that even though she is not right here next to you, she is right there inside you all the time. I hope one day you will feel it, too.

Even if I were to write thousands more words, Jackson, I would never be able to express how much joy you have brought into my life, how much joy you continue to bring into it every single moment. At least once, and often many times each day, I just sit and marvel at you and wonder what in the world I did to be so lucky as to become your mom. I love how you love to hang upside down. I love to listen to you sing songs. I love to listen to you chat to yourself while you fall asleep and when you first wake up in the morning. I love how you get so excited when you hear an airplane somewhere far away. I love to watch you examine bugs so closely and studiously. I love how much you enjoy naming things of all kinds—you never seem to tire of this. I love how you delight in the most ordinary things, like making a collection of sticks, pinecones, rocks, and gumballs. I love how you repeat almost everything we say, much to our amusement. I love how one of your favorite games to play is to laugh at me laughing at you. I love how particular you are about what you want to wear each day. I love how you seem to know exactly what kind of music you want to listen to in the car, saying “No” when a song comes on that you don’t like, even several songs in a row. I love how you say “No?” like a question instead of a statement, just like your big sister did. And one of my favorite moments of any day is when I walk into a room after not seeing you for a while and your face just lights up and you shriek with obvious delight, “Mommy!”

I love you so much, sweet boy, and I look forward to watching all the amazing ways you are going to keep growing up in the next year.

Big, big love,


Thursday, May 23, 2013

This One Life

Jackson is turning two tomorrow. Two. So ordinary for most kids and their parents. A watershed for us. A birthday that in some dark hours over the last three years I wondered if I’d ever be lucky enough to see. Not because I had any real reason to think Jackson wouldn’t make it to his second birthday, but because I wasn’t sure I had any real reason to expect that he would. Sometimes, I can still barely believe we made it.

I am reading a new novel right now called “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson. As its title might suggest (and I’m not spoiling anything here—you can read this in any synopsis or review of the book), the book is about a young woman who keeps dying and getting reborn into the same life over and over again—the novel pursues the idea of whether, through this constant rebirth as the same person, living the same life over again (although she is not entirely aware of it), she might be able to change her destiny or that of the world she inhabits.

A truly ingenious plot mechanism, and so well-done, and yet here I find myself reading a book where someone’s child dies, over and over and over again, as a baby, as a young girl, as a young woman, over and over again. I am reading a book where the key tension in the book involves waiting for this child to die. As my dread builds each time, I keep trying to predict, based on foreboding clues, how she will die this time around. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I am wrong. Each time, I keep hoping that maybe this time, she will live. So far, she hasn’t.

Bizarrely, my experience with the way this plot unfolds, over and over again, is not entirely unlike my life after losing a child. When reading the book, I know the girl is going to die too soon. Every time. It’s not a question of if, but of when and how. Dread and uncertainty. How much of her life will she get to live this time before she dies?

And yet I am still enjoying this well-told story immensely.

In my life, I can only hope that no more of my children will die too soon. But I still find myself wondering how much of their lives they will get to live before they die. Each morning when Jackson sleeps later than usual, I get a tiny, but very much noticeable, knot in my stomach that doesn’t resolve until I hear that first waking moan or happy chatter over the baby monitor. Every time he spikes a fever, and this kid can spike some serious fevers on a pretty regular basis, I get an even bigger knot in my stomach, wondering if this is the time it’s going to turn into something serious. Every time I stop and think I haven’t felt the baby move in a while, I start imagining the worst and wonder what it would be like to lose a baby I never even got to meet. I want a third living child for a variety of reasons, but among them is that if the worst happens to us again, I want two siblings still living to be there for each other.

And yet I am still enjoying this well-lived, though something-short-of-complete, life immensely.

Of course I am. Because, thankfully, in my life, unlike when I am reading this book, I am not sitting around waiting for my children to die. I can’t help but think about the worst sometimes—I imagine even parents who have not lost a child can’t help but do so sometimes, even though they can’t know what it would be like—but among the many things I have learned since Hudson died is that I can’t live my life expecting us all to die too soon. I can’t live it expecting that we’ll have infinite chances in life after life to do it over and get it right, but I also can’t live it expecting that we won’t have any chance to do it right the first time, the only time.

So I just have to live it. This one life. I have to live this one life and hope we get it right this one time. Jackson turns two tomorrow. If we’re lucky, he’ll turn three in another year, and four another year after that. If we’re lucky, this baby will be born in August and will live, with her brother, for many years beyond us. I can’t guarantee it, and there’s only so little I can do to control it. So I just have to live it, this one life, and hope we get it right while we have the chance.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Three Years: A Letter to My Girl

My dear, sweet, precious Hudson:

Here we are again, my girl. Somehow, the planet has managed to turn another year without you. Somehow, we have managed to live another year without you. Somehow, we are still here and you are still not.

You have been gone for more than twice the amount of time you were here, Hudson. How can that be? I just watched the slideshow of your life that Daddy and I made for your memorial service, and so many of those moments still feel like they just happened.

So very much has changed since we said goodbye to you, sweet girl, especially in this last year. We moved back to the town where Daddy and I came from, where your Poppy and Grandma and Grandpa live, into a new house that you never got to see, that we never got to make any memories with you in. I lost all my hair when I had chemotherapy last summer for cancer, and it is still very short, but it’s also really curly, nothing at all like anything you ever saw on top of my head. And I have a big belly, growing your baby sister inside. I wonder if you would recognize me if you saw me in this new body, with this new hair, in this new house. Your little brother seems to take it all in stride—he looks at old pictures of me, and he knows just who I am, no matter what I look like. He doesn’t even notice my belly until I point it out to him and try to explain somehow that there is baby in there, his little sister, just like you are his big sister.

Gosh, he is just so much like you, Hudson. His smile is your smile. His cheeks are your cheeks. His wispy, stick-straight, reddish-brown hair is yours, too. He is smart like you and loving like you and friendly like you. Whenever one of the parents at his school tells me how he always hugs them whenever they come into the room, I smile knowingly, feeling sure that somehow you must have a hand in all of that. I have been trying hard to help him know you. He knows your name and recognizes you in pictures (well, most of the time—sometimes, even he gets confused looking at pictures of you and thinking they are actually pictures of him). When I ask where his sister is, he points to your picture and says, “Hudson!” So I know he knows who you are. I look forward to the day when he understands who you are, too. When I can tell him about you and he can ask me questions about you and we can talk about you and think about you together. Because one of my most important jobs after losing you, Hudson, is making sure that in spite of it all, you remain part of us forever. I will probably not always do it in the right way, but I will keep trying to figure out what the right way is to keep you close to us while also making sure that your younger siblings know that we love them every bit as much as we love you, that we love them for just who they are, just as we love you for just who you are.

And a little sister. Can you believe it? You never got old enough for us to talk about what brothers and sisters are, and I can only wonder what you would think about having a little brother AND a little sister. And I am, as ever, so terribly sad that the three of you will never get to meet, that you will never get to build forts together in our new playroom, that you will never get to boss them around when playing games together or help them feel better when they are sad, that you all will never get to do a million things that brothers and sisters do together. And as sad as I am for Jackson that he doesn’t get to have a big sister here with him, I am maybe even sadder for your little sister. A big brother is irreplaceable, but a little sister needs a big sister around for so many things that a big brother doesn’t know. How much we will all miss because you are not here.

So much change in one short year, sweetest. The hardest part of moving to this new house has been moving here without you. There are no places here that I can picture a memory of you. Moving here without you, to this place you have never been, seemed, for the first time, like really moving on without you, like starting “the rest of our lives” but starting it without you.

So much change and yet, here I sit in the same glider chair where I used to sit with you for hours on end when you were a tiny baby, nursing you off and on and letting you sleep in my arms, the same glider where we spent our last hours in one another’s arms, last hours that we had no idea were last hours.

So much change and yet, our new yard is full of dogwood trees that remind me of when you saw a dogwood tree for the first time when you were five months old, that remind me of our trips to the Dogwood Collection at the Arboretum, where a part of you will be forever.

So much change and yet, here you are, right here with me, aren’t you? Always right here with me.

We spent this third anniversary in the most appropriate way I could imagine, and in doing so, we started yet another tradition that will keep you so very much with us as we fill this new home with memories. In addition to blowing bubbles for you like we have each May 13 since we first sent your spirit out into the world a few days after you died (and again, my girl, so many other people have done the same in places all over—you are really something special, sweet girl), we also began putting into place an idea we’ve had ever since those early days after you died, when we looked forward to moving into a forever home where we could make permanent and lovely spaces just for remembering you. We have picked out the loveliest sunny spot near the very front of the new yard where are going to plant a garden just for you. It is right by the road, so my hope is that every time someone walks, runs, bikes, or drives past (and this happens many, many, many times every day), they will feel some of the same joy that you brought us every day of your existence, the same joy that our memories of you bring us every day we spend without you. We picked out a beautiful stone and iron turtle that is now sunning on a rock in your new garden. We hung a birdfeeder at one corner of the space that is now your garden, so that birds can visit with you regularly and enjoy a place to rest and gain sustenance. I drew a map of our house and the yard and the space for your garden so that I can figure out which spots get the most sun and we can plant things that will thrive and that will help your spirit thrive, too. I felt more inspired and closer to you today than I have felt in a very long time, Hudson, and I am so looking forward to all the time that I will get to spend with you, thinking about and planning and planting your garden, sitting in it with you, adding something new to it every year, watching it grow and change and bring the same joy to the world that I know you would have if you were here on earth, that I know you still do bring even though you are not here on earth. The only way it could be better would be if you were right here with me, helping pick out the plants and digging the holes with a Hudson-sized spade and gently placing the plants inside and patting the soil down around them and watering them with love and delighting with me in watching them grow. I will never stop missing that idea of you there. But your garden will be yet another One Good Thing in all the sorrow of losing you, and I am so grateful to you for the inspiration. Thank you, sweet girl.

You are gone but you should not be. But, following your lead, I will cherish what is— that your dad’s and my lives, and so many others, are changed forever because you were in them. Your smile, joyful laugh, mischievous ways, sweet voice, and wise countenance are indelibly burned on my heart-- I would do anything to hear you say “Mama” just one more time. You are gone but you should not be. Thank you for helping me cherish what is. I love you.

I love you, dearest girl, and I miss you with all of my being.

With all the love in my heart,


Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Mother’s Day

Earlier this week, one of my Facebook friends posted this column by Anne Lamott from Mother’s Day weekend 2010 (May 8 of all days, the last day we spent with a healthy Hudson). Its title is “Why I Hate Mother’s Day.” I have been struggling to put into words all week why this column bothered me so much. I’m still not sure I know, but this is as close as I can get.

While I know that many friends and many, many others are huge fans of Anne Lamott’s, I can’t help but thinking the same thing about this column that I did about an article I read (and wrote about) back in the summer of 2010, not long after Hudson died, entitled “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.” My reaction to both is this: if that’s really how you feel, then you aren’t doing it right.

Anne Lamott makes some valid points, particularly about the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day. Perhaps no one has been doing it right ever since the holiday was founded in the early part of the last century. Interestingly, the woman who founded the modern Mother’s Day holiday, in memory of her own mother, ultimately ended up opposing the holiday because of the way it rapidly became commercialized and turned into a “Hallmark holiday.” But does that mean that Mother’s Day must be a “Hallmark holiday”?

And Lamott is certainly right that Mother’s Day can rub so much salt in the wounds of so many women—those who, like me, have lost their mothers; those who, like me, have lost a child; those who yearn to be mothers but through many different circumstances beyond their control are not now and in some cases, may never be; those whose relationships with their own mothers, living or dead, are nonexistent, treacherous, or otherwise fraught with obstacles antithetical to the very idea of a “Mother’s Day.” But as a woman who has lost both a mother and a child, I don’t accept the proposition that this grief is cause to cast aside the idea of a “Mother’s Day” altogether.

The thing is, just like I didn’t recognize the parenting experiences described in “All Joy and No Fun,” I don’t recognize the Mother’s Day Lamott describes in her column. Yes, I remember the first few Mother’s Days after my own mother died, when I thought my head might explode if I saw another Mother’s Day card display at the grocery store or commercial on television, when I felt like no matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from it. And yes, I remember the crippling Mother’s Day after Hudson died, when all I could think about was how very gone Hudson was, how the Mother’s Day before was the last day we spent with her at home, all the fateful decisions we made that day and the next. And the Mother’s Day after that, last year, when Mother’s Day fell on the very anniversary of the day Hudson died. What, exactly, does one in my shoes do with that?

But a day that raises mothers above all other women as having superior value as beings? A day that raises the illusion that mothers are automatically happier and more complete? A day where mothers are forced against their will to take their mothers, mothers-in-law, and children to restaurants? A day where “non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s”?

Maybe I’m na├»ve. And if this is the Mother’s Day world that you live in, I’m incredibly sorry, and my only advice to you is get out. But for me, I don’t see Mother’s Day as black and white as this. I don’t see it as either you are a woman with an awesome, living mother that you can parade around on Mother’s Day, or you are a woman whose mother died or abused you or abandoned you and therefore Mother’s Day is nothing but a black hole. I don’t see it as either you are a mother basking in the glow of the love and “reflected glory” of your children on this day, or you are a mother who gets dragged to a restaurant against your will. I don’t see it as either you are a woman who, as a mother, knows like no one else can what it means to love another person, or you are a woman who, not a mother, can never know that kind of love. Who really lives in these absolutes? Who wants to?

My Mother’s Day went something like this today. I slept in a bit while Ed got up with Jackson. I went downstairs to find them making pancakes for me and having colored a piece of art paper for me that said, “Mommy is the Best.” And yet, I felt wrong. I felt irritable and irritated for no reason that I could discern. And then Ed turned on some music, a mournful Adele song that immediately brought me to tears, at which point I understood what was wrong with me. I suggested we might need to listen to something more chipper. We ate breakfast and then went and picked strawberries and picnicked under a huge, old tree on a farm. We went looking for some things for Hudson’s garden, which we intend to “break ground” on tomorrow as we mark three years without her. We walked to town and back. We ate dinner at home, a simple meal of fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwiches and bruschetta, all of which I made myself. And then I sat down and made a collage of photos—one of me with my mom when I was a child, one of me with Hudson, and one of me with Jackson. While I was searching for photos, I sifted through some of Hudson that I had not looked at in quite a while, and I was overcome with longing for her, awash in fresh tears of missing her, in memories of the short and precious time that was her life. And now I am here, writing about it all.

What I have learned since my mother died, and to a much greater degree since Hudson died, is that nothing in life is a “Hallmark holiday.” And if we let it be defined that way, then we are doing it wrong. Life is not lived in black and white. It is joy in the midst of sorrow, sorrow in the midst of joy. It is amazing and awful in turns, and turns, and turns. Some of us have wonderful, lovely mothers who are still with us. Some of us have wonderful, lovely mothers who left us far too soon. Some of us have complicated mothers to whom it is hard to relate. Some of us have complicated mothers who left us before we could figure them out. Some of us have mothers who never loved us or who abandoned us or who abused us emotionally or physically. Some of us have many other women in our lives who play the role of mother, whether they be grandmothers, friends’ mothers, sisters, or simply women who we were lucky enough to meet along the way. Some of us have children, perfect and whole, to celebrate this day with. Some of us have lost our children, to death or to something else. Some of us never got to meet our children. Some of us have no children but long for them deeply. Some of us have children in our lives for whom we are a mother-figure of some kind. Some of us are perfectly content to have no children.

For some of us, Mother’s Day is easy and lovely. For some of us, Mother’s Day is hard and lovely. For some of us, Mother’s Day is hard and awful. For some of us, Mother’s Day this year is harder than it was last year. For some of us, Mother’s Day this year is easier than it will be next year, although we don’t know it yet.

To me, Mother’s Day is a day to honor that we are all someone’s child and that as women, whether we are mothers in the strict sense of the word in that we have children, we have most certainly mothered someone somewhere in our lives, just by offering our love and care to someone who needed it.

For some of us, Mother’s Day may mean honoring the fact that we survived our childhoods in spite of our mothers. For some of us, it may mean honoring the fact that we mother ourselves better than our mothers ever did. For some of us, it may mean that we spend the day with a mother we adore. For some of us, it may mean that we spend the day missing a mother we adore. For some of us, it may mean that we spend the day with children we love, whether our own or someone else’s. For some of us, it may mean we spend the day missing a child we love, whether our own or someone else’s. For some of us, it may mean honoring the fact that mothering someone else or someone else’s child may be the only mothering we ever get to do.

But whatever it is, it is a day for us to honor in our own way our own particular place in the world of mothers and children, whatever that place may be—painful, joyful, or some powerful mix of the two.

Life is only a “Hallmark holiday” if we let it be.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women in my life. May this day honor you and may you honor it in whatever way is meaningful for you.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bubbles for Our Hudson

It is May 8.

One year ago today, I had my first chemotherapy treatment to rid my body of cancer. A sad memory with a very happy outcome.

Three years ago today, we spent our last day with a happy, healthy Hudson before she woke up with a fever late in that night. A happy memory with a very sad outcome.

This life. This is this life. This is our life. The happy before the sad. The sad before the happy. The sad-happy. The happy-sad. The awful-and-the-beautiful-and-the-all-mixed-up-and-everything-in-between.

It seems only fitting that today, we invite anyone and everyone to join us on Monday, May 13, in what has become our annual custom of blowing bubbles to remember and celebrate Hudson’s life as we honor the anniversary of her death. As I have said so many times before, the only consolation I have after losing Hudson is knowing how much of an impact her life continues to have. And watching so many people in places all over send up these little bits of her spirit, these little bubbles of Hudson-joy out to a world that needs it so much, brings me so much comfort and peace.

If you join us in bubble-blowing, we would love for you to share your photos on the Bubbles for Hudson Facebook page, or, if you would rather, you can email your photos directly to me, and I can post them there (or you can feel free to ask me not to share them, too). Please also feel free to invite anyone else you think might benefit from a little Hudson-joy to join us, either by sharing this blog entry or inviting them to the Facebook event. 

I am so grateful that we stumbled upon such a beautiful ritual, one that began at her memorial services and will now continue until we are no longer. And I am so grateful for each and every one of you who helps us remember her in such a special and fitting way. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May… Again

Where even to begin? There are so many places I could start after such a long hiatus, but the most important one, perhaps, is to thank so many of you who have continued to return to this page regularly to check in on us. So thank you.

We are here. I am here. I am, in fact, much more than just here, which perhaps accounts in part for this writer’s block/avoidance of many months. Even after all this time spent thinking, pondering, mulling—I can still barely begin to process all the events of the last year, and of the last half-year in particular.

You see, I learned in December that we are having another baby. Not even three months after finishing chemotherapy, and with no help from our fertility preservation doctors, I turned up pregnant. Let that one sink in a minute. Or, if you are like me, it will take a lot longer than that.

And then, about a month later, we learned that we are having another daughter. Another little girl. Another sister for Jackson. Another sibling who will wear Hudson’s clothes and kiss her picture and say her name but never know her in life.

And then, about two months after that, we finally moved into our newly renovated house. A house that Hudson never knew. With floors that her little feet never padded across. With a front door she never stared out of. With drawers that she never emptied. A house in which we plan to spend the rest of our lives, even though such a huge part of our lives is missing from it and always will be.

And then, here it is May again. In twelve days, it will have been three years since we last saw our little girl.

In just one year, a cancer diagnosis and (hopefully) a cure, a new (old) town, a new home, the prospect of a new baby. The beginning, at last, of what will be the rest of our lives. All of this without Hudson. All of this without the child who turned us into parents, the child who turned me into a mother, the child who made me feel for the first time like my life had begun in earnest.

I am at a complete loss. More than ever, it feels as though we are moving on without her. She lives in this home only in the forms of ashes, photos, many precious memories, her smile on her brother’s face, and a deep and abiding love and longing for her. I know these things are not nothing. They are not really “only.” They are so much. But as I predicted so long ago—not very long after she died—the gaping dark hole that her death ripped into the fabric of our lives feels different three years, another child, one cancer diagnosis, one new town, one new house, and a third pregnancy later. It’s not that the hole has gotten smaller in absolute terms—it’s that our lives have gotten bigger, so the hole is smaller in comparison to the rest of it. And as I predicted many times then, I fucking hate how much smaller, relatively, it has grown. I not infrequently find myself wishing we could all go back to those first several days after Hudson died, when her death was the center of our world and the worlds of everyone around us, when it seemed like indeed the entire world had stopped going when she stopped being, even for just a few moments. Because sometimes I still want the world to just stop. I want it to stop turning and turning and turning without her.

But it doesn’t, of course. It keeps going. We keep going. May keeps coming. We keep honoring the anniversary of Hudson’s death one May day and celebrating her little brother’s birth not many days after.

Imagine that. Five months without a substantive post, and as it turns out, I can still really only say the same thing I have been saying all along. I miss her. I want her back. I can’t have her back. So I go on. I go on and make, if I can, the very most of all that she left behind.

“May, she will stay… resting in my arms again.”