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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sound. Proof.


Dear Josie,

I had an ultrasound today.

Is it weird that I keep forgetting?  This most exciting, miraculous thing.  I'll be driving or eating or laughing and it will hit me.  The realization along with the paralyzing fear. 

It's impossible to ignore at the doctor's office, and there have been many appointments.  They aren't leaving much to chance this time.   I am forever grateful for the interventions, can't help but wish you had been privy to them.

I entered the waiting room and I noticed them immediately, the couple to my left.   He was shifting uncomfortably in his chair.  Her, a crumpled Kleenex in hand. 

I don't know how long they'd been there. Soon he approached the receptionist, gestured towards the neon sign on her desk: "Please let us know if you've been waiting longer than thirty minutes."

I heard her ask from the six feet away, "What time was your appointment?"  No appointment, the man clarified.  They had just been sent from their doctor.

I felt my stomach drop.

I thought of the ultrasound machine when they couldn't find your heartbeat.    The last effort, wheeled in by shaking hands not wanting to confirm.  The frigid gel I never felt,  eyes fixated on that still screen. The neutral décor in that beige room, impartial and detached as I became in an instant.

I could feel the lump rising in my throat as they were called back.  Hurriedly, reluctantly they walked as I had.  Into the elevator, onto the bed...

I was still waiting when they returned, saw the stains on her cheeks.  Her eyes red and staring forward, leading feet that longed to turn back.  He was crying but she was stoic, turning for his hand as they reached the door. 

An hour passed before I would alert the receptionist to my presence.  My long standing appointment time now a distant memory to clocks on taupe walls. The time that doesn't stop no matter how you will it to, dragging you onward in a bloodied captivity.  

I didn't mind, would have gladly let the plaid-covered recliner absorb me were it possible.  I  preferred to be forgotten there, in the cushioned potential of the unconfirmed.  I wanted to run after her, to hold her in my arms and never let go. 

I  jumped when they called my name, couldn't stop the tears when I heard that heartbeat.  It was strong and it was steady, as yours had once been.  I was relieved and I was terrified.  As deserving as I was guilty for this evidence, this undeniable proof of existence.  Grateful for the elusive sound that floors me, for this heart that beats with mine.

I could have listened forever.  And I couldn't leave fast enough.

Love,
Mom


 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

October 7, 2014

Dear Josie,

Today we got the news. 

Driving to the store  I felt a familiar wave.  Within minutes of unlocking the door I would know, grocery bags untouched on the table.

One can imagine the events that likely followed.  The jumping up and down, the wrapping of your brother in my arms to spill the happy news.  The call to your father, your grandparents, the press...

Only that isn't what happened this time.  This time was very different.

When I learned you had died, I had questions.  So many questions.  One of them was answered rather quickly.  "When can we try again?" 

As if it were that simple, the trying.

Six months we were told, and so we waited.  We waited for blood work and pathology reports.  We waited as friends and family had their babies, drove them home in cushioned car seats, dressed them for birthday parties and weekend trips to the lake.  We waited through more blood work, more tests, through therapy sessions and condolences.  We waited for the green light to hope again. 

As if it were that simple, the hoping.

And now.  Now as I sit, this test before me I shake.   

I shutter at the thought of telling anyone.   I imagine there is some universal entity, hand just above the button.  He watches me and he glares.

"Oh yeah? "  A smile curves his lips.  "You think?"

I desperately want to run and hide, to fall forever into a life under the covers.  I want a life with little chance of this pain.  I want a life with my hand on that button. 

It is calm there, in that life.  It is  predictable and it's safe.  The minutes and days and years of leaving well enough alone.  This memory that haunts me, quells the dreams that rage within.

Yet I can sense the rise in my pulse,  feel it accelerate even as I sit.  Although there is no guarantee, there is an excitement.  There is a chance.  Something the softest blanket could never provide.

It is one way to survive, my hand on that button. 

It's no way to live.

Love,
Mom

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Everest

Dear Josie,

Today I'm at the bottom.  I have been here for some time now, but today feels different.  You see, I'm looking up now, in the literal sense. This wasn't possible before. 

The climb is cold.  Silent like the morning I held you, warm and still in my arms. 
But that warmth, it doesn't stay. 
With each step I am closer to the top, farther from the safety of the ground.  This ground where I've been hiding, content and safe and small. 

So you steady my grip, hands trembling they can feel you.  Tighten the pose, as if I were to dance on this ice.  Here in my Everest.  Here on my second chance. 

And I can hear them as I rise, slowly, reluctantly I rise. 

And they tell me yes I can. And they say it isn't far, that I will make it.  But there is a difference between us now. 
I know how it feels to fall, to fall from such a height that is to know death.  To grip it with my fingers, watch the life slip from them.  Grasp the air at thirty thousand feet. 

I lost myself in the descent.  The edges taking something from me, tangible in its beginning. Then gradually, they steal for a lifetime. 

This fall, it nearly killed me.
And I'd say it was for nothing, if there wasn't just the one. 

It didn't. 

Love,
Mom

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Strides

Dear Josie,

We walked for you.

This past weekend was the SHARE walk for remembrance and hope. 

Over three thousand families and friends were in attendance.  Three thousand weighted hearts, six thousand empty arms.  It was almost too much to comprehend, reading the names on the t shirts, all the babies who never got to walk.  Never got to share. 

Team Josie was incredible.  I cannot remember a time in my life where I have felt so loved.  My entire family, my closest friends, co-workers, people I haven't spoken to or seen in months.  Near strangers. 

We walked.  We walked for you and for all the babies who never will.  We walked for the mothers whose lives stopped, for the doctors and nurses who cried when they arrived home, tucking their children into bed.

We walked for boys who will never run, for girls who'll never steal their sisters' sweaters. Babies who will never gaze at flames burning brightly on marble counter tops.  For children who won't laugh or lie or feel.  We walked for the mother you'll never be, for the one I am no longer. 

I remember when I received the call.  It was three days after you died.  At the time, I could barely be declared conscious, dragging my feet from bed to couch for days.  I'd stare out windows in a disillusioned haze, willing myself to be pregnant again, aching to feel you inside me.  There were no words, no respite.  There was no way out.  There was no hope. There was only a gaping, bleeding wound.  There was only a darkness. 

My phone rang that afternoon and I hit decline.  Actually, I was rejecting most every call those days.  The voicemail notification came a minute later.

I'll never forget the woman's voice, so soft and careful with her words.  She explained that she was from the SHARE organization, locally based here in St. Charles.  An organization for women and families who have suffered the loss of a baby.   I listened, staring ahead in my zombie, post-Josie trance as she apologized like all the others had, for the loss of my child.  For the death of my daughter.  For the loss of my life.

She said something different then.   "I know you don't feel like talking yet, but we are here when you do.  Call anytime." 

And there was something about it.   I listened three times to be sure. 

Indeed, she had not said "If," but "When." 

There was no "Never" or "At Least" or "I Can't Imagine."  Just a chair and a phone with a woman waiting there.  A woman who was confident I'd call.

I didn't fully believe her then, but I felt a jolt.  Run down my leg and through my arms, felt my eyes widen a tad.  It was as real as it was involuntary, this peripheral twinge.  It was surprising and welcomed and unfamiliar.  

 It was hope.


Love,
Mom

 









 


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whitewash

Dear Josie,

I'm obsessed with a dresser.

This isn't a dresser I would like to buy.  I already own it.  It was a Christmas gift several years ago from your grandparents, to their broke and furniture-troubled college daughter.  It was white and the drawers were lined in pink.  I absolutely loved it.

The dresser stayed with me after graduation.  It moved home with me, into the two bedroom apartment I would share with your aunt after scoring my first real job.  The following year brought a five bedroom rental with two more roommates, a second-story deck and a basement with a bar.  There it sat in the corner of my room, morning after morning, barbecue after killer dance party. 

We found out I was pregnant with your brother that year, and I moved in with your father almost immediately.  It wasn't official until our lease ended, but my things began to accumulate at his place.  A beautiful brick house a little father south.  I felt scared but also extremely secure, filling his chestnut drawers with my t shirts and college hoodies. Everything smelled foreign and full of hope.  After one of my showers, the room just off ours was filled with matching furniture, and we carefully packed all the 'extras' away in the garage.  Next to my white dresser. 

When we learned you were a girl, I pictured that dresser in your room.  Watched the sunlight bounce off the cream through the blinds, spinning circles around you on pink rugs.  

After several talks we decided it would go to your brother instead. His clothes, like him, had grown longer with time and had surpassed the space of the baby furniture. You would get his old room, the closet, the matching armoire and dresser.  He would move downstairs, into the brand new room your father had spent six months building off the garage.  Only white didn't really match the little boy décor.   

We picked out the color together.   Mudslide.  It wasn't white, but it matched the royal blue and the baseball posters.  And it made your brother smile. 

The night you died, your father had begun to paint this dresser.  The symbolism is not lost on me.

I had fallen asleep at nap time, waking with a vivid dream.  I hadn't felt you move for over an hour.  You were already gone then, as my mind was trying to convey.  My heart just couldn't listen.

I remember finding your father in the garage, slathering the dark brown in even strokes, the fumes startling me at the bottom of the stairs. 

"Maybe you just need to lie down.  Eat something?"  I had done that, I assured him.  Something was wrong.  I didn't feel right.  I needed to go. 

"Stay with Frank," I called, rushing out the door.

"Will you be okay?"  He asked me.

"If she is."  I had said.

Many nights I have stared at this dresser.  It haunts my periphery through the bedtime stories and Lego parades.  I have fallen asleep, just gazing at it during  midnight tummy aches and cuddle sessions.  Sometimes I picture it white, as it were before.  Safe and flawless and clean.  Before the change, this appropriate and responsible darkness.   Before I became a mother.  Before I lost a child.

But mostly, I focus on the chips, obsessively like a crazy person.  The flecks of white peeking through.  These little imperfections, asymmetrical proof of a life lived in your absence.  I see nerf balls and laundry baskets and a million conversations.  I see changes welcomed, cracks because we lived after that day.  Because we never gave up.  I see a girl who wasn't caught.   A girl who jumps anyway. 

And I'd be too scared to jump again, if there wasn't this security.  To know you're with me every minute, whispering it's worth the risk. 

And I'm trembling and I'm hesitant, but deep down I know you're right. 

Love,
Mom










Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I See Old People

Dear Josie,

I miss softball.

Call me crazy, but I loved the outfield best.  I loved the space and the smell of the grass.  The inner monologue and the distant sounds of the crowd, the occasional dragon fly softly landing on cracked leather.  I could chase a fly ball for days, sprinting and tracking and ever-so-carefully plucking it from the bluest of summer skies.  In the early years that's where your worst players would go, but not so much as one got older.  I can remember a coach in high school telling me, "Infielders lose runs, outfielders lose games."  I always loved that.

Your aunt and I began pitching lessons in grade school.  Truth be told, I never really enjoyed it.  I hated the attention, the constant pressure. I was alright, so they would put me in from time to time.

In 1996, I was pitching for St. Sabina.  This was my church, my former school, the Catholic Youth Council team I had been a part of for seven years.  It was the championship game of the last tournament of the summer.

I remember throwing strike after strike, walking only one batter the entire seven innings.  It was tied until they began hitting me into the fourth, nothing major.  Pop- ups to third and a grounder or two up the middle.  We fell apart.  Error after continual error.  Bobble after overthrow.  I fumed on the mound, glaring at my teammates as we felt the trophy slip from our grasp. We lost. 

After the game, the umpire sought me out in the parking lot. He was quite older, into his sixties perhaps, with a gentle face and a tendency to squeeze the plate.   "Hey seven!" he called.  I turned to face him.

"Adversity builds character." 

The following summer brought more tournaments, more Saturdays packed with multiple games atop heat indexes.  This time it was South County, a little farther from home.  Before our first game I stood near the concession stand with some of my teammates.  I remember his face as he turned from the front of the line, clad in his gear from that morning.  Blue snow cone in hand, slightly lifting it as he passed.  "Adversity builds character, " he smiled.  With a wink he was gone, as quickly as I'd seen him.

It is strange how often I have thought of that man.  Pictured his face as I worked two jobs in college, re-registering every September as my financial aid was denied.  I have heard him during funeral processions and doctor's appointments.  He has walked with me through hallways to comatose brothers, smiles beside me on tired  Monday mornings when the coffee's run out and the kids just won't give.  He was there on the coldest of mornings as I held you, his voice a quiver as they carry you away. 

"Adversity builds character."

It was a whisper, but I heard him.  I always do.

Love,
Mom



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tiny Hands



Tiny hands, alluring hands
Soft and pink and new
Immaculate and flawless
Are the hands belong to you.

Minimal and delicate
Fragile, small, contrite
Prime and slight and cordial
Are the hands sustain the night.

Private, cold, unnerving
Quintessential and discreet
Untimely, still and brimful
Are the hands beneath my feet.

Tiny, soft, intrepid hands
Held dreams to carry more.
Cracked and dry and weathered,
As they saw you to the door.

There is no break in flesh to sway
This dreamer from the line
For those tiny, pink, uncharted hands
Forever lay in mine.

To: Josie
Love, Mom












Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hindsight is Twenty-Two

Dear Josie,

The day before you died I was crying. 

I remember it vividly, the last time I cried over something trivial.  Someone shared a coupon online and I had ordered the cutest baby girl leggings.  A pair for St. Patrick's Day (in case you arrived early), a pair for the fourth of July, and a pair for Easter.  Imagine the horror when the package arrived with three, identical polka-dotted pair.

I cried when I opened them.  I am actually laughing out loud now, at three am as I think of it.  I could blame it on the pregnancy hormones or the tantrum your brother had thrown at the mall just before, but I refuse to.  I have learned that the blame game doesn't get you anywhere.  Trust me, I've tried it.

The girl before that awful day had it all figured out.  Her struggles, her little problems, how simply they could turn into the big ones.  Until the big one came. 

When I think back to that morning everything is a blur.  I am told that shortly before your delivery, I was insistent upon returning to work two days later.  I assured sisters and mothers and friends that I would be fine, just get me through this part.  I've got it.   It must have been the shock but I believed it then, as I believed so many things.  Told others not to worry, that I'd be back.   It was a lie. 

For months I tried to find her.  Turned on her favorite TV shows, read the dust-covered books repeatedly.  Called old friends in search of a person who no longer existed, only to find that you cannot revive a memory.

The life I lived before is hazy.  I think of that person now, and it is difficult to determine where she was headed.  The things she found important, the things that annoyed her so. She looks like I do, but in truth she is a different person entirely.  Simply existing somewhere quietly with a smoky eye shadow and thirty pair of pastel striped socks.

There are times where she makes her brief appearance.  I hear her voice during afternoon traffic jams, cursing the inanimate objects.   Impatiently, she taps her foot at the restaurant.  I watch her complain to her husband about the laundry, unfolded on the couch.  She builds her defense as someone spots a flaw.  Simply, necessarily, she explains her intent, as if that were what truly mattered. 

But she never stays long.  There is someone else now, taking residence in these shoes.  Someone who knows the fall from such a height.   She is grounded, she is humbled.  She cries during breakfast and laughs without pause.   In her dreams, the shadows of a thousand strangers she has never met.  She is morose and scatterbrained and without.  She is the sanest person I know. 

Daily,  I feel them leave me.  Her frustrations with the heavy sigh.  The girl from February 22nd.  

Perpetually I am stepping from that hospital bed.  And she reaches for me, begging for the life she was entitled to.  And  I enter the one I was granted, full of a purpose she could never appreciate. 

On my darkest days I haven't missed her.   I thank you for that.

Love,
Mom



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Monster's Ball

Dear Josie,

Grief is one tough mother.

I remember coming home from the hospital, placing the brochures down, walking like a zombie into your room.  That perfect little dress still hanging on your closet door, just begging to be worn.  I sat down next to it, ran my fingers through the velvet, the red ruffles.  After a minute your father appeared in the doorway, shook his head.  "Come on," he motioned towards the hallway.  "Not yet."

You see, the thing about grief is that you can't run from it.  It's always there.  On the days you're okay, when you're laughing.  It is there during parent conferences and happy hours, as you dance on mountaintops and give good morning kisses.  It's present on suede couches at midnight, leaves its bitter aftertaste on every single chocolate croissant.

In the beginning you think you can escape it.  And of course, one can try.

You run from it, this ugly, scary thing and you lie to yourself repeatedly.   I am stronger, smarter, faster.  You fight it with everything in you.  Every breath takes an effort all consuming, exhausts you as you attempt to relate to every atom in your corner, all the things that made sense before. 

But it's there, alongside you all the time.  Silently, patiently she waits.  Never accelerating, taking residence in the shadows of things that once brought you comfort.  Stalking all your smiles and calmly tapping on your shoulder, until you are forced to acknowledge her presence; that she has been there all along. 

If one is not careful she will sting, catch you off guard as you give silly faces to the toddlers in the next row.  Don't forget you're sad, you hear?  Don't forget that this happened.  If you run, she is always scary, the biggest monster under the loneliest of beds.  She is the unknown, and there is nothing more terrifying than that.

But if you can accept her, allow her entrance into the morning jogs and the midnight snack-ings, you might find something surprising.  I think that is the hardest part.  This metamorphosis.  The stopping, this catching of breath.  If I'm not running from it, where exactly does one run?

It is getting harder to spot her now. There are times, these momentary lapses where I start to slow down, and I worry that she's catching up to me.  Frantically I seek her, blindly following an odor far less pungent, a face that has become all too familiar, to beat her to the punch.

I search her in the darkness.  On my knees, under beds she lived before.  Find she's sleeping next to me.

There's no need to run anymore.

Love,
Mom







Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shock and Awe

Dear Josie,

I had a thought today. 

Driving home from work I wondered how many people were crying right now.  This very minute.  Hunched over steering wheels, veering onto narrow shoulders, blurred stoplights for miles.   Perhaps it's a strange thought, but there is a number.  Some finite answer.  Wouldn't it be nice to always have that.

Last week was your father's surprise 30th birthday party.  We held it at his favorite steakhouse, a place I began to frequent as soon as we started dating.  We would meet there during baseball season, a bite and a beer before the first pitch.  Before we had a care in the world. 

The night was a success.  It was fun.  As perfect as perfect allows anymore.  I wish I could enjoy a good surprise,  can't help but think of my last one. 

A week before you died,  my lovely sisters planned a secret baby shower for me.  Having saved every necessary item after your brother,  I certainly wasn't expecting one, but they knew better.  They knew that I was growing tired and uncomfortable, that I would cherish a day spent celebrating your arrival.  There was a plan that I nearly ruined, calling to cancel a shopping trip last minute, opting for the nap instead.  One of them called me in tears, describing a nasty argument with her husband, how she needed someone to talk to.   I was in the car minutes later.  Your aunt is quite the actress. 

I waited in her driveway for several minutes, honking several times more.  I called her phone repeatedly, lazily, dumbfounded when there was no answer.  When I reached the front door I knocked loudly, eventually throwing it open in a haste, ready to berate my loving sister for making hers, eight months pregnant, hike the stairs to her door. 

I was shocked,to say the least, and a little embarrassed with what I found on the other side. All three of my sisters, my in-laws, my mother...nearly all of my closest girlfriends and their babies, smiling and cheering in unison.  Surprise!

Everyone laughed at how difficult I had been, how many times I honked and called as they had waited, giggling just inside.  We ate, we laughed.  I opened gift after girlie gift.   That night my dreams were filled with pink sundresses and monogrammed onesies, leopard printed booties and dancing ballerinas.  For days, sounds were dulled behind music box tones and ruffled curtains.  I walked on a cloud of the softest tulle, descending rapidly seven days later, losing it all in a silent hospital room.

This time, there were no smiles.  There were no cupcakes, no gingham printed punch bowls.  I searched the room for the well-wishes, the kind hearted guests, but they had gone.  Forever trapped within a memory some sad girl used to know. 

I can't remember exactly when I started to live it, your absence.  Can't recall the moment the shock lifted completely, perhaps it hasn't.   But I can remember the moment I first felt the shift. 

Shortly after your delivery, we needed to change rooms.  I moved my legs to the side of the bed, eyes fixating on the pair of dress socks on my feet.    I had put them on the morning before, waking with the chill and quickly grabbing the softest pair from your father's drawer.  Thinking nothing of them at the time, I had proceeded with my day.  The most uneventful of days, of pregnancies, forever turning eventful hours later.

Gently, the wheelchair pushed me down the hall.   Past the sad faces of the nursing staff, the brightly painted hallways, past rooms of loving people on soft recliners, awaiting their happy surprises.  We took the long way to the elevator, never passing the nursery.

I couldn't bring myself to look up, stared at those socks the entire time.  Like a crazy lady, I memorized the stitching, the faint geometric designs. I don't remember what was said, what floor we made it to.  But in those moments I said goodbye to her, to my surprise.

Over and again, that morning in my head.   Hurriedly she grabs each one, turning to chase the three year old from atop the clothes hamper.  Carefully, she bends to warm them, these feet that carried you.  The blue on the left and the brown on the right.  She leaves the room, never giving a thought to thread counts, looking anywhere but down.

It's enough to drive you crazy, this contrast.

Mismatched argyle and the difference a day can make.

Love,
Mom

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Me Too"

Dear Josie,

There was something on my porch today.

Before you died I thought a "Molly Bear" was something illegal.  As it happens, I used to be quite stupid.

In May 2010, Molly Christine was stillborn at 34 weeks gestation.  Her mother, Bridget, was given a bear by a friend, sparking an idea that could only come from the emptiest of arms, the kindest of hearts.

Each "Molly Bear" is specially crafted, and sent to bereaved parents weighing the exact amount as the baby they can no longer hold.  These bears serve to fill a precise void, offering a momentary satisfaction as unique as the bodies departed.  They are beautiful and tragic, morose and unassuming.  But it is not the bear itself that gets me, nor is it the weight that brings me to my knees on sunny porches mid-September.  There is something else inside each UPS box, something no scale could ever quantify.

The night we lost you, the only person I called was your father.  He called the rest.  The necessary people.  My people. 

And my people came running.  They came running from comfy February evenings on couches, from weddings and spaghetti dinners.  They ran, reluctantly, from lives forever heavier, forever different, bearing hugs and tears and love.  An overwhelming love that held me through the night, a love that held you in the morning.  A love that has held me since. 

But my lovely people had no words.  There are no words when a baby's heart stops, when a life ends before it gets the chance to begin. 

When they couldn't find your heartbeat, the nurse rubbed my shoulder.  "I'm so sorry".  She lay the Kleenex in my lap, along with my phone.  I stared at it for some time. The silly faces of your father and brother.  The happy, hopeful life I had lived not an hour before slowly fading with the screen.  After a minute I picked it up and I typed a very sad word.  Twelve hours before I would hold you, there it was. 

"Me too."

There were thousands of them, articles and blogs and interviews.  Memorial sites and pictures and campaigns.  There were names.  They were people. 

I read them, as many as the night would allow.  I read for hours as doctors begged me to sleep, my eyes entering worlds I never dreamed I'd be privy to.  I saw what would be before it happened, over and again it play in my mind until I couldn't breathe.   I knew then, that it would the be hardest thing I would ever have to do.  But the women on my screen had more to offer than apologies.   They were telling me that they had sat in this bed, worn this gown.  I knew from their candor that it would be hard.  More importantly, I knew it was possible. 

This bear feels like you.  It is your exact weight, clings to my hip as you would have. It is pink and soft and handmade.  There is no other like it in the world, created by a mother like me.  A mother who dreams of nothing more than that weight in her arms, an eternity of scales unbalanced. 

And when I hold it I can feel all that.  Picture your head on my chest that morning.  I can sense the disappointment and the ache.  I can smell the room, feel the sheets, hear the cries.  I am quite certain that it would be too much,  if I couldn't hear her also. 
 
Her voice is soft inside the seams.  She is two blocks away.  She is across an ocean.  She spans state lines and continents.  She is on this side of existence and the next.  She is the farthest possible distance from my room.  She is right next to me.

"Me too, " she whispers in my rocking chair.

Indeed, that is all one ever needs to hear.

Love,
Mom

 







Friday, September 12, 2014

Privatus

Dear Josie,

I saw you today.

I was sitting on a playground, watching your brother when you came running.

Bouncing dark curls, thick wobbly calves, squealing as he spun you in circles underneath the slide. 

You were just as beautiful as I picture you to be, so in love with him, so happy.  So healthy.

I sat on the bench in silence.  For a moment I believed it to be true.  For a moment it was my life.  The life that could have been.  I was just another mom on a bench.  Book in hand, thoughts of defrosting chickens on marble counter tops. 

But I'm not that mother anymore.  And I wasn't hers either.

I watch her run to the stroller, smash the freckle-faced cabbage patch into her chubby cheeks.  I watch the woman place her, gently, calmly, into cushions of plaid.  The cushioned life I once had slowly walking away, until I'm alone on the bench.  Cosmically far from her embrace.  From sure-things and guarantees on playgrounds.

The sun glares as he runs into my arms, and I wipe the tear from behind the aviators I don't leave home without.

And I walk, into the gymnasium.  The school.  The restaurant. 

I walk into worlds of mothers on benches.  Hold hands that don't reach for yours. Seek advice from foreign tongues, sugars I no longer taste.   

Words that try and hold me, shielding cutting stretching coaxing, this script that won't translate.

And I watch them carry you away.  Your face on cotton shoulders, through rainy windows in the next lane.  They're pushing you to homes with blue shutters, retaining walls intact.

And I'm running up behind them.  Breathless.  Waving.  Late.

And you are always blurred, and just beyond my reach.

And they are always carrying you away.

Love,
Mom





Saturday, August 30, 2014

Baggage


Dear Josie,

I was asked something recently.

In one of my online support forums, a question was posed.  If you could go back and say something to your former self, what would it be?

People speak of baggage.  It is true that everyone has their past, their regrets, though that's not the type of baggage I can picture anymore.   There is only one bag, and it holds the "I Could Never's." 

I hear it all the time.  And I used to think so, too.  My list was long and my bag was heavy.  Not sure how one carries such a weight.

I could never.
I could never teach.
I could never be a mother.
I could never love someone more than myself.

I could never watch machines breathe for a brother, hold his lifeless hand in mine.
I could never sleep in an ICU waiting room.
I could never watch my parents, trembling, fading, begging, in corners during emergency brain surgeries.
I could never push my strapping,  independent, twenty three year old brother in a wheelchair and drive home grateful.
I could never.

I could never deliver her.  Just knock me out, I'm serious, I could never.
I could never hold her. 
I could never show her to grandparents and aunts and uncles,  look them in the eye as they kissed her and cried.
I could never hand her away. 
I could never bury her.
I could never say goodbye.

I could never return to work, pick up a pen.
I could never tell.
I could never share. 
I could never smile.  Laugh.  Relate.
I could never forgive.

After reading several responses, I realized that it was all good advice.  Take more pictures, one woman said.  Follow your intuition, no matter what the doctors say, offered another. 
Don't take one second for granted. 
Give more hugs. 
Laugh more.   
You have a good life.

But given the opportunity, there is only one thing I'd advise.   I would walk right up to her, take the bag off her shoulders and set it down.  Then I'd lean in and I'd say,

You are capable of so much more than you think.

Love,
Mom




A Companion Unobtrusive

Dear Josie,

The morning of our discharge from the hospital I was visited by several doctors.  They all agreed I would begin the regimen of sleep aids and antidepressants.  I had never taken either in my life.  I nodded. I nodded a lot those days.

I lied to your father the first night, told him I had taken the sleeping pill when I hadn't.  I lay in bed from nine to three am, the empty thoughts in my head finally giving way to the exhaustion, albeit briefly.  I opened my eyes at five am, didn't close them again for twenty seven hours.

I wasn't afraid of the nightmares, still babies and stoic faces.  The humming of the machines next to me. Warming lights turned off, cold and jaded and robbed of their purpose. 

I was scared that my dreams wouldn't change, that I would close my eyes and enter a world of birth announcement color schemes and nursery curtains.  I would wake up to the panic, the finality.  Doomed by the twilight to live my shock repeatedly. 

I didn't want to need the pills.  I wanted to be present for all of it.  Despite the insomnia, I didn't welcome the cellular distractions, wanted to feel the loss in my bones.  I owed you that much.

But how I needed the help.  The distractions.  I'm not sure I understood the fragility of this pain then, how vulnerable I had become, held captive by my own mind.   I didn't want to need the pills, but I needed them.  I needed them very much.

I took the sleeping medication for two weeks, the other for nearly five months.  I remember the day I began to lower the dosage.  One pill every two days, then half.  Then none.  I was afraid again, but this time, it was the nightmares that scared me. 

Had I been fooling myself?  Walking around on this earth without you as if I were normal, someone who had never experienced the trauma.  Who did she think she was?  This mother who had held you, dead and cold in her arms, shopping for shift dresses as if the world weren't cruel.  Night swims in lakes as if her life weren't devalued.  As if she were allowed. 
Surely, the pain would come full force now.  Surely, the pills had done the hard part for her. 

Last week on the way to work a song came on the radio.  Geddy Lee at six forty three am. 

I watched her turn the knob, nodding her head.  For seven exits it grew louder with her voice, wrists lifting from plastic bracelets and paper gowns.  And it was her, one million years ago before you and but a minute after. 

For a second I was worried, but I think she just might make it.

Love,
Mom



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Black and Blue

Dear Josie,

There are few memories so vivid, I can actually smell them. 

I am ten.  It is the fourth of July at my grandmother's apartment.We are sitting on blankets, watching the fireworks up the hill.   My cousins are there, as are my younger brother and sister.  I remember the finale beginning.  The grass on my bare feet as we're running up the hill, dodging blankets and coolers and chairs.  We reach the fence as they explode just above our heads.  My heart is beating out of my chest and I'm smiling. 

I'm eighteen and I am standing in my dorm room.  My mother has just left.  The floor is covered in suitcases and laundry baskets.   I open the window and look at the circle drive seven floors below.  I am alone.  There are footprints on the walls and it smells like dust and my closet door doesn't close all the way.  I have never been happier. 

I am twenty nine on Sunday, March 30th.  It is hot, quite possibly the brightest day of the year.  We pull into the park.  It takes us thirty minutes to travel half a mile.  As I sink into the upholstery, I see joggers and picnics and spring.  We reach our destination and he places the black box into his old college backpack.  I ask to see it. 

We hold hands as we walk to your tree.  It is silent.  I refuse to remove my sunglasses. 

A family passes us on the trail.  Then two.  A child running hits my side and his mother apologizes.  I doubt her sincerity. 

We arrive at your tree and a family is sitting beside it.  A birthday party.  Balloons and presents and cake.  I count them.  Twelve total.  Twelve people who will watch us bury you. 

Your father says to wait.  We circle the lake twice.  I am crying as I lean on him.  I have never needed physical touch in this way. 

We return to the party and sit on a nearby bench.  The child opens a new dump truck.  A baseball tee.  A jacket.  I want to scream.  

Your father reminds me of our intent.  Families and children running near you.  It's why we didn't choose a cemetery, remember?  We wanted you near the happiness always, children laughing and engagement photo sessions and marriage proposals and zoo trips. 

But in this moment I hate them.  I hate anyone who can smile as I sit next to the blue backpack which holds my daughter's remains.   

After twenty minutes they begin to pack up.  Blankets in bags and babies in strollers.  One balloon flies away and laughter ensues.  One of the children stands on his tiptoes, reaching and begins to cry. I want to hug him. 

We kneel beside your tree.  Your father removes the shovel and begins to dig.  I watch his hands and think of the azaleas I planted last summer. 

The black box is on the ground between us.  He removes the plastic bag and begins to pour them, pouring you into the earth, and I stop him.  They are sacred to my hands as I lift them, and they fall like sand through my fingers.  And I see each one as I let it go.  And I've felt each one every day since. 

I've often wondered how people do it, bury their child and walk away.  He watches the ground close and makes the drive home, sits in traffic and uses his blinker, pulls into the drive as if returning from the grocery store. 

I know the answer now, and it's simple.  One never walks away from this. 

It has been six months.  It has been a minute.  It has been a lifetime. 

Everything I touch has felt your ashes first.  Every image I see is blurred behind your face.  For an eternity, my knees in that dirt.  Black boxes in my dreams. 

And I see you.  And I feel you.  As intensely as I ever did.  There is no time in this life.  There are only steps, towards the promise of a face, on a very long drive home. 

Love,
Mom








Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pants on fire

Dear Josie,

Your mother's a liar.

I remember the night I called home.  It was nearly my third year of college, and I was changing my major to education.  I never wanted to be a teacher.  Truth be told, I was wary of the job prospects for someone with solely a Biology degree.  I'll give it a year, I thought. 

I told my mother and she was silent at first.  "Doesn't teaching require patience?" 

The night before my very first day I broke out in hives.  There I sat on my twin bed, highlighting ice breakers and memorizing their names, the responsibility weighing heavily on my twenty three year old shaking fingers.  I thought of them then, visualized their eighth grade graduations and mall excursions.  Saw the various routes shifting inward, ninety three lives culminating and connecting, ever so briefly under the florescent lights of my very first classroom.  I wondered if I'd disappoint them, promptly vomiting the Benadryl into my purple polka dotted trashcan. 

The fear might have stopped me then, but it didn't. 

The patience comes with the first twenty minutes, only growing thereafter every day for a million years.  It comes in waves as they ask you to stop believing in them, over and over, cursing you under adolescent breath and asking you to stop.  To run.  Daring you to change your mind.

And I could have changed my mind.  Every day for seven years, but I haven't. 

I haven't run on the many days I've wanted to.  The hard days.  The bleak days.  The days they scoff and yell, running away as they file in,  throwing it all back in my face and begging me to give up on them.  There are many days where the truth comes easy.   You can't do this days.  I can't do this days.  Days where what's the point?  Many afternoons I've gazed out windows and seen myself running, fading into the solitude of a thousand research labs and never looking back.

Instead I cringe as I raise my chin.  The words like sandpaper as they leave my lips and I tell them.  Yes.  Yes, you can. 

And I lie to them.  All of them, over and over.  I lie when it's blatantly obvious and the next day I lie again.  I lie to them until they believe it, until it isn't a lie any longer.  I lie to them as they show me the truth, that it was never a lie to begin with.

I thought of them in my hospital bed that morning.  I have thought of them many days hereafter, seen them prove me wrong time and again, the dreams surpassing my expectations single file. 

I'd like to say that I've taught them.  The fruits of this labor, reaching and growing and rising because of me.  I'd like to say that I've shown them how, that I've saved them.  But the truth is, they have saved me. 
 
Every day they're saving me. 

Love,
Mom









 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Have Nots

Dear Josie,

This is a moment I'll never have with you. 

I'm smiling as I sink into the raft.  Your brother is on my lap and he's laughing.  I can feel the cool water underneath me, lay my head back as we round the corner.  He squeals as we near the waterfall, and I'm drenched.  Shuttering as it permeates. 

It's strange to me, this grief.  This incredibly unique pain.   This incredible pain. How can you miss someone so much who never was?

I guess it's what they mean when they say "I couldn't imagine."  Even though I know they can.

Pick a person, a child, and imagine a life where they never existed.  All the memories, the water parks and movies watched.  Baths and parades.  All the steps never taken.  All the stories never told.  Those conversations, a dream.  Their touch, unknown.  This life, different. 

Every action is a reminder to me.  I pick him up and I'll never hold you. We're running late and I'll never forget your coat.  The dog barks and you'll never hear it.  Dinners are forever, never wiping pasta from your face.

I see myself as I'm talking about you, memories that never were taking flight with my words.  Sometimes I can feel myself lifting with them, soaring to a place no one understands.  That place where all my 'nevers' fled.  That place I dream about.

I was mid-laugh recently when someone said to me, "It's good to have you back."   I'm not sure what they meant. 

I don't expect them to understand this loss, this life that this mother was privy to.  They don't have to mourn you as she does, they don't have to imagine. 

But they have to see that her smiles are lacking.  They have to know that she is gone, suspended in some halfway marker on the grid, some space between what is and what will never be.  In thoughts of you, she is as close to complete as this loss allows.  Rising still, I can barely see her anymore.

Love,
Mom
















Sunday, July 27, 2014

Piecemeal

Dear Josie,

I am quite fond of Walt Whitman.   One of my favorites is his 'Song of Myself'.   He says "I am large.  I contain multitudes."

Recently I've been struggling.  I'll be somewhere, in a park or a car, and I'll think to myself:   I shouldn't be here. 

I think it when I'm typing, as my fingers move or when I'm sleeping, eyes darting and returning from worlds I can't remember.  I am here, but I shouldn't be.

I search for the logic in it, but stumble upon the same answer repeatedly.  I should be with you. 

I should be rocking you, holding you, kissing your toes.  I should know your smell, but I don't.  I think it's what hurts the most.  Imagine a life laid before you, limitless in its youth, every direction incorrect. 

There is a fairly recent phenomenon circulating in the scientific world.  I can see your father's eyes glazing over in my head, but it's really just so cool. 

Microchimerism is defined as the "persistent presence of a few genetically distinct cells in an organism."  Researchers have known for decades that, during gestation, some maternal cells cross the placenta and can be found in fetal tissue.  These cells have been found to increase and support the baby's budding immune system, precisely why certain vaccinations are recommended during pregnancy.  One may pass the antibodies to her baby.

But amazingly, there have been cells found inside women which are not their own.  "Foreign" cells.  Cells that most likely came from their babies during gestation.   At first, it was thought that fetal cells only circulated in the mother's bloodstream, crossing over the placenta and proving beneficial in chromosomal analysis.  But in a new study, scientists have found these cells actually embedded in the mother's organs.  In some cases, male cells were found in the brains of women that had been living there for several decades. 

We are taught to understand that we are one entity, in and of ourselves. Genetically uniform. Every cell created by another of its own. Imagine the absurdity in finding this is not entirely true. The connectedness, in the realization that most people carry the remnants of others.

Perhaps it is most healing to acknowledge that which I repeatedly encounter:  I am no longer the same person I was before you.  This is certainly true on the surface, quite visibly sometimes, but genetically, you have changed me as well.

I can feel the void now, every cell that left me and crossed over into you, wheeled away under flesh and returned to ash with yours.  There are parts of me that died with you that day, and I'll never get them back.

But I can also feel a shift, the gain inside my loss.  Pieces of you fixed in my every breath and thought.  The completion, in every way a part contributes to the whole.  Every touch is yours, every sight and curse and joy.  Lucky is she to house the cells of her beloved. 

I was recently asked what death means to me.  After a minute I responded.  Death means nothing.

The truth is, you haven't left me.  Death is merely the reminder.

Love,
Mom