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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stat-o-sphere

Dear Josie,

I'm special, you know.

1 in 4.  1 in 160.  I can't keep track of all the numbers, but  I'm a statistic now.  So are you.
 
I keep picturing my kindergarten class kneeling on that red circle on our classroom floor.  Several heads are gently touched and he moves on.  I'm anxious and shaky as he approaches.  Goose. 

Except that I can't run.  I can't run from the life I now live.  Can't "pass it on" to someone else.  Wouldn't want to.  I keep thinking of her, the pregnant woman right now at home on her comfy couch.  She's smiling as she rubs her belly, oblivious as to what awaits her.  It makes me nauseous. 

When your father and I were married the priest gave his homily.  He talked about the term "extraordinary".  Today is extraordinary, he said.  Today is different.  Today is special. 

I've never been a fan of the spotlight.  Truth be told, I'd just assume slink into the background unnoticed.  I hate the attention, despise the eyes on me.  I'm completely fine with ordinary.  I'd give anything to go back to it.  Just another girl who had another baby.  Another uneventful ending.  Another birth announcement on the fridge for a week or so, never missed after its eventual move to the trash can.  Ordinary.  Everyday.  The norm. 

I can't get over it.  In my boring, everyday existence this extraordinary thing happened to me.  This monumental event.  This incredible, unbelievable, incomprehensible thing.  I'm the girl that people talk about now.  When this awful topic arises, I'm the girl in their conversation that somebody works with.  The girl on someone's street.  The girl someone read about.  I'm the cousin's husband's friend. 

Since you died I have noticed a change, a mental shift I can feel in my every movement. 

I  feel this connection to so many things, so many people I never could before.   I long for them, these interactions, these conversations.  Their words are no longer sounds to me, I can feel them.  I can see their pain.

You're the extra, my love.  The raise in the volume.  The step from the wall.  The brightest badge on the highest ledge. 

With the utmost confidence I shall house you, a pride I've never known before.  A beacon, you radiate through me.  A glow on the skin of the lost. 

I promise never to cover you.  My daughter.  My extra.  You have made me someone worth knowing, someone special.  I am forever grateful.  I am forever yours.

Love,
Mom








Friday, June 20, 2014

Nine Lives

Dear Josie,

I visited a psychic today. 

I'm not her.  I'm not the crazy wind chime lady who speaks to the dead, nor am I the newly-bereaved, exceptionally gullible mother desperate for a sign.  Desperate to see you.  Believe me, I would give anything for this.  In my heart I know you're here, and right now, that's enough for me.

No actually, I had planned this visit long before your death.  I have always wanted to see what it's about, this psychic energy.  I wanted to know what would be said about me, aura colors and the like.  I wanted to see what the fuss is about.

I went with your aunt and several of her girlfriends.  This woman with the gift, she was polite and friendly.  Her house was warm and inviting, beautifully decorated with lavish colors and dramatic hues.  I absolutely loved it, didn't want to leave. 

When my turn came I felt my stomach tighten a little.  I imagined myself entering the room to a gasp, a pregnant silence.  She would grab my arm and close her eyes, tell me there was a strong spirit attached to me that she could feel the moment I entered the room.  There would be a slight validation, then.  A reassurance provided.  Worth every cent of my forty dollars.

It wasn't like that.  Well, not entirely.  I sat down in the chair and I said my name.  She began to shuffle my cards, laid them out in front of me, calmly looking to my side. 

There was the "Death" card.  She told me that death did not necessarily mean someone would die, but that it could be a "rut" I am finding myself in currently, a struggle that is nearing its end.  I informed her that actually, the literal meaning of the card was spot on.

I told her about you, and she offered her sincere apologies, followed by the turning of two more cards.  "Change" and "Sun".  She explained that these were very good, and that they symbolized what was coming for me.  The title of my favorite Beatles song and blog site flashed through my head, along with a voice.  Please be true. 

She told me she envisioned me "bigger", and that she saw more children for me.  She said that she knows I fear it happening again.  The worst.  How could I not?  And she said not to.  She told me your soul will never leave me, that the child's soul follows the mother's throughout lifetimes, spans existence and death and space.  I smiled. 

She told me that she was getting a message.  She said that you had left me for a reason, so that "something bad would not happen to me later in life."  Interesting perspective, from someone who knows nothing about me.  Nothing about the recent clotting diagnoses, my body slowly depriving yours of blood for months.  That's when I lost it.  Is that really the reason everyone keeps talking about?   Did you save my life? The lives of your future brothers and sisters?

When I calmed down, she asked your brother's name, ran his birthday numbers and immediately laughed.  "He's fun!"  She smiled.  " I want to laugh when I say his name.  Is he funny?"  were her exact words.  I'm not sure she could have gotten any closer if she had known him herself. 
After the readings ended, we were saying our goodbyes when another woman pointed something out.  "Did you see the picture of the cat?"

I looked to the wall in the living room.  There were several hand-made paintings of various animals above the glass chest.  That's when I got the chill. 

 I thought of what they might say, your father and the skeptic I once had the pleasure to be. Maybe she just really likes Josie and the pussycats. 
But of all the walls in all the houses of all the psychics,
of all the names in all the world, there it was, staring up at me.  I took a picture. 


Maybe I am the crazy lady now.  The lady who sees what she wants to see and nothing more, but I felt you then, as strongly as I ever have.  You're with me, aren't you?  Following me into houses of strangers, pushing me to open my eyes, to say the things and learn the things I never would have before. 

It's been three hours and I haven't stopped smiling.  Turns out, a little curiosity was very good for this cat.


Love,
Mom 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Like No One's Watching

Dear Josie,

Something scary is happening.

It's getting harder to remember the details.  Your smell.  The shape of your head on my chest.  Was your hair as dark as I have been describing or had I imagined it?  The crease on your forehead fades with each passing day.  The wonderment as I held you, like you were deep in thought when you left me. 

I remember passing you around in the hospital.  I remember the looks on my parents' faces, the helplessness of the doctors, the air in the room.  The whole time it never escaped me, these things that have become all too familiar.  Hello darkness, my old friend.

One night when your uncle was sick I had what I'm pretty sure was a mental breakdown.  Actually, I don't remember much of that either, save for the complete loss of control.  The attempting to sleep in my bed, the waking up in the bathroom.  The screaming into white linen wedding gifts.

I remember the numbness after you were born quite well.  A family member entering to meet you would later tell me of the look on my face.  As others whispered lovingly into my ear, begged me not to hold anything back for their sakes, I was told that my face was that of complete disgust.  This is happening right now.  Can you believe this.

Last week I attended an adorable dance recital.  Your cousin, my beautiful niece, dressed to the nines in bright sequins and lace.  Hundreds of tap shoes and pliees.  Hundreds of smiling parents. I hadn't realized how it would affect me until I felt the cushion of the retractable seat.  Perhaps you wouldn't have been a fan of dancing.  I'll never know.

It's easy to describe how a dance recital would make me sad.  The perfect angels in their proudest moments, the preciously practiced routines.  I could tell you that I missed you fiercely then, but that would be too easy.  I miss you fiercely the moment I open my eyes, feel the wound as I pour the coffee. 

It's the guilt that gets me now.  The taking part in the celebrations of others, quietly accepting and allowing life to carry on in all its sequiny-sequential glory.  I don't feel guilty for being sad, rather,  I'm guilty for the happiness I never thought would come in your absence.

As I held you for the last time I said something I can hardly forgive myself for.  I thought of your brother and of the smiles I would go home to.  I thought of my brother, how his struggle has forever reshaped mine, and I said it aloud.  "I will get through this."  I'm pretty sure it was the shock then, the denial but even still I heard the words echo in that room as your father cried.  Felt them bounce off of heating vents and blood pressure cuffs.  I'm not sure I believed it yet, but I said it just the same.  I realize now I hadn't said it for my benefit.  I was making a promise to you.

As I reveled with the crowd at their innocence, tiny ruffles lead through the dark to center stage I felt it again.  The guilt, manifesting with the lump in my throat.  I fought the urge to run to the safety of the bathroom, fought the smile instead.  My loss palpable in their steps of pink and tulle, I stood and applauded.  And in that moment I was happy, for my niece and her magnificence, for all the parents in the room, for my brother and his wife.   I couldn't believe it.  Genuine happiness without the slightest hint of jealousy.

You teach me when I am most reluctant, cowering and undeserving.  The sinking student in the crowd, lagging behind in melody, but step by ungrateful step I am learning.  Regressing and assessing, using these eyes so selflessly given to appreciate the potential of every moment. 

I may have cried on the drive home, but I had felt it...this progress.  Through the tears there was pride.  I know you'd be proud of her too, this mother who dares to question, this hand in the back row. 

Please don't give up on me, Josephine.  Take my hand with the lead.

I'll do my best to keep count.

Love,
Mom

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hallmarkings

Dear Josie,
 
It's funny how I search you all the time.  In silence and in thunderstorms, in white treasure chests that hold the only clothes ever to grace your skin.  I open chestnut dressers holding sandy ashes and I breathe deeply, willing you into me.  Desperate to feel you.  I get nothing.
 
Today I was jogging through the card aisle of my friendly, neighborhood Target.  In and out, I kept telling myself.  After all, your brother wasn't there to slow me down this time!
 
There is an entire, separate section for Father's Day cards.  I imagine to someone with a dead father, this aisle must feel like the formula aisle for someone with a dead baby.  Everything shrinks in around you.  It gets quiet, hard to breathe.  It's like the world is stopping just to point at you in that moment.  Hold on...she's looking at them.  What will she do next.
 
There was a woman there, a little older than me.  She was holding a card, and she was crying.  Not the soul-wrenching, guttural crying, but the silent kind of crying you do when you don't want anyone to see.  Hands on her heart, shoulders hunched, softly bobbing up and down. 
 
It would have been easy not to notice, several didn't.   It would have been easy to pretend not to notice, as I would have done before.  Before you.
 
But now I get these pulls.  I can't ignore them when they happen.  I wanted her to know that I could see. 
 
So I took the four steps in my gray sweatpants with five holes, and I stood just beside her for a moment and I waited.  When she started to cry harder I didn't back away.  The pull, my darling, wouldn't allow it.
 
I hugged her.  I hugged her for what must have been three minutes but it felt like three hundred.  I felt the weight of each tear as it hit me, let it show me what was lost.  When she relented I looked at her.  "I'm sorry."  I said.  "I'm so sorry."
 
I didn't offer my sob story.  I didn't tell her about you, that my baby girl died one morning abruptly and unexpectedly. That I had to deliver her dead body in a hospital room with warm incubators, waiting with pink and blue striped hats and spa-like bathtubs.  I didn't say that I knew what she must be feeling, as so many have told me.  More importantly, I didn't say nothing.  Hadn't ignored the hole inside her.  Hadn't pretended it wasn't there. I like to think you taught me that, allowed me to give this complete stranger the only thing I have left to give to anyone.  A little compassion and two empty arms.
 
She thanked me, and I walked away with nothing but a damp patch on my right sleeve.

The very best way to walk away.

Love,
Mom

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Presen(t)ce

Dear Josie,

Birthdays aren't the same anymore.

If I'm being honest, they are a little morose now.  I think of your birthday, how you were already gone.  Pretty backwards, isn't it?

Your brother turned four.  Oh how he has broken me in.   Like a glove, worn me inside out with a love that leaves stains and creases, bending and bursting at the seams just ready to be shared. I remember when I took the pregnancy test, found out you were coming. He was the only person home, the first person I told.  "Now?"  he asked, mid-jump.  I laughed.  Of course not, silly.  We would have to wait.  You were planned, love. So very wanted.

It was completely different with your brother. Your father and I had been together for only a year, nearly to the day.  I remember him worrying about the financial aspect, the movings-in and the remodeling,  college funds and diapers and dwindling savings accounts.

But me?  I was scared of other things.  Before your brother I was selfish, though I hadn't quite seen myself that way.  A good portion of my pregnancy was spent mourning her, the 24 year old who traveled to exotic places on her summers off, spent years falling in love with her amazing new boyfriend, finally settling down after a ridiculously fun three to four years together and marrying the love of her life.  They would pick out the perfect house with the perfect yard and make plans to raise the perfect family there.  Someday.

Life had other plans for this girl though, and I saw them materialize with those two pink lines, followed shortly by a mild panic attack.  I remember looking at your father as he discussed changing the paint color in the next room.  I remember wanting it all to slow down.  Hold on, we're not ready for this.  We can't be parents. 

The raw, emotional vulnerability that comes with parenthood is the stuff of nightmares.  The crazy anxiety, the midnight rushes to the ER after tens of temperature checks, F-5 meltdowns in department stores, the moments you are positive you are in over your head and you know you cannot go on.  Except that you do. 

The night we lost you I remember your father's face as I told him we would meet you, that we could  hold you for as long as we wanted.  It was incredibly quiet, incredibly peaceful.  We held you for two hours.  Two hours to make up for the lifetime we had planned.  Two hours instead of countless birthday candles and band aids, hundreds of early mornings and sleepless nights.  Two hours of hello and goodbye.  

Handing you off was something we hadn't planned, something we never thought we'd be able to do.  I remember thinking we weren't ready, that we couldn't do this.  Except that we did.  The strength required to watch the doors close and stumble back into existence is something we hadn't possesed before.  It is something you gave us, something we treasure.

I have come to realize that he wasn't wrong, your brother.  "Now" is in fact, the correct answer, for you were already with us then.  The truth is I felt you long before the lines confirmed it,  feel you long after they told me you were gone. 

It is something you gave me, this gift wrapped in layers of disguise.  This lesson that nearly escapes me on a daily basis.  If I concentrate, I can catch it in the bow of his lips as they sweep the candles, in the rain as it dances on their shoulders.  It's there in the seconds I sneak away to quiet corners.  I can hear you then, this sweet interruption reminding me to breathe it in, every second in this skin.  It is something you gave me.  It is something I treasure. 

So tonight while your brother sleeps peacefully and I can hear your father laughing at his podcast in the bedroom, while I'm snuggled comfortably in my favorite slippers from college let me thank you for this gift.  Thank you for allowing me this pursuit, the strength to welcome one more try.

Just in case tomorrow makes it a little harder to say.

Love,
Mom






Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Weight

Dear Josie,
 
My best friend had a baby on Saturday.

This baby is special, so indescribably special to me.  She is beautiful and amazing and wrinkly and pink.  The way every baby should be and then some.
 
I remember when she called me with the news.  I was pulling out of a Parkway high school parking lot after a softball game last fall.  We were pregnant together.  I was so excited I nearly cried. 
 
I thought of you and her growing up together.  Although I didn't know you were both girls at the time, I just knew you would be close.  Like her mother and I.  I imagined the two of you sharing sippy cups and time outs.  I saw sleepovers and sing alongs, dances and tutoring sessions.  Birthday parties and bike rides and college applications. 
 
It's hard to explain how I felt when she arrived.  There was happiness of course, but there was also sadness.  An extreme, gut wrenching pain that left me doubled over in the corner while your brother watched cartoons in the next room.  I was sad that you were gone, I was sad that you'd never meet her, but mostly I was sad because I couldn't just be happy.   This pain that has become all too familiar in these times.    Holidays and birthday parties, their patrons no longer offering solely celebratory smiles.   There is a mourning on these days now.  A vacancy.  I see empty bouncy seats.  One less voice in the chorus. 
 
I wanted to be there with her.  I wanted to rush to the hospital as I had when her first child was born, wanted to open my arms and welcome this miracle with everything in me.  But I couldn't.  Not yet.
 
Your grandparents had offered to watch your brother that afternoon, and after dropping him off I drove around in a daze.  I didn't realize I was lost until the second U-Turn.  Then I saw the lights.
 
The police officer was nice enough, "Do you know how fast you were going?" etc, etc.  I thought of the made-for-TV movie moment that could have happened.  He runs my license and approaches the car.  Just as he's about to write the ticket he notices the pain in my eyes.  He can sense my despair, feel the weight of my world as he rips the paper in two.  "Slow down, " he warns with a smile.
 
But my life is no longer one of sensible endings.  Every time I breathe it's unfair. 
 
I felt it then, the weight in my arms.  The truth.   My dead daughter.  The jealousy and the guilt.   I was pretty sure the universe had begun to turn against me in that moment.  The final brick that breaks the back.
 
Only I didn't break.  I stared at the ticket for awhile before pulling away and eventually, I made it home.
 
Tonight I met her, and I'm so glad that I did.  I had feared it for days. The happiness that I suck from rooms now, smiles stolen from deserving faces.   I could see myself losing it as she was handed to me, falling to my knees in my grief and robbing the person I love like a sister of what is so rightfully hers.
 
Instead I felt happy.  The pure, unavoidable happiness that perfection exudes.  I held her for longer than I ever dreamed I'd want to.  I took her in as I thought of nothing but potential.  A life so ready to be lived, an aunt so ready to watch. 
 
I know you'll be with her always.   You'll be there on the playgrounds, running beside her as she chases butterflies and prince charmings. For all of her happy endings and second chances, the days she takes her first steps and the nights she tests the limits of curfew.  And when the world begins to pull at those tiny arms, I want you to do something for me. I want you to tell her she is strong.  Tell her she is loved.
 
And tell her she can do it.
 
 
Love,
Mom