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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.


Sunday, July 27, 2014


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.


Thursday, July 24, 2014


Dear Josie,

Tomorrow is significant.

Last year on the 25th of July, I learned you were coming.  I remember buying the test that morning, tossing it into the cart with the  milk and the band aids.   I never thought we'd learn so quickly.   Never dreamed it'd be that easy.

I remember seeing the lines.  The first one bright and pronounced, the second was faint and soft.  Your life and your potential, materializing before my eyes in bright pink.

I told your brother first.   His eyes lit up, immediately demanding to play with you. Sometimes when he gets confused, he asks when you'll be "better".  Places his hand on my heart, swears he can feel you in there. 

It is difficult to explain death to a four year old.  Some advise brutal honesty.  Others encourage a more abstract guidance.  Is it better to be scared or hopeful?  The blissful ignorance I'd give anything for.  It is easy for one to ask why. Of course I don't have the answer, but he needs me to.

After giving the afterlife my best shot he looked at me.  "Do they have toys there?" 

"Of course,"I smiled. 

"Oh I know!"  He set down his Buzz LightYear. 

"It's like a museum!"

A few weeks ago I was talking to someone when she asked about you.  "Tell me about your baby," she said. 

I began as I always do.  How you were there and then you weren't.  Felt you moving and then I didn't.  Pregnant then not so much.  I was me and then I wasn't. 

I told her about the tests, all the blood work and confusion.  Rambled off doctors and statistics and memorials and letters.  She looked at me confused.

"No," her soft clarification.  "Tell me about your baby."

It hadn't dawned on me until then, that I've never really discussed you with anyone.  How morbid I've become, that my focus on your life remains the end of it.

So I began, astonished at how much I can remember, even now in the depths of my sorrow.  I told her about your dark hair, how you were the perfect hybrid of your brother and grandfather.  I explained your long, skinny toes, five pounds and three ounces of soft perfection.  Told her about your kicks, always soft and comforting.  You were nothing like your brother, a chuckle rising in my throat.  He was always moving, always making his presence known.  I never had to wait for him. 
There were days where I'd get busy and you'd go unnoticed in the rush.  Many nights where I'd lay patiently in my bed at the end of a long day, and there you'd be.  My soft reassurance.  My reminder.   I like to think you'd have been my calm, my easy thing.  Introverted and strong as stone, like the mother you created. 

You were most active on my long drives.  To work and back again.  To softball games and Christmas vacations.   I'd raise the voume and you'd dance for me.  The Strokes were a particular favorite of yours.  In fact, as I drove to the hospital that night I turned them up as loud as my car would allow.   That's how I knew you had gone, before any doppler ever touched me. 

Perhaps it's why I sometimes find myself driving, aimlessly after midnight trips to Walgreens for cough syrup, soaring down highways and back roads with no objective in sight.  Still waiting for the kick. 

I wish I'd seen you open your eyes.  Wish I'd had just one breath, mere seconds to tell you how much I love you.  I'm sure you felt it, but I wish it just the same. 

The air is getting crisp, but my favorite time of year now offers a different sentiment.  I breathe it in, can feel you as I did then.  Sense the exchange in my lungs and  I hold it, long enough for a taste of the life I once had. 

Then I exhale. 


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fixer < Upper

Dear Josie,

I've got a bone to pick with perfection.

In high school, my favorite English teacher called me to his desk while proofreading an essay I had recently turned in.  "Why the very's?"  He asked.  I stared at the paper in his hands, my interpretation of perfection.  Huh?

"Take the very's out."  He told me. "And the so's, you don't need them.  Your paper is better that way.  It's real."  I didn't understand him then, rather, my sixteen year old brain  focused on the hours spent the night before, outlining my analysis of the novel
he'd assigned. When I tried to take the paper he shook his head. 

"Go ahead."  He prompted.  "Cross them out." 

I was mortified.  The red pen shaking in my hands, I smothered them for the sole purpose of my grade.  He smiled.  "Ah," he sighed, "Now that's a paper." 

I couldn't see past it.  All of my hard work, neatly double spaced and trim, now bleeding into the margins before me. Despite the A minus I received, I was bothered for weeks.

I notice them now, the imperfections.  The crooked stems and the holes.  The jagged edge we're quick to straighten, the lines not quite parallel.  They run in droves, glue sticks in hand.  Ready and aching and bursting to help, time lines in pockets, mouths open to prescribe their various cocktails.  Must remedy.  Cast.  Rinse and repeat.  Must fix. 

Recently, I was out to dinner with some friends.  For no particular reason this had been a bad day.  Yep.  I still have them. 

As the small talk progressed I felt myself shrinking in, desperate to find some infinitesimal piece of the girl I once was, hiding in a crevice somewhere within just waiting for her rescue.  I wanted to laugh as they were, yearned for the genuine smile. 

Because of the nature of this day, I had decided to wear something special to dinner.  Your aunt had given me a bracelet several weeks before that was still in the box.  A beautiful, handmade gem that reminds me of you so.  She had written you a beautiful letter as well, describing the angelic white color, the symbolic tree and infinity symbol, the angel wings.  It was as if this bracelet was made for you alone.  She had ordered it immediately. 

I was wearing it for the first time on this night, quite proud of the fact that I had put it on myself.  Using my left hand, this had not been an easy task.  After some awkward wrist angles and a few choice words I finally felt the click.  It was (very) loose, but it was on. 

As my sweet friends conversed I felt the urge to tighten it, pulling at the delicate chain under the table for several minutes until I felt the break.  I looked down and nearly lost it, the panic setting in. Could I make it to the restroom before the first tear fell?

But just as quickly as I had crumbled I noticed something.  Somehow the chain had broken, but the latch was still intact.  Before I could ask the waiter for a time machine, I felt the connection.  It happened faster than before, and resulted in a much better fit.  I threw the extra links into my purse and began to enjoy my Chicken Marsala.

It's funny how we are quick to fix things.  The unnecessary additions, the rush to make it better.  I'm finding that for me, broken isn't what it used to be.  Broken is suiting.  It's beautiful and it's snug.  Broken is striking.  Broken is the process.  Broken is the proof.

Your bracelet lays beautifully now.  I'd call it a perfect fit, but I prefer to be truthful.

It's broken.


Sunday, July 13, 2014


Dear Josie,

I've been fortunate since you left me. To most people, this sounds like an awful thing to say.  I used to be one of them. 

I have been to some scary places in recent months.  Really dark places, alleys you wouldn't dare explore next to four hundred pound bodyguards with machetes.  I've been in the car when the breaks give out, felt the parachute fail to open.  I've stood in the eye of the storm as it left me in a whirlwind.  All of it, in two seconds flat.

I've been to the places most keep their distance from, lovingly yelling from the sidelines as they throw me the flotation device.  They never dreamed they couldn't save me, missed the anchors in my shoes.

Simply put, there are places a mind would rather not explore.  These places do not easily co-exist with daily routines or conversations.  They are off-putting and offensive.  Some would deem these places hopeless.  Anti-climactic.  Draining.  But having lived there, I would disagree.

If you think I've never considered it, you'd be mistaken .  If I told you it never crossed my mind, I would be lying to you.  And I'm no liar.
There is an important distinction, though, when it comes to thoughts of death.  A significant difference between wanting to die in any given moment, and actually planning to end your life.   I find it completely normal to have welcomed death as I held you that morning.  I am not ashamed to admit that as I stared at your motionless fingers, for the very briefest of moments I doubted my abilities to walk away.  That emotion seems normal to me, healthy almost, because of its potential.

I read something recently.  "When your child dies, you find your life is forever divided into 'Before' and 'After'".  I couldn't agree more; however I feel that most would disagree with my interpretation of the photo. 

Many would attribute the colorful portion of the picture to"before" my life with you.  My life before the darkness, before this great loss.  My life before death.  The shadowy portion is the obvious "after".  Dreary and colorless, devoid of hope or joy.  A path no one wants to take.  A path some are forced, quite violently, down. 

But if I agreed with most, I would be saying that I am hopeless, forever doomed to meander through an existence of a million cautionary smiles, cringing and running from my most important lesson.  I would have to admit that a life after you means nothing, and I will never do that. 

No, I see things differently now, this picture is simply the perfect visual.  My "before" was a dense existence.  Before you, it was black and white.  Before you I was boring, I was sad, and I was blind. 

My "after" isn't always pretty, but it's nothing if not colorful.   You have complicated things.  Weaving the brightest of tapestries through each day, you are my biggest challenge.  A motivation I couldn't dull with a thousand lead tips.  I have been to that place, perused every aisle with my list of options.  Weighed them all ad nauseam.  You have shown me the worth of this life.  My every step is proof of something not everyone can say.  I want to be here. 

When you experience the darkness, you no longer have the choice to hide from it.  There is no awful unknown, no grip navigating your every step.   There is a looseness to this life, an incredibly freeing euphoria that eludes most.   Nothing matters as much as you.  Everything matters more because of you.

My life is no longer simple.  Because of you,  I can see the palette before me.  Call me crazy, but I am thankful for that.


Monday, July 7, 2014


Dear Josie,

Trust should be a four letter word.

Your brother had his tonsils removed last week.  This surgery was necessary.  From an early age I noticed the problem, mostly during sleep.  I would creep into his room as many a parent has done, carefully watching his chest rise, willing every next breath.

Your father and I always joked about it, your brother the horrible sleeper.  It took him nearly a year to sleep through the night, even then he would wake constantly, stumbling into our room and demanding to be rocked back to sleep.  We attributed our midnight interruptions to his temperament, his longing to be with us, but when he was two I began to notice something disturbing.  At first, it seemed like heavy congestion.  He would snore loudly every night, tossing and turning and sweating through his dreams.  His breathing would stop, once for thirteen seconds.  I knew what sleep apnea was, but I couldn't believe that a perfectly healthy two year old could be at its mercy. 

After consulting with an ENT, we decided your brother needed his adenoids removed.  These would be the masses of lymphatic tissue located where the mouth meets the nose.  His were so enlarged, the doctor told us he had one hundred percent blockage.  The poor kid could not even breathe through his nose. Additionally, due to the enlarged tissue he had a significant amount of fluid surrounding each ear drum.  I remember the doctor saying he had muffled hearing, like someone underwater. Tubes were a must.   I felt horrible. 

The surgery was so quick.  I was nervous, as any parent would be when their child goes under for any reason; however I was also confident.  Confident that his life was improving.  Confident that I was making the right decision for the well being of my young son.  Confident that he would wake up, that I would drive him home the same day.  I was trusting.  Never gave it a second thought. 

The apnea resolved, almost completely; however I noticed that the snoring did not.  At all.  I would nap with him occasionally, and watch him toss and turn in the same manner he always did, coughing and choking and sweating through his pillowcase.  He got strep throat on a monthly basis, always followed by a sinus infection due to the enlarged tonsils blocking any drainage effort.  In a six month span, your brother was on antibiotics fourteen times.  He was always sick, always congested.  Always uncomfortable.  The doctors advised waiting until he was four due to the intensity of the recovery process.  Soon enough, it was time.

The tonsilectomy was a "no brainer".  But I worried.  I am no longer the confident parent.  I am different from all the other moms on the playground.  I see trips and concussions, lobectomies and blood transfusions hiding behind bike trails and six foot plastic slides.  Death is a part of my life now.  I have lived the shock, been the worst case scenario.  In short, I no longer trust life. 

There is a popular  exercise designed to foster trust.  One person stands or sits in an elevated position, looking forward and falling back into the the person behind them.  You can't see what's coming, the arms behind you.  One can only trust they will be caught.

The night before your brother's second surgery I couldn't sleep.  I knelt next to his bed for hours, the light of my phone illuminating the baseball posters on the walls, the lego towers and strewn tennis shoes.  I felt such a responsibility then.  A dread in the pit of my stomach that nearly ate me alive.

The next day, the doctors and nurses offered their guidance in that tiny room.  Your father was all smiles, anxious to "fix" his little boy, excited to embrace the two week postoperative healing process; however I couldn't help but imagine it.  As we entered the building I glanced at his car seat, wondered if it was the last time I'd ever lift him from it.   I saw these same faces as they smiled at me, an hour from now rushing worriedly into the waiting room with the news.  I saw the anesthesia he never awoke from.  I saw the tiny headstone and the empty bed, watched myself folding soccer shorts into storage and screaming into my husband's arms.  Watched us leave empty handed as we had without you.  

For thirty minutes  I paced and shifted in my seat until they told me he was fine.  I ran into the recovery room to see it for my own eyes.  I still didn't believe it as I lay him into bed that night, watching him breathe comfortably, quietly for the first time in his life, as I began to cry.

Trust is a sacred thing.  Difficult to earn, no doubt.  Even harder to relearn. 

There is a part of me that will never trust life completely.  My most precious possession, all of my worldly abilities to hope for the best ripped from me, quite literally in the cruelest of ways.  I wonder if I'll ever think fondly of pregnancy again, of babies in beds of linen or the warmest and safest of tissue, turning and kicking and growing with a promise to remain.  Life has wronged me.  Nothing will ever change that.

But I was proud of myself that night as I tucked him in.  I pulled the comforter to his cheeks and set the alarm for his 2am meds.  I have grown so used to hitting the cold pavement below that I almost didn't recognize it.  Success.  Relief.  After spending the day in free fall I could finally feel the flesh, the arms of the presence behind me.  The promise kept when I wasn't looking. 

I spent the night in his room, made it to my bed the day after. 

I guess that has to count for something.  


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Boiling Points

Dear Josie,

Your aunt was married this weekend.

I remember months ago, talking with family members about the event, carefully planning the babysitter who would take care of my three month old while I was away.  Your brother's birthday party offered a similar conflict.  Guests happily singing as I cut the cake, my mind anywhere but the table of ninja turtle plates and soggy napkins.  I kept searching the patio door, could swear I heard a baby cry.

The ceremony was beautiful, taking place at roughly eight thousand feet high.  We were in the mountains.  The most amazing spot for the most beautiful couple.  The most perfect place to begin a journey together. 

We visited Yellowstone while we were in town, which is something I have always wanted to do.  By far, my favorite part of the day were the geysers.  I have always been fascinated by them, their rarity, their specific geological requirements existing in only a few places on Earth. 

There are hundreds of them in the park.  Many are quite pronounced, drawing large crowds with their promise of intense release.  Others are small, seemingly one with the scenery as you nearly pass, clutching the rail as they shock you in a violent deliverance.

The most amazing observation had to be the colors.  Every picture of a hot spring in every textbook I have ever read hadn't done them justice.  Not even close. 

There were deep blues and greens, perfection in turquoise and maroon.  There was orange and blood red, browns and exquisite yellows.  It was as if someone had created them by hand for my viewing pleasure.  I had to remind myself that it wasn't a dream, that nature was responsible.  There is an explanation for this display.  To me, the very best part.

Initial visitors to the park would theorize that chemical properties in the water created this  variation in color; however this is incorrect.  The answer is life.

There are certain types of bacteria that can take the heat, that is to live in water too hot to touch.  Even more imposing is the fact that they are so perfectly adapted to these scalding environments, they can live no where else. 

The colors change depending on the time of year, sometimes even the time of day depending on the ratio of different pigments within the spring.  To be most accurate, it is not simply the bacterial presence, but rather their reaction to the sunlight that creates the colors.

I couldn't help but relate to them as I stood there.  The happy campers passing by, all the stares and the movings-on.  The intensity.  The deepest blue. The beauty boiling just beneath the surface.

I think I might have stayed forever.  Sometimes I can feel myself sinking in it, surrenduring to the extremity of it all as I search for the answer which is so rightfully mine.  For now I will smile, and imagine the day where I erupt beyond these earthly boundaries.  I can feel you then in some great capacity.  Warmth and brilliance in a million different hues. 

You may see me walking away but I can promise you I feel it. 

I can promise you I'm rising.