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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