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Monday, September 21, 2015


Dear Josie,

There is a perpetual Earthquake beneath me.  I know it sounds absurd, but I can think of no better way to describe this time without you.  My life on the uneven bars.

It was the hardest part, initially.  The most difficult thing for me to grasp was the finality of it all.  In one second, everything in my life shifted.  Altered.  Kinked.   In one second and there was no going back.

Minutes would pass and people would walk in and around me and it was comical, almost, in a very cruel sense because it was so incredibly wrong and awful and horrific and everyone knew it, and there was nothing anyone could do because it was already done.

I remember driving home from the hospital and wanting it to be ten years from now.  I wanted the song playing on the radio to be old news, people scanning the archives of their respective collections to hear this very song, because so much time had passed and they'd forgotten and they wanted to listen again.  To reminisce.  To remember. You died and immediately I wanted you to be a memory.  This most distant thing that I had to strain to think about. I longed for the day where thoughts of you became a forceful, purposeful action.  A reminder of some specific time.  How was it again?  Oh yes. 

I remember a conversation with your uncle one night, during those first few torturous, grueling weeks without you. When the volume turned my stomach.  When your melody, so beautiful and so tragic and so repetitive, was all that I could hear. 

I told him what's the point, essentially, because if I live to be ninety and if I have twelve grandchildren and if I die in protest, fighting to be here until my very last breath I will still never be as happy as before you left me.  I will never be 100%. 

I appreciated his response very much, because he didn't tell me this was untrue or unwarranted or that life would ever resume what it once was.  He agreed that 100 wasn't an option, but he said maybe I could get to 99.  And was 99 really so bad?

Sometimes I feel so happy that it's almost like this never happened to us.  The guilt that consumes me as I read that sentence is worth noting, but it's true.  Sometimes I wish it weren't true, but I have gotten used to wishing things weren't I guess. 

Your little brother will be laughing, the most perfect and most contagious baby belly laugh, some of the very best stuff this life has to offer and I will forget, momentarily, that you never took a breath.  I will forget how you looked that morning, so peaceful and so very far from me, how my body failed you.  Or when I step outside just before a storm and I can smell the water in the air, and I'm puzzled because there's a gratitude that once escaped me.

Sometimes I'll be sitting in traffic and I can see it so clearly, my parallel universe.  She drives to the hospital that night and hears your heart beating.  They send her home and she digests the reassuring paperwork with the leftover ravioli.  Climbs into bed next to her husband and wakes to eggs in the morning, laughing at the absurdity of it all, this notion that a perfectly healthy baby could just die.  Just, die.

This weekend your father and I attended the wedding of two of our closest friends.  They are more like family, actually, and it was an absolutely beautiful day.  People were taking pictures and smiling and celebrating, and I couldn't help but allow my thoughts to wander to you.  It is during these happiest of times where I find it impossible to ignore the disparity.  My dead daughter's ashes beneath the Earth and the people dancing above them.

During the reception as I lifted the fork, your name seemed to scream at me from my wrist.  I felt the ground shift and it became difficult to hear the clanking glasses.  For a moment things grew dark and I couldn't taste the food on my plate.

I pictured us leaving.   Your father holding my hand in his left and my pointy black heels in his right.  I tell him where I want to go.  We reach your tree and we bend, openly aching and yearning and sad, and we drive home together feeling better because we cried.

And it would have been granted, our exit.   It would have been appropriate.  I could have gone home to my babies, explaining to friends in the morning how it had consumed me so abruptly and they would have understood, only none of that happened.  I felt the shift and somehow I didn't fall.  I was sad because you weren't home waiting for us in your fuzzy pink pajamas, but I could still appreciate the garlic mashed potatoes.

While I certainly felt the urge to run, I want you to know that I didn't run this time.

I didn't run because I also wanted to dance.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Two Hour People

Dear Josie,

I have a secret.

And it's not my hidden desire for bell bottoms to come back in style or the fact that I have five 'One Direction' songs in my iTunes.  This is a different kind of secret, something I'd rather not know.

When you died I thought my world would end.  Scratch that, I wanted my world to end. 

I remember my family coming over that week.  They were here everyday, in case I needed anything or wanted anything, or maybe they were just making sure I wasn't going to drive myself off a cliff somewhere I don't know, but they were here, and it helped.

I remember that first Saturday without you.  We had just finished watching a movie, probably the second or third of the day.  I didn't leave the couch much then, and I remember sitting up and being very confused and saying aloud,  "Am I just supposed to keep watching TV?"

They all looked at me, sadly, and I don't think they knew what to say.  I didn't know what to say, or how to say it, but I think I understand now.  The more accurate version of my thoughts that afternoon.

What now?

It's a strange thing, when your baby dies.  Your baby whom you never brought home.  Your baby who never cried or nursed or took a breath.  It's such a unique type of grief, because after you leave the hospital without them, after you drive home over that same overpass and the same songs are playing on the radio...and after you walk up those same stairs to that same door down the same hallway to that same room, it's all exactly as you left it.  The bed is unmade and the bassinet is empty, as it had been two days before. The stretchy maternity pants still fill your dresser drawers and the wide, pink rattles with the white stripes and cushy handles still grace the nightstand, waiting for chubby hands they will never meet.

Every single thing is exactly the same.
And everything, everything  about your life is different.

Two nights ago was our support group. 

In the beginning, your father would accompany me to these monthly meetings.   In the beginning  when I was watching a lot of television on the couch, sporadically waking from the haze to silently beg for my old life.  My parallel universe.  The one where you're alive.

Now mostly I go alone, and it's not because I'm okay or because I'm over it or because I'm well-adjusted or that I don't need him. Our life is much different now.  There are two little boys at home, and Kindergarten paperwork to be done and sack lunches to be packed.  Lego Star Wars battleships need building and stuffy babies need rocking, and someone has to make dinner.

Since you died I have missed six meetings.  Five when I was pregnant and showing and once when your brother was sick.  I like to go because I hear things there that help me, things that others in this club say aloud to each other in the confines of our somber space, our lives without our babies.  Last week was no exception.  A newly bereaved father offered something that struck me. He explained that since his son died, friends, family, and colleagues have offered their condolences, and that most have said nice, helpful things.  "I'm so sorry.  I am keeping you in my prayers.  Please let me know if you need anything."  He expressed his gratitude for these people, and also for the others.  The few who have said something else.  "I'm so sorry.  I am keeping you in my prayers.  I will be there in two hours unless you tell me not to be."

And I thought of them when he said that.  My two-hour people.

The people who sat with me for hours on that couch, leaving husbands and children and much anticipated DVR recordings and grading and escape behind, to be with me.  My people at the hospital that morning, how they held you, dead in their arms, surely wanting to die or to run away and who cried the whole way home.   How they remained, returned with coffee in the morning. 

I thought of the family members and friends who came to your memorial ceremony, who couldn't have known what to say or how to help and still showed up, stood in the cold and held our hands.  My dear friend who flew in from New York just to stand next to me in that hour, only to board another plane home the same day.

I can't help but be grateful.  Although your death has forced the worst upon us, we have also been privy to the very best.
This secret of mine is a dark one.  Its recognition is scary and morose and I'd give anything not to know it.  Before you died I thought a pain of this magnitude would  kill me, and now I have to know that it didn't. 

I have to know that caramel bars still taste really good and that whiny five year-olds are still annoying.  I have to know that you died and I still love horrible reality television and loathe grading research papers.  That your father and I will still laugh uncontrollably when your brother tries to say the word portal and says port-hole instead, "will this fit in my port-hole?"

And I have to know that you can grow a life inside of you for eight months, feel her roll and kick and hiccup, and that after you deliver her lifeless body into a bed of shaking hands, and after you watch her ashes fill the ground beneath your feet, those same feet will still tap to "Come on, Eileen."

It doesn't make sense that life really, actually continues. The only people who know this to be true are those like me.   The people all over the globe wearing name tags in circles around Kleenex boxes.  The ones who bury their child and bravely take that first step from the cemetery grass, returning home to the familiar, stumbling, confused as to this secret.  Life's progression, nearly seamless, in their absence.

And I guess I could protest it for the remainder of my days, sit idly by and watch everything take place without you here.  Refusing the meringue and willing my lips closed in a perpetual rejection.  I could stay angry and wronged and bitter forever, but somehow I doubt you'd have liked that.

And also because, chocolate.


Friday, September 4, 2015


Dear Josie,

Two summers ago I was in training.

It was for an elective I was to teach, and the training was for certification.  It was two weeks long.

I met several wonderful teachers there, enjoyed the time we spent together prepping labs and presenting and sculpting anatomical organs out of clay.  We were the students this time and that's always fun.  It's kind of my dream to take classes for the remainder of my life.  A forever student.  Maybe one day when I win the lottery.  The money lottery and the one for spare time. 

There was a significant conversation that took place on our second to last day of class. 

I was speaking with Jim, an intelligent and quirky science teacher from Alaska of all places.  We had been paired together for one of the presentations, and I was scripting our skit dialogue.  A woman with Myasthenia Gravis who goes to the doctor complaining of chronic headaches, is subsequently diagnosed. 

I remember telling Jim how I'd been struggling with memorization, with memory in general, since your uncle was hurt.  How I'd be driving somewhere and completely forget where I was going.  The frequent blank-outs mid-conversation.  How once I'd actually forgotten my age.  "How old are you?" and for close to fifteen seconds I didn't know.

"It's the stress," he told me.  "Stress affects memory big time."

Jim went on to explain that several years ago, one of his children passed away.  A water bottle was shared during soccer practice, and Jim's child contracted meningitis.  It quickly spread to the brain stem, proving fatal.

He asked me how many children I had.  One.  It's the last time I remember answering that question without cringing. 

"Have more children," he said.  "Because you should have more than one."

And I remember thinking how awful that sentence was, how morose and intrusive and sad, what he was trying to tell me.  And I pushed it far out of my mind because I wanted to, and because I could.   And that morning when I held you I thought of so many things.  I thought of empty car seats and cold bassinets and clean sippy cups.  I thought of the hole in the snack circle on the Kindergarten floor.  I thought of the person you were supposed to marry, marrying someone else instead.  And I thought of that moment in our frigid lab room mid-July.  I thought of Jim. 

I've thought of him since, too.  When it's three AM and I'm using my cell phone light to confirm the baby is still breathing.  When your older brother wanders off with the little boy down the street, two houses down past the bush just beyond my gaze.   And when your father and I talk about having more children, because there's no longer a number.  For the longest time it was two.  Two and we'd be "done".  Because we thought we could plan something like that.  As if we were ordering another spring roll or baseball tickets, as if we were in charge.

I guess you've taught me differently.  You and Jim. 

That control, it doesn't exist.  Never did.  There's a comfort to its illusion, and it helps for sleep at night, but it's never really there, and it never really was.

When your little brother was born there was a problem with my epidural.    The numbing medicine that was present for my first two deliveries did not work properly, and by the time we knew it wasn't working it was too late.  The anesthesiologist was on another floor and the baby was coming.  Essentially, I felt everything.

My doctor arrived and confirmed that it was time.   I could wait for the next contraction or I could push now.  I was writhing and attempting to breathe and probably cursing loudly at your father, but I remember the moment our eyes met.  There was an immediate focus and I remember what she said.

"Nora, this is going to hurt but you can do it."

And it helped me, her words.  Along with my amazing, amazing  nurses and the instantaneous relief as I held him in my arms, those words willed me through it.  Because after the nine months of mental anguish and the nearly two years of sciatica and shortness of breath and swollen feet and a fear so paralyzing that it nearly killed me, all I had to do was push.   

It is, quite possibly, the best way to explain my life now.  And some days I get bitter, so bitter that I can hardly taste anything else and I have to remember to push through.  This day in your absence.  This life without you.    Parenthood without the illusion of control. 

It's going to hurt but you can do it.