May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
-Irish Blessing

Friday, December 18, 2015

Why Does Christmas Always Hurt So Bad?

Christmas has hurt worse than ever these last few years, ever since we lost Eli.  I've put extra thought into why this year and come up with a few possibilities.  One is the difference between the boys' pregnancy timelines.  When I was pregnant with Wyatt we spent a blissful, ignorant and happy Christmas season.  We received his Potter's diagnosis less than a month after Christmas.  Eli was diagnosed just before Thanksgiving and so I spent one of my saddest Christmases ever.  Surrounded by my entire family, pregnant and suffering in silence.  Very very few times was my pregnancy even acknowledged.  It was so sad.  I wonder if I'm haunted by that pregnancy.  If it has somehow carried a shadow through each year.  Same house, same decorations, same family members, etc.  When I was pregnant with Wyatt we lived in an apartment and I never spent another Christmas in that place.

The second possibility has religious roots.  I'm Catholic and so Advent is our time of preparation for the tiny Savior's arrival.  I find it hard to prepare myself in any way for the birth of a boy.  It has too many parallels for me.  I wonder if anyone who has lost girls struggles with those same thoughts at Christmas or if gender really does have a part in this.  I also remember my preparations for Eli's birth which was less than three months after Christmas.  It's just too painful.

I wrote a few years back that our family was able to escape and that was a wonderful Christmas filled with less sadness.  I don't know if it was because of the exciting things we were able to experience with our girls for the first time or the change of scenery or a combination of both, all I know is it was different.  This year is not.  I drug my feet in every way possible when it came to holiday preparations.  The only thing that really keeps me going is my children counting on me to hold fast to our own traditions.  Others that are not as important I am letting go.  Something has to give.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Imaginary Friend or Something Else?

Our youngest daughter, born a year and a little over a month after Eli has begun to talk about Eli.  In fact, she's quite fixated on him in a way.  So much so that I made her a little photo album of him which she cherishes.  But it's more than that.  She talks about Eli a lot.  When he was a baby and how she held him.  She talks about little fights they've had while playing or what kind of things they've been playing together.  He talks to her and she will tell me what he says.  It's always her voice that comes through but nonetheless it makes me wonder.  Does she have a connection to Eli?  Is this an imaginary friend?

It is bittersweet to hear his name so often.  I love to hear it and it is nice to think that he may be nearby, visiting every now and then, taking care of the little sister he never knew.  I don't know.

This year Dia de los Muertos really spoke to me.  I dug into it a little deeper and found out that November 1st is often considered the Day of the Innocents and it is on that day that spirits of children and babies visit their loved ones.  I baked my little ones the Pan de Muertos and miraculously we still have marigolds in our yard so I hope that yesterday at some point the breath of the wind may have been sweet little kisses blowing in the breeze.  Maybe just maybe they were drawn to us for that one day because lately I have been missing them both so much.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cemetery Woes & Unexpected Healing

Recently our cemetery announced proposed rules.  But not just any rules.  These are rules.  Because the last set of rules prohibited horses in the cemetery.  The new rules were requested by the current cemetery caretaker who is a nice young man overwhelmed by the amount of decorations and plantings around gravesites at our cemetery.  The sheer number of items and decorations on and around the graves make it difficult for him to keep the graves neat looking and properly trimmed.

At first, I was outraged.  The rules proposed banning all artificial flowers, all grave decorations, all solar lights, shepherd's hooks, wreaths, benches, etc.  All that would have been allowed were fresh flowers and artificial flowers for a two week period around major recognized holidays.  Well, you better bet I did my duty as a citizen and showed up at the city commission meeting (who oversees the cemetery) and voiced my opposition to these rules.  Why?  Because we have a bench, a wreath, a shepherd's hook, solar lights, a rock border, artificial flowers and tons of little birthday and Christmas gifts scattered along the lip and rocks bordering our headstone where Wyatt rests.  Eli rests at our feet and has a flat stone so we are unable to put anything at his stone.  You know what happened?  The commission decided to form a committee of people both for and against the proposed rules to hash it out.

I volunteered to serve on that committee because I felt so strongly about my opinion that I wanted to be part of the change, whether for good or bad.  So through the course of about six hours over two meetings, which included a walk through of the cemetery to see and listen to the caretaker show us why he believed the policy was needed, we came up with a new proposed set of rules.  There were tears and disagreement during our meetings.  Three of us opposed the rules and three supported them.  We were different ages and tended many different kinds of graves.  We listened carefully to the opinion of the caretaker and he listened to us.

The end result was a set of rules which is respectful to those who choose to remember their deceased with flowers and items but respectful of the caretaker and those who were seeking a neater looking cemetery by limiting the kind and scale of these items.  We have taken our bench, shepherd's hook, solar lights and many small tokens home.  We cleaned up most of our rock border but left the marigolds we planted this summer.  We'll plant more again next summer along with some moss rose and we'll leave fresh flowers for the boys' birthdays which can then be mowed over later.

I was forced to look at the cemetery and my own displays of grief from a different perspective.  Did my boys need all of those things I put out there for them?  No, they were for me.  But did they really do anything real for my grief?  Probably not.  It was therapeutic to remove many of the items which were faded but my own grief had prevented me from removing them.  I just couldn't take anything else from the boys who were taken from me.  I also was able to see that I searched for items that were being marketed to me as a grieving person and I don't really like that there is such a large market aimed at grieving people.   It already takes a lot of money to lose a loved one.

I am excited for the spring when all of the graves are cleaned up and our gravestone can finally be neatly trimmed more often than not by the mower, rather than having to rely on a hand trimmer because our bench and rock border were in the mower's way and of course with four young kids at home we don't get to tend to the grave as often as we would like to.  I want it to look neat and respectful.  I told the caretaker that he has a special job, he is caring for our loved ones' resting places in our absence and that is a labor of love.

I was able to present the new set of rules to the commission, tell my story and explain why I supported the rules even though I would give up so much to abide by them.  I think it was a powerful position to take and one I hope that eased other's pain a little as they approach their own loved ones' graves this fall.

Change is change.  It is not always bad and more often than not an opportunity to find good or start anew.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Hidden Grief

I was saddened to see Vice President Biden's son has passed away from cancer but surprised and appreciative of comments that our Vice President recently made about grieving were highlighted as a result.  Biden has long lived under the shadow of grief though you would often never guess from all of the public appearances where he is flashing that huge smile.  Same goes here.  I've thought and said it a million times I think.  Sometimes I just wish I could have something that signifies - "Lost two infant sons at birth" so people around me might just understand or give me a break when I don't have that big smile plastered across my face.  I do find joy and I do have peace in my life.  Time has eased the most painful memories farther back into my consciousness which allows me to recognize happiness and feel happiness in a way that I couldn't for some time after each of my sons' passing.

But there are still those moments.  Our youngest daughter recently turned three, just a little over a month after we celebrated Eli's fourth birthday.  After Eli died I made our older three daughters each a little photo album with photos of Eli and our family and Eli (some that the girls took with their own cameras that day).  Well, the little one had been sneaking her roommate's album and began asking for her own.  It was something that until then I hadn't really given a thought.  Of course she should have her own.  She talks about when Eli was in her belly and what a cute and tiny baby he is.

Then something else I hadn't given much thought to was brought to my attention.  Wyatt.  She should also have pictures of Wyatt.  Why I didn't just do that when I put the other one together I don't know.  I guess because Eli was more real to the girls because they touched and held him and Wyatt was born before all of them were even a speck in our eyes.  I don't quite know for sure what he is to them other than a treasured name and birthday.  So I gave the little one pictures of Wyatt too and now she talks about when he was in her belly and she held him.

I know these are fleeting moments, but I wish they could last forever.  It is a bittersweet experience to hear their names and really look at their photos so often, but it is such a blessing that she says them aloud and cherishes their images as much as I do.

Yet all of this is hidden just under the surface.  It's not something I can freely share with many people.  Grief just isn't a topic of conversation much beyond the funeral.  I've mentioned before that our parents don't always even say something on the boys' birthdays, but our siblings never do. But it's still there.  We still think of them and miss them and catch glimpses of what could have been.  The loss of a child is a profound sadness that you can never outrun.  It's something that will drag you down into the depths of a seemingly endless dark pit and it will hold onto you.  It is easy to understand feelings of desperation and no way out when you're towards the bottom in complete blackness.  It is easy to feel like the sun will never shine again when it has been so long since you've felt it on your face.  It is hard to feel like there is anything else out there but the blackness that surrounds you.

When I was putting the pictures of Wyatt and Eli together I noticed something I had not before.  I wasn't looking for it but it just jumped out of the photos.  In the photos where it was my husband and I with Wyatt we looked so very sad.  It was painful to look at those photos.  It was painful to remember those moments.  I thought "of course we did".  Wyatt was our first child.  We had no idea how he would die or how quick it would happen.  We were in the blackness not knowing what would happen next or how we would weather the next storm.  We were fully submerged in our grief.  In almost all of the photos I'm crying, even the ones where I'm smiling.  My face is puffy and just sad.  But in the photos of us with Eli we look truly happy.  My smile doesn't feel so sad.  I wonder if the difference is because I knew with Eli that we would be okay.  I knew the pit wasn't bottomless and I knew that even though I couldn't see it, the sun was still shining and eventually I would again bathe in its light and warmth.  Both of us just looked -- happier.  Even though we were given less time with Eli and he was the second son we had lost on the day of his birth to the same frustrating medical condition.

Grief is ever present, ever changing and more often than not, ever hidden.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Who is it for?

Frequently I drive by a house in town which has a large wooden cutout angel in front with a beautiful lattice border around it.  On the angel is a female's name.  It is not clear whether this name is a daughter, sister, friend, wife or mother but what is clear is she is a very special person to someone or many someones in that house.

That got me wondering.  Why is the angel displayed so publicly?  Is it in remembrance of that person  or is it to remind others that this family is still suffering her loss?

Ever think about these public displays of grief and grieving?  I think in some ways we all do it.  I have photographs of Eli & Wyatt displayed proudly in my living room.  We hang their stockings at Christmas.  Their names are included on our family signs hung in the house.  I have their names engraved on a ring along with my daughters' names and I wear that constantly.  I don't hide them to make others more comfortable nor do I parade them out to display my losses.  I have simply woven them into my life.  But on some level I think some of it comes from a desire to have others recognize that I am not who I used to be and that the grief of those losses has profoundly changed me.  I need for them to remember, not necessarily for my sons', but for me.


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