Is the Plane Moving Mommy?

“Is it Mom? IS IT?  Are we going yet?  Is. The. Plane. GOING???”

This is an all too familiar version of the same relentless “Are we there yet” banter which accompanies every trip with kids, without fail.  This time we were all going to Maui.

Translation:  we were going to be on this very crammed aircraft for a really long time.

“Look out the window,”  I say.  “Can you see everything moving past?”

Noo,” my five-year old son says, “I caaannn’t”.  (Insert pained and impatient overtone).  “It is just clouds out there.  And they are not moving at all.”

“It’s ok buddy, we are moving.  I promise.” I tell him.

Trust  me.”

Five minutes later and at constant five-minute intervals for the duration of that flight, my little guy would ask,

“Are we almost there Mommy?  Are we there yet? WHEN will we be there Mom, WHEN?  This is taking so so long!”

“Be patient Oli.  I know being patient is hard.” I would say.

I should have just put that response on voice recorder and played it to him on repeat.  That way I might have been able to read a page of my book or shut my eyes for a while.  Retrospective genius is so unhelpful.

This conversation is familiar to me, and not just because I have it with all of my kids every time we take a trip.  It is the talking track which has looped endlessly in my own head everyday for the last few months.  I am having the conversation with the Big Guy Upstairs.  It goes something like this:

“Hey!  Excuse me? Sorry to interrupt but, am I getting anywhere close?  I mean am I getting anywhere closer to where it is I want to be?  Is this even the direction I am supposed to go?  Can you please give me some clue as to what that ‘right place’ looks like anyway?  At this point, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize it if I saw it.”

I have these uncertainties because this plane or train or bus that I am a passenger on, seems like it is at a virtual standstill……kind of like the train my then soon-to-be-husband and I once rode from Jaipur to Varanasi, India.  This train moved, but there was as much sideways momentum as there was movement forward.

Lately I feel like this.  I have experienced tons of change.  Much of it has not been predictable and most of it seems meant just to shake me up, not move me in the general direction toward “Better.”  You are just journeying down this road of life, naively believing that everything is mostly always, pretty great. Then WHAMMO!  You get crosschecked, hard, right into the boards, and nothing is ever the same again.

Ever.  Even when it all looks the same, it is not.

So many things that I thought were’ done deals’, have fallen apart well after the point falling apart should have been possible. Samuel dying at 40 weeks and 3 days inside my womb was the first event in this series of the unexpected.  Clearly none of these other changes have had the devastating impact that did.

Compared to losing my baby, frankly, all other challenges pale.  My work situation, plans for graduate school, childcare; all of these facets of my life have abruptly changed over these past few months.  And each of these things have affected the others like an ironic game of dominos, jarring me into a sort of stunned standstill, and rendering me incapable of making decisions or trusting any I have already made.

These events are truly just bumps on the road of life.  But none-the-less, even a series of small bumps over time can create a sort of mental-emotional whiplash.  The cumulative effects are noticeable.  One begins to wonder what the hell is going on when every plan seems to get turned on its side over and over again.

It is not at all devastating, but all of this change of plans stuff is certainly surprising, annoying and somewhat confusing.  Will any path will lead anywhere you expect it to?  The over-uttered adage, “Everything happens for a reason,” becomes terribly trite and annoying at a point.

Maybe the message is this;

“Just sit back and let Me move this train you are on.  Know that even though it doesn’t feel like the train is going anywhere at all, it is actually going so fast that you can’t feel it move.  Look out the window….do you see Me?  I am the clouds you are watching go by.  I am right here with you.  I promise.  Trust Me.”

I guess all of this change, this sideways momentum, is just there to remind me that movement is happening.  There is no doubt about that.  The plane is really moving after all.

Now I will just have to learn to sit back and be patient.  Maybe Oliver and I can learn together.

Roadtrip Conversations and the Power of Empathy

I had a powerful conversation this week with an old and cherished friend I hadn’t seen in far too long.  How is it that the movement of life can carry you along on your journey, seemingly away from those real and pivotal relationships, until one single rogue wave brings you right back in front of each other, and it was like you were never separated?  How amazing is that?  The best part is that it feels like no time has passed.  You pick up exactly where you left off, not missing a beat but just filling in the puzzle pieces of each other’s lives since your last encounter.

The rogue wave that thrust my friend and me back in each other’s way was the ragic and sudden death of our mutual friend’s beautiful 18 year old daughter.  She was killed in a car accident. (The photograph at the top of the page was the view from the site of her accident.)  Her truck hit the ditch and went up in flames.  ‘Just like Joan of Arc’ her broken but courageous mother said at the funeral.   This devastating news knocked the air out of my lungs as soon as I read it.  My friend and I connected almost within moments of discovering what had happened and agreed to travel the three hour journey to her funeral together.

Our road trip conversation started the minute we put the car in drive and none of it was frivolous small talk.  We got right stuck in about the important stuff.  We discussed the tragedy we were about to confront, how we felt about it, how our friend was doing, and what she might need.  We both had fallen out of regular contact with our her, but the idea that we wouldn’t be there at her daughter’s funeral to bear witness to her loss, her daughter’s life, and show our love and support was never an option.  We packed two boxes of tissue and had not worn mascara, prepared for the mess of emotions which would overwhelm us all day long.  We talked about this girl and our memories of her as a wee one.  We cried for her life that was too short and for our friend and her brother and father, who would all now live, missing her forever.  We talked each of the losses of our own babies, cried for them both and for own hearts which would also never totally heal.  We spoke of how these experiences changed us, and our views of the world.  We shared about our work and future passion projects just fledgling yet in our minds.

In a nutshell, we had meaningful conversations. We felt the other’s story, not just heard it.  We connected.  Just like we always have. It was affirming and energizing and brilliant, even in these most horrific of circumstances.  We marvelled at this experience of reconnecting.

“The key” said my wise and brilliant friend, ” is the heart connection.  And that happens because of a strong sense of empathy.” We agreed that this empathy is not common in people.  We are taught to be sympathetic, to look in from the outside with head a-tilt.  Instead of jumping into the fray and getting messy there, we stop.   We halt just short of getting too involved for fear we might let the other person’s experience affect us too much, and we might feel too much.  We don’t want to give too much.  The effect of that would be…..what exactly?  We might get real???  Our mask might drop, and then look out!  We would be exposed with our truth out on display.  Now that is scary.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer speaks about this in her poem ‘The Invitation’.

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.  If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.  If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy. I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

What has become increasingly apparent to me over the past year, and what arriving into the open arms of my devastated friend showed again, is that empathy is so incredibly vital to healing.  It is a key ingredient.  In fact, I would argue that healing cannot happen without it.  Empathy is as vital to healing as is sun and water to a germinating seed.

Brene Brown conveys this message in an animated short film which is sheer brilliance.  See for yourself.

 

Now be honest.  Are you the person down there in the pit, or are you the one looking in from the top with the sandwich?

Happy Birthday My Angel

Today is Samuel’s birthday.  Memories of this past week replay like a record which conveys not just sound and visual images, but feelings and emotions too.  Each memory touches a profound place in my heart which is indelible.  The love and friendship and prayers and support from so many have buoyed us and carried us through this experience.  Today, I recall these gestures, and these people, with the deepest gratitude and thankfulness.  We are blessed beyond words.  Again on this day, we are inundated with flowers, meals, cards, and messages of remembrance and love.  I am simply overwhelmed.  This is God’s love in action.

I have been anticipating this day and this week with apprehension and uncertainty.  How should we mark the occasion?  How will I feel?  What will rest of the family need and want to do?  Will it be ok?

My plan has been to celebrate his life and honour our little boy. I have imagined it to be light-hearted and joyful.  That is how I want it to feel.  We are having birthday cake tonight with the kids and will sing for him and blow out a candle.  That makes it a “real birthday party” according to my three year old daughter.  Tomorrow we will visit the memorial forest where his name is engraved on a bronze plaque.  His presence in our family is as strong and undeniable as it ever was.  But so is the missing of him.  And despite my best laid plans, that is what is dominating for me at this moment.

God how painful is the missing of him.   I am letting myself feel that ache now, letting it hit me and take away my breath, as it does, so that I can find some space for the joy too.   Today, the pain is a shadow of what it was on this day a year ago.  But how accurate and how precise it is!  My stomach aches, my head aches, my heart feels sore and my arms miss the feeling of him in them.  I reach them up to the sky wanting to feel his spirit touch my fingertips.  And when I cry, my voice sounds not like my own.  My cry still sounds primal and unrecognizable even to my own ears.  Still.  After a year.

But such as it is.  Deep breath.

Ok, joy, you can enter…anytime now!

I sure hope she gets here by the time we are ready to have cake.

***************************

In honour of my sweet Samuel, please enjoy these poems I wrote for him and his photograph taken by a wonderful woman named Elizabeth who works with the organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.  I am so proud to share his story.  

The song Daylight is for me, Samuel’s song.  Let the lyrics touch you. They are perfect.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg9Urm2_7xQ]

Samuel

Photo Credit:  Elizabeth Cranmer
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

His Name

When I say “My baby died”‘,

Please don’t shy away.

Take a moment

Then take a breath,

And ask, “What was his name?”

-Shannon Rogers – 2013

 

May He Be Known

The lives of all our children here

Are witnessed for all to see.

But the life of our sweet Samuel

Lives but in the hearts of family.

I want so much that he be known

Not lost in silent grief.

In honouring his memory

I share his joy and find some peace

Our son shall be remembered,

I tell his story

His picture shown

And every time I speak his name,

Through my voice, may he be known.

-Shannon Rogers – 2013

 

In Praise of Hope

Hope revealed her twinkling self to me yesterday.  She kind of snuck up on me out of the blue.  Suddenly I realized that while I was driving and listening to music just a little too loudly, I was anticipating.  I was looking forward to things.  It doesn’t even matter what it was exactly that I was looking forward to.  The point is that hope, that elusive little thing which I had taken for granted until we lost our baby boy, was a regular part of my life.  Hope was the thing which kept me motivated, kept me dreaming, kept me driving forward.  The promise of something fun or new, of creating something meaningful, or better, was the fuel and the spark which has always lifted me out of the average day to day.  Not that the average is bad.  But familiarity, although stabilizing, often brings along blinders which makes seeing the forest for the trees difficult, and potential, invisible.

Hope thrives on potential. She lives in your heart.  But when your heart is broken, Hope has a hard time thriving.  You soon learn though that she is tough.  She is resilient.  She is the weaver which is at least partly responsible for bringing those broken pieces back together to heal. Helping one foot march in front of the other, she brings you to the light.  Before you know it, your face is turning towards that light.  The warmth that Hope sends forth is melting away fragments of sadness and shadow.  In her light, all of the beauty and love that you have to offer and share sparkles once again.  And finally you see it.  And then a new phase of living begins.

Thank you Hope. I have missed you.

My Very Own Midlife Crisis

Last year marked the start of my very own midlife crisis.  It started, as I describe in my post, http://fiveunder8.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-big-birthday/ on the cusp of the big scary birthday.  I was 38 going on 100 weeks pregnant, as sick as a dog, out of breath and very overwhelmed.

I was expecting my fifth child, and about to embark on another leave of absence from my job which, I was reminded by a senior colleague, was going to have a pretty negative impact on my team. In other words, support for my impending maternity leave was reluctant.  My manager had been given the orders to juggle my clinical duties to exclude my research project, meaning I would have to pursue that endeavour on my own time; clearly a sub optimal arrangement for my work-life balance.  Basically, my career at my current workplace was taking a turn in a direction I didn’t like at all.

My son was having a terrible year at school. Watching him struggle but still put on a brave face each morning and muscle his way through the day, was really tough.  He wasn’t sleeping, had developed anxiety and said that he felt stupid every single day.  His confidence was in the toilet.  We picked up the pieces every day when he returned from school, doing the dance between psychologist and cheerleader, trying to reinforce that he was bright and capable, offer some coping strategies and then help him get through his homework.  Between this dance, parenting other children at the same time, and managing the situation with the school for countless hours each week, I was very stressed and exhausted.

I didn’t feel like celebrating much as I turned the big 4-0. We decided to wait to plan a big to-do until later.  Later meant after the baby came and I felt more human.  In 2 weeks, I would be receiving the very best birthday gift in the whole world anyway.  I had been anticipating that gift for 9 months!  No birthday party could beat that!  The pregnancy had been hard the whole way through.  I had been sick and unwell the whole time.  I often said that I felt like I had been working really hard for this baby.

So at 40 weeks, I asked my doctors to induce.  I might have even begged.  I told them something seemed unusually hard and that I had never felt this way before.  I needed the baby out and I needed it to do it quickly.  They calmly reminded me that there was no clinical reason to induce me.  Being exhausted was just the way it was and that given the number of kids I was already parenting, as much could be expected.  I insisted that I needed to get on with it.  Then my physician looked at my chart, and exclaimed, “Ah!  You just had a birthday!  Normally we wouldn’t induce you as you are only just past 40 weeks pregnant, but you are 40 now.  The risk of stillbirth goes up significantly at that age.  Now we have a reason to induce.”

Now that’s foreshadowing.  They scheduled the induction for 24 hours later.

Then it happened; the sucker punch out of nowhere.    The day before I was going to be induced, Samuel’s heart stopped beating.

My baby boy dying was simply the final straw.  I am quite sure that some type of midlife crisis was already well underway, but the death of my beautiful baby boy really was like gasoline to fire.  I hated 40 more than I have ever hated a birthday or an age ever.   The entire past year, I have turned down every offer from everyone to celebrate it belatedly, over and over again.  “I don’t want to celebrate this stupid birthday.” I have said each time.  “There is nothing about 40 that is worth celebrating.” “I hate 40.” So we didn’t do anything.

But over the past week, I have suddenly felt like I should have done something.  After all, you only turn 40 once!  I started to regret that I let the whole year go by without doing any particular thing which would mark the occasion with some significance.  In the twilight of this milestone year, I realized that what had most certainly started out as the year I thought I would never survive, the year I have hated the most out of any other of my life thus far, and had become the year that I survived.

 I survived.

I made it through. I am still standing!  And I think maybe I am even standing straighter and taller and with more grace and faith than ever before.  All of the challenges, the stress, the grief, and the heart crushing pain were superseded.  They were transformed by strength and love, support and friendship and lots of prayer, reconstituting the rubble that I stood in the midst of into a brand new version of me. This rendition looks much different than last year’s version.

There is an obvious scar that I don’t hide.  I let it show.    And I give the cause of that scar a voice.  The silence of stillbirth makes me crazy. So I am not silent.

I am fiercely proud of my family.  My children are quite simply the light of my life.  And though no one will ever know my Samuel like I did, they will know his name, and his story. It is my story!  It is our family’s story.  And I am unfazed by those for whom this is uncomfortable.  Their discomfort may have given me pause before.  Now it gives me the words I write here.  My creativity has seen its rebirth because of them.

In this new version of me, I am clearer about what I want and what I don’t.  Much of this is different than it was before.  I don’t apologize for that.  I would have done before.

I experienced other unexpected losses this year in addition to my son.  Certain relationships ended because I finally stopped fighting for them. They were unhealthy and just didn’t work.  I have completely let them go, without reserving hope for their future.  I don’t hold onto “maybe one day…..” anymore.  Enough is enough. This has been a difficult and painful process, but it has been necessary.   I feel free and more peaceful since.

I am kinder to myself and more protective. Sometimes that means I am less kind to others, and less open.  I am less forgiving in some ways, but more tolerant.  I am indifferent to more things which don’t concern me, as my energy is more focused on what does.  I am still courageous and as always a fighter, but now I pick my fights more judiciously.  But may the good Lord help you if I bring that fight to your door.

I have allowed myself to become important to me again.  I learned how to let myself weigh back into the equation of my life.  I had been last on my own priority list for so long, I had fallen off of the bottom.  Sadly, this didn’t even bother me that much!  Now, I have a workout appointment almost every day with myself.  I don’t cancel.  I get more sleep.  I remember to take a snack for me, not just my kids.  I go out more with my friends, and I have hobbies that I actually pursue, not just remember pursuing.

Thank you little miss 40.  I am not scared of you anymore.  I don’t hate you anymore.  The journey of discovery I took along your road has been affirming. You marked the launching of a new part of my life in a new version of me, whom I am still just getting to know.  Sometimes living within this new skin feels uncomfortable, like a pair of new shoes which have not been completely broken in, but it is who I am now.  And the evolution is worth celebrating.

 

Grief Does Not Equate Insanity

Samuel’s birthday is coming up.  I have been reflecting a lot lately upon this long, intense year. It has been gut wrenching and devastating and quite honestly the worst year of my entire life.  The moment we realized that my perfectly healthy, full term baby boy died inside of me, my life took an abrupt and unexpected detour which frankly, I would give anything to reverse.

Somehow though it has also been a remarkable journey so far.  I could have anticipated some of what we have had to overcome.  But some obstacles have been a complete surprise. I have had to accept that there is an exceptional amount of misunderstanding and assumption surrounding this world of loss which has been quite alarming.

I found myself having to frequently defend what Grief Is and Is Not to many people.  I didn’t expect that.  I have in fact, fought for and defended grief so often, that I actually googled law school a few weeks ago. It seemed I was making arguments in defense of grief so much, I began to think, hell, I should make money doing stuff like this!

I had no idea that I would be mourning my son and educating others about grief all at the same time. I suppose I assumed that people close to us would perhaps take it upon themselves to find out how to best support us on this awful road.  After all, resources abound.  There are books, and support groups and workshops and internet sites and Facebook groups.  Sadly, I am pretty sure not much of that information was accessed.

The idea that grief equates insanity was one of the most frequent and dismaying defenses I had to make.

Here was my first experience doing so.

I had been venting to a family member about my experience with a medical office receptionist.  I had called a urology office about their referral process.  I told the receptionist that I was interested getting some information about a vasectomy reversal and was it possible to come in to speak to the urologist about the procedure?  I told her that I had a couple of questions regarding wait times, success rate, potential for complications etc.

She asked “When was your husband’s vasectomy?”

“Only three months ago,” I responded.

She paused. “Ok………..  Well, it is obviously unusual to want a reversal so quickly after just having had the procedure done.”

“I know,” I said.  “Our situation is quite tragic.  My husband had a vasectomy just prior to our son being still born.  I had last minute reservations before he went in for the procedure.  As soon as I had the capacity to let what had happened sink in, I regretted that we did it.  I want to get some information about getting the vasectomy reversed.

Silence.

“Well,” she said, a bit too abruptly, “have you spoken to your doctor about this?”

I bristled.  “Of course I have, but he believes it is too soon to even inquire about the procedure.  I disagree.  I feel there is no harm in getting some information.  Can you help me?”  I defended.

“Frankly dear,” she replied, “I think you should take your doctor’s advice.  It is simply too soon to be making decisions like this.”

I was astounded.  I was gob-smacked. I was enraged.

“I’m sorry, I said. “What did you just say to me?  And who are you exactly? Are you the urologist?”

“No!'” she said, surprised.  “I am the receptionist.”

“Right”, I said tersely.  “And it is your job to give me information.  Not your opinion.”

I hung up.  I was totally furious!  How could a woman who didn’t even know my name, pretend to know what might possibly be best for me or my family?  How unprofessional! Who has that kind of nerve? Or arrogance?  Or such lack of basic kindness?

I phoned a member of my family to commiserate.  I related the details, with emphasis and appropriate pauses.  “Can you believe it?” I said at the end of my story.  “Can you imagine the audacity of this stupid woman?”  I expected immediate sympathy.  That was the reason I called in the first place.  I expected shared outrage and disdain.

This person didn’t skip a beat.  She jumped to the receptionist’s defense immediately.

“She was just probably concerned you know.  Given the circumstances.”

The devil’s advocate?  Seriously?  I couldn’t believe it.

I played along, just to be polite-ish, for a minute or so.  “Sure, maybe,” I conceded, “but she didn’t sound concerned.  In fact, come to think of it, she didn’t even say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’  Pretty basic stuff I’d have thought.  At the end of the day, it was just simply unprofessional of her to offer any sort of opinion at all.  Her job is to give information.  That’s it.”

“Well you know though,” Devil’s Advocate continued, “she is in the healthcare field.  She must just be concerned about you.  You know, she probably was trying to determine whether or not you were of sound mind.”

??????

Of sound mind??

I almost hit the floor. I should have just abandoned the conversation.  But I just couldn’t help myself.  I had to clarify.

“What did you just say?  Did you just say of sound mind?” I gasped.  “Are you suggesting that because I lost my baby, that I also lost my mind?”

A bit of weak back pedalling ensued, but quickly I realized that yes, she did not see a huge separation between grief and insanity.  I learned quite a bit from that unfortunate exchange, not the least of which was how ill-informed most people are about what grieving really is about.  And moreover, what it is NOT.

Here is my version of the Coles Notes on the subject:

Mourning is messy.  It is unpredictable.  It is confusing, and although it changes, it doesn’t ever completely end.  There are many styles of grieving, and all are not wrong.  Every person’s experience and process is very different.  I understand to the observer of the grieving process, it must look crazy. I can say from experience, it sure feels crazy at times.  But it most certainly is not actually crazy.

In fact, grief is not listed as a diagnosis in the DSM V, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Conditions.  Here is one of the commonly accepted definitions of grief:

 ‘Grief is a normal response to a loss.’

(The National Cancer Institute. Loss, Grief, and Bereavement (PDQ) 2005. Health Professional Version) 

Grief is NORMAL.  As in NOT crazy.

So there you have it.  Grief does not equate insanity.

The Defense rests.