Terry Fox Run Teaches Compassion

Recently at school, my older children participated in the Terry Fox Run to raise funds for cancer.  The kids brought money to school, and ran as many laps around the field as they could muster, to honour of Terry’s battle with cancer and support his legacy mission.  They wore stickers on their t-shirts upon which they wrote names of the people they were running for.

This annual event in schools across Canada is an early lesson for elementary school kids about strength, sacrifice and vision.  Terry Fox’s poignant story of courage and tenacity is beautiful and moving.  Since his heroic effort, many other movements of running for a cause have gained popularity.

Thanks to some pretty awesome kids, this simple act of running in remembrance took on a special new meaning for my family a year and a half ago when our fifth son Samuel was stillborn.

Our family was immersed in shock and devastation.  Each of our children were going through their own unique grieving processes.  They were confused.  They were sad.  They returned to school after about a week, tentative and nervous.  We hoped that seeing their friends and returning to their routines would help them heal.  Their teachers were kind and sensitive to their feelings and the entire school community showed incredible love in their outreach to us.

But the kids’ friends?  They were, in a word, amazing.

At lunch, a group of the boys’ friends from grades 1 and 3 took both of my sons aside and told them to come out to the field by the trees.  They had a surprise for them.  For Samuel, they said.  They told the boys that they wanted to have a funeral for Samuel.  They welcomed them into a circle by the evergreens and joined hands.  My oldest boy’s best friend Jonas led the kids in the Lord’s Prayer.  Then they sang a hymn they had learned at hymn sing.  This was their idea alone.  At the time, these kids were just 6 and 8 years old.  They did all of this to honour my boys’ baby brother.

Next they suggested that they collect pine cones just like they had collected coins for the Terry Fox Run, and run laps around the school field to honour Samuel.  And that is just what they did.

They ran to support my kids.  They ran to acknowledge that their friends had lost their brother.  They ran everyday at lunch for one full week.

They ran for Samuel.

Hearing from the boys at supper that evening what their friends did for them at school, was possibly one of the most touching things that happened in those initial terrible, awful weeks after Samuel died.  This beautiful act of kindness and acknowledgement offered spontaneously by six and eight year old children, helped my children heal.  The light returned to their eyes a little bit.  Their friends didn’t offer to fix it or change it or explain it.  They simply stood beside my kids, gave witness to their loss, prayed with them, and honoured their brother.

Could Terry Fox ever have imagined that his legacy could have extended so far beyond cancer awareness?

This year I remember this beautiful moment with such gratitude.  Those children showed levels of compassion and strength and faith which many adults struggle to find.   They supported my boys that day.  But what they will never know, is that they didn’t just support my children.  They supported a whole family.

You kids are amazing.  I will forever thank you all.

 

 

 

 

Let there be Spaces…….

Recently I was sitting on my patio, cappuccino in hand, appreciating my garden.  This is truly my favourite place.   I am amazed at how it has evolved and changed with each passing year.  I have loved deciding which plants would thrive in each one of the flower beds, digging them into the soil and tending them until they fulfilled my vision of our backyard paradise.

Suddenly this summer, a few of those flower beds seemed to have become too full.  There were not enough spaces to really see the beauty of the shrubs and plants within it.  This fall I will begin to divide and move some of those plants.  I will create space.

In the world of art, that area between objects is known as “negative space”.

A terrific art teacher I once had, was the first to introduce this idea to me.  He emphasized the importance of the blank or negative  space in our work as equally important as the lines which create the images which become the art.  It was an interesting idea, but  I was impatient to fill up that paper with as much of my creative genius as possible.  Wasn’t that what art was about after all?”

Isn’t this the way it is in life? Our lives are defined by what we fill them with; the lines we create in the space available.

So with that in mind, we grow up, spending most of our time figuring out what we will fill our lives with.   How and with whom will we spend our time and doing what?   It seems we are designed to do.  We cram our schedules as full as possible as often as possible.  Not everythingwe schedule is necessary, but if there is space, it seems it should be filled.

At some point we all establish a home. Once again we spend our energy and money filling that home with things;  often as many things as possible.  Every empty space seems to beg for a thing to fill it up.  Blank walls are just waiting for something to hang on them.  Rarely if ever would we intentionally leave them bare.

We are all really good at emphasizing these lines on the canvas of our lives.  It is the most comfortable focus for most of us.  Isn’t that what life is about after all?

But without those negative spaces between the lines, it becomes difficult to appreciate the abundant life we have created. The beauty we have so carefully crafted and intentionally tended becomes hard to see without spaces in between.

For me, creativity lives in those spaces.

So does lightness.  And rejuvenation. And calm.

The void in my heart needs this space.  It is where the memories of my baby boy wait.

My patience as a parent comes from having quiet space, and time alone to collect my thoughts so I actually accomplish completing one!  Only when there is room for them do playfulness and humour come out of hiding.  New perspectives then take shape which weren’t obvious before.

I feel most grateful and content when I make the space between the lines as important as the living.

Here in the quiet of the evening, halfway through my glorious west coast vacation, I am reminded of how much I have missed these spaces.  And with that, finally words come back to me once again.

It feels so good to be writing again.

“And let there be spaces…..”

                        – Kahlil Gibran

 

 

Full Circle

In the spring of last year, my friend told me that she was expecting her third child.  Her due date was March 25 2014.  Samuel was born on March 21. Watching Sara on her pregnancy journey was like revisiting my own pregnancy with Samuel week by week.  In the two months preceding Samuel’s birthday and Sara’s due date, I was barely able to see her.  The anticipation of her birth and the site of her belly were triggering my own experience of loss something fierce.  It was almost too much to bear.

Up until Samuel’s year anniversary I had been missing his physical presence so much that the pain of that missing seemed to get in the way of allowing his spirit to lift me and help me to feel joy and embrace life.  It had been painful for me to hear babies crying at the grocery store.  I could not be around pregnant women without feeling uncomfortable.  Listening to other mothers’ conversations about the woes of nursing or the challenges of juggling newborns and toddlers was almost nauseating.

I have hated this experience.  I have always related to woman wearing these similar shoes of motherhood and relished in our similarities.  Simply witnessing conversations surrounding pregnancy, childbirth or rearing of these little beings has always made me feel connected to my own experience of motherhood even more.  Being alienated in those same circumstances was completely traumatic.  I have felt ashamed of myself, yet unable to do anything about it.  There was no shoving it aside.  Allowing space for the discomfort and moving through it was the only way to get it to fade to the background a little.  I wondered how long I would have to endure these triggers.  How long before I would connect instead of withdraw in the same circumstances?

The anniversary of Samuel’s death and birth passed.  I made room for the sadness and relived each moment.  I made space for celebrating his life too and our love for him.  My friend Sara was there every step of the way, and stood by me in my grief, even when I couldn’t share in her imminent joy.  I navigated this milestone well.  I did it!  Somehow now, I feel lighter and more peaceful.  I feel steadier on my feet, and dare I say it, more optimistic.  I am more comfortable with the way it is, and less focused on the way it was supposed to be.  I feel my little guy’s essence in everything I do, and am embracing it as a gift.

As we talked one day, I realized that discussing the birth of Sara’s baby wasn’t as hard as it once was.  I commented on how exciting it would be to give birth to her precious baby girl and how I love the labour and delivery.  (Yes I am weird like that.)  She laughed, and then invited me to witness her baby’s delivery.  She said that she and her husband had discussed it and wanted to share the experience with me.  They thought it could be very healing for me to be there, if I was ready.

I was lost for words in that moment.  The selflessness and generosity of this offer was overwhelming.  But I didn’t know how to answer.  I really didn’t know if I was ready.  How would I know?

Sunday evening, only a few weeks ago, Sara text messaged me that she was in active labour and would let me know when she got into a delivery room.  I felt nervous.  I still wasn’t sure I would be able to be there.  I continued to prepare for Monday morning, and decided to see how I felt when she texted next.  My heart was beating fast and I couldn’t relax.  The moment her husband messaged me that she was 6 cm dilated, I sprang into action.  I knew right then that I was ready to witness her daughter’s birth.

I stumbled out of the door into the most peaceful night.  Snow was falling lightly as I drove to the hospital.  I spoke to Samuel as I travelled and asked him to be there with me and help me to be able to feel the joy of this experience, and to not let my own fear and pain get in the way of being present to my friend.  I stepped into the elevator and arrived on the 5th floor.  I moved through the doors to the labour delivery unit.  Although I paused and remembered entering them that awful day just one year ago, that memory didn’t hold me back.   I could recall going through those same doors, not just the time I had Samuel, but for the delivery of all of my other babies too.  I felt Samuel’s spirit willing me to remember the beauty there.

I found Sara’s room.  She was working hard in labour, lying on her side, grasping her husband’s hand with each contraction.  I stood on the other side of the bed and encouraged her as the pain became more frequent and intense. The wonderful nursing team attended to her, and I watched in amazement at my friend’s strength and endurance.  She was gracious as always, even in that pivotal moment when pain of labour threatens to take sanity and will.   Sara’s husband whispered to her that yes she could do it, and yes it really was too late for an epidural as the baby was going to come any moment. I merely nodded my head in agreement as she looked at me pleadingly.

Moments later, she was 10 cm dilated, and I watched as Sara bore down against the pressure with all her might.  Her wonderful husband was shouting joyfully for her to push and my exhausted friend did just that.  A full head of curly hair began to emerge.  Samuel had the same dark curls.  But not for one moment was this his curly hair, in my mind.  This was the first glimpse of baby Mishl, the beautiful daughter of my beautiful friend.

She entered the world blue, then pink, and her cries made me laugh out with utter happiness.  She had arrived!  She was safe.  I breathed a prayer of thanks.  The nurses placed the baby on Sara’s tummy but exhaustion had overcome her and she struggled against shock in the aftermath of her experience.  “Let Shannon hold her'” she whispered to her husband.  “Let her hold her.”

I was awestruck.  Mine would be the first arms to hold this child.  I picked up this perfect baby, sniffed her wet head and kissed her little face.  I held her against me and whispered in her ear.  “Welcome sweet girl.  Welcome to the world.  You have no idea how much love is waiting for you here.”

She is the first baby I have held to me since I held Samuel in my arms.   There was no sadness in my heart in that moment, just simple joy.

As I left to return home, I tentatively walked past the room where I had delivered Samuel.  It was empty.   I stood in the doorway and looked in.  I saw the window through which the sunrise found me as I delivered him.  I saw the bed I lay in and the chair his Daddy sat in and cried.  But it was just a room.  Samuel was not there.  The memories were not held by those walls.  I turned to leave, and remembered the heaviness of my steps on the floor of the hallway as I left my son there in that room, cold and alone.  Everything in me had yearned to break from the arms which were holding me up and run back to take him with me.

Leaving that night, I put new foot steps down, lighter ones this time.  I walked down that corridor, my heart healed.

Sharing this intimate event had helped me come full circle on my journey through grief.  This was my friends’ most generous gift to me.

Witnessing the birth of their daughter helped me remember the joy of giving birth to all of my children, not only our loss of Samuel.

Holding their baby helped me feel peace instead of pain.

This experience had allowed me to rediscover aspects of motherhood I had disconnected from; the part of me that could embrace the delight of brand new life.

Thank you baby Mishl for helping me find the light again.  You are my beacon through the storm, a torch lighting the way on a dim path.

To you Sara, I am so deeply grateful.

Meaning of the name Mishl – beacon, light, torch

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.

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.

Sleepless

I am writing at 1 am.  Sleep is something I crave and need so much more than I used to, but I get into my bed and sleep slips right past me.  My husband snores and twitches and enjoys this instantaneous journey into sleepland, and I lay there waiting for my turn.  I gave up tonight and now write to try to fill the space with something else.

So many thoughts turn in my mind.  I think about my to-do list, how to best organize my tomorrow’s events, what school forms I have not yet signed, and what I am going to make for supper.  Next I run through the windows of time I have with each of my kids and how we might get to spend them.  Less often these days do I question how and why it was that Samuel died, thankfully, although in these sleepless moments, I confront my missing of him head on.  Sometimes his absence feels more factual and less painful, and then other nights the sadness fill me like a faucet fills an empty glass; in seconds. Then, I silently tell him I miss him and that I feel him with me.

I suppose practice makes perfect.  You begin to get used to missing your child and somehow you get better at negotiating it into your experience of your life with each day that passes.  I reflect on this often during these sleepless times.  I think about how strange it is that just when you think you are getting better at it, the missing of him, then that song comes on the radio, his song, and you are a mess.  This was happening to me twice a day for a while.  Then twice a week.  Now it occurs less frequently, but still often enough that you can’t really trust your emotions entirely.  What is with that?  Not long ago I was out for a run.  Samuel’s song started playing on my ipod and suddenly the tears started and kept coming.   Pretty quickly I was sobbing so hard that I couldn’t see where the hell I was going.  I crouched down beside a tree and let it all out.  There I was on the running path, having a great big ugly cry, right out in the open.  I simply didn’t give a rat’s behind who was there to witness it.

I rehash things like this during these sleepless times.

Tonight I have been thinking about what is next for me.  Work is looming over me like a cloud.  I am finally starting back next week.  The disability insurance people started threatening that my time was up two and a half months after my little one died.  “The average time for a person to return to work is 28 days,” the adjuster told me, ever so compassionately.  Then she said, “I know Mrs So-and-So that know your baby died…….but work is a good thing.” Thank you Janice.  Thanks so very much.

The trouble is, that I just don’t really care about work the way that I used to.  I’m sure that one day I will…….won’t I? I always have.  I like what I do, and have always been motivated and passionate about it.  Will I feel that way again?  I have been fortunate to have had this time off to get back on my feet, and I will go back to my job regardless of how it feels at the moment.  Somehow though, I anticipate that my job won’t fit for me the way it used to.

Before, juggling work and home life in a way that felt somewhat balanced, was a struggle.  I managed, but it was very complicated to orchestrate all of the moving parts. If one thing went wrong, the whole system fell apart.  I was constantly stressed and my mind   was often distracted.  I want life to feel simpler now.  “Complicated” steals energy from what I love, which is being with my family, and really being present to them.  This time we have together seems more vulnerable and precious and fleeting since Samuel died.   I cherish the now, and all I want to do is drink up each and every second.  Of course I have always valued my time at home with my little ones.  I have always loved it.  We have prioritized our lives accordingly, and I have been able to work part time outside the home.  But being with them for their day to day lives, to witness and facilitate the little details that make their day happen is critical for me in a whole new way since the game changer.  I guess death will do that to a person.

Things are different now.  I am different.   I feel less conflicted about balancing work and home life.  It is simple, and I am far less willing to negotiate about it. I want to be there in the morning for school drop off and when the big kids arrive home.  Making 100 different, complicated pick up and drop off arrangements is over.  If I can’t be there 90% of the time to manage getting the kids where they need to be, then something needs re-evaluating.  I want to be here for my little ones’ preschool and kindergarten years when we can zip to the zoo or catch an impromptu matinee, or just do puzzles or play dough all morning.  That stuff rocks my world.  Yes, I want a successful career, but I need to find a different way to pursue it.   What will be my new approach?  Change it in the air.

While I wish I was a-slumber, in peaceful reverie, I guess there is something exciting and reassuring about all of these midnight musings.  Even in the wake of horrible things happening, new and exciting things can evolve.  There is potential for new dreams while mourning the loss of the old dream.

Maybe dreaming while you’re sleepless is just as good as dreaming while you sleep.

 

In Search of Lightness and Belonging

I see Moms at the preschool my little boy attends, standing at the entrance, laughing and chatting, their toddlers jostling around at their feet.  There is an easiness  to their interactions and lightness in their demeanor.

I used to join them.  Now, I do not.

Now, I stand just outside the group, busily checking my phone or studying the notice board.  I avoid the opportunity to engage at all costs, avoiding eye contact, and purposefully excluding myself from conversations.

I used to be at the centre of the group chat, rallying back and forth with the other parents, encouraging and humouring.  Our momentary interactions seemed to spur us on to make it through one more menial challenge, and collectively celebrating the small victories of parenting young children.  It was as if this camaraderie carried us forward to the next part of our daily round.  I loved these shared moments with other mothers.  Our animated discussions were for me, an outward celebration of doing this “Mom thing” in a community of people I respect just because they show up everyday and put their best foot forward.  I felt inherently connected to these women simply because we were all doing the same thing; being Moms.   I am fierecly proud of being a member of this club. But now I just don’t  feel like I completely belong.

Why is it different now?  I am still a Mom.  I am a mother to my four children here, and to my angel Samuel.  Losing my fifth child should not change how I connect to other mothers.  I have been a mother for 9 years, and still am.  So why has losing my baby changed how I identify with this group?  

Somehow it has, and I hate it.  I don’t understand this change.  I suppose I resist connecting with these women because these mothers, whom I now watch from a distance, all seem to have their bubble of innocence still well in tact.  They haven’t touched this part of motherhood; the part where you have to let go of your baby with no say in the matter.  The part where you did everything right, and still things went completely wrong.  I envy the innocence of this perspective, because I used to have it.  God how I miss it!  I miss the optimism.  I miss the “everything generally works out just fine” viewpoint.  I even miss thinking that small problems were bigger that they actually were.  Part of me yearns to find that again, to let myself be tricked into believing that everything is ok, and that it is ok to let go and let the light in.  I crave to be able to chat with other parents about the menial aspects of life and parenting without wanting to shout, “This doesn’t matter!  It doesn’t matter that you are tired because you are up all night with your baby, or that the hardest part of your day is trying to manage a playdate with school pickups and going to Costco!”  Because of course it matters!  The day to day round is what being a mom and a parent is all about.  I just can’t seem to let go so that I can converse with others about the smaller aspects of the everyday.

Will I ever see things without this filter of fragility and powerlessness?  I wonder if I will ever feel it is worth my energy to connect with my community of Moms unless I know them well.  I really want to feel inclined to try.  But  I just can’t summon the courage to engage with others the way I used to.  I guess I want them, those “other mothers,”  to know this thing about me.  The thing that happened to me that explains the cautiousness that veils my eyes and the wariness in my smile.  If I could just announce the news first, maybe it would feel easier to be amongst them.  If I were to stand up initially and say, “Hi, I am so and so, and I lost my baby boy 10  months ago.”  In other words,   “Treat me tenderly. I don’t know how to relate to you without you knowing this about me.  Help me find my way back to belonging.  And yes, please, please ask about him.  Please don’t avoid the topic.  That feels false and even more painful.  I want to share him and my experience just as you want to share your stories about your 10 month old.  Samuel would have been 10 months too.”  

I guess maybe that would feel just a tad awkward in a large group.

This experience I have been through though is not mine alone.  Sadly there are so many who have walked this road.  Perhaps even in this community of mothers I belong to, there is a Mom who knows this same truth about life and loss. Maybe she will recognize this pained look right behind my strained smile.  Maybe she will reach through the invisible barrier, and help me re enter this world I know so well and miss so much.

I hope she sees me.  I hope she recognizes my discomfort, and gently helps me find my way back to belonging.

The “Why Have More Babies” Debate

This was the debate my hubby and I were having last night over a glass of wine.  Perhaps you can guess which side of the debate each of us were on?  I do, he doesn’t.  It is that simple.  And therefore it is so complicated.  It seems we cannot effectively have the conversation about another child without seriously reflecting on what it all means that our son died, what we have taken from this experience so far, and where we go from here.  We were “done” having children at four, and felt very pushed at the idea of five. Given our last pregnancy was a surprise and was a serious miracle at that, it seemed out of our hands and meant to be.  We were thrilled!  Our worlds both changed first because he lived, and then entirely because he died.  These changes have been uniquely profound for me, as the mother in the equation. Not that I believe my husband has not been changed.  He has, but our experience of this event has impacted us differently.

The physical and emotional connection I had with my baby was so immediate and tangible.  Nothing about Samuel was theoretical.  He was real time for me.  Every kick and turn and twitch I felt in my own body and heart all at the same time, and his health and safety was mine alone to ensure.  Or so I thought.  The loss of him did not protect me from all of the post partum experiences a mother of a new baby has.  I just didn’t get to have him to share them with.  My body had no outlet for the hormonal changes I was enduring.  It has been the single most painful thing I have ever gone through in my life.  And because of that, the lessons I am learning from this experience have been life altering.

When I reflect back on the loss of our little one, I can tell you that I had a sneaking suspicion, a funny sense, something that didn’t feel right, throughout my pregnancy.  Only in retrospect does it all fit together and I now recognize that this unsettled feeling foreshadowed that Samuel was not going to be with us in the end.  None of my gut feelings really served to change the outcome or prevent what happened to our baby, because his death wasn’t predictable or preventable.  This is the medically validated truth.  I am at peace with this fact now most of the time. Yet I am told by an experienced obstetrician that 99% of the mothers in his practice who have had still born babies subsequent to other live births, say that they too just didn’t feel right. They had a funny feeling, but they just didn’t know what it was.  Something felt distinctly different. Only later can we know what to attribute that feeling to.  

Because of this experience, I have resolved to reconnect with my gut feeling in a very intimate way.  I am purposely tuning into this intuition every day and giving it more airtime when I am trying to make decisions, big or small.  It is like Samuel is telling me “Mommy, listen to your heart.  Trust your instincts about every single thing.  Know that your mind cannot make sense of all of what you feel in a place that is deeper than your thoughts can reach.  Be in synch with your intuition and faith and follow it where it takes you.  Even if it doesn’t make sense.”  I imagine this is his voice speaking, because this is the most life changing and profound lesson my baby boy gave to me.  This was his gift.

So now my gut feeling is strongly telling me to go forth and make a baby!  The trouble is, my husband has to agree with my gut feeling’s advice.  That’s the tough part.  For him another child doesn’t “make sense.”  My gut feeling doesn’t care.  But as a responsible adult, I know that I must put a gag order on Mr Gut Feeling for a moment, and try to assess the idea of another baby from a pragmatic standpoint.  Husband is worried that I want a baby to replace the one we lost.  This seems a reasonable and even necessary thing to suggest, I am sure.  It must even seem like  a responsible question to ask.  But it makes me want to shout, “If it were only that simple, it would be done already!”  I swear with my right hand on the Bible, I am fully aware that replacing Samuel is not possible.  We are not talking about say, the dead cactus in the living room.  You pop it out of a pot, toss it, and in goes the new cactus.

Nope, this is not the same thing.  

However, losing a baby for whom you have prepared and made space, does leave a void in your life.  That space is his alone and it will always be there.  Protecting that space is your job as your child’s parent.  You say his name, show his picture, honour his memory and talk about him freely.  In doing so, the space continues to exist and remains only his forever.  But losing your baby also opens up the idea that there is room.  Maybe even room you didn’t think you had before, and now you know you do.  You hold the space in your life for a while and try to imagine different things that might fit there.  For me, the space is there for a new baby.  Nothing else fits like that does.  And nothing about that is pragmatic.  That is my loud mouthed gut feeling weighing in. I try to ignore it for a moment, so that I can think logically.  I ask myself, “If Samuel was here today, would we try to have another child?”  The answer is no.  “Did we ever plan for five?”  No.  “Would having another baby facilitate more life balance?”  Unequivocally no.  “Would having five be financially beneficial?”  Duh?  HELL no.  You don’t have kids because they make sense financially, ever.  “Can we afford one more?”  Probably, unless something went totally wrong, but the tally sheet is still in favour of the status quo. So why in the world are we even having this discussion?

Because it is a deep and unrelenting desire.    I feel it past the tips of my toes down to the depth of my soul.   And from there I feel peaceful and things feel right.  It is that simple.  There are practical disadvantages to having another baby in the short term for sure. But I also feel more willing and able to problem solve some inconveniences.  In our case these concerns are not remotely insurmountable.

So that is it.  I want another baby.  He is not convinced.  Now what? It is now just hubby and me and the bottle of wine.  We still aren’t on the same page.  Let’s hope we can both find some way to come together in a way that respects both of our hearts’ desires.

Wish us luck.

 

Making Peace with Anger

“Why is she so………..angry????”  Yup, you guessed it.  The “She” referred to in that question was Yours Truly.  It was posed to my husband after I had a rather memorable meltdown prior to the commencement of a small family reunion being held at our cabin during our summer vacation, only five short months since my sweet Samuel had died and then was born.  Thankfully, I was out of ear shot at the time, as I am fairly certain that my response would not have been very constructive.

I had been quite wound up preparing for the trip and  getting ready to host relatives coming to visit from overseas. The packing up had started at 7 am on the Wednesday and continued non stop until Saturday night at 11pm.  We and our four children, our dog, our minivan with roof box and silver equipment trailer stuffed to the brim, left the following Sunday morning at 4 am.  Yes, you read that right, 4 am.  We traveled as non stop as one can with four kids, our youngest with us now being all of two years old, and arrived at our cabin at 11 pm Sunday night.  “Epic” is the only word I have which effectively describes that effort.  To say that I was exhausted seems obvious.  We were all exhausted but we felt excited too.  We were finally on holidays!

Upon arriving, we started the grand unpack.  The kids needed some time to adjust to the new surroundings, and we began setting up our place to host the other families joining us.  I should preface this story with the admission that I am a bit of a neat freak, and really wanted to make a good impression on the extended family visiting for the first time in 15 years.   So, true to form,  I was cleaning like a maniac.  I can also be honest and say that my patience and tolerance for normal but annoying kid behaviour was waning as the day progressed.  Ok, maybe it had waned.  By mid afternoon I felt like I was living my own version of the movie “Groundhog Day”, doing the same series of mind numbing tasks over and over again.  I had become a dirt fighting Tasmanian devil, whirling around with vacuum in one hand and wet mop in the other, ranting at full volume as I went. But I didn’t really think that my fairly long-winded grown-up Mommy tantrum about the kids tracking dirt through the house, on the brand new couch and across the throw rug all afternoon was that difficult to understand.  When my four-year old reported to me that my two-year old had “done art” with felt marker on the couch upstairs, that was it.  I blew a gasket!

Now it is one thing to blow a gasket.  It is quite another to do so with witnesses, especially when the witnesses are your in-laws.  It is probably fair to say that anyone would have had a hissy fit in the same set of circumstances, except for maybe Mother Theresa herself, and that even others there found the situation quite challenging.  Unfortunately though, my rant went on and on………..and ON.  My husband rather exasperatedly “invited” me to take a walk for as long as I needed, to pull myself together.  Clearly the display was too much for him to mitigate as well.

As I walked along the beach, I reflected on what it was that was driving my intensity and marveled at why my family just didn’t seem to be very sympathetic.  It seemed so obvious to me!  Granted, I was upset and annoyed at the kids for constantly tracking dirt in the house, for their choice of art canvas, and most infuriating of all, their failure to listen to me.  But it was more than that.  I was driven to distraction, because while everyone else seemed happy and relaxed, I just wasn’t.  No amount of cleaning and preparing for company would make things seem quite right.  Because for me, the only thing that could really make me feel relaxed was impossible; my baby being physically there with me.  It was the most frustrating, infuriating experience ever.  That day, the dirt all over the floors and the felt marker on the couch gave me an outlet for that.  But no one else saw it that way.  It would have helped if I could have stepped outside of my overwhelming tirade for a moment, and been able explain that to them.  I am sure they would have understood.  But this is the other part of the grief journey that is really inconvenient.  When you are grieving, communicating about your grief is just really difficult to do.

Most people can list all stages of grief published by Kubler-Ross, and acknowledge that these experiences are both normal and predictable.  It is fascinating though how certain of those emotions are really more “acceptable”  when it comes down to it, and these feelings are released from their cages for all to see.     My experience demonstrates that truth; that sadness is by far the more popular of these two fraternal emotional twins spawned by grief.  I am not sure why,  although there is little doubt that witnessing an angry display can certainly feel like more of an affront.  I am sure my family could attest to that.  Maybe a grieving person seems more accessible if sad than when angry.  Perhaps the vulnerability of a sad individual is compelling.  Possibly people feel as though they can do something about the sad aspect of their experience,  although they can’t.  The sad feeling cannot be removed or changed or altered by anyone.  Oddly, it can coexist with other feelings, side by side, even with happiness.  I found this discovery very strange.  And sometimes sadness can be distracted from for a little while.  This gives the grieving person a momentary break from this emotion which makes taking in a full breath physically painful at times.  But no, nobody can really take the sadness away.  Yet somehow those who surround the aggrieved seem to feel more inclined to try to connect to the sad aspect of the grief experience than the angry one.  Even my husband admitted this. He said, “You know, if you were curled up in a corner, crying, they all would understand and sympathize.  But you aren’t.  You are really, really angry.  And it makes people uncomfortable.”

He was right.  Sadness is the most comfortable emotion.  It is more acceptable,  even to me.  Dealing with this part doesn’t require much thought.  I am sad, so I cry.  When I am desperate, I sob.  (And by sob I mean a big horrid messy ugly cry that even your closest friend couldn’t bear to witness without shock and horror.)  But this doesn’t surprise me.  I have accepted that doing so is the way to deal with my sadness.  When anger jumps into the picture, there is a whole different reaction.  Even those close to the one experiencing profound loss seem to understand that anger has a place in this whole unfortunate experience.  It seems most often however, they are even less equipped to accept this or to know how to deal with it than the person going through it.   Let me tell you, I didn’t want to feel the anger.  Not one bit.  I rejected it as long as I could.  I wanted peace, and acceptance.  I’d have even chosen the desperate pain of sadness before I wanted the anger.  It just seemed so negative.  But guess what?  The anger showed up anyway.  I tried all of the constructive methods I could think of to deal with the anger. I went to spin classes, ran, locked myself in the garage and screamed my brains out.  Then I went to counselling.  It all  helped, but certainly didn’t prevent the feeling from encroaching.  And it still doesn’t.  It didn’t prevent my all out display in front of my family either.  I guess that is because anger is supposed to be there.  It has a purpose in this whole experience too.  And I guess I am coming to realize that maybe anger’s role isn’t so negative after all.

Since losing my baby boy, I have felt innumerable emotions.  I know I am not alone in this experience.  Desperation, heartbreak, frustration and hopelessness carry you on an emotional roller coaster which changes trajectory every other moment.  But which feelings are really responsible for this upheaval?  Sadness and anger are.  The act of grieving seems to involve going through every variation and permutation of these two emotions over and over again.  They are at the root of every twist and turn.  And what I have come to accept, is that they both have a crucial and healing role in grief.   Sadness and I are on good terms.  We always were I guess.  But finally I think I have learned to allow a place for anger as well.  I have discovered that anger provides the energy which helps me to get up and keep fighting to live each day to its fullest, despite the loss I am enduring.  It is the part of the process that seems to help keep me moving forward.  Anger even has helped me to choose to see the good and the beauty, as it refuses to let the sadness take the limelight every moment of my day.  Letting anger out is like releasing the pressure valve that seems to get installed as soon as you lose your precious loved one.   Allowing a place for the anger to exist with my experience of grief has also helped me channel it in a less, shall we say, imposing way on those who surround and support me.  Anger has in the end, helped me find a way back to moments of peace and surrender.  How ironic is that?

By all accounts, the family reunion was a great success and the holiday was tons of fun.  Eventually I was able to let go a little, and relaxed into vacation mode surrounded by wonderful people, our crazy kids and the beautiful island paradise where we are so fortunate to spend time together.  Thankfully the effects of my outburst had limited impact in that regard.   To be honest,  I am not even completely sure how my husband answered the fated question in the end.  I didn’t ask.  I am sure he handled it graciously and with kindness.  He probably said something simple and to the point.

Because the perfect answer to the question “Why is she so……. angry?” is actually very simple.  It is, “She is grieving.  It is just part of it.”