Archive for December, 2008

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Auld Acquaintance

December 31, 2008

Does Robert Burns haunt you?

I used to listen to the strains of “Auld Lang Syne,” and wonder why it touched me so much, this old chestnut of a song usually heard belted out by drunken revelers at the end of one year, the beginning of another. It’s so clearly a song about loss and remembrance – lost friends, lost times, lost places, lost love. But the unspoken answer to the question the song asks again and again seemed so clearly and easily to be “no.” “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” Well, no. Duh.

But what of the forgetfulness that you don’t want, that you don’t seek? The added loss of forgetfulness that further negates the lost love, the lost family member or friend, the lost childhood memories? Memory is so important, and, for the most part, so hard to control. The pictures blur, the recall of what happened in exact chronological order can fade and soften. The exact words spoken may be lost to us even if the sense of their meaning is not.

I used to worry that I might forget Teddy, that his memory might flee from me as I walk in the snow, as I decorate the Christmas tree, as I watch the birds at the bird feeder, as I go about the mundane comings and goings of my life, and this terrified me. I know that I am still letting go, that I haven’t come to a place where I can fully accept his death. I don’t know what that place looks like, but I think one of the reasons I can’t picture it is that I don’t want to lose any more of him. Not one memory, story or image, not one pain or tear or scrap of longing. But it’s becoming very clear to me lately that I can’t forget him, won’t ever forget him, that he will be a part of every meaningful moment in my life. Just now this knowledge is a huge relief. I don’t have to panic if I forget to light his candle some Friday evening, or if I don’t look at his photographs for a few days in a row. His memory and his loss are still with me, will always be with me, are grafted onto my being like the branches of some strange fruit tree. I don’t exist without them.

The answer to the question so plaintively asked by Robert Burns is, in my case, a resounding, sad, and relieved, “No.”

Teddy, my tough, darling, beautiful, beloved lost boy – even though “seas between us braid hae roar’d,” I do not, will not forget. Don’t you forget either.

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Parting shots from 2008

December 30, 2008

2008 hates me, but not only me. I have so many dear friends who have been hurt this year, so many friends of friends who are going through terrible times, that I’m becoming very superstitious about it.

With that in mind, I said a very foolish thing on Christmas Eve, something about just a few more days to get through until 2009. There was an inner flinch when I said it, as though I knew I was tempting fate or testing my (apparently very bad) luck.

We have a leak in our floor. Not near any of the walls, not near any pipes, though I’m hoping it’s a pipe thing anyway. It’s soaked through spots in the carpet into many a towel, and we’ve put a fan on it. Today it’s better, but today it’s colder outside, it’s stopped raining, and there’s less melting snow on the ground. I’m thinking cracks in the foundation and I’m thinking, mold, and I’m thinking, oh please, don’t make us move now. We’re too tired.

I am not thinking anything like, it could be worse, because there’s not enough wood around here to knock on after saying a thing like that.  Instead, I’m thinking, Please oh please oh please let this be the last of the bad news for a while, the last parting shot of a roller-coaster year.

How much worse can the wreck get after the coaster cars have flown off the tracks and are lying smashed next to the rails? I don’t want to know.

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White flag

December 24, 2008

Today, Christmas Eve, is usually my favorite day of the year.  I have a treasure trove of sweet memories – family gatherings, of candlelit church services, holiday lights, stockings, carols, the smells of evergreen and spices, walks in the snow.  I usually put a lot of time and effort into making this day as warm and festive as possible.  But as the last few days have gone by and I’ve watched myself get sadder, crankier, and less fun to be around, I’ve been nearly frantic about making it through the remaining dregs of this year.  I am not myself, something that seems to surprise no one but me.

Yesterday I gave up, and it’s probably the best thing I could have done for myself.  I gave up trying to spread holiday cheer, trying to be good at my job, trying to pretend that this Christmas is all about joy and light.  I admitted that what I really want this holiday season is to be at home, warm and happy, playing and snuggling with Teddy.  And I admitted that I’ve yet to find peace in not having that, and that this is a large part of the reason I’m so horrible lately.  I held myself together through most of work, though tears kept leaking through, and then I went home and cried in N’s arms.

Then the downstairs ceiling started to leak – it’s stopped now and we still don’t know what caused it – and it seemed like everything was falling apart so I cried some more.

We picked up some Thai food and watched an episode of Monk, which is brilliant in many ways – all about being broken by loss and grief, and about surviving in spite of (and partly because of) being broken, and it’s funny enough to make us both laugh.

Right now, I have to accept my own brokenness.  I have to accept that my main focus right now can’t be to make other people feel good.  If I manage to do that, great.  But for the next few days I’m waving my white flag and just concentrating on getting through the hours.  If it takes steamy romance novels, too much gin, too much ice cream or chocolate, more crying, or another season of West Wing, I’m open to all of that.  And if I’m not my usual Christmas-elf self tonight, I’m going to accept that, too. And I’m not going to hate myself for any of this. I’ve been merry for many a year.  This year, I just need to survive.

What I am going to do: stock the liquor cabinet (I’m thinking hot buttered rum), cook something nice and simple for dinner, pick up a couple of cheap plastic sleds with N so that we can take advantage of the snow and of my day off tomorrow, fill the bird feeders, let myself feel whatever happiness or sadness comes my way, light lots of candles, and remember our boy.

I would wish you happy holidays, except that, if you’re reading this blog, happy holidays may be out of reach.  I will wish then, that some happiness, peace, hope and sweetness finds you as the year winds to a close, that there’s some light in all of this darkness for you, and some comfort amidst this cold.

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Grr. Argh.

December 22, 2008

There’s a quote most often attributed to Shakespeare, but it seems to have been a common phrase of his time and shows up in other plays – Dekker and Middleton, Heywood, and Behn all used it.  There are days where I feel so swept up in self pity that I want to use it, too:

Oh me, unhappy!

I’m working through most of the holiday weeks, though I’m re-thinking this as it seems to be about the time where I need to take a break or take my bad moods out on those around me.  I’d really love to save up every leave day that I can, but it’s not worth spreading the misery, really.

I caught a minute of some TV station’s “Miracles of 2008” that was about a little girl with CDH.  I wish someone would talk about the miracle-ness of those who didn’t survive, too.  Or that people were less complacent about the whole concept of miracles.  I don’t want anyone else to feel this way, to miss their baby this way, but I admit that, for a moment, I wanted their miracle taken away.  If I can’t have mine, why do they get theirs?  Who is this hateful person residing in my mind and heart these days?  Why can’t I make her go away?

Oh me, unhappy!

It would be nice to see that Teddy’s loss had resulted in the ability to “not sweat the small stuff.”  Shouldn’t a great loss result in a stronger sense of perspective, in more solid priorities?  But it seems, so often lately, as though all that small stuff just hurts more than it should, more than it used to.  By the end of last week, I was fuming and unpleasant, and I’ve entered into this week feeling much the same.

And I’ve dragged Teddy into this: “If Teddy hadn’t died, I’d be taking these days off.  I’d be happy and home and wouldn’t have to deal with any of this.”  Which probably isn’t even true.  I’m perfectly capable of being irritated at home, too (just ask N).  And in spite of my inexperience, I really don’t have many illusions of idyllic motherhood.  But the truth of it doesn’t matter so much.  I want my lost life.  I want my lost son.  I want my stretch marks to mean something happy and alive.  I want my lost, better version of myself.  Some days, Grief Girl dons her cape and won’t go back into her box no matter what I do, and I hate her.  I hate me.

Oh me, unhappy.

I’ll be better tomorrow, maybe.

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Holiday lights

December 21, 2008

We put up ourChristmas tree last Sunday, and actually had fun doing it, though this activity, like so much else this year, was haunted. After it was decorated, and lit up, I lit Teddy’s candle, so that I could think intentionally of him while enjoying the tree and some holiday music, so that he could be a part of that somehow. It felt achingly sad, and festive, and painful and comforting all at once.

It occurred to me that I may never feel pure happiness again, that all of my happiness will be mixed with wanting to share it with my boy who isn’t here. Then it occurred to me that this is probably okay, that this is one of the ways my loss is incorporated into my life now. Anyway, isn’t purity is overrated for the most part?

This year putting up holiday lights feels like a small act of defiance. I see the cold, the sadness, and the suffering and I know that the dark days we are going through in my little household don’t even compare to what’s possible, to what some people go through every day. It can always get worse. I see your cruel face, Universe, and I feel my own cold ache of empty arms, the longing for my beautiful boy who should be here. I haven’t experienced the worst that You can do, but I can imagine it, and it’s more frightening than I know what to do with. I admit to the fear and the loss and the pain, and I know I can be blasted where I stand at any moment, but I’m going to hope a tiny bit anyway.

So, here. Here are my holiday lights, multi-colored, small but sparkly, bright in the winter’s dark. Take that.

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Grief Girl goes to a party

December 15, 2008

There were two parties, in fact.  One for N’s department, a nicely catered event with a riotous White Elephant exchange that we really enjoyed and a nice selection of alcohol that apparently overwhelmed one of the grad students who ended up making several speeches that evening.  We came home without the farting phone (whew!) and with a lovely paper airplane kit.  Everyone in N’s department knows our story, and they were very kind to us without pitying us, at least in any obvious way.

The second party, which took place Saturday, was thrown by one of my friends from work, and is usually attended mainly by people from the University Libraries, though it isn’t really a work party.  This is the party we attended last year when I felt a sudden and overwhelming desire to be a mommy, the party that took place, I’m convinced, on the day Teddy was conceived.  This year is was a quieter affair, but still fun.  A couple of the partygoers were faculty in the College of Communication here.   One of them I knew fairly well, and the other I’d never met.  Since I work with them, it was nice to see them in person and to be able to hang out instead of explain why we could or couldn’t, say, subscribe to the new journals they wanted.

However, the question of why I’d been gone during the beginning of the year came up, and I explained very briefly that we’d lost our baby.  They talked with me a little about it, which was lovely of them, but after I’d explained (probably not very well) about the congenital defect that was so detrimental to Teddy’s lung development, one of them said that when she was pregnant, last year, someone had told her that if something happens to the baby inside the womb, it’s almost a blessing as the baby wouldn’t be strong enough for the outside world, and that she found that comforting.  Now, I realize that people who have miscarriages are told this kind of thing, though I can’t personally imagine that it would be especially comforting then either.  As these words were coming out of her mouth, the face of the other woman, the one I know a bit better, grew slowly horrified and a bit embarrassed, and she said something to the effect of, “I don’t know that you should say that.”

There was absolutely no ill intent and while it didn’t precisely roll off me like water off a duck’s back, I wasn’t traumatized, and I really appreciated the sensitivity of her friend, who then talked to me a while of non-baby things while I regained my bearings.  I also very much appreciate that the person who spoke those words caught me on my way out of the party, apologized, and gave me a hug.  But, since this seems to be the place where I think these things through, here is what I wish I’d said:

Well, I’m glad those words were comforting to you when you were pregnant, but you’re a mother, so maybe you’ll remember a moment like the one I had, once Teddy was born, when I fell incredibly and absolutely in love with him.  I wanted to hold that baby, kiss that little face, touch that little nose, and memorize every wisp of hair, every line and roll of baby fat, the exact angles of eyes and eyebrows, the exact shape and beauty of tiny finger- and toe-nails.  So imagine a moment like that, when you are besotted and exhausted and your baby holds onto your finger that first time.  Then imagine that s/he is hooked up to ventilators, all kinds of tubes, and watched over by a team of worried doctors and nurses.  Imagine that s/he loses ground as the night passes, and that in the morning you are told you need to say goodbye to that child who now seems to be the sun around which you orbit.  In that situation, would the words you spoke still comfort you?  They might, we’re all different.  But for me, they just don’t seem to apply.

After a little less than two hours, Grief Girl escaped with Sad Dad, out into the winter air, which was strangely refreshing, and back to the safety of  home.

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I’m that woman

December 13, 2008

On the reference desk today with one of our newer library employees (she started at the beginning of the Fall semester), I was talking to her about her computer.

“I don’t have the permissions to open attachments,” she said.

“Oh, I think that’s something I might be able to fix,” I answered. “Let me see what I can do.”

“I don’t know,” she replied, “I think the reason it’s not working is that the woman who usually sets the accounts up is the one whose child didn’t survive.”

I paused.

“That would be me,” I said, not knowing a better way to break the news to her. “That’s why I wasn’t at work until October.”

And I watched as my co-worker realized that I am Grief Girl. “That’s you? ” she asked. “I thought that you would have been out for at least a year after something like that.”

I smiled (I think) and explained that I had to come back to work after my medical leave ran out, and we went back to work.

How much would I give to have never been in a position to have conversations like this? Well, I’ll just say that it’s probably a good thing that bargains with the devil seem to mostly exist in folktales and politics. Though a bit of my soul belongs to Teddy, so it’s not entirely mine to bargain with.