Planning the pilgrimage

July 19, 2010

How do I go about choosing a hotel for a trip to the city where my son was born and died? I feel like I should put together a special list for any concierge who may have to deal with me, but one of the real down sides to breastfeeding my living child is that I really can’t request a bottle of Scotch and a private balcony with a whirlpool tub. But perhaps warm cocoa, fresh-baked scones on demand, a quiet room, and extra-soft tissues would be possible.

It was looking like maybe we wouldn’t go to Portland, City of Roses, city I love and want to be able to visit again – perhaps someday without such weighty grief.  We’d planned on it but as August drew closer, we weren’t sure we could do it.  To combine a really hard anniversary with a long car ride, visits to places where we walked and waited, hoped and howled with despair with a bit of vacation (one of those places we walked, for instance was the really beautiful Japanese Garden, and another was the Rose Test Garden which makes me long for my own plot of earth to fill with roses).  It’s a big undertaking.

I’m going to plan it out, to map out where we will go and what we will do each day so that we don’t have to sit around in a hotel room, wondering when we should visit the hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, the gardens.  I’m going to plan and overplan, going to have plans B and C and D waiting in case we break down, in case we aren’t able to move with agility through air redolent with memory.  I’m going to do every thing I can to make this trip one of healing.  If we walk through fire, at least it should be fire that cauterizes a few of our wounds.  I know, however, that no matter how I plan, it could all end up to be a crazy please-come-get-us-because-we’re-too-messed-up-to-drive-home disaster.

So many memories to face, and so far to go to face them.  I expect that some are going to hit us over the head and make us wonder why we came, that some memories that throb and ache are going to bloom once we place ourselves where we once were, and who knows what strange flowers they’ll become then?

Pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be easy.

There are good memories, too.  It seems strange to say that, and they hurt, too, but they’re there.  Memories how relieved I was to talk to doctors who weren’t afraid my water would break at any second because I was finally in a city with a good NICU, memories of kind, kind nurses and of friends made at the Ronald McDonald House where we felt like our fears and grief were shared and understood.  Memories of walking around the adorable Nob Hill neighborhood, eating a phenomenally decadent dinner at Papa Haydn (the most beautiful desserts I’ve ever seen), taking a crazy leap of faith and buying a baby sling at the Saturday market.  Memories of seeing the beautiful Children’s Hospital garden with it’s statue of the Tin Man for the first time.

We will visit the places we went with our boy safely inside me, and perhaps the fact that the gardens are still beautiful will soothe us.  Maybe breathing in air scented with thousands of roses will provide some sort of balm for the soul.  I wouldn’t be surprised; roses can be magic.  We will bring things to the Ronald McDonald House that sheltered us, we will see the brick in the hospital garden with Teddy’s name on it, the one that says, “our Huckleberry,” and we may sit for a minute or two in the shade of the plum tree where we held him as he took his last breaths.  We will remember and honor his beautiful small self and his all-too-brief life and it will hurt.

We will walk in the footsteps of the people we once were, the people who were prepared to do anything and go anywhere to give their baby the best chance. The people who laughed and hoped and feared.  The people who clung to each other and choked out the words needed to make terrible and necessary decisions.  The people who sat devastated and speechless in a world where nothing made sense.  The people who, in the face of devastation, put on brave faces for their family.  That was us.  We are so different now, a different family than the one we hoped and worked for that summer.  But I want to honor the people we were, to honor their hopes and fears and bravery and despair.

Wish us luck.

What are your anniversary plans, if you have them?  Do you try to make the days easier and/or more meaningful, or do you just ride them out as best you can?



  1. i wish you luck. i think honouring the people you were – and are now – and both of your children all in the one place is a fine, fine thing.

  2. “We will walk in the footsteps of the people we once were.”

    I totally commend you for your bravery here. I’m not sure I could go back there now, even though I did just a few months back when I had Angus. I feel finsihed with that place now. I wanted to go back to have Angus there, as his story was so linked to hers, but I feel done with it now. Even though the four walls of that hospital was the only place outside me she knew, I’m not sure I could really go back.

    As for anniversaries, we’re just about riding them out and making them as easy as we can. We only finalised some plans for August 18/19th today. Going to a family friend’s holiday house on the beach to escape everything and everyone. I have never been in to cakes, butterfly releases or celebrations. To us it is more of a sombre time and I can’t look at the days in any other way.

    I wish you peace to get through your heavy August dates.

  3. Your plans sound beautiful and perfect. I still can’t really wrap my head around two years, so our plans for the end of August remain vague.

  4. and in doing this pilgrimage, you will honor the people you are now – the strength and bravery that you have.

  5. I also wish you luck.

    I hope that this pilgrimage will bring you peace and also some of the ‘strange flowers’ you describe. I hope that the good memories will come back afresh and that the beauty of the gardens will soothe you as you remember your Teddy.

    My plans for the end of August are non-existent. I have been back to the NICU where G died over the course of the first year but it has since been re-located. So I now have nowhere to take a pilgrimage to.

    Strange, the first year I had it all planned out. This year, I just feel paralysed. J doesn’t even have a party planned yet.

  6. I wish you luck and strength and healing (whatever strange form it may take). It is amazing how powerful place can be in stirring memories and emotions.

    For anniversary 1, I had just come home from the hospital with Kathleen. Brian had an exam, so somebody (my mother-in-law? my dad?) came to be with me. Last year, Brian had an exam again. I felt like I should do something, but I didn’t know what. We went to the cemetery, leaving Kathleen in the car for the few moments we were there because it was bitterly cold. I lit a candle, looked at pictures, and mostly just tried to get through the day. This year, if all goes as planned (and I know it doesn’t always work that way), I’ll be in the hospital with a (hopefully) healthy newborn. I feel the desire for a tradition, but haven’t come up with anything that feels right yet.

  7. We will walk with you, sweet Erica.

    I wish we had more definite plans for Ferdinand’s anniversary, but we don’t.

    I’m thinking of you. ((hugs))

  8. […] no pilgrimage this month, but I still need something to do, a way to mark the 15th and 16th, a ritual, a way to […]

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