Archive for August, 2011


August howling

August 17, 2011

If I were a fictional character, my dislike of August could have been used effectively to foreshadow my son’s death. Unfortunately, I live in the real and random world. I can and do create find many patterns and attempt to create meaning when I look backwards, but if pressed I would have to admit that my feelings about this month were never especially prescient. I just didn’t like the heat, the pre-school anxiety, the feeling of saying farewell to summer before receiving the gifts of autumn that seem to begin arriving in September. August was always hot and sad and stuffy and dusty

I hate this week and I love this week and I need this week, but sometimes what I need from it is just to get through.

Just, again, to get through.

I took Monday and Tuesday off work. I had plans. I was going to run gift cards from the local coffee place over to the local hospital’s birth place, to be given out by staff to families who come in for testing during high-risk pregnancies. I was going to buy locally grown sunflowers and put them at the public desks in my library. I was going to look at Teddy’s things, light his candles, fill the days with memory and intent.

But it was all too hard. N needed the car and the nurse I’ve been talking to about the gift cards wasn’t sure about the coffee place since they encourage pregnant moms to cut back on caffeine “But they have herbal teas and decaf, too,” I wanted to wail back at her, if one can wail in an email. But I didn’t. And when it came down to it, I just couldn’t get myself to walk down and purchase the gift cards, couldn’t make myself go to the birthplace and explain what I was doing. I’ll do it next week, and include a short list of the coffee place’s favorite decaf beverages in with the cards to placate the hospital staff. I think that will work, even though I couldn’t think of it until after Teddy’s days had passed.

I’ll do it next week, but the point is, I didn’t do it when I wanted to. I didn’t get the sunflowers, or look through Teddy’s things, or even send off the donation I send in his name every year at this time.

I took Dot to school. I came back home. I hid in bed with a book. I cried. I took a bath. I put carpet tiles down in our small hallway to protect the wood floor. I cried. I hid in bed with a book again, and again, and again. I huddled inside like a coward and tried to send my mind away from this reality where my baby should be three years old but isn’t.

I was angry at myself for this, but this morning I started thinking that, if a friend had done this instead of me, I would have said, “It’s okay, really. You did what you needed to do.” Today, I tell that to myself and try to believe it.


Three years ago today I tried to understand how I had said goodbye to my baby just a day ago. Today, I sit here, still trying to understand. I can’t help but think I haven’t come very far. But least now I know that the understanding is beyond me, even though I can’t stop trying for it.

I think quite often about acceptance, of what it is and of what people mean when they say they’ve found it. What I think just now is that what I have of acceptance isn’t much, but that I do have this: I can accept that I will keep straining to understand my child’s death even though I know I never will. I know myself this much, now, and I can accept this part of who I am.

Three years and a day ago, I said goodbye to my baby. He was beautiful and perfect except for the fact that he couldn’t breathe. I’ll never stop missing the weight of him in my arms, never stop wondering who he would have grown up to be, never stop loving him and hoping that the love finds him somehow, wherever and whatever he is.

I move on with my life. I smile and mostly mean it. I go to work, take walks, chase after my toddler, talk to my husband about our respective days. But, especially during this week, I am more and more convinced that the way I go on with my life is by allowing part of me to not move on. Part of me just sits on the floor in a dark room in my mind, clutching a small blue blanket with stars on it and howling, I want you back.

And, every so often but especially in August, the part of me who has been moving on joins her and we howl together.

I want you back, Teddy. I love you so. I want you back.


At the kitchen table with Glow in the Woods, August 2011

August 4, 2011

These are my responses to the Kitchen Table prompts over at Glow in the Woods. I think one of the things I appreciate so much about these reflections is knowing that my answers are so shaped by where I am, that tomorrow or three weeks from now, I’d think about this differently. Appropriate, then, that these prompts are all about time.

1. How much time has passed since the death of your child(ren)?  Do you mark grief in months, weeks or years? Does it seem to be going fast or slow? 

I’m approaching three years. I mostly mark grief in years now, which is a change, but August is my anniversary month, so right now I am acutely aware of weeks and even days. And, you know, it goes both quickly and slowly. I can still, especially during this time of year, feel like it all happened just yesterday, but there are also days when I feel like time is carrying me farther and farther away from it all. I want to go, and yet I don’t. I want to move forward with my life, but I also want to stay as close to him as possible.

2. Do you have an end goal to your grief?  How much time do you think that will take?  How much time did you think you’d need to get there right after your loss?  How much time do you think you need now? 

There is no end goal. I’d like – someday – to be able to remember without being overwhelmed by sadness the wonderful, funny, beautiful things about being pregnant with him, about holding him, about our too-brief time together, but that isn’t a goal so much as a small, wistful sort of hope. I have no idea how long it would take. There are days when I feel like I’m almost there, but I’ve not yet managed it.

3. Rather than a clear end goal, is there a milestone or marker to indicate that you are feeling grief less acutely, i.e. going to a baby shower, listening to a song that made you cry early in grief, driving past the hospital?  How long did it take to get there?

We visited Portland, the city where Teddy was born, this past March, and it was more fun than difficult. We were intentionally very gentle with ourselves, but we met friends there, walked around the city and its gardens, ate good food, and then visited the hospital and the hospital garden where Teddy has a memorial brick. It helped that we returned there with his little sister. I think, without her, it would have taken longer to be able to make that trip.

4. How do you view the time you had with your child, either alive (within or outside) or already deceased?  Before you all answer “Too short! Not enough!”, did you have time to “bond” or develop a future imagination about what this child would be like?  Perhaps depending on whether yours was cut short, how do you now feel about the nine-month period of gestation — too long or not long enough?  

My one huge and haunting regret is that I should have refused the induction and kept Teddy with me for as long as I could. There were good medical reasons for inducing at 37 weeks, and I don’t blame my doctors or myself for taking that path, but those last couple weeks were very precious ones and I’d give a lot to have added even a couple more days to them. He was very active and kicky, and I talked to him a lot, imagined him responding. I played him music, wrote letters to him. After he was born he was heavily medicated against pain, so there wasn’t much bonding, not like there is with a healthy newborn, anyway. I pray he knew we were there, that we loved him. I like to think he heard me sing to him, that he took comfort in our arms and hands around him, but mostly I just hope he wasn’t in pain.

I wish I’d spent more time with him after he died, when he still looked like himself. I wish I had kissed his belly and knees and toes and elbows and back and bottom, instead of just his face and hands. They brought him to me the day after he died when I asked for him, but he was stiff and cold then, his lips dark with death, and the change between the day before and that moment was such that I almost wished that I hadn’t asked to see him again.

5. One grief book suggested that it took 2-5 years to incorporate your grief into your life.  Where are you on this timeline, and you do you find that to be true?

I’m in the middle. I’m still not functioning on high levels in all parts of my life – work is harder than it’s been, I’m still working on opening doors and being more communicative with friends and family. The timeline sounds about right to me, though I still don’t know what incorporating grief into my life will look like.

6. There’s a familiar saying, “Time Heals all wounds.”  Do you think this is true?  Or do you subscribe to Edna St. Vincent Millay:  “Time does not bring relief, you all have lied”?

Edna was right, in some ways. Time doesn’t bring relief. But I think all the repetition that is a part of grieving has been building up my tolerances, changing my expectations, helping to develop scar tissue. I’m better able to bear it now. I’ve had lots of practice. Is that healing? I don’t know.

7. Has your relationship with the future (immediate and far) changed since the death of your child(ren)?  How about your relationship with the past?

I’m starting to envision possible futures again, but every time I think about what, for instance, Dot might be doing when she is five years old, I immediately add the phrase “I should be so lucky to see it” to that thought. The past is tricky. The parts of it with Teddy in it are so full of hurts and potential hurts, but I can’t not revisit them because he is there, too, and I need to go where he is.

8. How long did it take to answer these questions?

Looking at it one way, about 45 minutes. Looking at it another, three years. Looking at it another, all my life.



August 2, 2011

Oh, my Teddy.

She’s so alive, your sister. So alive and fast and loud and vigorous and thoughtful and funny and here. She grabs every bit of attention in a room for her own, claims us with clutching hands and smiles and, more and more, words.

She spent the weekend running in and out of the wading pool in the yard, saying “Splashing, splashing, splashing” as she splashed away. Today in the car, she said “Hat. Frog,” and then put her hat on her toy frog. I know I’m besotted, but I’m afraid she’s awfully clever, Teddy. I worry sometimes about whether or not we’ll be able to keep up with her clever little brain.

She runs, all the time, and she yells when she runs, which is something of a blessing because it makes it easier to chase her without making wrong turns.

She still wears your Cubs hat. It’s so small that it nearly pops off her head, but your daddy can’t help but to keep putting it on.

It’s August, darling boy. It’s August, and I don’t know how I can be so grateful and so angry all at the same time.

You should be here.

You should be here, damn it.

You should fucking be here fucking, fucking damn it.

Well, I think August will help me progress in my use of profanity.

I cannot let you go, it seems. Do you want me to? I hope not. I hope you stay close, sometimes, even though I cannot feel you around. I like to think of Dot being alone and bored some August afternoon years from now, like to think of her wishing for someone to talk to about the ladybug she found in the flower bed, and then hearing a voice – your voice – saying, “I like ladybugs, too” (though I expect you’d say something much more meaningful and clever, really). And then, out of the ether, out of nowhere, out from behind the wind, you will take her hand and she will take yours, and you’ll spend the summer afternoons together. And maybe I would hear her laughing as I washed dishes or put together dinner and somehow I’d just know your laughter was mixed up in hers. I’d like that.

But that is my daydreaming, my fantasizing mind. It keeps trying to find ways to hold onto you.

It keeps stumbling over the fact of your death. Your death is an awfully big thing for your poor mother’s mind to get around, little huckleberry. My mind isn’t big enough, or strong enough, or clever enough. My mind, like the rest of me, just wants you back.

I am grateful for every screech, shriek, splash, yell, giggle, snore, and word that your sister makes. Fiercely grateful, fearfully grateful. But it’s so strange – isn’t it? – that it comes so easily to her, this being alive business.  It looks so easy and natural, and even while I revel in that, I can’t help but to think of how hard it was for you for even those few hours. I hate that it was so hard for you to be alive.

In August, I feel so far from acceptance. How could it have been so hard for you? How can you be gone? Why can’t you come back? Why can’t I find you and bring you back?

Three years ago we were in Portland, finally close to the hospital we thought would give you the best chance, finally allowing ourselves to focus on hope. Sometimes I wonder if I got stuck there somehow, stuck hoping for you. I’m too stubborn for my own good, and maybe my stubbornness turned into the kind of hubris that can’t recognize death.

Or, maybe, it’s just August again. August, when the memories are so thick it’s hard to see through them.