Archive for the ‘not-so-early grief’ Category

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My inner bitch is a She-Hulk

February 17, 2016

A dear family member had a baby on Valentine’s day. All went mostly well, but the baby had to spend some time in the NICU. They are hopeful she can come home today, which is very good news.

So, this morning, on Fac.ebook (of course on Fac.ebook; it’s the epicenter of the online emotional ambush), I found some adorable photos of my new cousin, along with the information that she’s a fighter.

Do you know what’s coming?

It’s an odd trigger, and not one I would have predicted, but I am clearly triggered. My inner bitch won’t shut up. I clicked on “like” and promised myself not to type anything.

If I had typed something it probably would have been one of the following options:

So glad your baby is a fighter and not one of the inferior, non-fighter kind of babies that give up and die.

I guess my baby lacked your baby’s fighting spirit. That, and developed lungs.

Babies don’t live or die based on personality traits, but I’m glad yours is a fighter. I hope she fights you into the ground when she’s a teenager.

Fuck you.

I’d like to think that maybe grief has brought the compassionate parts of my nature to the foreground, but that’s not really a silver lining I can claim. Grief seems to just be the gamma rays that have added bulk and fury to my inner bitch. I wonder if I used to be a nicer person, or if I was always this critical and furious but was just to cowed to let it out. I wonder if I should want, more than I do, to be nice again. It’s been over seven years, and I’m still a bitch. On the inside, where no one can see it, but where its most important.

I wonder what nice means.

Maybe I don’t want to be nice. I spent a lot of time trying to be nice and it’s rather comforting to just let myself be furious and mean for a while.

I know the new mom didn’t mean anything awful when she typed those words, that she’s just infatuated with her beautiful baby girl and is pleased with her progress, and that she’s had a very real scare. It would be kind of crazy to expect her to be thinking of me or of any parent of a baby who has died in this moment. I know this. But I kind of want to say all of those snarky, awful things to her anyway. It’s partly rage and partly jealousy, and partly frustration, and I’ll try to recognize it for what it is and move on. I’m not that close to this part of the family anyway, but I like them and wish them well.

I won’t even say this, not to her, but I need to write it out, here, where I’m relatively anonymous:

All babies are fighters. Some have harder fights than others. I’m glad yours is okay. I wish mine were here.

 

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Seven

August 21, 2015

You would have turned seven this past Saturday, Teddy. I’ve been thinking a lot about what seven would have looked like. You would have been getting ready to walk Dot to kindergarten, all big brother protectiveness and silliness and exasperation. You would have been getting ready for second grade.

I don’t know if that’s how it would have been, of course. I don’t know if you would have been wild and energetic, or gentle, or both. I don’t know what your smile would have looked like, what your sense of humor would have been, what color your hair would be at this point, or whether or what your favorite books would be. I’ll never get to know, but I keep dreaming and imagining and almost, almost seeing you out of the corner of my eye.

August has been rough this year. It’s always rough, but your father had a big work project due and spent most of the weekend in the office. I ate a lot of gelato and your little sis watched too much television because I had to hide in the bedroom and cry at various intervals throughout the day. We’re doing okay, but I keep waiting for it not to hurt so much and it always does, and it’s kind of relief when it hurts, you know.

I wish I could know you at seven. I love you even though you’re not here.

Happy birthday.

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Melting down

August 10, 2015

Tomorrow, it is supposed to be 100 degrees where I live (Fahrenheit, not Celsius, that is). But I am already melting.

Today I woke up early and got ready to walk in to work. I love my walking mornings. I love working up a sweat and changing clothes and putting on makeup after I get in. I love starting the workday early so it feels like I can get everything on my list done. I love the slightly twisted and admittedly self-righteous thrill of being the first one in the office, the one who opens the doors and turns on the lights. I was ready for a morning like that.

But Dot woke up before I left. And she didn’t want me to leave. Suddenly, even though we’d talked yesterday about her daddy bringing her to school this morning and event though she’d been looking forward to that, she wanted me to bring her to school. And N. wanted to sleep some more.

All right, I said. I’ll take you in.

Then, of course, she didn’t want to get dressed. And then she didn’t want to go to school at all, and then when we were finally happily in the car she started crying about how she didn’t want to grow up (a sentiment with which I totally sympathize) and in an effort to be silly and help cheer her up I started listing off things she could do when she was grown up that she couldn’t do now – eat whatever she wanted for dinner, make art projects with knives and scissors, stay up as late as she wanted, dye her hair purple…

Well, it turns out, my five-year-old has a friend who dyed her hair pink. When she was four. And now Dot is telling me she wants to dye her hair, too, and I’m telling her she can’t until she’s an adult, and she is calling me “Mean Mommy,” and I say the true and terrible thing I should not say: “I wish I hadn’t waited to take you to school.” Now we’re both crying and she tells me that I’ve broken her heart into pieces, and I can’t call the words back, though I want to. I feel like the worst parent ever, like I don’t deserve parenthood at all, and I’m also terrified, like it could be taken away at any moment because I’m so bad at it.

I apologize, and we head into school, and all of a sudden she’s the happiest child on the planet, hugging her friends, chirping “hi!” at her teacher. And the teacher looks at her and says, “Do you have your swimsuit on, Dot?” and I realize in the silence that follows that I’ve misread the calendar and that they’re going swimming today instead of tomorrow, and that I’ve left her suit and towel at home. I run home to get it. N is still sleeping and I contemplate hating him for a moment, but I know all the reasons he’s so tired, and if I could I’d be curled up right with him, so I blow him a kiss and sneak out, run the swim gear to Dot’s school, run to park, run to my office, breathe.

It’s funny and I’m still laughing about it, but it hurts, too. It hurts.

And now people who should have been helping me with the scary web migration project that I ended up doing on my own, like that martyr of self-martyrdom, the Little Red Hen, are asking for changes to the final site that I can’t make, or for changes that they could bloody well make themselves if they’d been paying attention because I gave them administrative access when I thought they were interesting in actually helping with the project. This is not unusual, and usually I smile, laugh, fix things, and coax people along into learning new things, but today it’s all I can do to make fixes and type brief, neutral replies. I want more than anything to curl up and hide from everyone for a while, to just hide and not pretend to be loving or good or competent or to have my shit together because right now my shit is not together.

I keep crying.

I keep missing him.

Memories everywhere, and I love them because they’re all I have of him to love, memories and the world’s most ridiculously tiny urn in my dresser drawer, but they leave me so damned raw, nerve endings exposed, eyes red and giving me away.

Dot’s daycare is closed for the latter half of this week; Teddy’s birthday and death day span the weekend. I am facing five days at home with Dot, five days to bite my tongue and pray that I don’t let me rawness show too much as I try to entertain and play and be a good mommy. A good enough mommy, at least.

I hate you, August.

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The days went by

August 19, 2014

Little one, the days went by. Your days, the days when the entirety of what and who I am is wrung out and I remember so clearly the weight of your body, the stars on the blue blanket the hospital wrapped you in, your pale eyelashes and beautiful, stubborn little face.

The days went by, and I didn’t write here – there was no time and I was trying to put on a happy face for your sister who doesn’t know about you yet, and I had a cold, and we’d just returned from a grueling trip to Chicago, and there was no calm or quiet time. No time to put words, again, to the heartbreak.

But as the days went by I felt each and every break and crack in my patched heart. I felt them throb and stretch as they cried out in grief and told me of each emptiness that should be filled by you. I didn’t write, but I cried behind sunglasses as I chased Dot on her bicycle. I cried as I cooked dinner, and as I frantically washed all of our bedding and vacuumed the bedroom in a fit of paranoia about travel and bedbugs that turned out to be rather silly. I was even grateful, fleetingly and foolishly, that you’ll never be bothered by such things. I looked for you in every flower, gust of wind, and bumblebee. I  spoke your name into the wind and asked her to bring you word of me, but if she did, I didn’t understand the message.

The days went by, and I noticed that for the first year on these days since your death, no one called us. No one called to say they remember you, or that they miss you. It’s not surprising – harvest was on, and half of our family was recovering from that rather taxing Chicago wedding (no one mentioned you there, either, except me), and it has been six years after all. Except, well, fuck that. Six years is not a long time, is it? Is it? It doesn’t feel like a long time, especially in August. It feels like I could reach my hand out and touch those days, touch the mother I used to be and the father who watched you with love and devastation in his eyes and the small miracle of you, our firstborn, so nearly perfect and so fatally imperfect.

The days went by and I felt so terribly lonely this year, missing you and wondering why more people didn’t seem to be missing you, and trying to pretend I was fine (how I hate fucking fine!). I wish I lived in a world where I could talk about grief openly without horrifying people. I don’t want to shock or scare, just to acknowledge. You were here and loved and now you are gone and loved, and missed. I wish I could openly miss you without worrying about what people think.

The days went by and I thought about who you might have been at six. I’ll never know, but I imagine you would have welcomed Dot’s current fascination with bathroom humor and would have encouraged her to new heights of fart jokes and silliness. I imagine that you’d be helping her figure out this bike riding thing, that you’d have little patience for my constant reminders to wash your hands. I wonder if I’d be reading you Harry Potter about now. I’d give my life, paradoxical as it seems, to be able to read Harry Potter to you, Teddy.

The days have gone by, and here I am, again, wondering where all this love I have for you goes. I hope it reaches you somehow, somewhere, even though I don’t get to shape it into actions like reading or hugging, even though your ears no longer exist to hear me telling you I love you, and play nicely with your sister, and eat at least three bites of veggies, or no dessert, young man.

I say the words anyway, the same old words: I love you. I miss you. I wish you could have stayed.

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Nightmare

July 10, 2014

Back in graduate school, long before I met N or even thought about parenthood beyond the abstract, I had what I think was a panic attack. That’s the practical, likely name for it. I woke up in bed, certain that someone was sitting on my chest and holding my arms down. I couldn’t breathe or speak or scream, and I intensely wanted to do all of those things. A Chinese-American friend told me later that she thought it was a hungry ghost, and I spent a lot of time thinking of old nightmare stories where the mare doesn’t refer to horse but to a goblin or hag or unspecified supernatural being (usually female) that sits on top of a person and feeds off of their terror.

But I was living in a dark apartment in graduate student housing in a new (to me) city, and was teaching for the first time under the supervision of a mentor who never answered any of my questions or took any interest in my teaching except as a way to get out of teaching himself. So “panic attack” seems to be a good diagnosis. Reasonable, recognized, scientific. I am a logical person, with a fairly skeptical mind, and panic is easier to talk about than supernatural attack. But I’ve never been able to wean myself away from superstition and the belief in things unseen (or I’d be happily atheist right now). I’ll never know if voicing my anxieties kept the nightmare from coming back, or if it was the rowan berries and twigs I tucked into the corners of my windows and over my door.

I used to dream about saving the world. I was Girl Robin Hood, or the person with superpowers who dived into the sea to turn back the darkness and the monsters, or the leader with a plan. I was fierce and powerful and beautiful in my dreams. That nightmare in graduate school made an impression on me not only because of the substance and terror of it, but because it was such an aberration.

I don’t dream as much now, and my dreams have softened. I haven’t saved the world in a long time, though I once gave the god Thor a really great kiss before he went off to die in Ragnarök, and enjoyed the dream-privilege of Neil Gaiman babysitting Dot in his apartment so that I could have time to do some writing. Good stuff, but I sometimes miss being the hero myself. I think that might be a part of me forever lost with Teddy’s death.

Last night I dreamed that I turned my back on Teddy and he died. He was Dot’s age, in my dream – a little boy with short fair hair and some sort of internal injury. And I pulled him out of a bus – or a plane – or something – and held him before laying him on the ground next to a stranger. And Teddy was hallucinating, calling the stranger “Daddy” and talking about what they were going to do tomorrow. I wanted to keep holding him, to stay, but someone told my that Teddy couldn’t be moved, and that we needed to drive others to safety, and I heard a small gasp, then turned around, and he was dead. And then I woke up and he was (of course) still dead, and I cried in a way I haven’t for a long time and then overslept and had to push to get everyone up and out of the house.

It’s warm summer here – I fling the windows open in the evenings and rush to shut them and keep the cool air inside in the mornings. I’m aware, especially so this morning, that the warmth and smells and sounds are pulling me back to those days of hope and desperation before Teddy’s birth and to the dumb, raw grief that followed. Still. Still, I feel this. And this nightmare of last night – I got to hold him again, see him again – but I’d rather have a good old traditional nightmare sitting on my chest or to be hagridden than to dream that I let him go.

I wish I could dream of saving him, just once.

 

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Only

December 30, 2013

“Is she your only?”

“Yes.”

I say yes now. I barely even pause. You’d have to be acquainted with this type of loss to catch that barest flicker of hesitation that comes before my “yes.” I say yes for the other people, really. In my heart the answer is always and forever no, but do I want to be the person who throws child death into a casual conversation with the nice guy who kept my child from diving head-first into the hotel hot tub? Not so much. He’s just being pleasant, and I lie in order to be pleasant back.

I’ve been spending the last few weeks being sad and angry and missing Teddy terribly. I get weepy when I see little boys and I try not to think too much about how much more fun Dot would have at Christmas if there was another kid for her to play with instead of all these adults expecting her to behave like a mini-adult. No one to wake her up early to check out the stockings, no one to giggle with on Christmas Eve as they try to fall asleep.

That’s not quite true, or fair, of course. Her father plays with her and laughs with her and tickles her. Her grandfather turned into a little kid several times during our visit, chasing her around the house, elucidating shrieks the likes of which I’ve never heard before as he jumped and pounced and chased her. I played what felt like endless games of pretend and My Little Pony.

But she’s still the only kid in grown-up land.

It’s so foreign to me. I grew up playing with my little brother, surrounded by siblings. All of my friends had siblings. And I always expected to have two. I never thought that there would be such constraints on time and money and energy, that I’d be on the brink of 40 and still paying of debts from my early twenties, that I’d find mothering my very lively daughter to be so all-consuming. I never thought my first would die.

I still want two, a living two. I stare at my birth control pills every morning before I take one, and I wonder, just a little, what might still be possible.

My brother and his wife waited until Christmas morning to find out the sex of their baby. It was very fun up until the moment I found myself in the kitchen with my mom and she was crying because of the news that they’re having a girl. I know she will love both her granddaughters and that she is happy for my brother and his wife, but I also know, because she has told me, that she wanted “one of each.” A tiny part of me hates her for that, and I am trying to come to terms with it, to terms with being angry with her for wanting a grandson when my son, her grandson, is dead. It’s a perfectly understandable desire for a grandparent, and it is not the most attractive part of my personality or something I want to indulge, that I feel this way.

It is also not the best part of me that is seethingly angry with my mother for saying “well, maybe they’ll try again,” as she dabbed her eyes, when her reaction to my saying, over a year ago, that we weren’t absolutely sure Dot would be our last baby was profoundly negative and boiled down to “Oh, I don’t think you should do that.”

There’s more going on than this, of course. N was commenting on all of the photos Mom has of my sister-in-law, and I think he was feeling a bit like chopped liver, as the expression goes. But in this case, well, my sister-in-law is the daughter my mother always wanted – professionally pretty, thin, petite, put-together, successful, practical. Not pudgy and introverted with a head stuffed full of fairy tales and contempt for blow-dryers. Not someone who runs off to work with no makeup and who cuts her own bangs over the bathroom sink and works herself into a frazzle at a job that pays okay, but not as much as you’d expect with all the advanced degree requirements. Mom loves me, but I’ve never been the daughter she really wanted. Which is usually okay because she really is a good mom and really does love me, but it gets to me sometimes.

Next Christmas, my brother and his wife are planning on visiting Mom and Dad, with their new baby, who will hopefully arrive healthy and alive and change their lives for the better. We will be there, too, and I think it will be wonderful. I still miss my brother (the one who woke me up early on Christmas morning) every year during the holiday season, and I love the idea of getting to see him as a father at last.

But after that, well, I think the Christmas after that will be just for us, at home, with our own tree and traditions, with no long travels or command performances for Dot at church or at gatherings of the larger family. N will pull out his guitar and we’ll sing carols, just our little family, and I’ll light Teddy’s candle and remember him without worrying that no one else is. I am more than ready for that.

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Frozen

December 3, 2013

We took Dot to see her first in-theater movie over the weekend. Overall, it was a good experience, even though N insisted we sit in the middle of our row, which made things really exciting when Dot “whispered” in her most urgent tone, ” I have to go potty!” and even though much popcorn was spilled, and even though every time I tried to tell her to be quiet (she had a lot to say) she would glare and me and say “SHHHH, Mommy!” AND even though we had to carry her out, kicking and screaming, after the movie was over because she didn’t want to stop running around and playing in the theater.

I like the concept of Disney’s Frozen and it did something wonderful in that the love interest wasn’t the main point of the younger princess’s story, but someone who helped her with her quest. This was something Tangled did, too, and I was glad to see it again, and especially glad to see the way the movie played with the “true love’s kiss” trope (no spoilers, but it was pretty cool). Dot loved the princesses and the songs, I loved the trolls, N loved watching Dot stare, rapt, at the screen and feeding her popcorn (when she was sitting still, which was a lot of the time, but not the whole time).

But I’d forgotten how Disney loves to dispatch parents at the beginning of their movies. Yeesh. It wasn’t nearly as brutal as Nemo, but I wasn’t ready for that part of the movie. (Tarzan is the absolute worst for this, in that the human child’s parents and the baby gorilla are both done away with at the beginning. I haven’t watched that one since college, and may never watch it again just because my heart breaks for the mama gorilla and then I get really mad about being so easily emotionally manipulated by a movie.) It’s a pity Dot didn’t have to use the potty at that particular moment, but she hasn’t asked us questions about it at all so far. She’s just starting to ask us questions about what dead means, but it’s clear to me she doesn’t get that it’s permanent. That’s the hardest thing for me, too, so I’m not surprised.

I’ve been thinking about Teddy a lot lately and I’m sure part of it is the holidays, and part of it is that my brother and his wife are expecting, and part of it is probably just me. And, oh, I miss him. I miss his baby self and I miss knowing who he’d be this year at almost five years old. The missing isn’t the hard part, really. At this point in my life, it’s just part of who I am and what I do. The hard part is feeling like I can’t tell anyone about it. N would be worried, and so would Mom. Friends and coworkers would listen and then wonder when I was going to move on. But this is what it looks like, me moving on. I play with Dot and cook Thanksgiving dinner, and am grateful that my daughter is just about toilet trained; I buy Christmas presents online during Cyber Monday and plan out what kinds of cookies I’m baking this year and try not to forget stocking-stuffers and worry that I won’t be able to find a good gift for N, and I miss my son. I miss him when I’m busy and when I’m not, and this morning when I woke up to the first real snow of the season, it was beautiful and magical and I wanted to cry because he wasn’t here to see it. And that doesn’t make me a tragic figure or someone who can’t laugh at a joke or get stuff done, but it’s always there. I want it to be there, I loved him and love him still and love has to manifest somehow, after all. But I do mind not being able to be open about it without people worrying about me.