Posts Tagged ‘memories’

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Uff da

July 25, 2012

My dossier is turned in. Finished. Complete. I can make no changes and it is out of my hands.

Uff da, I say. It’s what my mother says when picking up or setting down something heavy. The oh-so-useful Scandinavian-American expression that expresses relief and/or weariness and/or a sense of being overwhelmed and/or a sense of dismay. And it’s appropriate because while there’s a relief that comes with being done, there’s some initial anxiety about letting it out of my control, too.  I am trying my best to stick with the knowledge that I gave it my best shot. And since I don’t hear anything back until March (I know, who dreamed up this nightmarish timeline?) I need to let it go.

I pulled quite a few of my supporting materials from my 3rd year review. My review from when I was a golden child and right on track. The review I wrote while stuck in an overheated office in January of 2008, only just aware that I was pregnant and so sleepy with first-trimester tiredness that I had to get up out of my chair every five minutes to stay awake to write. I remember feeling fiercely protective – I was going to write the best third-year review ever so that when I told people I was pregnant they wouldn’t worry about it affecting my work and I’d be able to provide for my child.

I can’t help but to contrast the then with the now. The now when I don’t write Teddy’s name or story on any of my context statements or in the narrative describing my work, even though he is there, hidden behind the words. Subtext. (And how lonely and sad and strange a thing, to tell one story while your heart writes another.) Comparing then and now, with the help of so much documentation, makes me feel pretty awful about the person I’ve become in some ways. I really do have less energy, less certainty about future projects. My plans have changed – they are smaller in scope. I am less trusting of the future and less willing to claim that I can shape it, which is what people like to hear.

On the other hand…

I am not yet done becoming. I am newly aware of some of my broken places, and some of those places weren’t in great shape before they were broken, you know? I don’t get credit for self-awareness, and perhaps no one should, really. But I think that it will help me become better in the long run. Maybe not better than the person I would have been, but – I am finding surprising strengths within myself all the time – maybe so. I am not going to judge myself that way anymore, in any case. It feels good to make that decision, even though I know it’s one I’ll have to re-make as self-doubts appear.

The other thing about a massive review and presentation of years of work is that it helped me realize how much I’ve done. I’ve done a lot, and a lot of that is really good. Many friends and allies came out of the woodwork to support me while I was putting it together, which I think bodes well, but (and much more importantly) made me feel a lot happier and more at peace with the whole process. They were there for me because I’ve been there for them, and because, in my years here, I’ve made my workplace better. Not everyone can say that. And that will be enough for me, no matter what happens.

It’s good to know that, too.

Anyway, on to August, and to becoming whoever I will be.

Uff da.

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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.

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August

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.

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Garden bits

July 25, 2011

I spent a good part of yesterday in my flower bed, digging and weeding and mulching and starting at the spots of very dry grass while wishing I watered more often. I’m not much of a gardener, but I’ve been slowly working on this flower bed, adding a little to it, trying to focus on flowers that don’t immediately die if I forget to water them when I should because I often forget to water things.

Every flower has a story. The garden (it’s really just a flower bed, but I tend to call it a garden) is Teddy’s even though I’ve never really called it “Teddy’s Garden” out loud. There are no markers there that bear his name or snatches of poetry, no angels or teardrops or forget-me-nots. I’m always on the lookout for something to set there that marks this space as his, but nothing right has presented itself to me so far. Except the plants themselves.

There is a peony that was growing there when we moved in. In the spring, there are tulips with petals that begin all bright yellow and then edge to crimson as they unfurl. I have some wild roses, peeking up wherever they choose, and some rather cheeky daisies doing the same. There are some onions, too, most of which I finally pulled up because, mysterious and quirky charm aside, they just never seemed to belong there. I’ve added, over the last couple years, some anemones and snowdrops, three lavender plants, an evening primrose, a pot of basil and a blessedly still-living clematis.

Most of the flowers’ stories aren’t obvious. Roses, to me, always remind me of Portland and the two weeks I spent there in hopes that Teddy might live. Lavender is for comfort – a mourning color, but a few steps away from straightforward black, and it also reminds me of the lotion my mom rubbed on my feet in that hospital room. Peonies are linked through mythology to healing – named after a very talented medical student, who made the god of healing so jealous that Zeus changed poor Paean into a flower out of mercy. I get dark pleasure from this story because who knew the god of healing was such a petty bastard? Oh, that’s right. I did.

And now, temporarily pretending to be another lavender plant, is my more-obvious rosemary, with a story most of us know thanks to Shakespeare and poor Ophelia. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. There it sits, my tiny rosemary plant, its roots covered by dirt and cedar mulch, it’s small, piney arms stretching up to the sun. I’m hopeful for it. How can the patron plant of remembrance not take root here?

 

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Summer, again

July 18, 2011

All around me, people have been complaining about our late summer, about the rain and the cool weather.

I listened, smiled, nodded. I didn’t completely disagree with them, either. When your child is extremely active and her favorite activity is climbing things, it’s immensely helpful to be able to take her to the park, where she can climb things that aren’t bookshelves, dinner tables, or kitchen counters. But even as I was hoping to get an afternoon romp in with Dot, even as I was smiling and nodding, I was thanking my lucky (well, sometimes lucky) stars for the cool weather.

Now, it’s here. The sunshine, the heat, the smells. I find myself hiding again, shoring up my strength, focusing on making it through. Just making it through.

Summer used to be many things to me. I’ve never liked the heat, but I’ve loved so much of what goes with it. It still carries the scents of years of birthday parties, of running around at the farm with my brother, of camping trips in Glacier Park, of my summer job as a bible camp counselor, of skinny dipping and learning to drink and smoke at the bible camp. Sometimes, a warm day makes me crave a clove cigarette. Sometimes, I hear a five-guitar chorus off in the distance playing “Rocky Mountain High” or catch a hint of the evening air at the farm, full of hay and dust and frog song.

But the warmer it gets, the more I realize that, for now, summer is still mostly about Teddy, about missing him and remembering him, and remembering those hard weeks before his arrival and how they were filled with hope and love and the sort of prayer that you engage in when you don’t really think anything will come of it, but you’re too desperate not to pray.

Summer is hearing that my son has a life-threatening condition while my mother sits with us in the ultrasound room. Summer is listening to my dad and N put a ceiling fan up in the bedroom and knowing that Dad is glad to be doing this because there’s so little else he can do. Summer is driving back and forth from the nearest big city where specialists tell us that things look serious but that we won’t know the outcome until Teddy is born. Summer is non-stress test after non-stress test where Teddy won’t stay on the monitor (my wiggly little man) and so we end up in the damned L&D rooms forever. Summer is the fear in the hospital staffs’ voices when they tell me that I need to call right away if there’s any hint of pre-term labor. Summer is lying on the futon, drinking water and trying to send my mind away by reading and by watching junk television. Summer is those two wonderful, hope-filled weeks in Portland where I bought a baby sling and actually thought I might get to use it, where I sat and drank coffee with other parents at the Ronald McDonald House and felt comforted by the presence of people who knew what it is like to fear for your child. Summer is a too-long induction, a fever, an emergency caesarean, four doctors standing in my hospital room in the morning asking me how I’d like the world to end. Summer is too brief a time holding my baby. Summer is letting him go.

And I wouldn’t give any of this up, not one moment with Teddy, even the hard ones. I’m not sure I’d even give up the strangely vivid remembering that comes with this season of warmth and light.

But between you, me, and the lamp-post, I wish summer were still about the clove cigarettes and the skinny dipping.

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Journey to Portland

March 21, 2011

We set out later than we’d planned, driving under a blanket of clouds toward where the sun was setting. Dot signaled her appreciation of her new (forward facing!) car seat by napping in it, which made me feel comforted somehow. There will be difficult days ahead as we explain that she has a brother, that we love and miss him, days when she has to come to terms with how she feels about all of this, too. But for now, she feels safe and loved and the momentous nature of the trip is not even on her radar.

Portland Bound

Portland Bound

We drove into Portland in the dark, passing by streets we traveled often, once upon a time, when we carried so many hopes and fears here. We were welcomed by kind and efficient hotel staff and watched Dot’s exuberant discovery of a toilet paper roll that she could reach without assistance, and laughed as she ran through the room trailing toilet paper and giggling. We fell into soft, clean beds and woke to rain. We found our donuts, returned to the book lovers’ paradise that is Powell’s, foraged for snacks and lunch at Whole Foods, napped, bathed, and met N’s friend and his wife and watched as Dot charmed them. We brunched, returned to the Japanese Garden, had tea in the quiet, lobby of an old hotel, surrounded by dark wood and cushions. We walked by parks and museums.

And, on our last day, we made our way to the children’s garden where Teddy took his last few breaths.

It is so different in the spring. When last I was there it was mid-August, lush and leafy, and so warm that I remember sweating even in the shade, even in the thin, cotton hospital gown. Now it seemed so much less shaded, so much more open, gray and bright at the same time. Dot was asleep on her daddy’s shoulder as we entered. We walked to the place where we sat with our son as he died and we sat on the same bench, under the same ornamental plum tree, now bursting with pink blossoms. We cried and clung to each other as Dot slept on oblivious. It felt like forever, not long enough and too long at the same time.

And who knows how long we would have sat there, lost in the flood of memories, plum blossom petals drifting down on our heads and shoulders, if we hadn’t been called back to reality by the decidedly earthy and mundane smell of a fresh diaper. Which is some sort of perfect metaphor for life, isn’t it? The divine and the ridiculous, the sacred and the profane? And thank goodness. Because as much as I needed to lose myself in those memories, I needed to be pulled back to the present. This present, where I miss my little huckleberry every day, but where I also watch his sister grow into this amazing, joyful, immediate (and occasionally smelly) little person.

We passed the Tin Man. He looked enigmatic and sad, holding his flower pot and red shoes. I thought about kicking him, but in the end I didn’t. I still wish he had meant what I’d hoped he meant, but maybe I’m starting to accept that there was nothing I could have done that would have saved Teddy. Maybe this is why I felt sorry for the statue who’d betrayed my hopes, my last feeble belief in miracles.

Poor Tin Man, it wasn’t your fault. Nor mine. Nor mine.

Tin Man

Tin Man

Oh, darling boy, I still miss you so. I wish I could hold you again, that love had been enough to help you breathe, that you were in the back seat, too. I will always love you, always miss you. I will always want you back. That’s just part of who I am now.

I’m glad we went. I’m glad we found our way back to this place. I’m glad that Dot was with us when we did. I’m glad I didn’t shatter into a thousand pieces. I think it will be easier to return again, now that we know it won’t kill us. I think we’ll go back soon, and maybe I’ll bring a brush to clean up Teddy’s memorial brick. Or maybe I won’t.

There’s something beautiful about time and moss and tiny leaves.

Teddy's brick

Teddy's brick

 

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Westward

March 14, 2011

It is Spring Break, and if all goes well and we don’t back out, tomorrow we will drive West and spend some days in Portland. We will meet friends and visit the world’s best bookstore, and walk through the Japanese Garden in the spring time. N is excited to visit Voodoo Donuts and I am looking forward to some days of not cooking. Chances are good it will rain.

We will return, finally, to the hospital where Teddy was born and died. We will walk in the children’s garden and I will stand in front of that statue of the Tin Man and I will try to stare him down and fail. I will want to hug and kick that statue at the same time. I will sit on the bench where I sat with my firstborn as he took his last breaths, and I will carry my daughter to the place where his name is on the memorial and I will tell her, you had a brother and he was so, so beautiful.

I will remember who I was, who we were. I will send my love out to my baby boy and to that stunned and stricken couple and hope that love can travel backwards in time, that it can reach us where we were, not to make anything easier, but to offer some glimpse of a future that isn’t all one raw and gaping wound.

Maybe when we come back I will feel stronger, saner, wiser – I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just be less afraid of driving westward and less overwhelmed by the memories that are rooted there.