When I got home on Friday, and folded my boys into my arms, my youngest wrapped his fingers around one of mine — like an infant would. It felt so unbearably familiar and dear. I have loved them both fiercely since that was the only way they could hold on. It’s instinctive. It’s rooted in our deepest connection. It’s all I know.
I don’t think it was just me. In the restaurant that night, I think every parent clung to their child while waiting for a table. My kids got chocolate milk and coins for those damn machines and anything they wanted on the menu. And then, after dinner, we walked around the Christmas trees and laughed and loved and actually sang Christmas carols and held hands. So did everyone else. I don’t think it was just me.
It’s like they just knew. They both bounded into our bed early on Saturday morning and trailed us to the kitchen. They demanded snuggles. They sat by us. They wanted to play cards and games and wrap presents and do whatever we were doing. At one point, I had both children (6 and 9!) on my lap while I did work. They hugged so hard I had to tell them to stop because it hurt. We kept the news off this entire weekend but it’s like they knew.
The school superintendent called this afternoon. He said the schools were safe. He said there are resources for discussing it with our children. He said we needed to go back to our routines tomorrow. He said guidance counselors would be available all week. He said the school staff will take care of our children. I hung up the phone and watched my boys chase and tackle each other in our backyard on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
I let my oldest watch President Obama make his speech in Newtown tonight. Our president explained how our children are our nation’s dearest treasure. I want my son to know his safety IS valued by our president, by our entire country. He watched and wrapped his arms around me. I think he was trying to comfort me.
I lost nobody on Friday. My children are perfectly here, breathing and complaining and laughing and wonderful. But this stopped me in a way only very few tragedies have. However I can from afar, I am grieving deeply with each of those parents. DEEPLY. This tragedy has rocked me, and just about everyone I know, to the core.
I have nothing to offer here, no lesson learned, or respectful understanding about the laws of nature right now. Nope.
I just know that tomorrow, I will tell my kids it’s just another school day. And I will pack them into the car. And make sure science projects are ready and reindeer ears are in place for holiday activities. And drive onto the school grounds. And get in line with the other cars. And then, I will let them step out of the car and away from me. As they do every single day.
We are doing our very best. I know that. All of us. Parents, educators, first responders.
We are blessed by amazing faculty who don’t know me but would do anything to protect my babies from “the bad guys”. I know that and I find real comfort in that.
What a luxury. All I have to do is let my kids out of the car tomorrow. That’s ALL I have to do. While elsewhere, in Connecticut, dozens of parents will bury their children. So, without question, my kids will get out of the car for every single morning theirs cannot. This is their gift. This is their right. This is their life and routine. Not mine.
My best friend’s baby passed away a few days after Christmas. I wrote this during the days following and was honored to then share it at her funeral this past Friday. I am posting it here since I have had a few people ask to read it again. Ultimately, I hope to share the lessons I have learned from this amazing and (to quote her mother ) oh so “remarkable” child. (Please note that I have omitted any names to protect their privacy since my blog is public.)
There is a spider that lives in my shower. I had meant to get it out of there while cleaning my bathroom months ago. But I hadn’t. So there he lived, minding his business, affecting nothing.
The day I found out that my friend’s baby had Trisomy 18, I stood soaking in my shower and hating that spider. Why? That spider was likely to outlive this new life. That seemed more unfair and impossible than any other fact of life I had ever experienced. I hated that spider with every part of me. I wanted to swat it down from there and be done with it. But I didn’t.
A handful of days later, I arrived at my friend’s apartment with my bag and my heart in hand. I stepped through the door and found the sounds and smells of warmth and home. There was joy and children laughing here. Voices, hugging, coming and going and comfort. And there, by her sleeping daddy’s side, nestled deeply in the coziest wrappings of blankets and and all of this wonderful love around her was the baby.
I was pretty selfish about her right from the get go. Give her to me. I needed to be with this baby. But I wasn’t the only one. Over the next few days, people came. Family, friends, letters, emails, phone calls, Facebook comments, small packages, enormous tin-foiled servings of food, flowers, people and more people. All of this and the love they stood for arrived to that very same apartment. We were all pulled into orbit around this perfect wonder, who stared up from her wrappings and watched us all.
I’m not sure she knew what the fuss was about. You see, this girl was more concerned about just being a baby. She slept, she cried, she fussed when she was hungry, she gulped down milk while propped up in loving arms, she needed burping, she needed changing, she smiled in her sleep, she carried on doing the very important business of a baby. She also watched her mama. In the wee hours, she (like any newborn with their sleeping and waking wildly mixed up) was wide awake and mesmerized by her mother’s voice. Alert, eyes wide open, tiny lips in an “O”, she stared up at her and punched her arms a bit and stared some more. Her mama amazed her.
So, while being very busy at the business at being baby, this child somehow stirred up all that had settled in our souls. She awoke and re-energized our hearts and brought love and joy sharply into focus. While we gathered and her heard story, our lives were forever shifted on their axes, driving us to think carefully about all that we cherish in this very moment. With dark eyes watching, she inspired everyone of us to look inward and kick the dust off our joy, reminding us what we so easily take for granted.
Did you ever notice that her fingers were crossed? Even this sweet trait of hers inspired me. “Fingers crossed that you get what I’m trying to say here, Auntie. Fingers crossed you are loving your life and all you have in it.”
So, back to that spider. I haven’t been home to see if that spider still resides in my shower but I suspect that he does. But here’s the thing about that spider. During his lifetime living in the corner of a ceiling affecting nothing, he will never EVER conjure up, create or inspire the kind of love our wonderful girl did in 40 days. In fact, how many of us could say that we have done what she has in the many years of our own lives? It doesn’t matter how long you have, it is what you do and you give that matters.
She was a precious gift. She was pure joy wrapped in a blanket. She was our reminder to love, right now and everyday after this.
In her honor, I will do everything I can to reach deep down and keep that soul of mine and the love I have in my life dusted off, held up and celebrated. 40 days, 40 years, 80 years, it is what I choose to do, not how long I have to do it. I hope I can keep this up for you, sweet baby. I will certainly do my very best. Fingers crossed.
It’s taken awhile for me to post this. It seems I’ve simply lost my words over the last 11 days. You see, my closest and dearest friend’s brand new baby girl was diagnosed with Trisomy 18. If you want to know all the details, just read them. I’m not going to hash it out here. It’s not my story to tell anyway. But my friend’s child is not expected to be some miraculous survivor.
However. There is beauty in all of this. So I will try to scrape some semblance of written sense together to explain where that beauty is tucked around all the horror, settling all of us down.
I’ve found beauty in this child. I just returned from spending 3 days with her. I cupped her tiny head in my hands, fed her a bottle, and sang to her in the wee hours. Her tiny black eyes met mine, he fingers curled around mine, she rooted and snuggled and wrapped herself around my heart for warmth. I’m in love. Utterly and truly in love.
I’ve found beauty in her parents. They know they were chosen to care for this child, they know they are meant to do this and that they can handle it. They know her time is limited and it is their job to make her existence as comfortable and meaningful as possible. And, with their daughter home surrounded by family and bundled from one set of loving arms to another, it is both of these things
I’ve found beauty in the love that keeps knocking on their door and calling their phones and texting and emailing and Facebooking near and far. Love pours in constantly and at every hour. Selfless, unconditional love. People want to know her daughter. They leave food. They take their girls to the aquarium. They sit on their couch and love the new baby. They love them and love them and love them all. This tiny, sweet girl has created more love in 11 days than I have seen in my 38 years of life.
So, I’m left speechless and without my words. Because I can’t make much more sense of this than that. But maybe you can say something for me. Maybe you can leave words of love and support here for her. Could you do that? Could you tell her how amazing she is? Could you bolster her any way that you can? Could you share a favorite poem she should read to her girl? Anything really. I just ask that it is positive, that you celebrate this child’s life and bring love to her world.
In the meantime, if you want to see how another family found beauty and joy during their time with their child also diagnosed with Trisomy 18, please watch this.
But this year, things feel quiet. Two years is a long time. Two years is nothing at all. It doesn’t hurt less, but I’m just very used to having her death right there besides me. This is now normal.
Sometimes, I swear she is standing behind me at work or in the hallway at home, just around the corner. Don’t laugh. I know I have an active imagination, she always said I did. But there is something in the corner of my eye, a sound. I turn, it’s nothing. Shrug. Who knows.
Sometimes, I can hear her voice so exactly in my head that she may as well be speaking right to me. I hear her and I laugh and I think, “Ok, that’s exactly what you would say about that.” I suppose I know her very well. I suppose you can think up any person’s response to an issue if you think hard enough about it. But I suppose it’s a way to keep her here.
Sometimes, she is in my dreams. Maybe 20 years younger than she was when she passed. She is very calm and confident and into some busy project or another. Very much the “mom in charge” that I remember when she was well and strong. Sometimes, in my dreams, I tell her I am so relieved she IS alive and all is well. What a bad dream that must have been. She looks at me like I’m being dramatic again. That OF COURSE she’s fine. She doesn’t offer comfort or affection but her steady “Oh Caroline” is reassuring. I’m relieved and calmed and not upset any longer. Sometimes, I dream that she’s here and she never left, there was never any death at all. And she’s still annoying me as much as she ever was.
Whether my imagination is hard at work filling in this impossible void left in my world, or whether there is something more to it, she isn’t really gone for me. And I am getting used to having her there in a very different way. It’s never enough, but is your mother ever there for you enough, really?
I love this picture of my mother. This is how she was before she passed. Hardly glam, always a bit rumpled, but also trying to trap you in a picture that she will never develop or ever look at again. Her way of saying, “I really like being around you but I don’t know how to say that so I am going to harass you until you all huddle together and, strain a smile and say ‘cheese’”.
Her affection was never traditional so why should I expect anything otherwise in her death.
She called me “Carolyn” more often than she called me “Caroline”. She blamed it on her learning disability. She also called me “Carolvin” — a combo of my brother’s name and mine. She also called me “Boopie” and “Caroley” and (this one was a real favorite of mine, as you can imagine) “Spaceshot”. Because I tuned her out a lot.
I tune her out. Maybe still. Or maybe not.
Just trying to piece together our connection as I did in life. And, this year, there seems to be some peace, some resignation, in that.
I hope you have peace, Mom. More than anything else, that’s what I hope for you.
Here we go again. Another Mother’s Day without my mother.
My thoughts about this day haven’t changed much since last year, really. So if you want to know how I feel, go here and skip the rest.
This stuff takes awhile. I know it does. But it’s funny how Mother’s Day is the one that gets me the most. Not Christmas. Not even her birthday. But this day. Tears are right there, hovering just below.
There is so much we never said. So so much she has missed since she passed. So much time and space and memories of just being annoyed with her a lot of the time – and regretting that. But also knowing she deserved it sometimes too. And then being frustrated with her for not expressing herself better and really knowing how to reach everyone she loved.
I miss her. And they miss her. And it’s just one damn big hole left behind on days like these.
I try to redirect my feelings, of course.
We should be celebrating every mother and all that they do. And I’m a mom. So. Yay. And this day is for my children to remember their mother, so I am here to hand out love and hugs and so many “thank yous” as needed for sure.
But Mother’s Day is still MY mother’s day. And without her around, well, let’s just get through this day I think…
My mother is a poem I’ll never be able to write, though everything I write is a poem to my mother. ~Sharon Doubiago
Three closets in this house were crammed — hangers poking out, bits of dry-cleaning plastic, colors, pants legs, sleeves – utterly CRAMMED full of her clothes.
Silk camel colored blouses, peter pan collars, stripes. Lined wool plaid knee length skirts. Brown hand bags. Brown wide-heeled shoes. So many scarves.
Jingling her keys, pushing open the door, home from work with grocery bags, finding me in front of afternoon cartoons, still in my school uniform. Had I done the dishes. Had I done my homework. Could I bring those things on the stairs up to my room. Eyeroll. Fine.
Knit hats, far too large, practical, shapeless jackets. Mismatched gloves. Scarves my grandmother knitted decades before. Snow boots she and I shared.
Walks in Rock Creek Park with our dog. Gray tree trunks, branches reaching to the sky, hills, valleys, brown leaves carpeting the pathway. Our black lab panting at her side. Her confident commands, “Konak, sit. Heel!” We would run ahead.
Thai raw silk shifts, carefully tailored into the memory of my mother’s 25 year old shape. Turquoise, mustard yellow, lime green. Zips up the back. Cool, scratchy lining. Glittery gold shoes. Gloves. Musty, ancient, exquisite.
Clomping around, admiring myself in her bedroom mirror. My mother wistful, wondering when I would be old enough to wear them myself. Those would be mine someday.
Purple turtle necks and worn, colorful Cape Cod sweatshirts. Old light blue faded Levis and white, basic Nike sneakers.
Whale watches out of Provincetown, walking along the pier with my grandparents, wind whipping, boats lolling, chatting, never rushing and relaxed. She was the young parent, I was the child.
All of it has been crammed into black plastic bags. All of it. Well, except for a few items we declared “archival” – like the raw silk shifts and her wedding outfit.
(And the black, suede, “Farrah Faucet” style pantsuit that I could barely squish myself into. The very same pantsuit that, when dragged downstairs on its hangar still, my Dad admitted how “hot” my mom was when she wore it. Ew. Ok, so sure that’s kind of sweet but still… ew.)
But the rest is stuffed away, ready to go. And be gone.
She was more than her things. I know this. But I have had to push back that sense that I am removing my mother out of this house. I have had to remain rational while an emotional voice pleads,”Yes, but these aren’t yours, they are hers and they belong in her house.”
No. It’s been a year and a half. My father needs the space. Life is moving forward. Her clothes are just clothes. Whatever we have left of her is still here. Crammed closets won’t make her come back.
So. It’s time.
Her office is next. Oh and her purse which strangely enough still hasn’t been touched after all this time. A new pack of cigarettes is still in there, receipts from the days before she passed, this and that and I’m not sure what else because it’s a bit much to look too closely at.
Still, that’s next too. Because it’s time.
But while I sort and sift and laugh and remember and train an objective eye over all of it, I’m wearing something of hers. I found some of her slippers. Ugly purple, with little bows and faux wool lining… sure. But they are comfort and hers and for that small, ever-present feeling - I am grateful.
I’m in search of an easy button. Because sometimes things aren’t all that easy. The recent death of my uncle has me revisiting a lot of the sad that came along after my mom died. Not surprisingly, I am anxious to get back home and connect with those going through what I’m going through. And I will. Next week. For my uncle’s memorial service.
Until then, I am in search of my easy button.
I need a quick out. An easy something to push and “there, now, doesn’t that feel better?” Of course, there are all kinds of curious, complex and quick-fix ways folks numb their sadness. But not for me. I know how that usually works out. I like to keep it simple. And healthy if possible. This button must be “easy” after all.
But as I search here and there about my house and my daily routine, I haven’t been all that inspired to post about it. Because it seems all kinds of pathetic reading about a blogger who is totally down in the wah, wah, wah dumps (“Uhmuhguh, is she posting about her dead mom AGAIN?”), trying unsuccessfully to get her whits about her.
Boring. Not inspiring. Not positive. Not constructive. Not fun to read.
So here my blog sits quietly.
While I look for an easy button that returns my mojo to it’s rightful place.
Actually, last night, one healthy glass of wine, two hours of America Idol and my husband making cracks besides me was the perfect easy button. Too bad that can’t happen all day, everyday.
Sunshine. Sun works. And gratefully being here in Florida, all I need is to force myself out of doors and there it is. So why am I sitting here inside at my computer? *shrug*
Gardening often works but after these past hard freezes, I have a LOT of work to do and stuff to buy and that doesn’t fall in my parameters of “easy”. So meh.
Reading. This was a favorite trick of my mother’s too. Escapism. I’m awesome at that. Reading and escapism. It kind of works but I can’t read all day long. Because I have responsibilities and children to raise and stuff that needs to get DONE.
(Which is why I need the button in the first place because I’m sick of being sad, I want to be more productive, I want to get more done, so we are back where we started from.)
Chocolate. It works. Really and wonderfully. Brownies, Hershey kisses, chocolate chips, mashed, powdery mini bags of M&Ms that I sorted out my kids Halloween baskets and forgot all about. But there is only so much chocolate I can honestly eat. Remember. I need to be healthy about this.
Friends. People. Someone to kick my ass into shape. Good… but I don’t feel particularly social. Really.
Work. If I have some work to do, that is often the perfect distraction. And I have some things here and there which have been good. More would be good though. Much more. Someone send me work, you know, just to rescue me from these idle blues of course.
Time. Now THAT works. However, it is not particularly “easy” because, well, it takes awhile. But I know from experience that it totally works, so that’s something. *drumming fingers* Anytime now. Just waiting it out. You know.
So does facing my sad stuff head on. Feel it, face it, work it out, don’t shelve it for a rainy day. The quicker I deal, the healthier sad can be. At least for me. So that’s why I’m headed home next week.
But until then.
An easy button.
One I can push and *poof* I’m motivated and funny and focused and inspired and wide awake and **DEEP BREATH, AHHHH** myself!
I got some bad news last week. So I’ve been kind of quiet around here. We had another death in my mother’s family.
The day I got the news, I wasn’t sure how to process it. So I walked away from my computer and phone, opened the door, released the kids and went outside. I pulled a folding chair out from under an awning and stretched it out in the sun. I figured I would sit there in my PJ bottoms and new Christmas slippers and just… well, sit.
Sadness and grief has made it’s way back for awhile. Maybe the Florida sun could outshine some part of it. Maybe.
Anyway, back to the folding chair. I opened it up and there, tucked quietly, was a small green frog. I know. Another frog. But I like these frogs. They like to hang out in our front door breezeway waiting for night to settle in and the front light to come on. Then they hop about their porch lit evenings, catching bugs. But during the day, they stay still and quiet. So this one had chosen my chair.
Of course, I didn’t brush him off. I just kind of scooched him to the side, where he stayed for awhile. But the longer I sat, the further back he scooched. Until he was tucked up under my hip. And he would scare me because I didn’t want to smoosh him. But he kept coming back. I gather my warm backside was some kind of amphibious tractor-beam.
A snuggly frog. Who knew.
And then I looked up. I saw those birds again. Remember these birds? I guess they must be seasonal because I saw them exactly this time last year. But I took them as a sign then. And considering the news I heard just that morning, I took them as a sign again.
Only I would find comfort in random wildlife sightings. As if, in my mind, animals and birds came to me like some fairy fricking Snow White princess, where they light on my finger and sing me a ditty. Right, not exactly. But they do bring me comfort. Because when I grapple with death and grief, it always seems something wild and alive comes to my attention.
My adoration for the wild and birds and all kinds of beasties has been directly passed down to me from my mother’s side of the family. And those remaining in her family would most solemnly agree. We dig animals. A lot.
Let me give you a little advice. When you are missing your dead mother, don’t let Cold Play pop onto your Itunes shuffle. In particular, a little song called Warning Sign. Not when you are feeling the steady pull of loss for a woman who died without warning the day before you were going to see her.
Come on in.
I’ve gotta tell you what a state I’m in.
I’ve gotta tell you in my loudest tones.
That I started looking for a warning sign.
There were warning signs we all should have probably seen. She wasn’t well. She was aging so quickly. She was slow and tired and didn’t like to be left alone. I’m not sure we could have prevented her death but I think we all like to play with the idea that maybe we could have put it off awhile longer. Just long enough to have her come along for a few more years, let her watch her grandchildren become who they are and meet the new one on the way (not mine, my brother’s). She should still be part of the fray and fun. She should have been allowed a few more chances to connect with her family, no matter how impossibly awkward or tentative her attempts were. She never deserved to be left behind this way.
I don’t blame Cold Play for this pull today. You see, I dreamt about her again last night. And it wasn’t one of those comforting kind of dreams where she’s fine and all is well and I hand her back her wedding ring and breath a sigh of relief because she is really truly OK after all. It wasn’t one of those dreams.
I dreamt she was in her bed. And only vaguely conscious that I was standing there next to her. And she was being pulled into her bed, weighed down and spread out. She seemed immobilized, hardly able to look over at me. Covers almost drowning her, her chin unnaturally bent to her chest.
I know what this is. It is my mind holding onto the memory of seeing her in her casket.
And so I have this bitter, copper, cold taste in my mouth today. As if I am tasting the embalming fluid on her lips.
I know. But I can’t help it. It’s there. Stuck and dark. Yes, even 15 months later almost to the day. Still. There. Nothing warm or good comes when I remember like this. Its cold, mean and unyielding.
Yeah, the truth is, that I miss you so.
And I’m tired, I should not have let you go.
While I write this, I jump up and wipe little boy noses. And prepare dinner. And laugh at their little finger puppet show. Nick Jr’s Moose A. Moose tells me that days are the sunniest, and jokes are the funniest… It’s really fine. This is just another day. And the loss is nothing new. Not at all. It’s always there. People in unexpected accidents learn to live without limbs and move along with their lives. You learn to make it part of normal.
But sometimes, I need to just say it out loud. That I miss her. Even if I don’t always feel I have that right because we weren’t some sunny perfect mother-daughter pair, arm in arm, chatting about clearance sales and the kids’ preschool projects every day. Hardly.
A warning sign.
It came back to haunt me and I realized.
That you were an island, and I passed you by.
We didn’t know each other all that well. At times it was as if we spoke two entirely foreign languages to one another. I think we both thought it was impossible to rationalize with the other, we both thought the other was the crazy one.
But we knew each other perfectly because we were, are each other. I am in her body now, living my life with her hands, and her pointy nose and forehead with matching hairline. And I am pulling the same shit over on people just like she did. In fact, I have never felt more alike or connected to my mother as I have since she died.
And I have no idea if that is a very good… or very bad thing.
Yes, I have children and I am a mother. But that seems besides the point. This is MY mother’s day. It is about my very own mother who raised me the best way she could figure out at the time. And it’s also about my halted, muddled attempts at realizing this and thanking her enough for any of it.
Peanut butter and banana sandwiches after school while watching Wheel of Fortune.
Kneading bread with heaps of brown sugar, flour, warm smells, rising comfort.
Flashcards in our green Plymouth station wagon, pulling a trailer of camping gear across country.
Homework at the dining room table while I cried and whined and dramatized how miserable math was. She sat there until it was done.
Scrawled crayon cards with pictures of princesses and unicorns and rainbows. Happy Mother’s Day Mommy.
A song once. Made up lyrics rhymed to the tune of “Free to Be, You and Me”. Maybe my last public declaration exclaiming how much I loved my mom.
Dropped at the bank to open a checking account without her help. A bus schedule and directions to the doctor’s office. Put on airplanes without an adult. Told to walk home. Call them yourself. I needed to learn. I did.
Angry and telling her so, all the time. Awkward attempts at affection. Her confused reasoning. Still angry, resigned, she’s my mother.
Errands to run, lists to follow, you go down this aisle, I’ll go down that one. Hold my bag. Go get a cart. Run over to that store, ask them for this, yes they will know what that is. Ignoring my looks, my arms folded, my whispers of “whatever”. We have to get all of this done today.
Cape Cod summers with my grandparents. She worked all summer. And we played at the beach.
Didn’t understand. Wouldn’t let me do anything. Never listened. The only person in the world with a mother like this. She waited, ignored, got on with it.
Car keys, an enormous old Ford Taurus, an empty beach parking lot, reading a book in a beach chair while I practiced over and over and over. You’ll get it, you’ll be fine.
Picked out cards in CVS. Which one made sense for her? My awkward attempts at thank yous. Not sure she heard them. Not sure I was genuine enough.
Consistent inconsistencies, eye-rolling frustrations, wishing for something else. And then I had children.
Her stories of parenting. Her constant advice. Breastfeeding never hurt for her, it must be something I was doing wrong. They will figure it out. Be patient. Don’t be silly, you’re a very good mother. Kiss them for me.
A call. “Happy Mother’s day, Mom.” “Thank you. And to you too. How are the boys?” A call was enough somehow.
And then she was gone.
And now it’s Mother’s Day. But it’s not my day. It’s my mother’s day. So I am unsure of how to honor her without a call to make or sending scribbled thank yous on a CVS card.
So I suppose I’ll do what I usually do every day since she died: remember, wonder, grieve, apologize, wish, consider. But really just remember.