Hey Jude — Everybody Hurts

Hi, Sweetie.

It’s really hard to believe that today and for four hours now, it’s been New Year’s Eve. Last year, I was also awake after a relatively sleepless night.

I remember waking up while the morning was still dark and finding your obituary online.

I remember deliberating for roughly an hour before deciding if and how to share it on social media.

I remember reading it and weeping.

I remember how beautiful and perfect you were because I look at your photo every day.

This year, I’m awake because the phantom monster that is prenatal anxiety came back. Your sister has moved her position or is moving differently, whichever; regardless, I haven’t been satisfied with her level of activity to allow myself to rest, so here we are. (Thankfully, we have a doctor’s appointment today.)

 

Everybody Hurts

After your funeral last year, your father and I talked as we both had different experiences during your wake and afterward at home with the family; we had different interactions and conversations. One thing that your daddy’s uncle said that still stands out and has resonated harder and harder lately is that, “There’s more than one way to lose a son.”

Some people might find this comment selfish given the circumstances, but I didn’t (particularly because I know his situation). After all, I find writing these love letters to you to be an inherently selfish and somewhat narcissistic activity…as though I’m the only person who’s suffered a painful loss. I cannot even begin to count the number of people who’ve suffered significant, life-changing losses –many harder to bear than mine—with a quieter dignity; however, we all cope differently (and I like to stay in touch with you).

What this comment and my reflection of it inspired is the realization that everybody hurts. Thus, I’ve started trying to take the journey others have endured.

Last night, I was thinking of my doctor who I know delivered a still baby on Mother’s Day last year. I wondered what it must be like to do that, to bring a non-living baby into the world, then to have to “do your job” at the same time. How taxing that must be on a person’s soul. I have another doctor friend who said that patients and patient families can be…well, not understanding. So, then I imagined the doctor who, while inwardly mourning an innocent loss, is simultaneously on the receiving end of a wounded person’s vitriol? The anger quickly becomes blame, and the doctor, who is certainly more than just someone doing their job, has to take it. Not only do they have to take it, they have to take it home; they internalize it; they analyze every step and moment to determine if and how the circumstances could’ve been different.

My doctor has told me numerous times how often she has revisited your life in her care in the hopes of finding something to answer the question of why or how…and there’s nothing. You –like your sisters—were perfect; you were perfect until you weren’t. None of her colleagues (including my high risk doctor) had answers either, which I hope eased her soul at least where we’re concerned; however, I know she hurt for us.

A week after your funeral last year, the bug guy came around to do his job. I kept the appointment on January 7 because…well, I just did. J arrived on time, and because we were in a fog and had forgotten the appointment, we were still in our pajamas and were rather unmade. J didn’t mind; he came in, and perhaps feeling it necessary to explain our appearances or all of the flowers, we told him about Jude.

J told us about his second baby, a little girl, born with a trifecta of genetic defects that meant she could cry but couldn’t produce sound, that she lacked the proper anatomical cavity for going to the bathroom, and that her heart had issues. For eight months, J and his wife endured…they endured surgeries, their baby’s quiet yet obvious suffering, and endless what-ifs and God-knows what else. At the end of eight long months, it became obvious that there was little more modern medicine could do to sustain their baby’s life, and they had to decide to allow their infant daughter’s suffering to end naturally.

His story filled me with sympathy and gratitude (I was appreciative that we never had to make those kinds of decisions for you, Jude…that you never knew Earthly pain and suffering or even the sensation of cold; I felt very blessed that my baby had only ever known warmth, love, and comfort). What J and his wife endured would have turned me into human road kill; I can’t fathom where my strength would’ve come from to be the people he and his wife had to be those eight months. In telling us this, he wasn’t trying to diminish the significance of our loss; rather, he was a person with pain sharing a story. But they survived; they had two more children after losing their second. J was among the first people who helped me to realize that everybody hurts.

 

Everybody Copes

Last year, just after we lost you I wrote what would be my first letter to you. I wrote about how we decided on your name, how during a tribute concert with friends where “Hey Jude” was played, I felt that was what I wanted your name to be because I wanted you to be able to make me a better person, to have a more open heart, and to be more hopeful. After a long couple of years of home renovations, struggles to advance financial, and marital and familial growing pains, I was rather guarded, which I didn’t like.

You, in your tiny and infinite perfection, have enabled me to let go of all of those burdens. One year later, because of you, the stresses of those damaging growing pains have been lessened. Your father and I are happier and healthier together; your sister is, well, she’s always been a little light, but she talks now. As you can see, I’ve just had the best year as a freelance writer and editor, and this was only year one.

It’s very odd to reflect and to say that so much about this past year has been good when it’s also been so painful, when missing you has been so hard; however, one emotion I couldn’t find relative to losing you was anger. I never got angry. You were and are too beautiful; you’re too perfect. Anger is ugly, negative, and generally ignorant as far as emotions go. You deserve better, and so I’ve only reserved the best for you.

I think this (or something similar) is whatever most who suffer a tragic loss comes around to…a pacifying acceptance that they can cope with and live with and maybe even grow from. Yes, they walk closer to the veil the separates life from death; they stop to look at it as they contemplate its larger significance. Somehow, seeing the veil flutter carelessly in the wind, walking alongside it, and realizing its significance, they find that life is too brief, too fragile, too precious to do anything less than to live (and what’s more, to live a little extra for those just beyond the veil).

I love you, sweet Jude. Thank you for everything this past year; you’ve given me so much…so much more than I could’ve anticipated when you and I started this unanticipated journey last year. Thank you for living through me and for giving me more to live for. You are and will always be my perfect middle child.

PS: I miss you.

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Hey Jude — Loved Boys & Everland

Finding Everland

A few days ago, I got into the shower and was inexplicably thinking of the 90s movie Hook starring Robin Williams as an adult Peter Pan who must rediscover his identity as Peter Pan in order to rescue his children and their childhoods, which he’d thus far been missing.

My thoughts then slid to focus on Robin Williams and his untimely death due to suicide. How fitting for Robin to play Peter, a character who was frozen in time in Neverland. At the moment one’s final bell tolls, we all trespass from Earth to Neverland. We never grow older. We never give the world new memories of our former selves. We pause. Thus, we will only ever remember or know Robin Williams to a point.

I then recalled that Sean recently told me that Peter Pan’s origins were darker than Disney’s buttered-up animated film made them seem. Predictable. Thinking about Neverland and Peter Pan’s irreversible fate to never grow older, I determined Peter Pan must be about a child who died.

While the nature of James Barrie’s adult life and proclivities are subject to scrutiny and debate, the character of Peter Pan was indeed inspired by a child’s death. One day when he was 13, the “golden” son of the Barrie family, David, was ice-skating when a fellow skater hit him; he fell, cracked his skull, and died. David was 13. The boys’ mother was consumed by grief. She fixated on the death of her most beloved son to the extent that young James began to adopt his brother’s mannerisms. Perhaps this was done to comfort his mother or himself or to receive affection from her; I don’t know. When he turned 13, James stopped growing. He never grew taller than 5’, and his voice never fully matured. He, like his brother David, froze in time; except, James’ heart kept beating, and he kept aging (though, I doubt he grew much older in other ways given the subsequent chapters of his life).

In the early 1900s, the character of Peter Pan was first introduced in a story titled The Little White Bird. In this story, Peter was a baby who at seven days old flew away when he to live with fairies as all babies are born as birds (per the story); however, he soon forgot how to fly, so he returned home only to peer in through his nursery window and to find that his mother had a new baby and had forgotten him. The public’s curiosity and intrigue in baby Peter prompted the successful writer James Barrie to pen the play (Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up) that became the Peter Pan story (Peter Pan and Wendy) we know today.

Nothing about Barrie’s story or the lives touched by his story or the real people who inspired the story is without tragedy or irony. As I reflected on all of this, Jude and his own permanent pause were forefront in my thoughts.

Lost boys…forgotten boys.

Neverland.

My baby isn’t lost nor is he forgotten, I thought. He is a loved boy. He’s in heaven, not a lonely place where he believes he’s unloved and unmissed; he’s in Everland. After all, to believers, heaven is a place of eternal life. That’s where my baby is.

In the past year, I’ve joined a culture of moms who also experienced a third-trimester loss. I’ve also joined a group for people who use the blood thinner Lovenox during pregnancy. These two online social media support groups have been equally heartbreaking and inspiring. All of these parents have one thing in common next to their losses: they all love and miss their babies. They’re all scared and anxious and lost at times, like me. At no point would they not jump out the nursery window to retrieve their baby who flew away if they were to come back.

“You’re missed! I love you! Please don’t leave me again!” I would shout to Jude if I thought he would hear me. I would hug him and hold him and swaddle him with love and bathe him with tears. This past year wouldn’t have happened. It all would have been the nightmare that I kept hoping that it was a year ago.

 

One Year Ago…

One year ago. How has it been a year that it was Christmas and that we were growing ever-closer to February 11, the date that would be Jude’s birthday? I still remember waking up time to time during that first post-op night between the day he died, December 26 and the wee hours of December 27, groggy, bleary-eyed, and disoriented in a twin hospital bed with Sean curled next to me. Please let this be a bad dream. It was a nightmare. It didn’t happen. Oh God, please don’t let this be real.

It did. My flabby, deflating belly was evidence of that. The tender, angry, puffy incision between my hips verified it. Tears welled. I pushed the button in my left hand, dosing myself with Dilaudid before falling back to exhausted sleep only to repeat the cycle every couple of hours.

I understood how Harry Potter felt each time he awoke from a dreamless sleeping drought after yet another loss in his young life. The pain and emptiness starts over every time you come out of that deepest medically-induced sleep. You want to return to it and run from it at the same time.

We left the hospital on December 28, and I was sorry to go. I was leaving the place where Jude had flown out the world’s window far too soon. I was leaving the place where for two uninterrupted days, time stood still, and Sean and I were mostly alone with our grief, holding each other as though our lives depended on it, as though we were lost children. Time and days and hours and nights didn’t exist in that hospital bed and in that room. The world and its oppressive weight of decisions and responsibilities and expectations were concepts, not real things. We were briefly allowed to heal at our own pace.

At first, my physical recovery from the C-section and my emotional recovery were paced at an even keel; I was utterly helpless on both forefronts. Sean led me take my first shower after the surgery, and he gently bathed me because he knew I didn’t have the strength or the ability.

He literally helped me walk again. Together, we shuffled around L&D. I held his arm, and he escorted me to the window and then the vending machines and then around the nurse’s station. Then, while we were still as fragile and as unsteady as my shaky steps, it was time to go; I was physically well enough to go home, but I wasn’t ready…my heart and my emotions were still fragmented. I wasn’t ready for it to be real; I wasn’t ready for the clock to start ticking again.

After that, only excerpts of moments stand out in my memory. Jude’s funeral was on New Years Eve. It was a clear, bright blue, icy cold day; it was so perfect. My best friend heroically flew down from Virginia to hold my hand. The night she arrived, she and I sat on my couch, and I reflected on Jude’s life…on all of the things I’d never see my son do. I would never hear his voice. I would never hear him say, “I love you.” I would never see him fall in love or get married. I would never be able to throw him a birthday party. I would never know what characters and stories he would like. I would never get to see him smile. This –his funeral, would be his only birthday party; a lifetime of memories that would never transpire flashed before my eyes. And then all of the things that nobody knows how to say passed between us as we held each other and cried for my loved boy.

Sean’s brother also dropped everything and came down to support us and to see and to say goodbye to his nephew. So many special and beautiful people came to show us they cared or sent flowers and plants or loving cards. It was the only party we would ever get to have for Jude, his only birthday party, and everyone came.

 

One Year Later…

One year later, nothing and everything have changed. A year ago, I didn’t sleep with a teddy bear named Jude Bear. A year ago, by best friend revealed she and her husband were “trying.” A year ago, I wrote “Research Administration” on the job title line of important forms. One year ago, I had no reason to doubt that I was going to have a little boy to watch grow up. I had a writhing, active baby boy inside of me; he was 33 weeks old on Christmas Day.

This year, I have a writhing, active baby girl inside of me. She will be 33 weeks old on Christmas Eve. This year, my best friend’s first baby will be due just after the New Year. This year, I put “Freelance Writer” or “Exhausted Toddler Mom” or “Trying to Have It All” on the job title line of important forms. This year, I have every reason to doubt that I will have another little girl to watch grow up.

This year, I have anxiety attacks that have grown increasingly frequent and intense as the clock ticks away the moments to December 26, a date on which I’ve mentally superimposed the end of the world. When and if the sun comes up on December 27 and if I still have Jude’s little sister kicking and wiggling and living inside of me, a shred of time that froze last year will have thawed and will tick forward. It won’t undo the pain and aching emptiness I feel at Jude’s absence, but it will signify there is life beyond December 26 and maybe even beyond 33 weeks.

Until then, until three days from now, I’m on edge, shadowboxing with my biggest fear…waiting for it to all go wrong again, constantly looking for “the problem”, buying time with biweekly doctor’s visits to ensure that everything is still “perfect” and to stave off major panic attacks. If I can catch the problem this time, then I can save this baby, and it’ll be like I’m saving Jude. I realize how crazy that sounds, but I have to wonder if that’s not why I panic when the logical side of me knows there’s nothing to worry about.

 

Jude’s Birthday GIft

One year ago, time stopped. Jude took part of me with him when he ascended into Everland as a Loved Boy. He took my fear. He took some of my filter. He took some of my reserve. He took things that kept me from fully living. He took the veneer of strength and dignity and left a raw strip of humanity in his tender little wake.

By doing this, he’s made me stronger and better. I have more faith because of him. I tell people that I care more. I don’t just “like” someone’s pain or pleasure to show love and support. I comment. I text. I call. I confront. I don’t worry about money and things. God will provide; He always has, he always does. Why worry? What will that do? I’ll manage. Even if times are tough, it will be fine. I don’t worry about the mean and ugly things in the world. About hatred. And terrorists. I feel sorry for people consumed by those destroyers of happiness. I’m not afraid to stand up to them if they come for me.

Losing a child was my biggest fear –and it still terrifies me as evidenced by the uncontrollable anxiety attacks this pregnancy has brought, but I don’t live a life of fear (there is a difference between being afraid and living in fear; one means you’re aware; the other means you’re petrified).

One year ago, I unexpectedly and unwillingly faced my biggest fear. I survived. I hope I never have to survive it again, but my son’s perfect life was beautiful and is meaningful. He has made such a difference in my life in the short time he’s been gone from it. This is how I know time hasn’t stopped for me, and in a way, it also hasn’t stopped for him because while he took part of me with him, he left part of himself with me. Through the phenomenon of microchimerism, Jude’s DNA is still living in me. He’s shown me I have nothing to fear and no reason to stop in time despite irony and parallels. He can’t be replicated or replaced nor can what he does in and for my life. Because of this, Jude will never be a forgotten Lost Boy; he will only be a Loved One.

 

Happy first birthday, sweetheart. Thank you for the gifts you give us today and everyday until forever.

Love, Mommy

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I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.