Hey Jude — Making the Most of This Life

Dear Jude,

Hey you. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. Sometimes, I try too hard to think of what to say or of saying it the right way when what I should do is just talk to you, the way I talk to your sisters. In fact, I should probably think before I speak with them…some of the time, anyway.

In four months, you’ll be four-years-old. I’ve been looking at our friend’s children who are turning four and thinking, “Oh wow, he’d be such a little person right now.” Specifically, I watched little Catherine at her birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese as she wandered around seemingly lost but also quite self-assured in the way that only preschoolers can be. She was wearing a Bat Girl costume just ‘cause. What would you like? Dinosaurs? Trucks? Space? Bugs? Balls? Cars? Costumes? I told Sean that I bet you’d love to watch the Earth program on Netflix that he likes to turn on and watch with the girls in the evenings.

What would you like to eat? I’d like to think you’d be somewhere between Lillianne and Eilie…a little finicky but not so much that your entire diet is comprised of goldfish crackers and organic milk (like Eilie’s does).

I imagine you playing with the gusto of a little boy. You were by far the busiest baby. Your movements had no rhyme or reason—you just wanted to be on the go.

As I visualize the happier aspects of what your life would be like, I neglect to imagine the challenges, like getting you to listen. Would you be a good listener? I kind of feel like you’d be Lillianne made over and maybe a little wilder…less imagination, but more action-packed. I really would give anything to be able to fuss at you when you’re naughty or when you wake the baby or fight with your sisters over toys. I’d give anything to be able to feel like I was suffering from simultaneous rage strokes and heart-attacks because I’m so overwhelmed.

I’m sure every parent who lost a baby before she ever met them feels this way just like I’m sure every parent who lost a baby after meeting them—and perhaps fussing at them or feeling frustrated because of lack of time or sleep or whatever felt ashamed and possibly tortured with guilt.

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The emotions that come from losing a baby or a child at any age are so nuanced they defy logic. The perspective, too, shifts paradigms.

To begin, you realize how unimportant everything else is compared to those little lives. Money. Work. Legacy. House. Status…whatever, is completely irrelevant. You’d give it all away and never ask to have it back just to have that person back. The irony is that no one is standing around wheeling and dealing and willing to make that offer.

Then, you learn to live with what happened, with the pain of the loss or the grief. I won’t speak for everyone, but I know that in our / my case, the faith that I didn’t even realize I had enabled me to grow in ways that I never imagined. While I wouldn’t wish our loss on anyone, I also wouldn’t begrudge anyone experiencing the absolute love and comfort and peace that we were given after losing Jude…in the weeks, months, and years.

To begin, Jude helped me realize one of the hardest lessons of all, which is that we are not in control. I still struggle with that one, to be honest, but I also know that the things that make me hit the emergency brake on my brain—like when I imagine a freak-accident, our child running across someone’s driveway as they’re backing out, a car wreck, choking on a grape—are things I can’t control just as are the medical maladies that paralyze me with fear.

Last week, a little girl who suddenly developed a deadly brain tumor lost her life.  I look at my vibrant and healthy little girls and take it for granted. I take for granted that none of my children were born with some other kind of cancer or allergy or genetic disorder that at any moment could cause them to cross beyond the veil; however, I have friends who have babies with these problems, and I’m perpetually awed by their faith and resilience. I know that it’s ironic given what happened with Jude, but I can’t imagine.

But then I realize that the fear isn’t what God want us to feel. These challenges, these terrifying, awful, challenges have purpose if we allow them to, and they can transform us in ways that we never realized.

To begin, one of the most remarkable things I learned when I realized how little control I had was that…that’s actually quite okay. Someone else is in control, and I can only do my very best.

Another thing is that one of the most beautiful aspects of tragedy is when you’re able to use what happened to you to help others. This, too, is a Biblical precept as Paul advised in his letters for people to take their struggles and to help those who struggle similarly. Sometimes, I allow myself to revisit Jude’s funeral in my mind, and the people who stand out the most are the ones who came because they’d also lost children or suffered a traumatic loss.

Finally, I understand why suffering is important. In nearly four years, I’ve grown so much emotionally and mentally. I’m more understanding, loving, and compassionate. I’m not perfect, but I want to do better all of the time for my family and my babies. In our Sunday School class a few weeks ago, we talked about why suffering is necessary or why God allows bad things to happen.

I think about things like that a lot because for people who find people like me, people who have faith, to be tedious is that we often can’t explain why suffering is allowed…natural disasters, pedophiles, hatred, evil, etc. I won’t go back to Genesis to explain that, but I will say I started to think of a story idea one day (a total non-starter) about a world where there was no pain, no suffering, no bad, etc. While I realize that Christians believe that is the very definition of heaven, I also cannot imagine being as grateful or as compassionate as I am now if not for suffering. I tried to picture what the conflict would be in this story, and there wouldn’t be. How would the characters grow? Without conflict, how would they evolve into a better version of themselves? So, I believe suffering is allowed in part because it allows us to behave in a way that shows our courage, our love, our compassion, our patience, and our forgiveness for our fellow man…all virtues that God shows to us on a regular basis.

As I look ahead, I know my future will include more suffering, more trials, more challenges to the aspects of my person that I am sometimes too afraid to relinquish. I don’t fear the unknown nor the unexpected. I don’t allow myself to worry about what may or may not happen. I don’t worry about what suffering life will bring. I believe in taking each day as it comes and in doing my best every day and in being kind to myself because sometimes, I think we forget to be kind to ourselves, especially when we are dealing with something that aggrieves us, when we think perhaps we could have done better or had we acted differently, things would have been different.

So, my Jude, thank you for all of that. I love to imagine what kind of little boy you’d be if you were here, but I know that’s only ever going to be fiction. The reality is that the little boy you are now is more than I ever could have conceived or hoped for.

One day, I’ll see you again. For now, you’re in my life, and you’re in my heart. You sweet, beautiful boy. Mommy misses you.

PS: I love that today was one of “your” days because I feel like you were there with our family and your dad this morning. Big hugs.

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Hey Jude — Changing Seasons

My dear, sweet boy,

In less than two hours, I’ll take your sisters to your Emie & Daddy Joe’s house and will drop them off and will head to the hospital to have your last little sibling who we still only know as Mystery Baby.

Today is December 21, 2017.  It’s the first day of winter.  It’s the start of a new season.  In 2012, I began my stumbling (and somewhat unsteady and unwilling, at least at first) foray into motherhood.  For the past five-and-a-half years, spare five months, I have been keeping another person alive with my own body; after today, I’ll have another year to go, God-willing.

I’m not complaining. God knows I’d give anything to have been able to be part of the group of women who–rightfully deserve to–complain about the challenges of motherhood and womanhood as they nurse, feed, love, cradle, coddle, and fret over their cherubic, growing babies.  I’d give anything to not know what it was like to have to say goodbye before I said hello.

But, here we are–there you are in heaven; here I am on Earth.  Losing you nearly three years ago (how are you only five days away from being three?) initiated a season within a season, one in which pregnancy and childbirth were characterized by fear and anxiety, but also one in which I–as a person and a woman, grew up immeasurably.  I didn’t realize how young I was until I lost you.  I also didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about peace and faith or myself.  I would rather have you here and have learned those lessons the hard way, but my goodness, you’ve done more for me than anyone has, and you do it unceasingly.

I’m a 34-year-old woman, getting ready to have her last C-section, her last baby.  I’m about to bid my childbearing years goodbye and to look ahead toward the future, a future in which I am a mother to four children, no matter whether I can only relate to them spiritually and emotionally or physically as well.  Today truly ends and begins a season of my life.

I only came to the realization of the parallel between the actually day–December 21–and the symbolism last night, but before that, something else that represents the way life comes full circle happened.

We’d walked to your Emie & Daddy Joe’s house yesterday evening. We stood at the end of the long driveway, and I asked my dad if I could take one of his oranges.  He grows a huge variety of citrus in the front and back yards. He consented and led me toward the backyard.  I followed, surprised and a little confused that he didn’t want to give me one of the sweet oranges that were hanging on the tree nearest to us.

As I waddled down the driveway, I thought about December 2014.  I thought about Dad’s grapefruits. He has a mammoth and prolific tree in his backyard that for years has produced hundreds–hundreds–of grapefruit.  After I lost you, when I was numb and had no taste or zest for life whatsoever, Dad kept bringing me grapefruit from his tree. He brought grapefruits to me in the hospital.  Other people brought food, and usually, by the time a visitor left or I’d stopped crying, the food was spoiled, and so when I could and would eat, I would peel into a grapefruit and eat the juicy, tart-sweet spoils.  It was like comfort food from God.

Of course, in 2015, as I wrote about here, the tree sustained trauma due to a bitterly cold frost that early winter.  The tree barely produced.  It was a metaphor for me…for what I’d gone through, for what I was going through.

The following season, the tree produced again; though, its nature had changed.  This year, I couldn’t recall if the tree was producing a single fruit.  A downed branch earlier in the summer and some other issues led me to believe that the special tree might not live much longer…let along produce fruit.

Dad opened the metal gate leading to the pool area behind which stands the tree.  He reached into the tree and pulled a large, low-hanging grapefruit from the branches.  “Oh wow, Dad. This means so much,” I said, hugging him.

“I grew that one especially for you.  I thought that one’s for my Amy,” he replied as we turned to go.

I don’t believe in luck or charming one’s fate with rituals, but the simplicity behind my dad’s thoughtfulness and the timing of the situation, could not have been more profound for me in that moment or more comforting.  I realized, too, that my dad’s gesture symbolized something else, the ability to overcome a past.

Growing up, Dad and I weren’t particularly close. Too similar, we clashed. I was emotional and high strung; he was pragmatic yet high strung in his own ways. Both of us were intense and clever and determinedly right.  It was really stressful for both of us.  In my teens and 20s, I was bothered by the reality that if something were to happen to my dad, he’d have been a person I loved but never knew.

After I grew up some more, got married, and learned a thing or two about life, Dad and I started talking more and more and more.  I don’t know his whole story; he still surprises me with aspects of his past that I am intrigued and entertained by.  I do know, though, the story he and I share, and the fact that we have that shows me how much it’s possible to grow and to blossom even after the hardest of seasons.

My darling Jude.  I should probably go start getting ready.  It’s almost time.  No matter what happens today, you, your sisters, and this last little baby are all my darlings.  I’m thankful for the past five-and-a-half years.  They made me who I am, but I’m also thankful to turn the page and to look toward a future shaped by my past but not ruled by it.

 

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

Love,

Mommy

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Hey Jude – Why the Truth Matters

Dear Jude,

In one month, you’ll turn three. Three-years-old. I remember Lillianne’s third birthday party. It was at the park, on the playground. Eilie was only just four-months-old and just hung on to whoever was holding her like a sweet little koala nugget. Lillianne was so cute. She wore a blue dress with white polka dots and her little yellow “heeled” sandals. We set up tables and even though it was 9:00 that June morning, it was swelteringly hot. Lillianne laughed and ran around, sliding and swinging. She didn’t even care that her friends weren’t there yet; if you’d have been there, you’d have been a year and a half and no doubt, hot on her heels, sliding and swinging a few steps behind her with shouts of, “Yee-yan,” because you couldn’t say Lillianne.

By now, those wobbly steps and funny baby talks would’ve turned into running at full tilt and chattering in full sentences…we’d know what your favorite foods and colors and characters are. We’d have fussed at you for rule-breaking, worried if we were raising you “okay”, thought about your future…all of the things parents do. I’d be planning your birthday party, of course, and, of course, complaining about how “hard” it is to do things during the holidays.

 

The reality is that I’m doing none of those things. I’m expecting your baby brother or sister to be delivered at 36 weeks and 5 days in three weeks and three days (but who’s counting?) on December 21. I’m anxiously anticipating the arrival of your last sibling five days before your birthday.

The day before yesterday, Mystery Baby turned 33 weeks; for you, 33 weeks was the last day of your life with us. We only had you with us for 33 weeks. If I’d known I had to form a lifetime of memories in 33 weeks, I wonder how much I’d have done differently?

 

Yesterday, you’d have been 35 months. We went to Atlanta over the holiday weekend to get Mystery Baby’s little animal from the Georgia Aquarium, an accidental tradition that now means so much. Your Jude Whale, by the way, is much loved and is passed around by your sisters. We got your last little sibling a Harbor Seal. I meant to get a sea lion, but oh well. It’s a cute and soft little thing, and I think Mystery Baby will like it. You’d have loved Jude Whale. It’s kind of ironic that your little whale was pure white, completely innocent and angelic, like you. I always think of you when I see the belugas now. They’re so docile and gentle and ethereal, like you.

I digress. Saturday night, I had a hard time going to sleep. I felt unwell. It was probably fatigue or just un-actualized anxiety. Thirty-three weeks. I had a few cramps and mentally plotted exactly what we’d do if I went into labor or if there was an emergency. Thankfully, there wasn’t.

I woke up at 4 a.m. and thought about the night we lost you. I thought about the things that happened and about how recently, I’ve read about other moms whose babies were having decels and other issues like you were. Those babies were delivered, and those babies lived. Your dad and I have assuaged our grief over and over by telling ourselves that something else might have been wrong. I’ve consoled myself with the idea that you at least were in a safe, warm place full of love when your life left this Earth. But I do wonder…and wonder…and wonder…time and time again, for nearly three years now, what if. If they’d have delivered you, would you have lived? There are plenty of pre-term babies born every day who are sustained in NICUs and who live as perfectly healthy and happy children.

Being the skeptic that I am, I wonder and continue to wonder if someone really knows what happened or who has an idea of what happened, and they’re not saying because they’d rather protect people within the institution (Providence Hospital in Mobile, AL) or the institution itself. The thing is, I’m well outside the statute of limitations for any legal action, and honestly, I don’t want anyone’s money. There is on amount of money on this Earth that can possibly make up for you not being here.

The reality is that I just want to know everything. I want to know why if there’s a why. I want to know how if someone knows how. I want to know if someone made a mistake. I want to hear, “I’m sorry,” if they did. I want to know that because of you, someone has changed everything about the way they practice medicine and has made the right decision and has saved so many baby’s lives. I’d like to know that. I just want to know the truth, whatever it is, because I’d like to think it would take some of the burden from my grief.

 

Yesterday, one month before you turned three, we drove home from Atlanta. Having slept poorly, I was tired and uncharacteristically emotional. Irrationally, I engaged your dad in a lengthy conversation about past pains that really don’t impact our marriage now. After all, when better to trap someone in an emotional argument about the past than on a four-and-a-half hour car ride.

I cried three times yesterday. Once was in a Hardee’s bathroom (we’ll call this a “low point”), once at home while I was unpacking. We’ll call this a “revelation moment” because it was when I took my Jude Bear (the one I got at the hospital nearly three years ago when I lost you) out of my suitcase that I started crying all over again. It’s also when it became clear that the real reason I was upset was because of you. It’s because I miss you. I love you so much, and I miss you, and I really just want some kind of closure. I just want to know the truth about what happened. I realize no one can assure me that your outcome would or wouldn’t have been different had the doctor read the ultrasound correctly; had she decided to deliver; had they rushed us straight to the Children’s & Women’s hospital with the NICU, etc. However, I feel someone can tell us if—in hindsight, they made a mistake. They made a bad call. They weren’t as attentive as they should have been. I have no idea. Did they do everything correctly?

I don’t want someone to blame because that won’t change anything. I just want closure. Is that too much to ask? There’s that line that goes, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” I can handle the truth. I don’t think it’s fair for me to have anything but the truth.

I think that’s true for all moms who’ve suffered a loss. We deserve the truth. After all, I had a healthy pregnancy with Lillianne. I had a healthy pregnancy with Eilie. Mystery Baby is thus far very healthy. In these final three and a half weeks of me ever being pregnant again, I’m absolutely gripped with anxiety and paranoia because I don’t know what happened or if your passing was ultimately the result of human error (i.e., the choice of inaction) or if it was truly something completely mysterious. Is it normal for babies with decelerations, severe tachycardia and bradycardia to not be delivered immediately? Or rather, more importantly, how much of the heartbeats being read were mine, and how many were yours? What happened?

 

Most days, I’m not a crazy person. Most days, I don’t cry. Most days, I don’t rehash painful topics with your father. Yesterday just wasn’t most days. I’m sorry for days like that, that I have to have days like that. I’m sorry that I hate being pregnant because of the constant anxiety. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was never a fan of being pregnant, but after losing to “causes unknown”, pregnancy is terrorizing. I’ve visited the hospital three times during this pregnancy for legitimate concerns (of course, everything is fine; everything is always fine) for $125 a pop (shout out to my sponsor, Visa). I’m more afraid of getting a steroid shot and of Mystery Baby needing NICU time than I am excited to meet Mystery Baby in three weeks. Your dad cannot stand when I’m pregnant because I’m so high strung. It’s truly unfortunate. I feel so alone so often because being the one who’s pregnant, I’m literally the only one who can determine if there’s a problem or whatever. I’ve spent six months wondering if this weird little pain in my leg is a blood clot; it’s been checked twice. It’s not. It keeps getting worse, like the anxiety.

 

I wish above all things that I could hug you and tell you in your sweet ear the story about what happened. Instead, I’ll spend the rest of my life wishing. Wishing I knew. Wishing I could hug you. Wishing that I didn’t have two potential realities: the one where you live and the one where we have Eilie because I know that had life not taken the course it did, we wouldn’t have Eilie. The little seeds that made her wouldn’t have been there when and if we ever made baby three. It would be different seeds, a different life. A different kid. A different everything.

But, alas, that’s not this reality. In this reality, you are with me in spirit. I cannot hug you or hold you. We have Eilie, who is so sweet and fun and funny, and we have Mystery Baby, who I hope we get to raise on Earth. I guess we’ll see. As the weeks, days, and hours crawl by, I become more and more anxious and despondent. I lessen my grip on hope just in case it happens again. I do this because I don’t know what happened. That’s the price of not knowing the whole and absolute truth.

I love you and miss you, sweet boy. In my heart, I’m always hugging you and smiling at your laughing eyes. 

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude – My Little Gidding

Dear Jude,

Today you’d be 2 1/2 if….

Previously I thought I wouldn’t think of the age you’d be or visualize how you’d be growing. But, I remember Lillianne at 2 1/2, and I can picture you. You’d almost be out of toddlerhood, and you’d no doubt be giving your sister a run for her money in terms of the pending threenage years. It’s incredible how different our life’s dynamic would be if….

As you know, of course, I don’t dwell in “if” because so much would be different, I wouldn’t recognize the world I live in or the one I would live in. All I can do is appreciate what I have, what memories, what moments, and what I’ve become for what those things are.

There’s a line from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” that was in a book I’ve read a few times recently. It reminds me of you, which compelled me to read the poem. The line reads,

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

Are of equal duration.

A rose and a yew have very different life spans, but each are lives fully lived. You and I have very different life spans, but that doesn’t mean your life is any less full, precious, or important than mine. In fact, I believe you’ve had a bigger impact on my life than I have.

It’s interesting that one of Eliot’s themes is that suffering is essential before life can begin. The poem contains images of something being burned down before it is rebuilt. There are themes of past, present, and future in the poem all of which are unavoidably comparable to birth and to life and death.

Both your father and I have felt that the suffering we endured and still endure as well as the lessons we learn have had the transformative effect that’s can only come from being utterly destroyed and reconstructed. It is remarkable and even miraculous that such a powerful rebirth can come from something so small and brief and delicate as your perfect little life.

Though I know you’re not here for me to hug, I’m holding you close to my heart all of the time. As long as I live, so do you for we are of equal duration. I love you very much, always and forever, my Little Gidding, my Jude, my rose, my little hero.

 

 

Hey Jude – When I Think of You

Little Jude. I think about you a lot. More than you know. They way I think about you is different from how I think of your sisters because they live here, and you live in heaven. Of course, all three of you live in my heart.

I think of the little boy you would be now. Two. Such a precious age. You’d be walking and talking. You and Lillianne would be busy little playmates. Lillianne wouldn’t be dragging Eilie around the house behind the Mickey Mouse scooter; it would be you, and there might not even be a Mickey Mouse scooter because it’s Eilie’s scooter. In those moments when Lillianne tries to talk to Eilie like she’s an older child, and Eilie’s just…not…I think of you.

When we go to the playground, and Lillianne can’t find any other kids to play with, I think of you. You’d be chasing her around, climbing everything she climbed, and she would tell you how to do it and she’d cheer you on and give you a pull to get you to the top of the slide faster. 

Today we took Lillianne to her first Mardi Gras parade (and Eilie, too). It would’ve been your first parade, I thought, as I watched Lillianne on Daddy’s shoulders and could see the olive-skinned, shiny, dark brown haired cherub you’d have been with gold-flecked chocolate-colored eyes and a Cupid’s bow lip and rosy cheeks. I didn’t see you sitting on anyone’s shoulders, but I could just see you up there next to Lillianne. I thought, “Jude would’ve loved this.”

When new people ask how many kids I have, I think of you because I have to explain about my baby in heaven, and they always look so sad and say they’re sorry. Yes, of course, I’m sorry, too, and I’m sad, but I also know how God used you to help make me a better and more faithful person. I’m not perfect, but I want to be a better person all of the time. You made me more compassionate. You gave us Eilie. I can’t really fathom what the parallel universe that now constantly runs alongside my life would be like if you were here. 

When I look at your father, I think of you. His life, like mine, is steadily undergoing a transformation that I don’t think could’ve or would’ve happened if not for what God’s done for him through you. 

I don’t understand why we had to lose you. I really don’t. You were such a busy thing. I like to think about your alive time. It was such a fleeting but such a special time. And then you were gone to heaven. 

So, I’m thankful for the times I think of you and imagine you with us or what’s going on in that parallel universe. I’m thankful that you’re still so very alive in my heart and that there are so many wonderful things that happen to me and your daddy and your sisters that I can say, “Jude helped us do that.” I love making new memories with you. 

I love you, sweet baby boy. I’m thinking of you.

Hey Jude – Coping with Loss

Dear readers…this piece was difficult for me to decide to share. Please understand that I am not making a political statement nor am I making light of anyone’s feelings. I am expressing a genuine concern for the generation that walks behind me. Following the presidential election, which was easily the most polarizing election of my lifetime, I heard and witnessed (via Internet) instances where young people were unable to cope. I heard a video where a girl (20-something, maybe?) wept that someone needed to “fix this” (election results) or she was going to kill herself. I heard that young people were given coloring books and puppies by major universities to “cope” with their disappointment and loss.

 

While I respectfully understand the soothing and meditative merits of coloring (and other artistic pursuits), I am also very concerned with the frailty of this generation, and so, as is the nature of my second year of writing my Letters to Jude, I must say this, and I implore you to listen with an open mind and an open soul because I want you, person who feels damaged and destroyed right now (regardless as to why), to feel my strength and resilience and to take what I have and to make it your own and to let it give you the confidence that I have, which is that there is nothing that I cannot accomplish and that there is nothing that will destroy or defeat me.

 

Suicide…

 

The world was distorted as I drove down Cottage Hill Road. A poppy ‘80s tune pulsed on the radio as I rolled to a stop at a looming red light. The air was stiff and stifled as if I was a one-woman dirge. Who are these other people, going about their normal day, as if the universe hadn’t just shifted? How can this song be on? This isn’t appropriate. This song should not be on. This shouldn’t be happening. He would’ve heard this song as a kid. He would’ve known this song. Possibly danced around to it. I replayed the events over and over in my mind. He left his home at some point in the day with his gun. He was off on his ATV. They found him at around 2 a.m. The police found him. The aftermath was and is irreversible. The last time I saw him was a year ago. Should I have helped? Yes. Would anything be different. No idea…I’ll never know if even the slightest effort could’ve helped a kind-hearted family member avoid the irreversible. I wish I’d tried. And thus, disappointment doesn’t cover this…the devastation, the trauma.

 

There were no puppies or coloring books to make it all better.

 

9/11…

 

In 2001, the Top ’40 station, WABB, was filled with static and talking and news as I drove the negligible distance from my cultural anthropology class to my art history II class..  I changed the station. More news. I listened for a minute and tried to understand what in the world was going on.

 

World Trade Center.

Pentagon.

Hit by an airplane?

 

I got out of my car disgusted with myself. I was 115 lbs that morning. Did you get that? One hundred. And fifteen. Fat. Disgusting. Pounds. My pants, size zero, mind you, weren’t even loose anymore. I couldn’t grab at the sagging fabric at the back of my thighs. My XS Banana Republic tie-dye tank…practically clingy at the bodice. Pathetic. I took a seat in my freshman art history class and quickly journaled about what I heard on the radio (though, I had no sense of what it meant); then class started, and I was swept a the world of Byzantine art..

 

Dr. Seuss canceled psychology that day, which really wasn’t that uncommon. He canceled class roughly 50% of the time, so, woo hoo! I went to Mom’s school up the road to see her. The kids would be at recess. Mrs. Christopher was in tears. Ten year olds, who would now be 26 year-olds (dear Lord), were playing on the playground so innocently oblivious to what would ultimately be the new world order. Mom explained that what I thought was a tragic accident was no accident. Someone or many some ones had intentionally flown 747s into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon and killed people. A lot of people.

 

My fifth class of the day started at 3:15 p.m. Mr. Monotone made our test optional, but I took it anyway. I was so far removed from reality. I was this twerpy narcissistic kid who literally mostly remembered my weight from 9/11. I was 115 lbs. Oh, and 9/11 happened, and I was 18 years old.
That night, I started to hear new words. Terrorism. Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden.

 

Guess what? No one gave me a therapy puppy or a coloring book to make it all better for me. Come to think of it, no one gave me that crap for my eating disorder either. I never thought I needed nor deserved them; though, I will say, there were times, when I truly thought I would die from my eating disorder that I prayed. Hard. I prayed that I would wake up the next day. I prayed that I wouldn’t die…that I wouldn’t be found dead on the bathroom floor in the wake of my shame. I faced my fear, and I fought it…and eight years later, I won.

 

My Jude…

 

And then, on December 26, 2014…I grew up. Like really, grew up. I lost my son. He was fine all day on Christmas Eve. I noticed he wasn’t moving as much late Christmas Day. On December 26, we checked in to the doctor’s office. The baby had a heartbeat. We were put on the monitor at the hospital and within hours, he was gone.

 

“There’s no heartbeat.”

 

He’d just moved…literally just moved…and so we rushed into an emergency C-section. When I came out, I asked my husband, “How’s my baby?” and I knew from the look on his face.

 

“I named him Jude. Jude David. Is that okay?” he said brokenly.

 

“Yeah. Hey Jude…” I started to sing in a still medically-induced state, and Sean took up the chorus.

 

We were rolled back toward my room, and like a manifestation from God, our Priest was standing there. Father David accompanied us to our room, and prayed with us. As he started to leave, I, still in a pitiable state between life and anesthesia, began to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and Father David turned around and returned to my bedside, and Sean joined him in sacred prayer. Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….. My speech was slurred, and I stumbled over words. I’ve never felt so empty or broken than in the days where my healing and my life truly began.

 

No one brought me a puppy or a coloring book, and in those frail, fragile moments that severed my ties between adolescence and reality, I didn’t care. Those things wouldn’t have made it all better. You know what did make it better? God.

 

At some point during Jude’s funeral, I found peace. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t seeking it. I was open to a grief journey. I was open to having a bottomless hole of pain and loss and suffering in my life, but God fill the void with something intangible yet so real I could almost touch it.

 

It was faith. Faith. I can’t describe how much my son and the agony of losing him transformed me.

 

To those who think that their latest devastation is the end of the world…it’s not unless you choose to let it be. I could’ve gone off of a ledge and died inside and out at many points in my life. I could’ve never said to my eating disorder, “I will not let you kill me,” and then called on God for help. I could’ve never done the thing I said I couldn’t do, which is lose a child and live, if not for God.

 

What I’m saying is life is challenging, hard, sometimes unfair, and sometimes unbearable. You will bleed. You will break. You will be decimated at times. And then…you can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can get stronger and smarter and better and wiser and assert yourself.

 

For those who don’t believe in God, let me tell you, God is real. My faith is real. If all you have are coloring books and puppies and free passes, I feel sorry for you. You can literally destroy my body, but you won’t kill me. I mean that. I’m not afraid of losing or disappointment or tragedy or devastation. I don’t welcome it, but it cannot and will not break me because of my God. I encourage you to have what I’m having.

 

Afterthought: Dear readers…I am not trying to force my faith on you, but I am trying to implore you to recognize that life will never get easier. It’s the trials and how we handle them that define us. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to cry, but we must all always reassemble ourselves and find strength through tragedy and adversity. There are many worse things to happen than losing a political election (or other things). Losing hope and losing faith are two of those things.

 

You cannot rely on superficial crutches to get you through the things that will challenge your hope and faith. If you do, then you will surely lose them. Instead, find something within yourself that is there and that has always been there that is truly worth fighting for and that imbues you with an unbreakable fortitude (for believers, that is God, and truly, it is the valuable quality one could possess).

 

I pray for you, gentle reader, whoever you are and whatever you’re fighting with and for. I pray you rely on the right things.

 

 

ASIDE

 

For Dear America:

 

I pray for this country. I pray for our leader to seek wisdom and guidance from God and that regardless of our leadership, that God intercede through that leader to guide us all to greater glory. Remember that there is always light in darkness if we look to it, gentle reader. The light is always there, and it is in times in which we seek light during periods of darkness that we are most brave and most faithful.

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.

Hey Jude – Thanks to You

Hi, Sweetheart.

It will be Thanksgiving in one and a half hours. You’ll be 11 months old. It’s really hard to believe that I should be planning your birthday party right now…perhaps bemoaning (while smiling as I wouldn’t really be bothered) that I’m planning a one-year-old’s birthday party while also doing Christmas. I wonder if you’d be walking by now. I’m sure you would; you were so busy…those little legs never stopped when you lived inside of mommy.

I can just see you now puttering after your sister; you might still use a walker; I’m sure you’d terrorize the cats (it’s okay; after what they did to the furniture, they’d have it coming). I think I would secretly be worried that no one would come to a birthday party the day after Christmas, but I’m sure they would…surely.

I bet your smile would light up a room. I bet you’d have a funny giggle…something weird, perhaps overly effusive…something that would make everyone laugh when you did. I’m sure we’d have nicknamed you 100 times over by now; I bet I’d call you my Joy Boy because you’d fill us with so much joy.

When we’d pray with the family tomorrow, we would say thanks for you along with Lillianne, and there’d be a moment in Daddy Joe’s prayer where perhaps he’d mention you were nearly one and how thankful we were for that. Yes, you’d have been a preemie, so we’d be very thankful for your health.

I wish with all of my heart that I was eagerly counting down one more month before we reached a year on nursing. I wish with all of my heart that I wasn’t here writing this…that I was in bed, perhaps still awake, thinking of things for tomorrow like when I would start braising the cabbage and where my popover pan was.

I miss you.

I miss the weight of where you should be on my hip as I try to do things like be a good mom for Lillianne and cook food and keep the house reasonably clean.

I miss you when I look at your photos and am forcibly reminded that we celebrated your birthday and every birthday that you’ll never have on December 31 last year.

I miss getting to hold you even though the few times I did hold you, you weren’t there.

I miss that you were warm the first time we held you.

I miss that you didn’t look quite like yourself again after that.

I miss you so much, and your daddy does, too.

After we let you go last December, your daddy said he wanted to get you back and to hold you one last time. I think I understand that better now than I did then…at least now, I can think of what it felt like to hold you, and I wish so much that I could cradle you to my chest again…just one more time…and kiss your beautiful, innocent little face and imagine what it’d look like with a smile one it.

I know you’re smiling at us all of the time. You do make me so happy. You make me so much a better person, and I’d be lost without you.

Please know that I’m thankful for you; I’m thankful for everything you do. I wouldn’t be me without you…none of us would. So, thank you my baby. I’m so happy and so blessed that you’re mine.

 

Hey Jude — When a Mother Loses a Baby

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about other moms and dads who have lost babies by miscarriage or stillbirth. I used to think that the distant look of intense sadness and longing was a hallmark of cliché writing and not something that actually happened until I saw it. The first person I saw it in was a really sweet person who has one daughter but no other children even though I know she very much wanted them (though I don’t know what her journey to concluding that her one baby would be all entailed). I saw that look when I told her I was expecting you, Jude.

She smiled, but the expression didn’t reach her eyes. Her eyes looked heavy and haunted, as if she were suddenly remembering something very painful. I have no idea what that looks like in me, but I know what it feels like. Nearly every time I see a birth announcement or a pregnancy announcement or a mom and her toddler and her belly at Target, the gnawing starts. It took ages to pinpoint my feeling. It wasn’t jealousy; no, I didn’t want their lives. I like mine just fine. It wasn’t anger or resentment; how could I begrudge anyone a healthy, happy baby? No. It was something else. It was an aching sadness, a reminder of you…of the fact that you’re not here, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Today marks eight months since you were born still, and I think the anesthesia is starting to wear off. The reality that I can’t hold you is sometimes more painful to bear; where my emotions didn’t previously bubble to the surface so quickly, they do more so now. Last night, I was reading a post by another mother who’d lost her child about her family portrait, and I realize that ours will always have a space filled by a little angel. Some families take photos with stuffed animals to symbolize their little angel baby, and I’ve thought of this…of taking a photo with Jude Bear, so that you’re “there” in a way. I try to not get too attached to that little white bear because I know it’s not you, but when I go to bed at night, it makes me feel better to hold it close to my stomach. I don’t know why, but it does.

Oh, my little Jude. It’s hard to believe that today, you could be eight months old, crawling…babbling…eating baby food, and maybe even pulling up. You’d be scooting around in the Joovy Spoon walker; I can’t even imagine what Lillianne would be doing with you or to you. I’d like to think she’d be a generous big sister to you and would take care of you and love on you in spite of her own needs, which as you know are many given she’s only two and still very much a baby herself.

I know you know this, but I need to say it out loud: you will always be my perfect middle child, my son, and no matter what happens, you cannot and will not be replaced. No one has dared to suggest that to me, ever, but I wanted to say it. I wanted to say it for you and for me and for anyone who might disagree. Life happens so quickly, and I’m thankful for all that does and will filter through the prism of life.

I think it’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time. I think it’s okay to ache for my own sorrow during times of others’ joys…while also being truly happy for them and prayerful that they never (please God), never know my grief. I can’t speak for all mothers whose babies are in heaven or whose miracles never came, but I know that’s how I feel. I also think it’s okay to go to bed at night clutching a little white teddy bear that was given to me with a box of brief memories at the hospital instead of my baby boy warm in a blanket.

Though I’m thankful, I am sorry that I have a stuffed animal to cuddle instead of you and that you never got to know your sister (or rather, that she never got to know you…it’s my assumption that you’re all-seeing now and that you watch over us). I’m sorry that your father is so distraught in his own way over losing you. You complete us, you see. It’s not your fault you’re not here, and it’s not our fault or anyone’s fault. It’s just that our lives on Earth aren’t complete, and they never will be. A huge part of my soul lives in Heaven with you, and though I can wait, I’ll be so happy when I can feel complete again. I love you. Happy eight-month birthday, my Jude.

Peace and Pleasure in Pain

Hey, Jude.

I think about you a lot…especially when I see cardinals.  I love that Lillianne says, “Jude bird,” or like today, when she called her / your blue bear, “Big Jude,” (because little Jude is the white bear that I sleep with).  Thinking of you is such a tender act.  I usually smile inwardly whether I’m looking at a young family with babies roughly two years apart or I see Lillianne playing with one of the toys that was meant for you.  Certainly, I know that telltale sadness, that curtain of pain and longing overshadows my gazes, but for the most part, when I think of you, I feel peaceful and full.

I feel full because I’ve read about so many people who are empty, literally and figuratively.  I read about a woman who has a nest that was emptied too soon; in the course of 11 years, she had nine miscarriages and stillbirths including one full-term stillbirth; she is now post-menopausal.  How can I feel sorry for me other than to miss you so much?  I feel so blessed that we had as much time together as we did, sweetheart, 33 weeks.  You were so active in mommy, and I know you recall how we’d laugh thinking of how you’d out-monkey your sister.  As much as we joked about being nervous about our little acrobat, I know that I for one was excited to have another animated little angel.  And you will always be my busiest baby.  I love you so much, my heart.

Another reason I feel full is because I’ve read about so many mommies and daddies who had to watch their pure, innocent babies suffer before they were taken to heaven, often before one year of age, sometimes later.  We may never know what happened to you, darling, but one thing that I am so thankful for is that you didn’t suffer.  While you’ll never know the pleasures we’re allowed in this world, you’ll never know the horrors.  Also, and perhaps selfishly, I know you never suffered.  You and I were together, and you were in a cocoon of warmth and undying love and the only home you ever knew when you slipped quietly away despite the chaos that was going on around you and despite the efforts to save you.  So, as painful as it is, and as selfishly as I wanted to see you take a breath and to hear you scream from your lungs, I’m so thankful that you were warm, safe, and happy with me when God chose you.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the times when I feel pain.  I’ve finally understood what it means to feel pleasure in pain.  In the immediate aftermath of losing you, I cried so deeply and hollowly that I thought I would fall into an abyss.  The agony was consuming, and it was terrifying.  Eventually, the crippling pain abated to the extent that it came in doses, like a terrifying medicine that I both craved and abhorred.  I can only assume the human body does this as a means for us to continue to function and adapt because without this survival mechanism, I’m not sure I would have been able to be functional for the sake of your sister and your father.  So, the bouts of pain where I felt the wind knocked out of me and the ground open below my feet decreased in frequency (though, never intensity), and now, we are nearly six months away from December 26, 2014, and those periods of agony come randomly yet still, less frequently (though I think of you every day).

What has changed is that I don’t fear the pain anymore; I welcome it.  I love feeling so much longing and love for you that I feel as though I could die from the overwhelming pressure of it all.  It’s such a pleasureful pain because it makes me feel close to you.  It makes me feel like I’m holding you again.  It makes me feel like I’m touching your hands or your feet or kissing your face.  It’s like a memory personified, and it reminds me that I’m not okay, even though I seem okay day to day.  I’m not ready to be “okay”; I’ll never be okay. I never want to be okay.  I never want for life to be so distracting that I cannot access these feelings.  So, when I miss you, and it cuts like a knife, and I cry without breathing, I get to spend special time missing you and loving you, my sweet second child, my middle angel.  I get to mourn and grieve the birthdays, the graduations, the questions, the discoveries, the wedding, the first car, the anxiety, and the hugs, laughter, kisses, and smiles that we will never share.  I get to imagine what those would have been like, and revel in the chasm of missing you.

It’s a rare pleasure, and it makes up for all of those times I wanly smile and try to be unselfish and remember that others suffered more than you and I did.  I feel it’s one of the lessons that you’ve taught me, sweetheart.  I should be thankful even at times where it seems there’s little or nothing to be thankful for.  I appreciate you understanding and allowing me my painful indulgences; I hope you understand, and I promise, I’m learning peace from you, my perfect little angel Jude.