Hey Jude – Extraordinary Faith

Joshua

Last week, our Sunday school class covered the events of Joshua 10, which were honestly quite extraordinary. It was the day that the sun stood still in which Joshua and the Israelites were able to defeat predator armies because God essentially froze the moon and sun in the sky, which provided enough light for Joshua and his army to advance as needed. He also threw in a hailstorm on the enemies of the Israelites for good measure. I can only imagine it was a lovely day…to have a full sun and a full moon simultaneously….unless you were on the losing side.

Anyway, in our group, the question was asked as to how one has faith when we aren’t always presented with extraordinary circumstances. I reflected on this because at no point has the sun or moon stopped for me (I’m not even sure death would stop for me, nudge, nudge, wink, wink Emily Dickinson). I’m being flip. But truly, we have extraordinary things happen to us all of the time…it’s just that sometimes the end result isn’t always something that we think is what we want or deserve.

I did comment some to the lesson during class that day, but when we were asked if we had an example of how extraordinary events were transformative for our faith I didn’t respond. The answer was fully-formed in my mind, but I couldn’t talk about you, Jude.

 

Jude

I couldn’t explain the story about how I went in for monitoring because I hadn’t felt you move as much on 12/26/14. I couldn’t explain that while being monitored, they lost your heartbeat. We went in for an emergency Cesarean delivery. I was literally in shock; I shook from head to toe as oxygen was administered and I was rushed into the OR. I couldn’t even think clearly. I just kept saying, “Oh God,” as if by repeating the mantra, God would appear and make this all okay and save my son.

My last conscious and cognizant thoughts before going under for the surgery were of Sean and Lillianne, “God, please let me wake up,” and my last spoken words as I felt pin-pricks along the previous cesarean scar line that had delivered Lillianne, “Wait, I’m not asleep!” And then I inhaled the gas. Must get to sleep. Must get to sleep.

I woke up, and Sean was by my side. The world was fuzzy. “How’s our baby?” I’d asked. The baby hadn’t made it. “I named him Jude, Jude David,” Sean said, and I started to sing, “Hey Jude,” which had been the impetus for me wanting to go with the name Jude (ultimately). Originally, Jude had been a boy’s name that we both just loved. When we found out we were expecting a boy, Sean had wanted to explore other boy’s names to be sure. Aedan became a close contender, but after a night of Beatle’s tribute music and hearing “Hey Jude”, I knew that Jude was the name I wanted for my son. It was a name that represented the person I’d forgotten how to be…a person who could be sentimental and emotional and who felt deeply. I’d become very unhappy with many things because what they don’t tell you when you have the audacity to get married and to pursue “happily ever after” with a kid and some guy you hopefully didn’t meet on the Internet, it’s really stinking hard to come close to “happily”. Love really isn’t enough; it’s not even close. You have to also both be good, sacrificial and understanding human beings.

 

Marriage & Parenting

Sean and I loved each other, and we wanted to understand each other, but we may as well have lived in the Tower of Babel for much of Lillianne’s first year and the subsequent year when we were (as planned) pregnant with Jude. I wasn’t happy; my feelings were like a valve that was slowly being turned into the off position. This was the cumulative result of my 20s plus the impact of becoming a wife and mother without truly understanding what any of that actually did to a person who would –if I’m being honest—could’ve been complete without any of those amazing things. I could have. I know I could. I’m thankful I’ve been chosen for what I have, but if nature had decided I couldn’t have kids, I’d have been okay. Sean wouldn’t have. He wanted kids; craved them. He definitely had no idea what he was signing up for, but he had the yearning that so many humans have that I didn’t.

 

Un-Plans

I’m not being melodramatic. I know that if we hadn’t started doing natural family planning (because I was very aware of the heightened cancer risks after 30 and my family history with cancer) and if we hadn’t been so aggressively bad at it those first four months and happened to get pregnant, I’d have never looked at myself or my life or my selfish ambitions and said, “Yes, now’s a great time to have a baby.” And maybe, for the first time, I think that perhaps Lillianne was God’s first effort to get my attention.

 

Plans

And then we got pregnant with Jude. Jude was planned. Sean and I were both close in age to our closest siblings (Sean was 13 months younger than his brother, and I was 20 months older than mine) easily knew we wanted our children close together. Ideally, Lillianne and her sibling would’ve been 18 months apart, but stress literally hindered our conception plans, and it so happened they were destined to be 20 months apart…at least that’s what it seemed at the onset. Jude’s gestational due date was 2/15/15. We were sure we’d have to do a Cesarean, so I chose 2/11, my mom’s birthday, as his DD.

 

Testing Faith

Then, on 12/26/14, Boxing Day, the day after we celebrated Jesus’s birthday, it all went wrong. Jude went to heaven. He was gone. I’ve written extensively about how surreal that first night was in the hospital with Sean by my side in the twin hospital bed. How every time I woke up after falling asleep, I’d have to remind myself that this was real. My son was dead. I was no longer pregnant, even though I could feel twitches in my body, like baby kicks. Little phantom kicks. I’ve never been so raw.

I had to pause just now in this writing because to revisit that room and that night and that space in my mind is all encompassing. I had been a Christian, that is to say, someone who had no problem believing in God and having “faith” in God and the Bible, my entire life. I never went through that edgy phase some kids go through where they challenge religion and spirituality and faith. I had reason to, mind you. I was bullied at times. I wasn’t beautiful. I really just wanted to be loved. I was an introverted artistic kid who was pre-Meyers-Brigg obsessive “what about me” anti-bullying culture. I had an eating disorder for eight years. I was literally afraid that I would die from it some nights as I lay in bed. I didn’t lean on God during many of those times, but I didn’t reject Him either.

When I lost Jude, it was like a wake-up call. I did, for a brief time, wonder if God hadn’t taken Jude to force us to the wake-up call. I had to wonder if I wasn’t such a horrible human being that God had to kill my baby for me to look in His direction. I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I sometimes wonder if perhaps, Jude’s death wasn’t entirely preventable. We have always been lead to believe that it was a complete medical mystery. I’ve been okay with that because it’s something I can cope with. There’s not one person or one mistake or one thing to direct pain, frustration, and rage at, so I don’t express those things.

Even thought I don’t think God took Jude to wake us up, that’s what happened. Sean and I both remember Jude’s funeral on New Year’s Eve of 2014. It was a cold, clear, sunny day with a beautiful blue sky. We wept as the wake started. He was so tiny in that little white box. Oh, how I cried when I saw his little coffin. Parents who’d suffered so much more than I did –and who would suffer so much more than I would—came, cried, and hugged me. Eventually, I stopped crying. I just felt…at peace.

Sean stopped crying, too. We felt peace. Later, afterward, we agreed that we felt…peace. We also were surprised at how much faith we had. Suddenly versus that had been words really meant something. I could do all things through Christ that strengthened me, for example.

 

The Extraodinary

And that brings me back to Joshua and the extraordinary things that Christ does that gives us cause for having faith.

An extraordinary thing happened to me and my family. It was an extraordinarily bad thing. We lost a baby. A beautiful, health, 4 lb, 2 oz baby boy went to heaven at 33 weeks the day after Christmas for reasons we may never know. Sean and I were broken. Lillianne was a haven of joy. We had nothing but our faith to rely on and so began a journey. I craved being closer to God. I needed the water of life that is only found through faith. Sean said that he felt like Jude saved his life because without losing Jude, he wouldn’t desire heaven the way he did.

Yes, God does do extraordinary things to transform our faith. Sometimes, they are mundane things. Sometimes, they are terrible things. God has the power to take negatives and positives and to heal us and help us from them.

I realize that I’ve never seen the sun and the moon stand still at the same time, and I probably won’t, but at the same time, I also know that my world has stopped spinning, and I’ll never be the same.

“And there has been no day like that, before or it or after it….” Joshua 10:14

 

Dear Jude,

I love you. I do miss you. Your sisters miss you. I know you’re with us, but I wish I could hold you. It’s hard to believe that you’re almost 2 ½, darling. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. I really wish I could see how you look. I look at your pictures, and I just miss you. You’ve done so much for me. I don’t know how I could ever ask for a more beautiful boy. You give me so much to look forward to one day.

Love forever,

Mommy

Hey Jude – Golden Rainbows

Today is 1.26.17. Jude is 26 months old. It’s a golden day for tomorrow, our rainbow, Eilie, will be one-year old. Without Jude, we wouldn’t have our rainbow. Without what happened a year ago, which was extra monitoring because of Jude, we wouldn’t have Eilie. While today has been an otherwise ordinary day, I feel like in heaven, rainbows were spun of gold for my boy and all of the joy and the blessings he brings to us each and every day…and especially, his sister Eilie.

I’ve mentioned this many times, but when we lost Jude, my best friend, Becca, flew in as fast as she could buy a plane ticket to be with me. I didn’t ask, and neither did she. She just showed up.

This past January, Becca’s beloved GaGa, (Etta) passed away. Becca and I met in middle school. We quickly bonded over the awkwardness of being adolescent outcasts and the absurdity of changing socks for gym class. The year after sixth grade, Becca moved, and I was alone in every sense of the word. My only solace was the letters I wrote to Becca and that I received (and that I still have). It was a blessing to me that Becca had family living in Mobile: her GaGa, aunts, uncles, and father. Becca was a military child and was neither born nor settled in Mobile; it was truly an act of God that she had reason to return when she left in the mid-90s.

Thus, a few times a year, Becca came home to see family. There were many times I spent the night at GaGa’s house with her. I remember watching movies, eating dinners, and always, always being greeted with a wide smile, an exclamation of joy, and a big hug when GaGa answered the door.

That was the GaGa I knew, but I learned even more about her at her funeral. I bit my teeth to hold back tears as the service started. Part of me was thinking of Jude’s service; part of me was thinking of the grandmother who accepted me as a second granddaughter because I was best friends with her beloved Becca; she was a woman so full of love.

I soon learned through beautiful stories shared by her children that she was a woman of sass and celebration. She took care of people…she had the world’s greatest sense for laundry needing to be done, and don’t get me started on the gold stilettos. Grandma had game!

Of course, she was also a beautiful heart. She was a prayerful woman and a compassionate woman. She did things to and for people that most of us could only dream of doing, and as her eulogy continued, I realized that I was less than half the woman she was.

After the funeral, we went to the cemetery, the same one where Jude lies next to my beloved Memaw, who passed roughly 20 years ahead of GaGa when I was 13 on January 2, 1997.

On the drive, I learned that Becca’s oldest brother, Charlie, was laid to rest near his grandparents (or rather, they were laid to rest near him). This I hadn’t known; Jude was lain to rest next to my grandmother, and my parents will be next to them, and Sean and I, above them.

Though it was indeed GaGa’s day, nothing could prepare me for seeing where Charlie, a beautiful young man whose life ended far too soon my sophomore year of high school and his freshman year of college, was buried.

Perhaps it’s something that a mother and a parent feels that can’t be explained; perhaps it’s something that only a traumatic loss…one that’s too sudden and too soon that shakes our core, can be related to…I don’t know. I wasn’t able to focus on anything other than Charlie.

When Charlie passed away, he was a freshman at FSU. It was during Mardi Gras that he passed away. I remember most distinctly “being there” with Becca (but not being there in the best of ways because I was truly too naïve to be there the way I now wish I could’ve been) with her dad and Ann at the Civic Center on the lawn near the arena. It was night. No one was particularly celebratory.

I didn’t know Charlie well. He was a nice guy and a fun, funny guy. He loved animals. He wanted to be vet…I knew that much. His obituary was particularly long as he was survived by many beloved pets in it. It was printed in Mobile’s paper. My 10th grade English teacher mentioned it in class, and I, despite my extreme shyness, raised my hand and said that was my best friend’s brother. I’m not sure what her reason for mentioning it was…she wasn’t being disrespectful, but I thought it was important for people to know more about Charlie…that he loved his animals and that he had a family and a sister who missed him.

I’m honestly not sure why we try to remain composed at funerals. I’ve noticed this as I’ve gotten older. People try so hard not to show their grief in front of others. Though I felt like crying several times during GaGa’s funeral (it was that laundry story, if you must know…poignant yet so telling), I held it together until Ms. Donna, Becca’s mom, stooped to brush her fingers across the raised bronze of her son’s name on his headstone.

All mothers must do that. It was a gesture I recognized because from the day Jude had a headstone, I would kneel and brush my fingers across his name and think of how much I missed him and just saying his name aloud.

Becca knelt beside her mother, and the two wept. I put my hand on Becca’s shoulder to “be there”…to be there for the years and years of grief and sorrow where I wasn’t for proximity or ignorance. I cried for and with them, for there are times where tears can express what words cannot, which is that I cannot and will not ever understand, and in equal measure, I understand, and I feel your pain. I wasn’t thinking of Jude, but he was giving me the power to feel…it’s a gift I’m thankful for.

When she rose, Becca and I hugged, and she painted a beautiful picture of little Jude in heaven, delighting both Charlie and GaGa, and vice versa. I know they are all together and dancing and playing and laughing.

As we idled back to our cars, the sun broke through the clouds, and I realized that Becca and I would have many more years of holding each other’s hands. I know God gave me this person for a reason. By all accounts, it’s miracle she has family here; it’s a miracle she had reason to visit. My strongest friendship is one that’s persisted since I was 11 years old but is one that hasn’t had a physical presence for 22 years. She’s a sister to me, and I know one day, our goodbyes and hellos will come with heavier prices as we say goodbye to parents and more grandparents…as we endure life lessons and hardships I can only imagine, but you know what? I’m thankful to God that she’s the one who’ll hold my hand, and I’ll always be there to hold hers.

There may not be golden rainbows every day, but there are pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and I feel like Becca’s mine.

May golden rainbows shine down on you all.

Dear Jude… 

Thank you for everything. Thank you for giving Dr. T the intuition to deliver your sister a year ago tomorrow. Thank you for giving me the ability to feel more than I’ve ever felt in my life. Thank you for being my boy. You’re my boy. Happy golden day to you, dear heart. You’re 26 months on the 26th! Kisses and hugs. I can’t wait to see you in heaven. Dance and play and celebrate the glory for mommy, my darling. I miss you.

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude – What It Means to be Pregnant after Loss (PAL)

Two years ago today, we lost our second baby, Jude, at 33 weeks. One year ago today, we were nursing a tender wound while also thanking God that Jude’s little sister, Eilie, our third baby, who was also 33 weeks, happened to choose December 26 to be active and to help assuage our “pregnancy after loss” anxieties.

If you’ve read Letters to Jude in the past, you may know that following Jude’s loss, I found a Facebook support group called PAL, which stands for pregnancy after loss. In this group, I joined a niche group called PAL – Third Trimester. Some of these women had similar stories to mine; others had more harrowing tales of multiple late losses or a combination of both.

 

We got pregnant with Eilie five months after we lost Jude. We weren’t trying; it just happened because well, biology, and negligent natural family planning. Speaking of biology, I run like a Swiss clock. I’m on time, all the time, every time. So, I was due for a “time” and on a whim, that Sunday morning after a particularly enjoyable night out with Sean, I took a test. I know it’s cliché, but you really could’ve knocked me over with a feather when two pink lines showed up on the First Response test.

 

My head swam. I grinned stupidly. After all, we planned to get pregnant again as soon as we could. We’d wanted our children to be very close in age. We didn’t consider any kind of emotional healing or coping, and I still maintain that there’s no amount of time that will permit you to be “ready” after a loss. Those scars will burn whether it’s been five months or five years between your loss and your rainbow pregnancy. The only thing that you need to know is if you’re “ready” to become pregnant again and to hope again. You’ll never be the same after a loss, and you’ll never be “ready” for a baby (even if you’ve never had a loss, honestly).

 

I took the test in to show a very tired Sean, who was making a sandwich.

 

“Are you freaking kidding me?” He was elated.

 

Like kids on Christmas morning, we couldn’t wait to share our joy. I texted one special friend who’d been with us the night we lost Jude, and then we told our parents…immediately. Stupid, I know. Everyone was prayerfully excited. We even told the family we were expecting (but were very early) a week later after Lillianne’s second birthday party. Consequently, we’d told them we were pregnant with Jude following Lillianne’s first birthday party. I realized that this was possibly an ominous thing to do, but we wanted prayers.

 

We talked about sharing the news on Facebook and social media early; however, we soon learned that the very real trauma of being pregnant after loss came with a lot of internal conflicts that aren’t rational or easy to resolve.

 

From my observation as well as my experience, there are many traumas and anxieties associated with being pregnant after a loss whether it’s a single miscarriage or stillbirth or multiple losses. Every time, no matter the situation, there is the highest hope paralleled by the most crippling fear. If you are newly pregnant after loss or have a friend who is pregnant after a loss, these are some of the realities.

 

You won’t know how to tell people you’re pregnant again.

We wanted to tell everyone early to ask for prayers. We thought 13 weeks was an appropriate “early” time to make an announcement about our rainbow baby. We ended up announcing at around 20 weeks, and the best way I could do it was to take a photo of Lillianne holding a pair of knitted pink baby booties (like the grey ones I’d gotten for Jude and accidentally buried with him in my grief) with a little message. We’d had so much support from everyone after we lost Jude. I felt like I owed it to them to ask for their prayers for Jude’s sister. Despite this, I couldn’t find the way or the words for over a month and a half after my originally intended announcement date.

 

Other pregnant women will upset you even when / if you’re pregnant again.

After we lost Jude, I should’ve abstained from going to Target because it’s like the Capital of Mom. It’s almost required that you have a baby or be expecting a baby to enter. I would go with Lillianne feeling raw, emotional, and listless, and I would see bumps everywhere. I was irrationally upset and resentful, and I felt terrible because having suffered what I suffered, I never wanted to begrudge another woman her baby; in fact, one of my most sincere prayers was that if statistically so many people had a stillbirth that I would be the ONLY one of my friends and acquaintances in their childbearing years to suffer the loss. Let me be the statistic, I prayed. Still, it upset me to see other pregnant women…especially very pregnant women as I looked right before I lost Jude. I averted my gaze and cried on the inside and thought they were naïve because they didn’t know how blessed they were while realizing that some of them knew just how blessed they were.

 

Previously innocent questions about your family will seem cruel.

If you have one child, many ask, “Will you have another?”

 

If you have no children, many ask, “Are you planning to have children?”

 

If you have two children of the same gender, many ask (as we’ve now experienced), “Are you trying for a (gender) baby?”

 

This ruffles a lot of PALs’ feathers. I mostly take it with a grain of salt. Of course, I was caught off-guard when I was first asked if Lillianne was my only one. I was checking out at Target (because, Capital of Mom) when the cashier conversationally asked the poisonous question. We’d just lost Jude. I froze, said yes, and felt so painfully guilty on the way out of the store. Sean, who was with me, who’d taken the month off after we lost Jude to cope and to heal with Lillianne and me as a family, assured me it was okay to tell the truth…that no, what wasn’t my only one.

 

After that, I readily told anyone who asked that I had two…one here and one in heaven. Reactions to this honesty varied. Some people were crushed on my behalf. Others shared their own losses. Still others acted completely unaffected (“Oh, I’m sorry,” (checks nails)) and would probably have been more upset if I said I lost my iPhone.

 

I also felt weird –after telling people I’d lost a baby—not being super emotional. First, I don’t get publically emotional often. Second, I’ve accepted what happened. Third, I have faith that’s helped make losing Jude something that’s made me stronger and more joyful as a person; he’s still with me. He’s not here, but he’s with me. I can’t explain this other than to say it’s part of God’s power and mystery. So, I can speak with calm about my son without falling apart.

 

Anyway, I digress…the questions come often. Now that we have Eilie, a lot of people seem to think that my life won’t be complete until I have a boy (mind, these are strangers). I have a boy, thank you. I’ve also reconciled that I may never have a son on Earth to raise, and honestly, I’m okay with that. Really. I’m okay with it. I was disappointed when we found out that Eilie was a girl because I really wanted a boy. It was irrational, but I did. I knew he wouldn’t replace Jude, but if the baby was a boy…then I wouldn’t have a box of baby boy clothes and hopes and dreams to quietly collect dust in a closet for the rest of my natural life. Alas, though, the baby was a girl, and she’s a joy.

 

You will constantly worry about the worst thing happening.

When we lost Jude, it was after diminished fetal movement. There were no other signs or indications of problems. He just…wasn’t as active. Before I could feel the baby move, I took pregnancy tests because I wasn’t nauseated (other than that one day), didn’t have swollen painful breasts, didn’t feel crappy, etc. like other women in their first trimesters. I was tired, sure, but I also worked until one or two in the morning and woke up when Lillianne woke up. I was already tired. How could I tell the difference?

 

Eventually, I started to have a bump, and eventually, I started to feel movement. I was obsessed with the movement. I knew Eilie’s patterns like the back of my hand. She was super active, which was very reassuring. Then, there were times where she wasn’t super active or where she wasn’t as active, and I nearly lost my mind. My chest tightened, my breathing was restricted. I poked and prodded and panicked. There were countless nights at 3 a.m. when I was awake obsessing over baby movements, fastidiously ensuring I was laying on my side, and praying the baby would move, so I could go back to sleep.

 

One day in late November, Eilie was conspicuously still. I finally, calmly yet fearfully, called and asked to be seen by the high risk doctor. They suggested I call my regular OB and go get put on the monitor there. After what happened with Jude, I flatly said ‘no’. Jude’s ultrasound had been misread. Jude died at that hospital. If he’d have been born, he’d have been rushed to USA Women’s and Children, away from me for days. If I went in and lost this baby…or if she was born and taken away from me…. No. Just. No.

 

I advised the high risk clinic receptionist I’d be checking in at W&C ER and going from there. I texted my regular OB who I have the utmost respect and appreciation for and let her know what was going on (she wasn’t the OB on call when we lost Jude, and honestly, she had no signs…I don’t fault her an iota).

 

We arrived and were checked in. My dad stayed with Lillianne for over two hours while I was monitored. An ultrasound and non-stress test showed a “perfect” baby but that I was having contractions (though, they eventually said perhaps it was just the baby moving as late November was very early for contractions).

 

Your loss date will be a milestone, but it won’t make the anxiety stop.

I had a unique (though not exclusive) experience in that Jude and Eilie were both the same age on Jude’s loss date. For most PALs, the date of their baby’s loss is a significant date, and the date in which their rainbow is the age of their angel baby is a significant date. These are very hard days for a PAL because we are reminded so much of what is missing and what is at stake on these days.

 

What’s more, there’s always the fear of the same occurring again. While I shadowboxed my way through Eilie’s pregnancy (guessed at what was wrong, tried to do everything differently during Eilie’s pregnancy from wearing compressing socks to exercise obsessively), there are many PALs who know why they lost their rainbows (cord complications being a top cause). Here’s what sucks. There are literally tons of things that can go awry with a pregnancy. PALs will look out for the thing that went wrong like hawks. I was OCD about diminished fetal movement even though I realized that anything could’ve gone wrong, and if you read the first story from Eilie’s birth, you’ll know it almost did.

 

I had such a thin uterus that it was admitted after Eilie was born that had we persisted in the pregnancy before the spontaneously decided delivery date, rupture and possibly tragedy would’ve been eminent.

 

Against all logic, we plan to “try for another one” and when I say “try”, I mean we will just become really bad at NFP again. With Jude, we tried with deliberation to get pregnant. Eilie and Lillianne were happy accidents. I recognize that I’m already taking psychological steps to avoid taboos.

 

No PAL wants to repeat anything they did with their losses. They also don’t want plucky encouragement. They don’t want you to tell them to be happy they can be or get pregnant again.

 

As one who is quite capable of becoming pregnant, I respect that there are many women who can’t or for whom this journey is much harder. Please don’t diminish a loss by telling a pregnant woman to be happy she is pregnant. You don’t know how hard she struggled to get there or what it cost her emotionally. There are some women who are softer than I am, and for these gentle creatures, they bleed with all their hearts. Questions about their families or fertility, lack of sympathy, neglect over the special days by family members and grandparents….that cuts these women to the core.

 

For me, we remember Jude all of the time. I think Eilie looks the way he’d have looked in many ways. Sean is my partner in this journey. His grandparents miss him. My beautiful friend, Rachel, who was there the night I lost Jude, who learned of Jude’s passing in the wee hours of a Saturday morning and who visited me every day, and who I first told of our rainbow bird’s expectancy, has sent flowers for two years in love and honor of our son. My precious friend Courtney sent thoughtful gifts on holidays for a year for Lillianne and Jude (obviously, for me, but for him) (and Eilie shortly before we had her) (the lanterns we have were from her, and I think of her whenever we send one to heaven for Jude). My best friend who dropped all to come hold my hand when we lost Jude and who never fails to contact me on the important days. I have so much love. I still think fondly of everyone who came to Jude’s funeral that New Year’s Eve…of Laura who not only gave me the opportunity to work from home (whether she realizes it or not) but whose beautiful offering of sympathy was the first thing to greet me on the doorstep when I came home from the hospital, of my dear friend Jeremy, who brought food and compassion, and Kat, who also brought food and her love, and to others who sent flowers again…who showed up.

 

Sometimes, just showing up and trying to understand is all a PAL needs. As a mom who’s lost a baby I pray that you never experience this if you’re reading it, but if you have, please know that there are communities of fellow parents out there who do understand and who can help to hold your hand. Please know that when your parents or in-laws or others say stupid and rude things, they don’t mean to be rude and stupid. They just don’t understand.

 

Here’s what I think we, as PALs, can and should do for others. We should help educate them.

  1. Please do not ask a PAL if they want a certain gender of baby.
  2. Please do not ask a PAL to be happy with what they have. They are happy, but one can be happy and grieve at the same time. It’s not our fault you’re uncomfortable with grief. Maybe you should see a therapist to figure out why you have that problem.
  3. Please do not be offended if a PAL cannot or does not want to host or attend your baby shower. (I attended one shower after I lost Jude…my best friend’s. She was having her first baby, and she was like my sister. It was an honor to do her shower, and consequently, that shower took place on the 26th of September, and I missed Jude’s story that month; however, it was a joy to do that and to be there for her. If it wouldn’t have been or if I couldn’t have done it, I know she would have understood it had nothing to do with her or her beautiful baby.)
  4. Please understand if they don’t or cannot have a shower (or do not want one). (I never dealt with this as my first was born living, and I’m a firm stickler for one shower. I never saw a need to have a shower for every baby I had, so I didn’t have one for Jude nor did I have one for his sister; however, some women lose their first and the idea of a shower for their rainbow is agonizing. Please respect their anxieties and wishes. It’s VERY hard to prepare for a baby and to celebrate hope after a loss.)
  5. Please understand how staggering it is to set up a nursery or to take one down. We never set up Jude’s nursery. It was on the to-do list, but it never happened. I had a closet of clothes to box up (I wept as I did so), but I didn’t have an entire room to change. When we found out Eilie was a girl, we painted the beige room yellow and I pulled some of my favorite sleep sacks that were to be Jude’s for Eilie’s. I still have one outfit that was to be Jude’s hanging in her closet.

 

Honestly, I don’t have any more rules. I just have my experience. I’ll always miss my Jude. I’ll cry at weird times over him (or so it seems). Some women are more emotional (from what I’ve read) than I am. Some women are more easily wounded by questions and comments than I am. I sometimes wish very much that I could cry and let my emotions bleed from my eyes more readily and often. I think it would help, to be honest. Alas, I can’t, and I don’t. I cry over commercials or moments in shows that remind me of Jude. I miss him.

 

At the end of the day, what I’d like to suggest if you have a friend who is childless, who has miscarried (many, many women miscarry in complete secret), or who has suffered a stillbirth or God-forbid, a later loss, please keep in mind that we all have grief or pain. These are hard times and questions. Please just show love and compassion and sensitivity to the best of your ability. Respectfully, I know you can’t please everyone, but do try to keep in mind that the lady who works at the grocery checkout has a baby who died after a few days old or the lady you’re sitting next to at Barnes and Noble while your kid plays with the Thomas the Tank train set had a stillbirth right before her due date. Oh…you didn’t know that? No…I didn’t either until I shared my story, but if you don’t have my story, then you may never know theirs. So, I implore you now of two things:

  • If you’ve had a loss, please share it. Mothers of miscarried babies, please stop hiding behind statistics. You deserve to air your grief. You hide too much. You’ll find so much support if you just step outside of your bindings.
  • If you’ve not had a loss, please let others know you’re open to hearing their stories. Few things are more agonizing than sharing our stories to be dismissed or hushed because others are uncomfortable with our truth. We aren’t looking for shoulders to cry on; we’re just telling you about our family; it so happens, our families have angels in them.

So, I pray you all have nothing but health, love, and happiness in your families. I pray you show love and tenderness and understanding to your friends and family who have suffered losses.

 

To myself on this night, I say to my Jude, I love you, sweetheart. I can’t believe you’re two. You’re growing so beautifully, and you’re helping my faith so much. I couldn’t ask for a greater blessing than you, Jude. Please, darling, continue blessing us and the world and your sisters with your guidance. Please touch your sisters with your presence and the love of God.  Bless you my son; I do miss you so much. I pray these wishes are granted. Amen.

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 — Regrets of Those Left Behind

Recently, I spoke to someone who’d lost her brother in a truly tragic way. Our conversation was surprisingly candid giving the sensitive nature of his loss; he took his own life following a struggle with “issues”. Pained, she said that she regretted not doing more…not forcing the issue, not insisting he get lock-and-key treatment, for a moment, I really didn’t know what to say.
My instinct was to comfort her with clichés such as, “Oh, no dear, there’s nothing you could’ve done,” and, “You did your best,” …the kind of stuff I heard after we lost Jude 19 months ago today. Did I do my best? Was there nothing I could’ve done? Are we truly victims of cosmic design? No, we aren’t.

At the same time, I could understand how and why she felt the way she felt. When someone we love passes away in a tragic manner, we inevitably feel some kind of culpability; the question of “what if I had” ever looming in our minds. Certainly, I don’t think there’s anything she could’ve done that would’ve changed anything, but I can understand that there will always be the question of “if I had”….

When my inadequate response to her reflection was, “I can understand how you’d feel that way, but…” she lobbed the question back to me and asked, “Well, don’t you feel that way about Jude?”

I considered the question, and the answer is yes, I do. Even though by all accounts, I did the “best” I could, was it enough? Did it change anything?

A significant aspect of my reconciliation and coping with Jude’s loss has been the conviction that Jude’s loss was an act of God; as a human, I cannot overpower acts of God. And so I cope. I realize, it’s a little more technical than that. Jude was a brilliantly healthy pregnancy. He was active –so active, that Christmas Eve before Christmas Day and then Boxing Day when he left us. We were on the monitor at the hospital when his heart stopped; they weren’t worried…at least not so worried that I wasn’t shuttled to USA Women’s & Children’s to deliver a preemie who would have obstacles but who would be born alive.

A little less than a year ago, I uncovered evidence that supports that possibly low blood pressure among other factors (read, the perfect storm) led to Jude’s passing. Scientifically, I attribute his loss to a nearly undetectable yet possible phenomenon in which the fetus doesn’t receive adequate nutrition and oxygen through the cord and well, you get the idea. I don’t want to think about it.

Anyway, I digress. I do have questions, regrets…things I’d have done differently had I known then what I know now.

–I’d have gone to USA Women’s & Children’s on the way back into town on 12/26, bypassing my doctor’s office visit and the related hospital that is, while fine, doesn’t have the resources of the University’s hospital.

–I’d have slept on my back less frequently. After having had Lillianne and followed all advice to a T, I realized much of the pregnant mommy rhetoric that’s out there is overly-cautious. The occasional back sleeping wouldn’t hurt anyone, but now I’ll always wonder…with my low blood pressure (I’m hypotensive while pregnant) and the occasional back sleeping, which inhibits cord flow…what if…?

–I’d have sat less often. I’d already determined to quit traditional work to work from home and stay with the kids after we had Jude. I was working full-time, taking care of Lillianne during my lunch hour, and then burning the midnight oil to establish enough of an income as a writer and part-time college professor to make the shift. I sat a LOT.

–I’d have gained less weight. As a result of all of the sitting and the total lack of personal time, I also gained more weight, and I was less fit. At best, I walked a few miles early in the pregnancy. After daylight savings, the most I walked was from my car to my office. I wasn’t fat comparatively, but I was 155 lbs by the time we lost Jude at 33 weeks, which was over my delivery weight for Lillianne.

–I’d have gone in on Christmas. I’d have pushed the issue when I was at my in-laws and doing things I never do to get the baby to move…drink a soft drink, eat a sandwich, lay on my side, lay on my other side…look, when you’re scouring the Internet for advice on how to get the baby to move and the baby’s not moving, go directly to the best ER with a NICU. Just…go. I realize that had I done this, chances are, I’d have been sent home and Jude’s heart would’ve quietly stopped without me hearing it. As it is, I did hear it, and I’ll always wonder if I’d have gone sooner to the more advanced hospital…what if….?

I could live in bitter regret for all of these things, but I don’t because I can’t resent what I didn’t know then. Did I really think that Jude was in danger of passing away? Well, not at first, but then when I thought he might have his cord wrapped around his neck, of course I was very scared and moderately comforted by his occasional movements. These were my anxieties when we were already driving back to town, so at that point, I guess it was moot. Also, he’d scared me earlier in the pregnancy, toward the end of the second trimester, when he went almost a day without moving only to start kicking up a storm at about 10:00 p.m. when I started working on some assignments I was anxious to finish.

So, did I do the best I could? Perhaps at the time I did. In hindsight? No, of course not. Jude’s not here; he’s in heaven. The same can be said to the girl who’s brother took his own life. Did she really think that he was on the course he was on or did she perhaps just think that he had some issues but he’d get through it? I’m inclined to think the latter as the response when it did happen nearly five months ago this August 8 was that nobody could’ve expected…or believed…nobody really thought it would happen. Will she always rack her brain for what she could’ve done differently? Probably, but who wouldn’t?

Regret and wishing is a casualty of tragic loss, and for those of us who survive it, we really shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, even though I know part of us always will be.

 

Dear Jude, 

I’m sometimes so conflicted not only because I’ll always wonder if I’d acted differently if things wouldn’t be different, but also because I’m so thankful to you for giving us Eilie, and as you know, I truly believe I wouldn’t have Eilie if not for you. She’s so happy…a radiant little ball of cuddles and joy. I know you meant for her to make us happy, and she does, but I want you to know that I’d have been so overjoyed to have you here, too. I miss you so much, and I feel bad when I don’t get to write to you as often as I think of you, which is daily. You’re my baby boy…my special boy. I love you, sweet boy. Give our family in heaven a hug for me and keep an eye out for us on Earth.

You’re my shining son.

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude — Billie Jean

The women of my grandmothers’ generation were iron clad. These women endured under the direst of straits and in the worst of times and emerged 70-plus years later smiling and most likely wondering what we were so upset about with our video games and our Lisa Frank notebooks and our Saturday morning cartoons.

My father’s mother, full German, was raised in Ulm and Berlin during and after WWII. She and her family were not Nazis. In fact, they were sympathizers to war victims and often gave away food and resource to help those without. Tried for treason among other things, her parents suffered substantially during the war. Post-war, well, it’s likely to assume that my Oma’s elementary school days were consumed just being thankful you had food and a roof.

My mother’s mother, full southerner, was born in Tupelo and lived throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee before settling in Mobile. I knew her as Memaw. Her name was Vonnie Lillian Opsal. She had dark, auburn hair and blue-grey eyes, plump cheeks and thin lips, and a figure for days. The plaque over her grave says she was born in 1912, but that’s a lie. She was born in 1915; I have the erased and re-scrawled documentation to prove it. No, she lied about being born in 1912 so she could marry at a scandalously ripe teen age to a guy named Curtis.

I like to envision she and Curtis were young lovers…full of innocence and stupidity, like most sweet first love. They were kids playing house and the reality of adulthood swooped in like a thunder strike. Shortly after marriage, Vonnie got pregnant. She was a married ingénue in the late 1920s, and she was pregnant. Curtis had a job with the railroad. It wasn’t much, but life was good. At least they had real love.

When he left for work in the morning, Vonnie was already in the kitchen, barefoot, swollen with child, her flush belly swaddled tightly with an apron. She and Curtis kissed. She smiled warmly as her dear husband left for work, already anticipating his return, as brides do.

He never returned. Curtis was killed in an accident at the train yard. The news he was dead was more damaging than if she’d been clubbed. The oxygen in her lungs compressed, and she couldn’t breathe. He would never come home. She was dizzy. Never would she hug or hold or kiss him again. Lights flashed. Gone forever; dead. A bright light and then nothing.

Time elapsed like a dirge and, then, it was time. The baby. She was there, at the hospital. Then came the twilight sleep, and when she awoke, “I’m sorry ma’am but your baby was born still.” No, she heard the baby cry, but years later, she swore she did. It was a girl, she was told. She never saw or held her baby girl, who she called Billie Jean, and she never believed –not fully—that the baby had died.

I grew up with a wisp of the story of Billie Jean in my ear, and it was never from my Memaw. This story descended to me through my mother. Memaw was a woman of her generation. You didn’t dwell on these losses. You didn’t let them cripple you. You sucked it up. You had…responsibilities. Except, really, she didn’t. She was on her own, bound by loss, my Memaw, at such a young age. A dead husband and a still baby. I regret that I was never able to ask her and to hear her side of this (likely) defining aspect of her life. My grandmother, Vonnie, was my favorite person, truly. The woman effervesced; she lived, and was she ever inspiring.

Her other two children, mom and Aunt Linda, came nearly 13 years after Billie Jean. Their father was an alcoholic and an abusive husband, and Vonnie went toe to toe with him like it was her job. She worked in a restaurant on Mobile’s Dauphin Street that she later purchased. It was called The Home Kitchen. Yet still later, she remarried a seaman who was often deployed. Unconventionally, not only was she a divorce, but she also never begged or groveled or needed a man. My mom’s stepdad never paid child support, and Memaw never sought it. The woman had scars as deep as gashes, but you’d never have known it. The only indication I ever got was when I was a toddler, and she persistently advised to “never let a man take advantage of you.” She was like a ship, ironclad. Made of steel. She deftly sliced through turbulent waters, and if it compromised her an iota to do so, only God would know it.

Having lost Jude, I realize that being destroyed from the inside-out doesn’t defeat you. It imbues you with resolve, a fervor to thrive and survive. I’ve been reduced to ashes on more than one occasion; though, losing Jude was and is still the most significant trauma of my life. Sometimes I wonder if I fully “get it”, but I can’t worry about if I do or don’t or if I’ll have a nervous breakdown one day. All I can do is polish my armor and be a fighter like our grandmothers were. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Of course, it does more than that. It defines us. I miss Jude with a passion every day, and lately, I’ve talked about him to many people. I still have my time that I’m cry and when I’m sad, but when I talk about him…I’m just happy. How does such a harrowing loss become a source of joy and strength? I mean it when I say that only God knows and that God is indeed mysterious in his wonderful ways

Aside:

My Memaw was a blessing to me. When I was born in 1983, “Billie Jean” was the number one song in the nation. It’s really more of an irony, but it’s sentimental to think that my departed Aunt Billie Jean was already looking down on me from heaven and that she is holding my Jude and singing in his ear, “Hey Jude….”

 

Jude,

It’s been 17 months since you left me, and you’re still so much a part of me and so real to me. I’m sad that I don’t have new pictures to share of you or to see how you’d look at Eilie’s age. She’ll be four months tomorrow. Four months. Hard to believe. She’s such a happy baby. She smiles all of the time, and boy, I bet you’d have smiled, too. Like a champ. I saw a baby at the park today. He smiled at Eilie. He had brown eyes, too. All I could think was how much he reminded me of you. You’re so loved, darling, and you’re so missed every day. I love you now as much as I loved you the day you were born. I love you forever and for always. You’re always my baby, and you’re always with me. You’re my joy, my baby boy. Keep heaven warm for me.

Love, Mommy

Hey Jude – One Second

For two months, I’ve neglected to post something on Jude’s site. I assure you, it’s not for lack of love or remembrance of my baby boy. I think about him all of the time; Jude Bear still shares our bed at night. In fact last night, I put him between Lillianne and Eilie who were snuggled in our big bed with us and thought that Jude Bear is about the size of my baby boy who would never grow or age another second. The idea of a second is one that I’ve thought of a lot in the past two months of being unable to properly put my feelings into words.

 

It was an unassuming Tuesday when at 7:24 I woke to a missed call from Sean; the call came in at 7:22. He never calls. I thought and pushed to redial.

The story spilled out and I was drawn into what can only literally be described as a living nightmare. Someone close to Sean had taken his own life only a handful of hours before. My nerves pricked, and I repeated, “Oh my God, oh my God,” as if the mantra would somehow reverse the reality and I could wake up for real.

This man, someone I admittedly barely knew, is someone’s son, husband, father, and brother. He was expecting a son. He was so much to so many, and in one moment, one second, his saga on Earth ended.

 

My mind swirled around the circle of grief as I thought of his mother, wife, and sisters. I imagined their pain. His mother, I could somewhat relate to; it’s an inexplicable phenomenon of loss and grief when your baby precedes you in death. There’s nothing that can prepare nor is there anything that can explain how and why you can wake up each morning afterward and step out of bed.

Her loss, I felt, was the more substantial for many reasons because even though I could relate, I couldn’t imagine. After 36 years, you feel like you’re safe. After your baby is born, you feel life your baby is safe. Your baby will do what babies are supposed to do…they’ll live their life, find happiness and fulfillment…their smile will be the last thing you hopefully see before your own life ends one day.

Of course, with Jude I learned that there’s no such thing as a safe time. You’re guaranteed nothing…not after the first trimester…not after the second…not even after that baby is born or can no longer stumble into sharp corners or can no longer choke on grapes…. It’s not a reason to be fearful, but it’s the truth. I’m sure at no point when in 1979 she looked at his gummy baby grin and dark eyes that she envisioned that baby would only have 36 short years to be heard and to be embraced. I’ll admit that even though Jude’s loss was so much less painful, the fact that I don’t have any memories to sustain on makes me feel sad and empty. Respectfully, none of it’s fair.

His wife…I could only imagine. I’ve woken up to a text from Sean almost every day since 2008. He’s the reason I look forward to 5 p.m. I get excited about the weekends because he’s usually here. The idea of not looking forward to those things is painful. More agonizing, I think of my babies asking for daddy…missing daddy…wondering when daddy will get home. Lillianne is almost three. Most mornings, the first words out of her mouth are, “Where’s Daddy?” and I get to say, “He’s at work, but he’ll be home soon.” Of course, then I think of us with Eilie; how many times have I said, “Look! Look!” because she smiled or lifted her head up or was making a cute face? I text Sean dozens of photos almost every day because our kids do something funny or adorable. I would miss sharing those sharable moments with the only person who cared about them as much as I did. So for his wife, my heart continually breaks.

When I thought of his sisters, I thought of my brother…the only person who uniquely shared my lifetime of memories and secrets. He’s the only other person who truly understands what life was like in our house. They were supposed to be able to raise their own children together, support each other through life’s pains and triumphs as they had when they were younger. The sibling bond is special, which is why I hurt so much for Lillianne after we lost Jude. She lost the best friend she never knew she had. Even though Adam (my brother) and I aren’t as close as we used to be nor do we talk as often as we should given our proximity to each other, I wouldn’t be complete without him. I mean, we shared more than a house and parents for the most formative years of our lives….we shared a womb; we share DNA. We’re (in some ways) the same person. If he’s not here, part of me isn’t here, which is how I feel about Jude as well, and it’s why I’m often sad for Lillanne and Eilie.

 

We drove out of state to attend the funeral…showing up felt like the least we could do and at the same time, it was the only thing we could think to do. A friend suggested that we do or say what we wanted when we lost Jude. For me, the answer was nothing. I didn’t want anything. I didn’t want to make conversation. I didn’t care about food. I was shell-shocked, but in hindsight, I appreciated the people who showed up one way or the other (physically or with calls, cards, and flowers).

 

I looked at him before the funeral Mass started. He looked peaceful. Surreal. A clip show of photos played on the other side of the room. A lifetime was being conveyed in a series of photos. He was athletic. Spent summers with his family at the beach. Posed for the camera in tee shirts and shorts like every other dorky kid from the ‘90s. He smiled infectiously in every image; he was harmless. Sweet. I met a person I hardly knew in a series of photos…probably the person his mom and sisters remembered best.

Too soon, the slideshow ended, and the Mass began. The finality of the closed coffin seemed to make it more real. I’m never ready for the coffin to close; I wasn’t ready for Jude’s coffin to close. During Jude’s wake, Sean was by his side, holding his little hand; I was only a few steps away, but I wasn’t next to my son. I somewhat regret that. I also regret never seeing his eyes or dressing him. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was allowed to do with him; he was mine, after all, and at the time, when we were in the hospital, holding him and brushing my hand across his cold cheek seemed like enough.

The guests took their seats at his Mass. His daughter’s attire was entirely apropos for the sad occasion; her innocence was highlighted profoundly by her purse. It was a little pink toy-like purse as though it wasn’t really her father’s funeral…just a morbid game of dress-up. I started to cry.

As children will often do during church, mine became restless, and I slipped out with Lillianne; we heard the rest of the Mass from the foyer. Sean soon joined us as Eilie was also getting restless, and we heard the remainder of the Mass from there.

After, we stood and watched –almost intrusively, like voyeurs of grief—as the family entered the foyer. He came first followed by his very pregnant wife then daughter and mom and grandma and sisters in turn; arms tenderly outstretched to one another, providing support and simultaneously reaching for it. A cloth was ceremoniously draped over his coffin. I clutched at Sean’s elbow, weeping for them…for him…for them.

 

During the procession to the cemetery, I flash-backed to Jude’s procession and had an outburst of emotion. I cried unrelentingly for a few moments. I was reminded of that chasm of pain that literally engulfs you when you have a loss so significant that you can’t even fathom it. It’s the kind of loss that your mind has to do absolutely wondrous and incomprehensible things to facilitate coping. It’s the kind of phenomenon that reminds you that there’s a higher power and a purpose. It’s the kind of thing that you realize, wow… I can…survive this un-survivable devastation and life can…have purpose.

Within the past year, I recalled reading a fascinating piece about a survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. It was riveting to say the least. Regardless of how you feel about the war, the first-person narrative of what they experienced was profound to hear of. And it reminds me that I’m not the only one who’s loved and lost so deeply. It’s something I’m reminded of often; in fact, just as with the story of this very important and wonderful and special person, I’m the least-suffering of anyone who has ever suffered, I feel.

Perhaps that’s because I know such mercy and grace, and I’m really thankful for that. Maybe I don’t know how badly I could or should have it, but I just…don’t. I don’t have it bad. I tell people all of the time that I’m blessed. I know I’m blessed. It’s not because Eilie is here, either. I’m blessed because I’m a child of a loving God.

Yes, I suffer, and I know pain. The world suffers, but there’s something beyond that. Have you ever seen people rise up in the face of pain and adversity? Band together? Overcome hatred and anxiety and stereotypes because they just had to help someone? I feel like that’s the point of pain…it helps us to be human and to become our best selves while having faith that it really will somehow all be okay.

To this family who suffered such a loss, I love you all so much. I don’t know where you are as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but know that we love you. Know that I love you. Know that your boy is holding mine in heaven, and that they are bringing one another joy. Know that we are here to bring you love and joy and peace and hope and prayers. Life isn’t always fair, but at least we can say there’s always love. We love you.

 

Related: On March 9…a day after (wow) a blogger shared this piece via Mental Health America: ”Open Suicide Letter.” I read it March 21, and it was –still is—profound insight.

 

Hey Jude – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I’ve always liked the expression that life is stranger than fiction because it is. In fiction, scenarios are contrived. If you want it to, love conquers all; the boy gets the girl; the bad guy gets what’s coming to him, and the good guy wins in the end. In reality, life is dirtier and messier. Bad things happen to good people; some bad people never get their just desserts. Life can seem unfocused and random at times, which is why many people believe that events in life are purposeless.

Without saying that everything happens for a reason, I believe it’s possible to find meaning in most things. Losing a baby, losing Jude, wasn’t one of those things I was going to try to find meaning in beyond what joy Jude had, has, and continues to bring to my life. You see, when someone suggests to a grieving mother that she lost her baby for a reason, there are very few conclusions she can and will arrive at that don’t lead her to conclude that she’s a terrible person.

After we lost Jude, some very well-intended people suggested that perhaps it was a wake-up call for us, which I reasoned if I needed such a powerful “wake-up” call as losing a baby that I must be a terrible, horrible human being completely unfit to so much as breathe the same air as everyone else; however, I realized that though well-intended the suggestion (as it aimed to give some purpose to the nightmare of suddenly and without explanation losing Jude), it wasn’t accurate. Pain and punishment aren’t doled out to bad people just like riches and rewards aren’t doled out to good ones; this was something that our priest talked about during church on Sunday and is something that we –humans—struggle to understand.

Thus, I was content to accept that no special meaning or greater purpose had to be attached to Jude’s perfect life. He was pure, innocent, and he was love; there didn’t need to be more to it.

When we became pregnant with Eilie five months after losing Jude, I knew their due dates (Jude and Eilie’s) would be close; you’d think it would’ve been difficult when I found out that Eilie’s gestational due date was February 11, 2016 one day and one year off of Jude’s gestational due date of February 12, 2015. It was even more ironic since Jude’s scheduled C-section would have been February 11 as it’s my mom’s birthday. I took the situational irony with a raised eyebrow and a grain of salt.

After all, Eilie and Jude wouldn’t come close to sharing an actual birthday; Jude was born still on December 26, 2014; Eilie would hopefully spend at least six more weeks in utero to be born on February 4, 2016 at 39 weeks.

Like her brother, Eilie was scheduled to be delivered via C-section. Other than my copious anxiety during her pregnancy, everything relative to Eilie’s development and pregnancy was perfect (this is the actual word that my doctors used). I did a weekly non-stress test with my regular OB and a weekly biophysical profile with my high-risk doctor. Toward the end of the pregnancy, I sheepishly told Dr. B. that, “I felt bad seeing a high-risk doctor with such a healthy pregnancy when there were women out there (with losses) with real problems (in their pregnancies).” He kindly told me I was right where I needed to be.

On Tuesday, January 26, 2016, thirteen months after losing Jude, I wrote my monthly letter to Jude. That afternoon, I went to see my regular OB. Like clockwork, I was hooked up for the non-stress test. After a while, my doctor’s nurse came in and said, “Now, I don’t want you to freak out….”

“I know,” I cut in. I smiled wryly. I’d had a feeling something wasn’t right; Eilie hadn’t done her usual gymnastics during the non-stress test. So, just like I’d done with Jude, 13 months and almost to the hour before, I allowed myself to be escorted to ultrasound for a biophysical profile of my baby. I was surprisingly calm. I texted my mother who would call my aunt who was watching Lillianne to tell them I’d probably be late and to have my dad pick up Lillianne when it was time for my aunt to leave. I called Sean who was leaving work an hour out of town right to tell him not to panic or to rush but that we were doing a biophysical profile…that I was sure everything was fine (even though I wasn’t completely sure).

My doctor, Dr. T., sat through the biophysical profile with me. Everything was gradually checking off of the list of requisite things for them to observe. Fluid levels and Eilie taking a breath were the two things I was most concerned about; those were two abnormalities in Jude’s biophysical profile. It felt like an eternity, but Eilie finally took a breath. And after roughly 20 minutes, the BBP concluded with Eilie hitting all of her points. During the test, I tried to envision myself going home that night, going to bed, and sleeping. It was so conceptually absurd. I mean, there was just no way I’d sleep.

We walked back to the office, and instead of being checked for dilation (typical at 37-38 weeks) as we were planning, Dr. T took me into her private office. “So, I don’t know how you feel about this, but I’d like to send you to the hospital for a couple of hours to sit on the monitor. It would just make me feel better.”

“Yes, I think that’s a good idea,” I concurred without hesitation.

Soon, I was on the monitor, and Sean was there. “Did you know you’re having contractions?” a nurse who fluttered in asked.

“Really? No, I had no idea,” I said, amused at the phantom contractions. I’d had some great inner thigh cramps because of how low Eilie sat in my uterus throughout the pregnancy, but I certainly hadn’t had any contractions I was aware of (other than Braxton-Hicks). Because Eilie had resumed her usual level of movement, I was at ease.

A few hours after we’d been checked in, there was no indication we were leaving anytime soon. Dr. T came back to the hospital and checked me. I was 2-3 cm dilated…something else I wasn’t aware of. The “wait and see” game was thus extended to morning.

Given that we were one day away from being full term (38 weeks), I rationalized that Dr. T would want to wait until at least Thursday if we were going to deliver early…maybe longer because women dilate all of the time and aren’t necessarily in labor. I mean, I wasn’t in labor; I had labor contractions with Lillianne, and believe me, I know what labor feels like. So, needless to say, it felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs when Dr. T came into our room, sat down, and candidly said, “I think we’re going to have a baby today.”

For the first time in the past 24 hours, I was so flooded with emotion that I nearly cried. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, just a little shocked…and overwhelmed. Why now? Why today?”

“You’re having contractions that are about 7-10 minutes apart, so rather than send you home knowing you’ll be back, I’d rather go ahead and deliver you.”

Having lost Jude, I wasn’t up for taking risks; I trusted Dr. T implicitly, so the next question was, “When?”

Half an hour later, I was in the OR getting the spinal tap while nurses and other medical staff requisitely prepped for a C-section delivery. I laid down; the partition was raised, and Sean came in wearing his yellow “husband scrubs”. Unlike Lillianne’s C-section, I was attentive to every detail of this delivery. I was aware of the cover over me. I was aware of the numbing sensation that was gradually overtaking my lower extremities. I was aware that the procedure was starting. I must’ve been oddly quiet because the anesthesiologist kept asking if I was okay. I was fine. I was occasionally vacillating between wanting to burst in to tears and to laugh out loud…but mostly to cry…but I was fine.

“Oh wow, you can see her face,” someone said. I looked up at Sean who was peering over the partition with a look of absolute wonderment.

“You can see her face,” he confirmed. I wasn’t quite sure what was so impressive about this other than the fact that Eilie had been sitting incredibly low in the birth position for the better part of the last two and a half months, so perhaps they were marveling that the face was the first thing they saw in lieu of a back end or something like that.

As the procedure progressed, I overheard a few whispered words among the medical team on the other side of the partition, “…that was really thin….” Were they talking about my c-section scar? Because Jude and Eilie were so close, I worried constantly that I would experience dehiscence or rupture.

Finally, the unmistakable sputtering wail of a newborn pierced the air. And suddenly, there she was. At 7 lbs, 71/2 oz, Eilie Colette was born…one year, one month, and one day after Jude.

The next day, Dr. T came to check my recovery, and I inquired about the procedure, “I overheard someone say something was thin. Was it the scar?”

“Actually, it was the area below the previous scar; it was like a window.”

Oh. “Do you think that if we’d have proceeded with waiting the outcome might have been different?”

“It’s a possibility.”

“I know you know we want to maybe try to have one more….”

The uterus, she explained, will thicken as it heals. She believed that this thinning most likely occurred because Eilie was sitting so low and because I’d been having contractions for such a long period of time (during a “panic” visit in later November, I was told while hooked up to the monitors at the high risk hospital that I’d had a couple of contractions; I couldn’t feel them either.).

I was unable to ignore the fact that had it not been for Jude, Dr. T most likely never would’ve chosen to deliver when she did. After all, had it not been for Jude, Eilie’s pregnancy wouldn’t have been regarded as high risk. I never would’ve had a non-stress test that day; had it not been for Jude, Dr. T wouldn’t have made the cautious call to get on the hospital’s monitor after a normal BBP. We would’ve never known about the contractions, and well, the outcome may have been very different for Eilie.

When I recounted this story to another mom, she suggested that the outcome could’ve been different for me, too. “You could’ve died,” she said. “He was looking you, so you could be here for your family.” While I agreed, as maternal morbidity is a possibility with uterine rupture, I never felt like my life was in danger (ignorance is bliss?). I have more than once looked at Eilie and seen Jude. Especially when she’s sleeping, she looks like Jude when we buried him, and it’s absolutely jarring.

After all of this transpired, I recalled a much earlier conversation with a friend in that I pointed out that without having lost Jude, I wouldn’t have (then been expecting) Eilie. Had Jude survived or made it to his due date, Sean and I would’ve never conceived another baby in May of the following year. My friend said she felt that her babies were her babies and would be no matter when she had them. While I understand what she means, technically, that’s impossible. The genetic material that created each of my babies was unique and wouldn’t have been in existence at another time of conception; that baby would be and is a different person entirely than Jude or Eilie.

That said, I do believe that both of these babies were meant to be my babies. We chose both of their names –Eilie and Jude- when we were expecting Lillianne. Eilie was an uncommon Irish name. Jude was a name that we really liked. Lillianne ended up being Lillianne, but I already felt that I’d one day have a Jude and an Eilie. These babies were meant to be mine, and I think there’s a reason their tiny lives and beginnings have played out thusly.

While Jude’s purpose is far from through, I believe that part of his reason for being was to save his sister’s life. I support this belief with the unplannable “stranger than fiction” reality that they were due one year and one day apart (2/11/16 and 2/12/15) and were impossibly born one year, one month, and one day apart (12/26/14 & 1/27/16) after I was hospitalized under nearly identical conditions with both pregnancies (a non-stress test, a biophysical profile, hospitalized gestational monitoring, unscheduled Cesarean delivery).

Yes, life…it’s stranger than fiction, but it has purpose. Every drop of it, and it’s by no means random; rather, it’s being orchestrated in such a beautiful and fine way that we can’t always make sense of it; at times it’s like like jazz. Other times, such as in Jude and Eilie’s case, it’s a classical composition in which we can see how the notes connect and interact, and we can make sense of the music.

 

Hey Jude,

 I know that somewhere over my rainbow, there’s an angel looking down on us, and it’s you.

Thank you, my baby. I love you, and I miss you, and I keep you in my heart. Always.

(Left: Jude 12/26/14; Right: Eilie: 1/27/16)

Hey Jude – A Tree of Life

Author’s note: Please keep in mind that the contents of this piece are a reflection of my observation and of events and relationships as I perceive them; others may feel differently; however, these are my perceptions and thus my reality just as another who observed these events may have different perspectives. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” Thus, this forum for expression reflects my reality as wells as of how I’ve managed certain important relationships.

I feel that promoting certain food items as “foods that heal” is propagandizing Mother Nature. Of course there are foods that heal; there are foods that inherently battle cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a plethora of other disorders all of the time. Rather than just eating naturally and healthy, I feel the majority of our society has become enslaved to trends. For example, at what point did it become sensible to obsess over kale and its many uses and properties versus just, you know, treating it like any other leafy green? Obviously, kale, spinach, endive, collards, arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Swiss chard and any other green / green variant can “heal”.

 

Making Memories with Cereal & M&Ms

Of course, in addition to their nutritional value and ability to defend against physical ailments, I’ve found that, more importantly, food can act as a balm on emotional wounds, which is why comfort sweets are most often sought when people go through a breakup (not to be cliché) or when they get home from work and are tired (it’s no secret that Sean has an M&M jar that he beelines for when he gets home each day (though, he does usually have a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with Lillianne when he gets home, too, which is a little tradition that I find to be very charming). That said, while food can soothe emotional wounds, it can also trigger them.

 

Pineapples

Years ago, my dad got into a habit of buying a fresh pineapple for me at the grocery store when they were in season. I love fresh fruit and pineapple has always been a favorite; though, I found the gesture to be incredibly random because at the time, I was in my mid-20s; I was living on my own, and I hadn’t knowingly revealed that I really liked pineapple…dad just started buying them.

The routine of being gifted a pineapple whenever I saw my dad got to the point that I once half-joked to a friend that one day, when my dad wasn’t here, a breakdown in front of the pineapples at the grocery store was imminent. I say half-joked because I really did think that if something were to happen to my dad at that time, pineapples would’ve triggered an emotional crisis

This was at a point in my life where I would sometimes lay in bed and think about that inevitable time when my dad would only be alive in my memory, and I would cry for the 22 years spent living with someone I didn’t know…for the 22 years of time wasted not getting along.

 

Disciplinary Roots

Some have suggested that the reason dad and I didn’t get along is because we’re “so similar” (it’s a common misconception for many who don’t see eye-to-eye); however, that’s not why we didn’t get along. Truth be told, I had a craven desire to be a “daddy’s girl” and to feel approved of and emotionally validated by my dad as a child and young adult, and it took a long time for me to understand why our relationship was so full of static.

Dad was raised by two people who –by today’s standards—would be considered abusive parents. I love my dad’s biological parents, but they were both products of their hard life-circumstances and (I believe) often too self-involved to have better-prioritized their only son’s emotional well-being. Dad labored on the family farm at a very young age…he was capable of driving a tractor at age 5; even though he was an extremely well-behaved child, his parents were fast to blame him for any kind of disruption and even quicker to physically punish him. In addition to this hard-knock approach to child rearing, his parents never supported or nourished his individuality or talents throughout his childhood and young adulthood.

Thus, the product of their “parenting”, my dad, was a Red Foreman-type (That ‘70s Show). He was a hard, manly man who knew how to work hard. Period.

Children in dad’s world were to be seen and not heard. We did as we were told or we were yelled at…or spanked…or both. To this day, the sound of vacuum cleaners agitates me because I only remember being yelled at for the way I vacuumed and the arguments that ensued. We had an industrial-strength Kenmore; it could’ve sucked the wallpaper off of the walls (pity it didn’t). It left visible lines in the carpet; you could clearly see where you’d cleaned. This is the gist of an exchange as I remember it:

Dad: “Vacuum like this.” (Demonstrates uniform lines as one would mow the lawn)

Me: “Why? I can see where I vacuumed.” (Gestures to vacuum lines)

Dad: (annoyed) “Because I said so.”

Me: (genuinely curious) “But why is that better.”

Dad: (irate) “Don’t smart-mouth me. Just do as your told.”

Further “challenges to his authority” as he perceived them would merit a quickly-administered spanking (there weren’t second, third, and fifth chances or mere threats of spankings; if a spanking was promised, it was delivered without hesitation). The thing is, I wasn’t being a smart mouth; I was a really inquisitive kid; I truly wanted to understand why in the name of all things sacred it was vital to only vacuum a certain way. Was it better…did the floor get cleaner? Did it matter that it might have been more expedient if I didn’t necessarily care about being the fastest I could be? Of course, the answer was no. The floor wasn’t any cleaner nor did it matter if it was the fastest way, but it was what he wanted. Questioning that incited a reaction.

Once when I was in elementary school, I made the mistake of asking if our neighbor could stay for dinner in front of her. We’d been advised to not do that. We understood there wasn’t always enough food for a guest and that it was impolite to ask in front of the guest lest the answer need to be no. In my childish exuberance, I brashly asked if our neighbor, K, could stay for dinner in front of her. And dad punished me in front of her. I tried to run, but he grabbed me; I tried to get away, but this made it much worse. I ended up in the air, suspended by my ankle, being spanked and humiliated in front of my friend who consequently remembered the incident (and reminded me of it) at our 8th grade “graduation”.

Despite this southern-fried style discipline, I want to assert that Dad wasn’t cruel or abusive. He never berated or insulted us; he didn’t not love us; he was who he was… a product of his ignorant parents’ emotionless and harsh “parenting” methodology.  Again, while I love both of my grandparents for reasons that are very detached from who they were as parents, I realize that it was their fault that Dad was the way he was during my formative years; it was their selfish preoccupations with their addictions and with their dysfunctional marriage above being loving and supportive parents to the person they were designated to protect.

This actualization alone made it possible for me to forgive my dad for “wanting to break” my inquisitive, left-handed creative, expressionistic spirit for the entirety of my life under his roof. (While I can’t remember the context of the argument, he did once say verbatim that he ‘tried to break me’, I assume like you would a horse; oddly, I’m very proud of this because as a woman, if your own dad can’t break you, it’s a certainty no one else can.)

 

A Relationship Re-Rooted

Dad and I hit a wall in my mid-20s, and between my ability to look past the past and the fact that I was maturing as a human being, we were able to form an actual relationship. Today I see my dad as calmer. I’ve gotten to know him as a wise, reserved, and reflective individual. He’s a really good person who is highly intelligent and who has overcome a lot (more than I realized or have communicated here); I understand him a lot more and find it very easy to love him and to advocate for him. I can also understand why he had a lot of anger and frustration for so many years.

Admittedly, I wish this version of my dad was the version I had known as a child. I didn’t need the McGoo namby-pamby, pleated-khakis, feel-good heartfelt emotional lessons with the sappy music Danny Tanner dad (shudder) ; heck, even though I was a Clarissa in a Babysitter’s Club world, I didn’t even need (or want) an artsy Marshall Darling dad.

What I needed and wanted was a dad who wanted to spend real time with me. Perhaps, if our relationship hadn’t been tainted with perpetual discipline and resentment, I would’ve cultivated some of our similar interests sooner. Perhaps I would have learned how to discern weeds, to plant a garden, and to work in a flowerbed sooner. I love gardening; my dad is an excellent and skilled gardener who always has beautiful lawns and flowerbeds that look professionally landscaped. I could’ve also learned about some of the mistakes he made before I also made them…and maybe I could’ve avoided them all together (maybe not, but there’s no way to know).

 

Surviving the Winter

Alas, none of that happened, and dwelling on it and wishing it did is frivolous. Holding onto it is also silly because it threatens any new growth we’ve cultivated.

A (now former) student who, one year ago this January, lost his 21 year-old daughter to illness made all of this even more poignant; the only time he had with his daughter was roughly the exact amount of time dad and I wasted. I couldn’t help but wonder, What if that had been us? And then I was just thankful that it wasn’t.

My student has a son in his mid-20s who suffers a similar illness to his daughter. Before acknowledging what’s kept us going after losing Jude, I thought, “Why waste your time with school when what’s important is so obvious?” However, I quickly remembered that we keep going because that’s what we do. We keep going because when our only options are to lie down and to die or to keep moving forward, we just keep going…harder and stronger. We don’t let the things that try to break us break us.

That’s what this man (my student) did. That’s what Sean and I did after we lost our beautiful Jude. That’s what dad and I did after we didn’t get the first 25 years right.

 

The Grapefruit Tree

I started reflecting on all of this (foods that heal, grapefruits, pineapples, and my relationship with my dad) on Dec. 26, 2015 when I ate the first grapefruit I’d had that year from my dad’s tree. Often prolific, the tree produced only a handful of the nourishing fruit because it sustained a lot of damage during last year’s hard and harsh freezes. For me, my dad’s grapefruits are not only most delicious, but they also hold powerful emotionally soothing properties for me.

When Jude died, when we were at the hospital, in addition to his tears of grief for his only grandson and emotional support for Sean and me, Dad brought a bag of grapefruit, and I sustained on nothing but the fruit for least a week. Though other food was brought for me to eat while I numbly “recovered” in the hospital, it usually ended up uneaten either because a sympathetic visitor would arrive and it would be cold by the time they were gone; or because I was sleeping when it arrived, and it was unappetizing by the time I woke up.

Instead, the only activity that I could manage in my shattered state that held any peace was the satisfying labor of pulling away the grapefruit’s skin, then peeling away thick layers of pith before pulling the fruit apart and quietly eating the pieces at my leisure. Nothing spoiled. It was never cold or unappetizing; it was, in fact, the only thing that had any flavor to me.

A year later, it was very important for me to have a grapefruit from my dad’s tree. I had a total of six this growing season. As I said, it was a hard year for the grapefruit tree; it had such a brutal winter last year…it was lucky to have survived, but it had a strong foundation and was well established. And, like the people its fruit nourishes in every sense of the word, it kept moving forward when confronted by the option to give up; it, like me and like my dad, refused to be broken when life’s winters were harsh.

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.