Hey Jude — Not My Son

In loving memory of my sweet bright-smiling misfit and absolute delight Andrew King and to the kind and all-around lovely Bobby Harper. I love you both.

Hey Jude – Not My Son

What person, upon finding out that they’re going to be a parent, doesn’t consciously or subconsciously negotiate with God? Not my baby. Not my baby to leave my body before I meet him. Not my baby to be born sick and suffering. Not my baby to get sick later. Not my baby to be hurt physically or emotionally by life’s harsh winds, perpetually whipping around the world. Not my baby to be psychologically damaged. Not my baby to suffer from addiction. Not my baby to be unloved. Not my baby to have any more heartache than one must. Not my baby to make my mistakes. Not my baby to leave this place, for whatever reason, ahead of me.

A short lifetime ago, I spent much of my free time during undergraduate school working with my mom’s 5th grade students. I remember being surprised¾and “feeling old”–when I was working at USA and was getting a coffee from the student center and a freshman recognized me. He was one of the “kids” in 5th grade my freshman year of college.

Working with the fifth graders was fun. It was their last year of elementary school and in many ways, a last year of innocence. Certainly, that was the case for me. Socially, I struggled to navigate middle school, a reality that wasn’t helped by my appearances¾braces and glasses¾or by my predilection for smiley faces (the ‘60s were very trendy). Those smiley face keychains clinking off of my backpack were bullseyes for bullies and mean kids, and while I didn’t suffer the same as two other incredibly socially isolated children (one of whom, looking back, most likely had autism), after three years, I was damaged.

And so it was bittersweet, being with classes of little 10 and 11-year-olds in the days before they “graduated”, crying and singing along to Vitamin C’s “Graduation” song, assigning special significance when one of their names appeared in the song. I only ever hoped the best for these innocent little people.

While love is in many ways the greatest gift we have as humans and sharing and giving it freely can do powerful things, love cannot prevent loss.

This morning, I learned that for the second time within the past year, one of those precious children passed away. I laid awake in bed in the wee hours of the morning thinking of his younger brother and of his mother who now consciously or subconsciously asking God, why my son?

Between shockwaves, the black hole of loss feels all encompassing. The ever-widening chasm as the reality and finality of this thing too unfathomable to fully comprehend, engulfs her. Breathing is painful. The all-consuming and single thought is that surely, this is a nightmare. But night falls and morning comes as time cruelly persists. Anger at time, at its coldness, at its deliberate insistence on moving forward instead of backward, the way it should, the way it must, so that whatever circumstances led to that which cannot be undone, can be changed.

Because, as we all do, those parents among us whose children left too soon, we will rethink how things could’ve gone, should’ve gone, over and over and over, and for a while, we will be dizzy with confusion as to how things occurred the way that they did and not some other way.

Next, we will look for someone, anyone to blame. Whose fault was this, and how can I make them pay? As soon as this thought occurs comes the reality that there is nothing in this world that could make it okay. No amount of money. No quantity of tears of apology.

Instead, we realize that there’s nothing that we wouldn’t give. No amount of money or comfort or warmth or luxury or nourishment that we wouldn’t immediately purge just to have our baby back. Why had no one thought to ask if we were willing to trade before they made the choice to take our baby?

These thoughts don’t all come at once. They come over the course of days and weeks. In the meanwhile, the gaping wound left by unanaesthetized amputation of your soul starts to scar.

I’ve learned to live with the fact that my little Jude isn’t here, the step between Lillianne and Eilie, who I never even got to meet. I often wonder about my little boy, what he’d be like, what he’d like, how he’d play with his sisters. I don’t dream in detail. I don’t have any memories other than those of his loss and a few sensory memories of how he moved when he was alive that are so faded, they’re nearly invisible.

To that end, I don’t suppose to understand how the mothers of these boys, who weren’t even and who were just barely 30-years-old, feel. I don’t suppose to understand how the mothers of others who I know feel. Nor do I suppose to suggest our losses are the same. All tragic losses are unique as is all grief; however, there is a shared component.

The amputation of something essential is the same for all of us, and so this terrible thing has the power to unite us, to enable us to help one another, to pray for each other.

There is no purpose in asking why or in pleading not my. Every day is a gift, one we take for granted, and one that lately, with Sean’s illness, that I am forcibly reminded of (and of how often I take it for granted). While we are all imperfect people living imperfect lives, this, this life, is all we have.

I haven’t always taken lemons and made lemonade. I cannot be unaffected by the past. I recognize the many occasions in life that have stunted me, and despite my age and my experiences, in some ways, I still feel like a little girl. Perhaps that’s because I crave security, certainty, something most children possess. I go back to a time when I was 10-years-old, and like those little fifth graders at E.R. Dickson, where they live in my mind, everything was as it should be.

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Hey Jude — When a Mother Loses a Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Pleasure in Pain

Hey, Jude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Now, 5 Months Ago

Five months ago today, at this time, you were still alive in me.  You’re always alive in me, but five months ago, there were still moments where I would feel you move and have hope of meeting you.  Five months ago today, at this time, I wasn’t scared yet.  I didn’t realize you were in danger.  It doesn’t make me feel worse nor does it make me feel better that no one knows what happened to you.  By all accounts, you should be here.  You’re rare and special.  I’m sure that’s why God chose you to come with Him so quickly.

***

Today, I was holding Lillianne, and we walked past your photo on the wall.  She said, “Baby, boy.”  I said, “That’s Jude.”  She said, “Awe, Jude.” … “Sad Jude.”  My darling, are you sad?  I hope you’re not.  I hope you’re not sad for us or for your sister.  You’re a beacon of hope and a continual source of joy and comfort.  Because of you, I have a person, a presence in my life that is eternally innocent.  In the world we live in, I don’t think you know how rare that is.  To have you and the presence of your purity is a constant reminder that I can be a better person, that there’s a reason to be happy and thankful, and that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.

***

Hey, Jude.  Thanks to you, I do take sad songs and make them better, and while I’m not always eternally optimistic because I’m not perfect, I can’t possible describe what your life has done to me.  You’re in my core, little angel, and I love you.  Daddy loves you.  Lillianne loves you.  You are love, and you are loved.  My son.