June 13, The Day Your Dad Almost Died

Every day, you are guaranteed a sunrise and a sunset, but you are not guaranteed every day. Recently someone posted something to Facebook about the novelty of the daily sunrise and sunset noting that we get so many but stop to appreciate so few, and let’s be honest…the few we stop to appreciate, at least pursuant to my generation, are often appreciated for posterity. We stop and soak in the sunset over the beach, the forest, the desert, the lake, the pool, the mountain, the ice-cream cone, the top of our daughter’s pigtailed head, so we can take a picture and upload it to Instagram. Look at this moment that I captured without living in it.

It’s dusk right now, and I’ve missed the sunset. I unintentionally missed my daily moment to sit outside and to watch the sun wash the sky with fiery pink and orange, signaling the resignation of the day’s intense heat, as the orb itself vanishes behind the trees in its rote descent toward the nadir.

On Wednesday, June 12, I was only vaguely aware of the celestial display happening outside of Sean’s hospital room in the progressive care unit. A liter and a half of fluid had been aspirated off of his lungs, and he was enviably doped up on what the nurse downstairs described as “liquid Xanax”. It had been a half hour after his oncologist, Dr. Butler, and his nurse, Blair, left when Sean started to run fever. His mouth was so dry, they had to take it under his armpit to register it—102.1. His cheeks were mottled and his skin felt like it was boiling. Tylenol and fluid were ordered, and Sean settled down. Uneasy, I left my phone number with the nurse. “Call me if anything changes.”

His parents visited, and in the time between my return to the house and getting the children to bed and them coming back, I’d already made up my mind. I was going back to the hospital. I hastily packed the small suitcase with wheels, gears whirring in my head, words thumping against each other. I opened a blank Word document on my laptop and emptied everything, what was happening and what I sensed was coming, onto the page.

By the time I’d uploaded the story, Sean’s parents were home and in agreement that someone should stay with him. It was after ten, well after sunset, when I checked back in at the hospital for what would end up being a week-long stay.

I hadn’t planned to be awake before dawn on June 13, but at 4:30 that morning, Sean’s cheeks were once again mottled. The nurse gave him two Percocet and more fluids to lower his fever. His heart rate was in the 160s. They put him on oxygen, and a respiratory specialist was called in. At 5:54 AM, I fired off the first text to Dr. Butler.

At 5:57, a response. “Worried about fever…could be tumor or infection. Highly complex situation. Glad he did not go home. He is very, very sick, but I think you are aware of this. We are trying our best.”

5:58 AM: I know. I’ve been praying over him and you all as well.

At 5:59, I put my hands around Sean’s and pressed my cheek to them, praying. Outside, beams of white light glinted off the spire of a distant church, off the treetops, and off the little brick Forensics building across the street as the sun rose to claim the day. This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made….

I felt rueful. I did already know that my husband was “very, very sick”. I knew from the moment that we got the refractory ALK+ ALCL diagnosis on June 4 that time, however much of it there was, was an even more precious commodity, that statistics were no longer as friendly as they were with the advanced stage Hodgkin’s disease, that science simply had yet to unmask all nuances of this rare and aggressive cancer…to undress it and to understand it intimately enough to know how it might respond and to unearth what would tame it.

Still, I thought we’d have more time to at least try. Doctors came and went, attentive, lips pressed into thoughtful lines.

The lead internist comes in. I’m told he’ll be moved to the ICU but that the ICU team will come by first. They might have to intubate him, the way he’s breathing. The internist squeezes my shoulder, and pauses making long, meaningful eye contact. I follow her into the hallway. “Do I need to call his parents?”

“If they can come….”

“They can.”

“Yes. You need to call his parents.”

I nod and slide back into the room. Tremulous. My body betrays my deliberation as I shake. I pace the ancillary room behind the curtain, trying to stop the tremors. Tiny little earthquakes violate me from the inside out. I walk to the bed. “Hey,” the swells of fear break the dam, tears pool and my throat tightens, so my voice is thick. “I’m going to call your parents, okay?”

Sean’s voice cracks, “Am I dying?”

“No,” I lie dabbing the sleeves of my sweatshirt to my eyelids, soaking up the unshed tears. “Of course not. I’m just scared. The ICU is a little scary. They said they might have to intubate you, put you on a breathing tube, and it might upset your parents if they have to see you like that without seeing you here first. No big deal.” The aftershocks reverberate, but I’m no longer lachrymose.

I call my mom first. My parents will need to head to the house to watch the children because I knew that once I call my mother-in-law, she’ll be beside herself to come. I’m worried she’ll panic when I call, but after a brief exchange with my efficient mother, I touch my mother-in-law’s name on my iPhone, and the thing rings. She answers quickly.

“You need to come to the hospital.” I measuredly explain that Sean will be going to the ICU and that they might have to intubate him. They feel it’s best if you see him before if they have to do that as they said it can be upsetting to family. My parents are on the way to relieve them. She understands and doesn’t sound alarmed. She also doesn’t ask questions. Good.

The oncologists, the internists, and the infectious disease team are at a critical crossroads.

It is very likely that he has an infection, so, the oncologist who rounds explains, to start chemo with an infection could be fatal as the chemotherapy lowers cell counts significantly. However, to not start chemo could also be a mistake. If there is no infection, then the cancer is what’s making him sick, and without chemotherapy, he will only get worse.

I watch his chest muscles work furtively as he breathes. His oxygen saturation is good, but why he’s struggling to breathe is confusing. It’s suggested the problem could be related to his cardiac function. An echocardiogram is ordered, and I’m ravenous for more information, for answers, for action.

One of my best friends, a nurse, someone who happened to be there the night we lost Jude, comes to visit. We stand in the hallway, and her face reads like an open book. Her clear, beautiful skin is tight and her bright eyes are wide. She understands the situation, and I understand her. She has the same expression she had four years, five months, and thirteen days earlier on the night Jude left us. Later, she tells me, when she has patients who present like Sean, they either crash or they recover. “He won’t be able to breathe like that—using just his chest muscles—for much longer.”

I’m anxious and relieved when we’re transported into the ICU. In quiet moments I pray. I pray specifically for the doctors and their choices. I ask Sean’s friends from his Monday night men’s prayer group to pray the same thing and to spread the word to our friends to pray, to pray for God’s agents on this earth, the doctors, whose choices would directly affect Sean’s life.

We’re not in the ICU long when the oncology team comes in. “We could keep poking and prodding him,” the lead on the team says from the head of Sean’s bed, “but we don’t think we will find anything. We will go ahead and start chemotherapy today.”

December 31, 2014 was a bright, blue, beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. The high was about 55 degrees. We laid Jude to reset that day. Somewhere between the funeral parlor and sitting under a tent that crisp and chilly morning, the dove of peace dipped low in the sky and brushed against both Sean and me. It was an imperceptible moment, a passing from raw, scraped nerves to the understanding that we’d be okay. We weren’t sure how nor when nor why, but we both felt serenity.

It’s as if aloe has been smoothed over my burning fear. They’re starting chemo. Despite no medical knowledge whatsoever (I still say “boo-boo cream”), I know it’s the right choice. My bones stop shaking. All that stands in the way is the echocardiogram, one that after it’s conducted merits the ICU cardiologist to stop, turn to face me at the foot of Sean’s bed and say in his European accent, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news….”

Stop, I want to interrupt. I already know. There is no need for dramatic speeches, not now, not ever. Instead I stare up at him. Patient, unblinking. My mother in law’s form fills the doorway behind the doctors. “His life,” he pauses and holds up his finger, “is literally balancing on the tip of a pin. Any decision we make, even giving him a bag of fluid that he doesn’t need, could push him.” He gestured the pin tipping, the imaginary form on top, Sean’s life, toppling with it.

“I know,” I intone. “I understand. Thank you.”

I didn’t cry when they told me Jude had no heartbeat. In the flurry and fury of everything that happened that night and in the days after, I remember thinking when the doctor said there’s no heartbeat and my brain said to some part of me that could process information, “They are saying that your son has no heartbeat.” I thought very clearly, “What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to burst into tears?” I searched myself for the appropriate emotional response. For any emotional response. I was aware of myself, sitting in the hospital bed, doing nothing.

Sean started to speak first, asking what to do. I knew there was a procedure, but I’d never given birth naturally to Lillianne, so I insisted we do an emergency Cesarean. My body, my brain, my mouth could respond to action, to hope, to a plan, so I insisted. Furiously. Immediately. Yes, cut me open, cut me now. Get him out now. Try to save him. Yes, I swear I just felt him move, right after I got back in bed. Yes. Now. And then those inner quakes started, and they were so violent, my teeth chattered so hard, that I can hardly believe my heart didn’t explode. I internalize everything, and when I can’t contain all of the things, I tremble and shake as my body betrays my will for control.

On this day, I also don’t cry after the doctor’s speech. I wonder if he thinks that’s weird. There will be time to cry later. Tears come when they want to, not when they “should”. I’ve already been shocked today. But at the same time, I already know that no matter what happens, we are doing the exact and only thing we can to save his life. The doctors have made a choice and are relinquishing control back to the higher power.

Chemotherapy starts. All there is now, I think, is to watch and wait. We’ve done everything we can. That night, I’m curled up like a faithful cat in the sleeper chair next to Sean’s bed, holding his hand, when his vitals settle. His heart rate drops to below 100. His oxygen stabilizes. Before we’d settled to sleep, I’d texted my friend who visited earlier, that I prayed I’d be able to send her a miracle text…that he was okay, stable, doing well. She said she hoped so, too. And in the early morning, after he was awake and the sun warmed the sky, and I knew he was okay, I did text her…just that. Miracles do happen. And this was one of those times.

Days later, a friend from church would share that she thinks that Sean had more prayers than a congregation on a Sunday morning that June 13, and I would read it to him, and he would cry, and I’d cry a little, too, because we’d both know it’s true, and we’d both know that those urgent words to God uttered, whispered, and thought in unison made a lifetime, whatever the duration of that life is meant to be, of difference.


PS: I love you, my sweet four-and-a-half-year-old little miracle son. We don’t know the duration of life. In a million years, I’d never have known you’d only live to be thirty-three weeks or that I’d never get to experience you outside of my own body during that time, but what a life force you are. What a presence you are. How dear you are to me, and, oh my sweet boy, I hope you know how much you’ve transformed our lives here. 

“The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree are of equal duration.” –T.S. Eliot

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Hey Jude — In Our Boats

You’re standing on the edge of a low stone precipice overlooking a raging sea of brackish brine. To live, you must go forward, to step off the cliff and trust that the boat will break your fall; however, you are terrified of this ocean. In fact, entering this ocean in any capacity is one of your lifelong fears. You look around hoping for ideas on how to avoid it. Behind you, the landscape is being drained of color as the clouds of time roll ever onward. This is the past. It has no future, no vitality. To return to it means no oxygen and death within minutes. Going left or right is an option, but ultimately, the past will catch up and destroy you for remaining in a present that will become your past.

Of course, you consider, there is a caveat to moving forward. The boat. Someone–you can’t remember who, said there’d be a boat; however, the boat only exists if you believe it exists. If you stop believing the boat exists, it will cease to carry your weight, and you will plummet into the tumult. If you resume believing in the boat, it will appear, and you will be rescued. If you cannot, you will drown or will have to swim to safety; though, your chances of making it and of still being a whole person are not in your favor.

I believe there is a boat. Three years and 10 months ago, I was in that boat. At this exact time, which would be nearly 24 hours after Jude left us, that boat was literally a hospital bed, and there were only two people in the world on it—Sean and me. We spent night after night together in that tiny hospital bed so close in our grief that it seemed there was room to spare.

Jude’s funeral was on New Year’s Eve, and recently, Sean reminded me of our earthly goodbye to Jude. Our minds are repositories for memories. To get to certain memories, I have to deliberately open a door and walk through it. Then, I go to a shelf, take a box off the shelf, and open it. Like Harry Potter entering a pensive, I can relive vivid memories if I allow myself to. I almost cried remembering the funeral parlor that day.

Rather than perpetually replaying the fine details of Jude’s goodbye, I instead remember the feeling of the moment I stepped off the cliff and landed in the boat. Because at some point that day, I stopped feeling like the ocean would or could devour me. Instead, I felt oddly placid. It was the first time I realized the power of faith.

Losing Jude was one of two things I said I could never survive. The other was my husband leaving me. Now, when I said that, I meant it in the way that my husband meets someone with a much better personality and temperament, possibly someone who knows how to clean and who is just tickled pink to do laundry and to potter around the house dusting things in high heels. I’m kidding. He’s not that shallow. He just would prefer I ask him to listen to fewer audiobooks.

At any rate, I know I have a husband who values the institution of marriage and whose proclivities don’t lean toward infidelity. I still let him know that I would react like a proper crazy person if anything ever did happen because…insurance. More kidding. I didn’t consider the possibility that there even could be a possibility that he might leave in some other way.

This past week, Sean had a biopsy on a mass in the mediastinum to look for whatever was causing his now 4+ weeks of ill health. The doctor, a straight-shooter and a smart man, said he suspected lymphoma; however, he was optimistic that lymphoma was very treatable. Ever since Sean’s biopsy on the 12th when they said, “You know what this (needing to biopsy) means, right?” that they were looking for cancer. I am optimistic about whatever is to come, but before I stepped into the boat, I toed the water in the ocean.

I imagined the worst as our psyches tend to force us to do. Would our daughters remember their daddy? I pictured Eilie waking up at night crying for a daddy who’d never come. I pictured Lucia not being able to remember a daddy who loved her so much. I pictured Lillianne angry, broken, and sulky. I’d have to take them to therapy. But how does one do the job of both? How does one love enough for two? I pictured, too, living the rest of my life being the only other person who cared about and loved Jude the way that we did.

And then, I stopped. Sometimes when he took his motorcycle to work and it was rainy, or just because I knew he sometimes drove a little too fast, I would lay there and scare the stew out of myself with the picture reel of “what-ifs”.

Instead of torturing myself with a deluge of “what-if” scenarios, I’m choosing to get on the boat. Because of Jude, I know it exists. I know it will carry us. When I said the other day in my ask for prayers prior to Sean’s biopsy, I know God has a plan. I don’t know what it is, but I know that if Sean hadn’t gotten sick when our rascals got RSV, then it’s hard to say when we’d have found this thing, whatever it is—whether it’s cancer or something else—and who knows if then it’d be too late? God always has a plan. As much I have expressed that Jude’s passing could possibly have been prevented, I also believe that God had a plan for Jude whether his life was lived physically or metaphysically. Jude’s life has impacted mine and Sean’s in ways there’s no way it would have had he been our normal little boy and had we been normal, happy (albeit, stressed) parents with no experience navigating the rough waters in our little boats.

Hey Jude — Making the Most of This Life

Dear Jude,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey Jude — The Hardest 500 Words

We lost Jude on December 26, 2014, and I never went back to “work”. I really couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t stand the idea of going back to that office where –when I last left, I was pregnant—and sit at that desk again and sit at that lovely dual monitor computer screen and do my job. I didn’t want to endure that for another month or two or three or however long it was before I ultimately couldn’t do it anymore, so instead, I quit.

For the year and a half prior to that moment, I’d slowly been establishing myself as a freelance writer and editor, so I wasn’t quitting to the detriment of my family; I had a good side income. No, I was quitting because it seemed absurd to stick around and to sit in that spot and think about my sweet boy and how much he used to kick me when that would have been emotional flagellation. So, while I had a sense of how to take care of myself in one regard, I still had much to learn in areas of faith.

As it turns out, grief and loss don’t come with instruction manuals. One of the worst and hardest things about losing our Jude was telling people what happened. In some cases, I couldn’t do it. It seemed like way too much to e-mail my editor in Arizona and tell him that I had been pregnant but that I was at the hospital and that I’d lost my son and could he please find someone else to write the article?

Instead, I was –still—very afraid of not having the work. I worried that by letting my editors down, they wouldn’t hire me. I also just couldn’t find the right words for what happened; I was so close to the grief spiral’s abyss. Instead I said, “There’s been a family emergency; can I get an extension?” or something to that effect. He added a few days to the deadline, so it was due on December 29. I went home from the hospital on December 28; Jude’s funeral was December 31.

I remember sitting in bed late the night of December 29 trying to understand what I was supposed to write about. The client was an app developer, and I was supposed to write 500 words about app development services or trends in app development or something; I couldn’t focus. I may as well have had to write the article in alien French, too, while I was at it.

Thankfully, the assignment was in English, and it was by the grace of God the assignment was only 500 words instead of the usual 900 or 1,200. I wouldn’t have made it if it was any longer. So, there I was, along in my bleary-eyed wakefulness as Sean and Lillianne slept beside me. I didn’t understand a word I was writing, but I pushed and grinded and slogged my way through a passable article on app development (or trends or whatever). I gave it a quick proofread and sent it in three days after Jude was born still.

That night, I was not ready to come back to life; I was not ready to fully embrace my new world. I regret not having the nerve to explain what happened to my editor and to accept that if that company didn’t want to hire me again, God would somehow have it all worked out.

I did learn to put my faith in God more, though, thanks to Jude. As a freelancer, I’ve had many ups and downs, but God has always shown up. I’ve learned to stop worrying.

The most poignant example of this happened in early spring of 2015. Someone I was bringing home about $1000+ a month from decided to move my work in-house. That was a huge pay cut; however, that kind of thing happens all of the time. I responded to the e-mail that I understood and was genuinely grateful for everything this person had done for me. Three hours later, while I was running with Lillianne, my phone rang and from out of the blue, an editor (who I’d never met) for a company I did some travel writing with (Compass Media) wanted to see if I’d be interested in driving to their office and meeting. We ended up negotiating a contract that lasted for about a year, and I wrote three travel guides (two for the City of Mobile and one for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach). It was a huge lesson in faith, one that I started learning during Jude’s funeral.

On December 31, Sean and I seemingly simultaneously found peace after losing Jude. I cannot explain the peace that I felt, but I know Sean and I both talked about feeling it that day. At some point, there was a moment for both of us during Jude’s funeral where we felt…serenity and clarity. It was like the combined love, energy, spirit, and prayers of everyone who came to Jude’s funeral came together as a force of invisible nature. God literally answered the hearts of everyone who was there for us and for Jude because that was a transformative moment for Sean and for me.

That peace has kept me steady in the life I’m living now. Without Jude, I don’t know that I would’ve found that, so I am beyond grateful to my little boy, who will turn three in December, for this precious gift.

After Jude’s funeral, when I was ready to sit down at my computer again, I explained what happened to my editor. He said it was the saddest thing he’d ever heard. I appreciated that. Of course, at that point, I didn’t need any deadline extensions because I had chosen to live. Jude and those prayerful spirits at his funeral helped me make that decision as opposed to falling into the spiraling grief abyss. I would be able to work and to write and to meet deadlines again. Some things would be harder than others, but so far, nothing has been harder than those 500 words that I wrote that long, lonely night between death and life.

 

Dear Jude,

 It’s weird to feel your 20-week-old little sibling kicking me while I’m writing to you. It’s also weird to miss you so much but to be so thankful for you being you just the way you are. I only wish I could hug you, as any mother wishes. I will always wonder what happened and why, but that doesn’t disrupt the peace and faith I have because of you. I’m impressed, of course, at the way that in 33 short weeks, you accomplished more in my life than I have. You are precious, and you are wonderful. I love you and miss you.

Love,

Mommy

 

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

are of equal duration.” –T.S. Elliot

 

Indeed. They are.

Hey Jude – My Little Gidding

Dear Jude,

Today you’d be 2 1/2 if….

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

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

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

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

Are of equal duration.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Hey Jude – 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 – 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