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.

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Hey Jude – One Second

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Hey Jude – Flying Again

I am thankful; I’m more thankful than I’ve ever been in my life. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case considering my son, perhaps the only son I’ll ever have, isn’t here; he was only here for a fleeting 33 weeks before he was taken on December 26, 2014. Those weeks he spent kicking…he was so vital, so funny. It still doesn’t seem possible that he’s gone or that he was taken in a way that fragments the foundation of any confidences I ever had in anything.

 

Anxiety without Fear

After all, a seemingly perfectly healthy baby in a pain and issue-free pregnancy simply lost his heartbeat. I do have a theory on how that took place, but that theory does nothing to strengthen by belief in the probability that history won’t repeat itself. If anything it makes it that much worse. I won’t pretend I’m full of bravado, that I haven’t spent countless nights laying awake jostling a sleeping fetus so that she’ll kick me just to prove she’s alive for at least 10 more minutes. I won’t pretend I haven’t talked about it to my doctors like they’re therapists each and every time I visit. I won’t pretend I don’t think about it. I sleep with a teddy bear. I won’t pretend that I would much rather pretend that I’m not obviously pregnant. I won’t pretend that I want to talk about it. I’m sure people who don’t know or who think I should act more grateful think I’m a…well, it rhymes with peach, but I don’t care. Losing Jude wounded me to the core.

 

Flying Again

I have an ultrasound to see Ocean Baby every time I go see my high-risk specialist. I always start the visit very present, but I zone out quickly…I barely pay attention to the growing baby on the screen. Instead, I talk.

A disembodied hand moved a wand around on my jelly-coated abdomen while I stared unseeing at the screen. “It’s like being in a plane crash,” I said during a recent visit. “You’re in a plane that crashes on landing, and then the next time you fly again, everyone tells you just to be cool on the descent because it probably won’t happen again. I realize that statistically that’s unlikely, but that doesn’t make it any less anxious-making.”

My doctor nodded understandingly. We can all understand how terrified we’d be to fly again. Yet, here I am, exactly one year later; the plane is getting ready to make its descent. The gate knows we’re coming; we’re so close to the ground that if something were to go wrong, we should be able to salvage all of the passengers; of course, we should have been able to last time (perhaps); though, it’s hard to say what happened. We didn’t; there were casualties. I wasn’t one of them. I made it out. I was broken, bruised, burned, damaged, and changed forever, but I crawled away from the plane crash with my husband.

We never once considered not flying again. We knew we’d want to, but we were given a boarding pass and were taking our seats before we knew what was happening. This trip wasn’t planned. I’ve had some moments of anxiety including a recent visit to the Women’s & Children’s clinic because I felt a painful pea-sized lump under my arm that I thought might be a clot or something (an incident I shall henceforth remember as “The Preggo and the Pea”) (I should add that the doctors who inspected me did say they felt swelling, so I wasn’t being completely paranoid.).

That said, I’m not afraid of the crash even if I’m anticipating it. I’ve become unafraid of so much in the past year. Jude has given me so much strength and peace and courage…I can’t explain it. I truly don’t want to lose another baby ever, ever again. I pray with all of my heart that it never happens again, but I’m so proud of my baby boy for doing everything I ever could’ve asked him to do; he constantly makes me a better person.

 

A New Foundation of Faith

Ironically, losing Jude has made me realize just how much I have to be thankful for…I have so much love in my life. I have my incredible, beautiful little girl. I have my perfect angel boy. I have a good, faithful, hardworking husband who not only puts up with me but seems to genuinely like me most of the time. I have a safe, warm home. I have jobs that I love.

Most of all, I have faith that when the foundation of everything else was shaken, I was able to look to a higher power and let go. I was able to walk on air because I’d lost everything; there was nothing holding me to the ground any more. Suddenly, I was liberated by the reality that I can’t control anything. I finally understood what was meant by “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”

Losing Jude by all accounts should’ve killed me. I’ve always said there are two things that would destroy me. One is my husband choosing to be unfaithful; the other –more terrifying prospect—is losing one of my children. In being forced to face my worst fear, I showed strength I never knew I possessed; I was surprised by my own faith. I truly had no idea who much of it I had in me; not once did I blame God or ask why (sure, I tried to find answers medically-speaking), but I never got angry…I never asked or wondered why. I just held fast to belief that there’s a reason and that perhaps I’m not meant to know that reason.

 

Jude’s Purpose

I know not everyone believes that events in life are purposeful. I am one of those people who believes there’s purpose. Jude’s already serving a great purpose; he’s helping me become a stronger, braver, and more fearless a person than I ever would or could’ve been without him.

I’ve imagined my life and marriage if we’d never lost Jude. Sean and I were in the midst of very stressful times. We’d recently moved into a house that we’d had fully renovated. Our finances were still tight but we were working on it; still, there was no excess. Our tense squabbles were typical of a working married couple with a young child: no personal time, no time to get things done, and money was tight as we worked to pay off student loans, pay our mortgage and other household expenses, etc. We both felt alienated and overworked and misunderstood for different yet equally valid reasons. Though some times were better than others, we were a structure under immense pressure and were a structure preparing to sustain more pressure. Jude was planned and we were excited about having him, but I think we both wondered just how much more we could take. Of course, we’ll never know.

The night we lost Jude and the nights after, Sean slept next to me in that hospital bed. I physically craved having him close to me; I felt things that I hadn’t felt toward him in a long time, which is sad to say considering how short of a time we’d been married. We lay intertwined, holding each other like human life preservers for two nights. We fell asleep here and there; I held him while he shook with sobs, and later when it was my turn, he cradled me as I broke apart. I never want to be without him, I thought. I never want to be away from the only other person who knows what this feels like. I never wanted to leave that hospital bed, our haven of security and intimacy away from the world alone with the pain of losing our son.

In much the same way having a living, healthy baby forges a bond between a couple, losing a baby does, too. In much the same way that raising a living, healthy baby can drive a wedge between a couple, losing a baby can, too. Of course, the stress of changing and adjusting to becoming a parent doesn’t have to be a wedge; a baby can also be a bookend.

I won’t say our sweet then-18-month-old Lillianne was a wedge because we’ve always both been involved and engaged parents; neither of us are selfish with our time (we were definitely both stressed to the nth degree more often than not, though, and very starved for personal time), but we were still adjusting to parenthood when we lost Jude.

Jude was a bookend; he slammed us back together and while we’ve had our moments this past year, Jude’s presence has been a quiet reminder that we’re in this together. My son’s life had and has purpose, which is why I’m not so afraid to fly or to land that I won’t ever stop boarding airplanes.