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 – 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 — Loved Boys & Everland

Finding Everland

A few days ago, I got into the shower and was inexplicably thinking of the 90s movie Hook starring Robin Williams as an adult Peter Pan who must rediscover his identity as Peter Pan in order to rescue his children and their childhoods, which he’d thus far been missing.

My thoughts then slid to focus on Robin Williams and his untimely death due to suicide. How fitting for Robin to play Peter, a character who was frozen in time in Neverland. At the moment one’s final bell tolls, we all trespass from Earth to Neverland. We never grow older. We never give the world new memories of our former selves. We pause. Thus, we will only ever remember or know Robin Williams to a point.

I then recalled that Sean recently told me that Peter Pan’s origins were darker than Disney’s buttered-up animated film made them seem. Predictable. Thinking about Neverland and Peter Pan’s irreversible fate to never grow older, I determined Peter Pan must be about a child who died.

While the nature of James Barrie’s adult life and proclivities are subject to scrutiny and debate, the character of Peter Pan was indeed inspired by a child’s death. One day when he was 13, the “golden” son of the Barrie family, David, was ice-skating when a fellow skater hit him; he fell, cracked his skull, and died. David was 13. The boys’ mother was consumed by grief. She fixated on the death of her most beloved son to the extent that young James began to adopt his brother’s mannerisms. Perhaps this was done to comfort his mother or himself or to receive affection from her; I don’t know. When he turned 13, James stopped growing. He never grew taller than 5’, and his voice never fully matured. He, like his brother David, froze in time; except, James’ heart kept beating, and he kept aging (though, I doubt he grew much older in other ways given the subsequent chapters of his life).

In the early 1900s, the character of Peter Pan was first introduced in a story titled The Little White Bird. In this story, Peter was a baby who at seven days old flew away when he to live with fairies as all babies are born as birds (per the story); however, he soon forgot how to fly, so he returned home only to peer in through his nursery window and to find that his mother had a new baby and had forgotten him. The public’s curiosity and intrigue in baby Peter prompted the successful writer James Barrie to pen the play (Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up) that became the Peter Pan story (Peter Pan and Wendy) we know today.

Nothing about Barrie’s story or the lives touched by his story or the real people who inspired the story is without tragedy or irony. As I reflected on all of this, Jude and his own permanent pause were forefront in my thoughts.

Lost boys…forgotten boys.

Neverland.

My baby isn’t lost nor is he forgotten, I thought. He is a loved boy. He’s in heaven, not a lonely place where he believes he’s unloved and unmissed; he’s in Everland. After all, to believers, heaven is a place of eternal life. That’s where my baby is.

In the past year, I’ve joined a culture of moms who also experienced a third-trimester loss. I’ve also joined a group for people who use the blood thinner Lovenox during pregnancy. These two online social media support groups have been equally heartbreaking and inspiring. All of these parents have one thing in common next to their losses: they all love and miss their babies. They’re all scared and anxious and lost at times, like me. At no point would they not jump out the nursery window to retrieve their baby who flew away if they were to come back.

“You’re missed! I love you! Please don’t leave me again!” I would shout to Jude if I thought he would hear me. I would hug him and hold him and swaddle him with love and bathe him with tears. This past year wouldn’t have happened. It all would have been the nightmare that I kept hoping that it was a year ago.

 

One Year Ago…

One year ago. How has it been a year that it was Christmas and that we were growing ever-closer to February 11, the date that would be Jude’s birthday? I still remember waking up time to time during that first post-op night between the day he died, December 26 and the wee hours of December 27, groggy, bleary-eyed, and disoriented in a twin hospital bed with Sean curled next to me. Please let this be a bad dream. It was a nightmare. It didn’t happen. Oh God, please don’t let this be real.

It did. My flabby, deflating belly was evidence of that. The tender, angry, puffy incision between my hips verified it. Tears welled. I pushed the button in my left hand, dosing myself with Dilaudid before falling back to exhausted sleep only to repeat the cycle every couple of hours.

I understood how Harry Potter felt each time he awoke from a dreamless sleeping drought after yet another loss in his young life. The pain and emptiness starts over every time you come out of that deepest medically-induced sleep. You want to return to it and run from it at the same time.

We left the hospital on December 28, and I was sorry to go. I was leaving the place where Jude had flown out the world’s window far too soon. I was leaving the place where for two uninterrupted days, time stood still, and Sean and I were mostly alone with our grief, holding each other as though our lives depended on it, as though we were lost children. Time and days and hours and nights didn’t exist in that hospital bed and in that room. The world and its oppressive weight of decisions and responsibilities and expectations were concepts, not real things. We were briefly allowed to heal at our own pace.

At first, my physical recovery from the C-section and my emotional recovery were paced at an even keel; I was utterly helpless on both forefronts. Sean led me take my first shower after the surgery, and he gently bathed me because he knew I didn’t have the strength or the ability.

He literally helped me walk again. Together, we shuffled around L&D. I held his arm, and he escorted me to the window and then the vending machines and then around the nurse’s station. Then, while we were still as fragile and as unsteady as my shaky steps, it was time to go; I was physically well enough to go home, but I wasn’t ready…my heart and my emotions were still fragmented. I wasn’t ready for it to be real; I wasn’t ready for the clock to start ticking again.

After that, only excerpts of moments stand out in my memory. Jude’s funeral was on New Years Eve. It was a clear, bright blue, icy cold day; it was so perfect. My best friend heroically flew down from Virginia to hold my hand. The night she arrived, she and I sat on my couch, and I reflected on Jude’s life…on all of the things I’d never see my son do. I would never hear his voice. I would never hear him say, “I love you.” I would never see him fall in love or get married. I would never be able to throw him a birthday party. I would never know what characters and stories he would like. I would never get to see him smile. This –his funeral, would be his only birthday party; a lifetime of memories that would never transpire flashed before my eyes. And then all of the things that nobody knows how to say passed between us as we held each other and cried for my loved boy.

Sean’s brother also dropped everything and came down to support us and to see and to say goodbye to his nephew. So many special and beautiful people came to show us they cared or sent flowers and plants or loving cards. It was the only party we would ever get to have for Jude, his only birthday party, and everyone came.

 

One Year Later…

One year later, nothing and everything have changed. A year ago, I didn’t sleep with a teddy bear named Jude Bear. A year ago, by best friend revealed she and her husband were “trying.” A year ago, I wrote “Research Administration” on the job title line of important forms. One year ago, I had no reason to doubt that I was going to have a little boy to watch grow up. I had a writhing, active baby boy inside of me; he was 33 weeks old on Christmas Day.

This year, I have a writhing, active baby girl inside of me. She will be 33 weeks old on Christmas Eve. This year, my best friend’s first baby will be due just after the New Year. This year, I put “Freelance Writer” or “Exhausted Toddler Mom” or “Trying to Have It All” on the job title line of important forms. This year, I have every reason to doubt that I will have another little girl to watch grow up.

This year, I have anxiety attacks that have grown increasingly frequent and intense as the clock ticks away the moments to December 26, a date on which I’ve mentally superimposed the end of the world. When and if the sun comes up on December 27 and if I still have Jude’s little sister kicking and wiggling and living inside of me, a shred of time that froze last year will have thawed and will tick forward. It won’t undo the pain and aching emptiness I feel at Jude’s absence, but it will signify there is life beyond December 26 and maybe even beyond 33 weeks.

Until then, until three days from now, I’m on edge, shadowboxing with my biggest fear…waiting for it to all go wrong again, constantly looking for “the problem”, buying time with biweekly doctor’s visits to ensure that everything is still “perfect” and to stave off major panic attacks. If I can catch the problem this time, then I can save this baby, and it’ll be like I’m saving Jude. I realize how crazy that sounds, but I have to wonder if that’s not why I panic when the logical side of me knows there’s nothing to worry about.

 

Jude’s Birthday GIft

One year ago, time stopped. Jude took part of me with him when he ascended into Everland as a Loved Boy. He took my fear. He took some of my filter. He took some of my reserve. He took things that kept me from fully living. He took the veneer of strength and dignity and left a raw strip of humanity in his tender little wake.

By doing this, he’s made me stronger and better. I have more faith because of him. I tell people that I care more. I don’t just “like” someone’s pain or pleasure to show love and support. I comment. I text. I call. I confront. I don’t worry about money and things. God will provide; He always has, he always does. Why worry? What will that do? I’ll manage. Even if times are tough, it will be fine. I don’t worry about the mean and ugly things in the world. About hatred. And terrorists. I feel sorry for people consumed by those destroyers of happiness. I’m not afraid to stand up to them if they come for me.

Losing a child was my biggest fear –and it still terrifies me as evidenced by the uncontrollable anxiety attacks this pregnancy has brought, but I don’t live a life of fear (there is a difference between being afraid and living in fear; one means you’re aware; the other means you’re petrified).

One year ago, I unexpectedly and unwillingly faced my biggest fear. I survived. I hope I never have to survive it again, but my son’s perfect life was beautiful and is meaningful. He has made such a difference in my life in the short time he’s been gone from it. This is how I know time hasn’t stopped for me, and in a way, it also hasn’t stopped for him because while he took part of me with him, he left part of himself with me. Through the phenomenon of microchimerism, Jude’s DNA is still living in me. He’s shown me I have nothing to fear and no reason to stop in time despite irony and parallels. He can’t be replicated or replaced nor can what he does in and for my life. Because of this, Jude will never be a forgotten Lost Boy; he will only be a Loved One.

 

Happy first birthday, sweetheart. Thank you for the gifts you give us today and everyday until forever.

Love, Mommy

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