Hey Jude—The View from Five Years Up the Mountain

Hello, my sweet boy. Tonight, I’m going to dinner with friends from church. We’ll dine at a nice downtown restaurant—Chuck’s Fish. I can see our party, thirty-something women, the day’s stress lines smoothed away with fresh applications of make-up, our hair glossy and styled…or at least shaken out of the typical scraggly ponytail, and our dresses…too flirtatious for Sunday School, but too nice for Target. To the other diners and our servers, we’ll look like a gaggle of moms, out for a much-needed night away from the husband and the kids.

While they won’t be wrong per say as we are all indeed moms, they will be mistaken for the cause for the occasion. Today marks what would have been the due date for one of the women in our group. She was due with twins who as I understand were conceived after a long and difficult battle and whose very conceptions were nothing shy of miraculous.

I say “as I understand” because I don’t know this mom, but I’ve walked if not in her shoes then down a similar path. I’m ashamed to admit that when I found out that she already had a daughter, a fraction of me was relieved, not because her daughter in makes up for the absences in her life, but because I know that having already had Lillianne when we lost you helped me cope; Lillianne was a reason to pick myself up and to be courageous, to get out of bed and face the day.

After I came home from the hospital, I remember wanting to clean the house, to undecorate from Christmas before your funeral. I didn’t care that it was December twenty-ninth or that the twelve days of Christmas actually starts after Christmas or that you’re supposed to keep your decorations up until the Feast of the Epiphany. I just wanted to get Christmas out. I’d ordered photos of you to be printed, so we could put them up at your funeral, the only birthday party you’d ever have, and at the house after the funeral, so the people who came to visit could see how beautiful you were.

That night, all of the lights were on in the house. Where the corridor spills into the den, I stopped, kneeled down very carefully—having just had a C-section, I couldn’t pick Lillianne up, and hugged your then eighteen-month-old sister and said, “You have no idea how much I’m counting on you right now.” In short, Lillianne was essential to my healing and to my strength after you died.


I soon considered myself fortunate…as fortunate as a mother who has lost a baby can, that you weren’t my first. In the pregnancy after loss support group I joined on Facebook, I soon lost count of the number of grieving and despairing mothers who’d lost their first baby, and many shared stories not only of their sorrow but also of their frustration over the “support” friends and family gave them.

For many women who lose a baby, well-intended yet unwitting friends and family say so many wrong things:

  • You’re young—you can always have another one.
  • There is always adoption. (Often said to those who battle to have babies with or without a miscarriage, stillbirth, or loss after birth. While yes, adoption is an amazing gift to give to a child who needs a loving home and to one’s self, it has nothing to do with the pain and loss of infertility or other loss.)
  • At least you weren’t that far along. (This is common with first trimester losses and is absurd. Early loss mothers often suffer their losses in silence. What is more, they, like the rest of us, never have a pregnancy afterward where they aren’t riddled with anxiety and fear.)
  • Thank goodness you already have other children. (Said in cases where people have other children, which…yes, thank God for my other child; however, Lillianne isn’t Jude, and he isn’t her. My heart has a special place that belongs only to Jude, and none of my babies, none before and none after, can fill that space. This is often hard for moms who are blessed enough to have rainbow babies, babies after loss, to cope with. Many pregnancy after loss moms report a mix of anguish and joy when they meet their rainbow, the realization that even though they have a beautiful, living, healthy baby to love and to celebrate, that baby will never be the baby or babies that they lost.)
  • Everything happens for a reason. (This can also be “It’s God’s plan.”)

In truth, I felt incredibly uncomfortable with the last reason because unlike some people, I do believe that our lives are purposeful. I love that we can sometimes and often find a greater purpose or sense in our chaotic world, a world where order is literally created from chaos down to the molecular level. We live in a divinely designed world, but grief and loss are painful and are terrible. It can be hard for many to wrap their heads around that those unpleasant things are also by design.

That said, while I believe that life is purposeful and that God indeed has a plan, and while I also believe that we can derive meaning and beauty from most anything, even the ugliest of things, I’ve come to realize that it’s never okay to remind someone who is aching with grief and sadness that “everything happens for a reason”. They will come to that when and if they are ready. Telling a grieving mother that her baby died for a reason or because God was trying to get her attention is like telling her that she got what was coming to her. It just creates pain and cognitive dissonance.


The other thing that people cannot understand is how a mother or father feels when they lose a baby or babies…at any age or stage. Most people are horrified, and they can’t imagine, especially if they are already parents. For most parents, losing one of their babies is a gut-wrenching fear, something they know that happens but that they believe will never happen to them, much like when we get into a car, we believe that we won’t be the one to get into the fender bender. That kind of ego is good. It gives us the confidence to brave the world on a daily basis, to put our children out there, to send them to school, to give them keys to a car at age sixteen. We know that school shootings happen and that foolhardy teens with no sense of danger get into fatal, high-speed car crashes every day, but we assume that won’t be our child. Most of us are lucky.

I remember one semester, perhaps the semester where I was expecting you, I was teaching a composition class at the University of South Alabama in the evening. One of my favorite things about evening classes is that I usually have more non-traditional students, students who have matured into adulthood enough to really value their educational experience, and by that I mean, to embrace what we’re doing in English composition (because it’s awesome).

That semester, I had a student. He was a tall, attractive young man in his mid-twenties who’d moved to Mobile from Florida. He wrote a paper about the frustrations of online dating. He was lonely but struggled to find a mate in the texting, Facebooking, hooking up culture of his Millennial peers. One evening as class wrapped up, he asked about feedback on his rough draft. In discussing the paper, he admitted he’d been in a long-term relationship prior to moving and that he’d almost become a father with his ex-girlfriend. He said that he and his girlfriend had become pregnant but didn’t realize it until they were fairly far along. They’d been happy once they realized they were expecting and quickly embraced the idea that they’d become parents together; however, somewhere between twenty and thirty weeks, they lost the baby.

He said he was sad, but he also said it was for the best. The relationship dissolved, so, how could it not be for the best? I expressed my sympathy, but at the same time, I agreed to myself that it must have been for the best. They were two unwed young people still trying to figure it out. Adding kids to that mix is like throwing a drowning man a cinderblock.

In hindsight, I wish I’d have been more sympathetic; I wish I’d realized that while he learned to live with his loss and to find a way to see the glass half full, there was a depth to his pain that scraped the bottom of the glass, a pain I couldn’t possibly have understood until I lost you

While that young man is probably married now with more children, but I’m sure he thinks about that baby, what they’d be like, how old they’d be…the same things I wonder about you.


Yesterday, I met a woman at my mother’s store who admitted she lost her son in his twenties. He was at work, and he and his best friend were simultaneously electrocuted. “He would be fifty-five now,” she said.

I have watched my best friend’s mother brush her hand across her son’s name on his headstone. He passed away twenty years ago when his sister, my best friend, and I were sixteen. I wept at your funeral when my best friend’s father collapsed into tears in a torrent of empathy and grief. I’ve seen a childhood friend’s mother post link after link and meme after meme to express a bottomless sorrow in the short year and a half after her youngest son passed away unexpectedly in his late twenties.

You, my Jude, will be five-years-old come December 26. In that time, I have started to climb the endless mountain of grief. I’m no longer in the pit of my despair.

I no longer feel threatened by the chasm of sorrow, the one that sucks a broken soul into it and takes their life in the way that the mother of the other man who was electrocuted grieved herself to death a few short months after her son died.

I no longer feel wounded, upset, hurt, and empty to see a pregnant woman or a woman with a new baby. That feeling faded after a couple of years. Now, I feel pure joy. I’m giddy for other people in their hope and in the blossoming of new life.

I’m no longer prone to lachrymose episodes at Target, in the car, on my pillow in the wee hours of the morning, in the shower, or any other place where the pain of reality capriciously strikes like a lightning bolt, where emptiness engulfs in a single gulp.

In fact, I no longer want people to pity me. I realize that sounds bizarre, but I like to be able to talk about you; however, I don’t need people to become moist and mournful when I mention you among my four children because I do have four children, and I am proud of all of you. I want to talk about all of you. It just so happens one of my babies is in heaven.

It is challenging to control the knee-jerk, “It’s okay,” in response to the sorrowful, “I’m so sorry,” that comes when I mention that I have an angel baby. It’s not okay. It will never be okay. It’s okay actually just means that I’m okay. While I’m only at about base camp one, I’m also not at the bottom of the mountain.


From my (almost) five-year vantage point, I can see down a ways, and because of those who have loved and lost and lived before me, I can see a ways up, too. For those who are trekking these sometimes lonely mountain trails with me, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Even if you can’t see the people walking beside you, behind you, and ahead of you, they’re there. You’re with them at the store, in traffic, at the restaurant, at work. They just don’t know your story, and you don’t know theirs. It’s for this reason it’s not only important to be kind to others but also to yourself. I’ve found the more I share my story, the more and more people I see walking alongside me. I know the terrain gets rough here and there, and there will be times, especially on your birthday, little man, where I am weak, where I slip, stop, and weep. I’m able to pull myself back up, though, and keep walking because I’ve seen those ahead of me do it.

It’s in this way that our losses are beautiful. Like an invisible thread of angels, you, my son and those other children, connect us. Weaving illuminated strands in and out of one another, you are the tether that we hold onto, that flows through our hearts and souls, and that allows us to reach out, ahead, and backward to others who are in pain and to say, “Let me help you. I understand. It’s okay to hurt. Share your burden and come walk with me. We are all in this together.” And so on we go.


Thank you, my sweet boy, for being beautiful. I loved you before I met you. I loved you more when I met you, and just as with your sisters, my love for you grows with each passing day. Until we meet again, my little heart.

 

 

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Hey Jude — Not My Son

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

Hey Jude – Not My Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – 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 – Golden Rainbows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May golden rainbows shine down on you all.

Dear Jude… 

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

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude — Regrets of Those Left Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Jude, 

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

You’re my shining son.

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude — Billie Jean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aside:

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

 

Jude,

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

Love, Mommy

Hey Jude – One Second

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Hey Jude – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a possibility.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hey Jude,

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

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

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