Hey Jude – Coping with Loss

Dear readers…this piece was difficult for me to decide to share. Please understand that I am not making a political statement nor am I making light of anyone’s feelings. I am expressing a genuine concern for the generation that walks behind me. Following the presidential election, which was easily the most polarizing election of my lifetime, I heard and witnessed (via Internet) instances where young people were unable to cope. I heard a video where a girl (20-something, maybe?) wept that someone needed to “fix this” (election results) or she was going to kill herself. I heard that young people were given coloring books and puppies by major universities to “cope” with their disappointment and loss.

 

While I respectfully understand the soothing and meditative merits of coloring (and other artistic pursuits), I am also very concerned with the frailty of this generation, and so, as is the nature of my second year of writing my Letters to Jude, I must say this, and I implore you to listen with an open mind and an open soul because I want you, person who feels damaged and destroyed right now (regardless as to why), to feel my strength and resilience and to take what I have and to make it your own and to let it give you the confidence that I have, which is that there is nothing that I cannot accomplish and that there is nothing that will destroy or defeat me.

 

Suicide…

 

The world was distorted as I drove down Cottage Hill Road. A poppy ‘80s tune pulsed on the radio as I rolled to a stop at a looming red light. The air was stiff and stifled as if I was a one-woman dirge. Who are these other people, going about their normal day, as if the universe hadn’t just shifted? How can this song be on? This isn’t appropriate. This song should not be on. This shouldn’t be happening. He would’ve heard this song as a kid. He would’ve known this song. Possibly danced around to it. I replayed the events over and over in my mind. He left his home at some point in the day with his gun. He was off on his ATV. They found him at around 2 a.m. The police found him. The aftermath was and is irreversible. The last time I saw him was a year ago. Should I have helped? Yes. Would anything be different. No idea…I’ll never know if even the slightest effort could’ve helped a kind-hearted family member avoid the irreversible. I wish I’d tried. And thus, disappointment doesn’t cover this…the devastation, the trauma.

 

There were no puppies or coloring books to make it all better.

 

9/11…

 

In 2001, the Top ’40 station, WABB, was filled with static and talking and news as I drove the negligible distance from my cultural anthropology class to my art history II class..  I changed the station. More news. I listened for a minute and tried to understand what in the world was going on.

 

World Trade Center.

Pentagon.

Hit by an airplane?

 

I got out of my car disgusted with myself. I was 115 lbs that morning. Did you get that? One hundred. And fifteen. Fat. Disgusting. Pounds. My pants, size zero, mind you, weren’t even loose anymore. I couldn’t grab at the sagging fabric at the back of my thighs. My XS Banana Republic tie-dye tank…practically clingy at the bodice. Pathetic. I took a seat in my freshman art history class and quickly journaled about what I heard on the radio (though, I had no sense of what it meant); then class started, and I was swept a the world of Byzantine art..

 

Dr. Seuss canceled psychology that day, which really wasn’t that uncommon. He canceled class roughly 50% of the time, so, woo hoo! I went to Mom’s school up the road to see her. The kids would be at recess. Mrs. Christopher was in tears. Ten year olds, who would now be 26 year-olds (dear Lord), were playing on the playground so innocently oblivious to what would ultimately be the new world order. Mom explained that what I thought was a tragic accident was no accident. Someone or many some ones had intentionally flown 747s into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon and killed people. A lot of people.

 

My fifth class of the day started at 3:15 p.m. Mr. Monotone made our test optional, but I took it anyway. I was so far removed from reality. I was this twerpy narcissistic kid who literally mostly remembered my weight from 9/11. I was 115 lbs. Oh, and 9/11 happened, and I was 18 years old.
That night, I started to hear new words. Terrorism. Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden.

 

Guess what? No one gave me a therapy puppy or a coloring book to make it all better for me. Come to think of it, no one gave me that crap for my eating disorder either. I never thought I needed nor deserved them; though, I will say, there were times, when I truly thought I would die from my eating disorder that I prayed. Hard. I prayed that I would wake up the next day. I prayed that I wouldn’t die…that I wouldn’t be found dead on the bathroom floor in the wake of my shame. I faced my fear, and I fought it…and eight years later, I won.

 

My Jude…

 

And then, on December 26, 2014…I grew up. Like really, grew up. I lost my son. He was fine all day on Christmas Eve. I noticed he wasn’t moving as much late Christmas Day. On December 26, we checked in to the doctor’s office. The baby had a heartbeat. We were put on the monitor at the hospital and within hours, he was gone.

 

“There’s no heartbeat.”

 

He’d just moved…literally just moved…and so we rushed into an emergency C-section. When I came out, I asked my husband, “How’s my baby?” and I knew from the look on his face.

 

“I named him Jude. Jude David. Is that okay?” he said brokenly.

 

“Yeah. Hey Jude…” I started to sing in a still medically-induced state, and Sean took up the chorus.

 

We were rolled back toward my room, and like a manifestation from God, our Priest was standing there. Father David accompanied us to our room, and prayed with us. As he started to leave, I, still in a pitiable state between life and anesthesia, began to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and Father David turned around and returned to my bedside, and Sean joined him in sacred prayer. Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….. My speech was slurred, and I stumbled over words. I’ve never felt so empty or broken than in the days where my healing and my life truly began.

 

No one brought me a puppy or a coloring book, and in those frail, fragile moments that severed my ties between adolescence and reality, I didn’t care. Those things wouldn’t have made it all better. You know what did make it better? God.

 

At some point during Jude’s funeral, I found peace. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t seeking it. I was open to a grief journey. I was open to having a bottomless hole of pain and loss and suffering in my life, but God fill the void with something intangible yet so real I could almost touch it.

 

It was faith. Faith. I can’t describe how much my son and the agony of losing him transformed me.

 

To those who think that their latest devastation is the end of the world…it’s not unless you choose to let it be. I could’ve gone off of a ledge and died inside and out at many points in my life. I could’ve never said to my eating disorder, “I will not let you kill me,” and then called on God for help. I could’ve never done the thing I said I couldn’t do, which is lose a child and live, if not for God.

 

What I’m saying is life is challenging, hard, sometimes unfair, and sometimes unbearable. You will bleed. You will break. You will be decimated at times. And then…you can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can get stronger and smarter and better and wiser and assert yourself.

 

For those who don’t believe in God, let me tell you, God is real. My faith is real. If all you have are coloring books and puppies and free passes, I feel sorry for you. You can literally destroy my body, but you won’t kill me. I mean that. I’m not afraid of losing or disappointment or tragedy or devastation. I don’t welcome it, but it cannot and will not break me because of my God. I encourage you to have what I’m having.

 

Afterthought: Dear readers…I am not trying to force my faith on you, but I am trying to implore you to recognize that life will never get easier. It’s the trials and how we handle them that define us. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to cry, but we must all always reassemble ourselves and find strength through tragedy and adversity. There are many worse things to happen than losing a political election (or other things). Losing hope and losing faith are two of those things.

 

You cannot rely on superficial crutches to get you through the things that will challenge your hope and faith. If you do, then you will surely lose them. Instead, find something within yourself that is there and that has always been there that is truly worth fighting for and that imbues you with an unbreakable fortitude (for believers, that is God, and truly, it is the valuable quality one could possess).

 

I pray for you, gentle reader, whoever you are and whatever you’re fighting with and for. I pray you rely on the right things.

 

 

ASIDE

 

For Dear America:

 

I pray for this country. I pray for our leader to seek wisdom and guidance from God and that regardless of our leadership, that God intercede through that leader to guide us all to greater glory. Remember that there is always light in darkness if we look to it, gentle reader. The light is always there, and it is in times in which we seek light during periods of darkness that we are most brave and most faithful.

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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 — Thinking of You

Hi, Sweetheart.

Today was four months since we first brought you into this world in a most unconventional way.  Your little life was lived in such a strange place compared to most, but I refuse to believe it was any less significant.  You’re so very special, darling.

Today at church, Father David gave us a hand-woven blanket shawl made to comfort us when we are lonely for you.  We decided to get a paver stone for the church in memory of you, too.  I hope others will see it and wonder about the life of Jude Delcambre.  I often do.

Today, Lillianne pointed to a photo of you and your daddy that sits on our bookshelf, and she said Jude.  Your sister is so smart and special, darling.  It amazes me how delightful she is, and it hurts my heart so much to think of how special you and she would have been together.  Mommy doesn’t blame God nor is mommy upset with God, but mommy can’t help but wonder why….especially while she sees everyone else having babies and babies close in age and such.  That’s not to say Mommy isn’t happy for the other babies and families; it’s just to say that mommy feels sad because she misses you so very, very much.

I can’t help but think hard of you sometimes, Jude.  When I say hard, I mean that I think of you in the kind of way that makes me feel like I’m being vacuumed into a pit.  The depths of my pain and despair and loss of you are boundless.  I want to scream and cry and write and run and paint and hurt and float away for the misery that wells within.  There’s a depth of suffering that I know that I don’t know how I contain other than the hours in the day in which to feel and to have steam expire and I simply fall asleep on principle.  If It weren’t for that, I think I could go crazy for pain.

Of course, because i love you, and I know you want and deserve a well mommy, I don’t, and i won’t go crazy.  I’ll keep trying and I’ll keep hoping.  I’ll keep being good to daddy, and I’ll keep being good to Lillianne.  I’ll hold you in my heart.  I hope that we will have more siblings to know about you and to be impacted by you, sweetie.  I want you to know how special you are.  Even though I can’t hug you with my arms, I hug you every day in my heart, and you know it’s a big, tight squeeze.  I wish I could hug you with my arms and kiss you and feel your warmth and your smile beneath my cheek.  I wish I could hear your giggle.  I can’t even imagine it, but I imagine you love me as much as I love you.

Every time I see a red bird, I say your name, Jude; I say it out loud. Our neighbor told me that red birds were our loved ones coming from heaven to check on us.  I like to think that’s so, and if so, thank you for coming so often.  My baby boy, I need you, and I miss you, so thank you for the birds.  Thank you for the sun and the wind.  Thank you for being you, exactly as you are.  Wait for mommy and daddy in Heaven.  I love you and miss you.  Happy four month birthday, darling.  You’re my little world.

Hey Jude — “The Little Things: A Mother’s Rambling Thoughts”

(Written 1.21.2015)

It’s the little things that seem to get to me.

 

I’m a little more than thrown by the fact that it’s almost been a month since we lost you. We haven’t even passed your birthday yet. I’m confused by how I feel. I don’t cry as much as I would like. I miss you, and I know I miss you because things are different. The silly little things that I was excited about before I had you –like, being able to have a glass of wine or getting back into shape, don’t matter at all to me anymore. I would never exercise or have another glass a wine again if it meant having you with me, sweetheart.

 

It’s funny –in a way that’s not funny at all—how the things that I thought were exciting and important for after I had you don’t matter now that I’ve lost you. When I think of your little angel face and your soft skin (still covered in little peach fuzz to keep you warm) all I can think of how nothing else matters.

 

I know you’re watching over us from heaven, and I know you see Lillianne grow and say new words every day. I remember when Lillianne was a baby, your Auntie KK said she wondered what Lillianne’s voice was going to sound like. I know you can see my heart and that you know it’s the most wonderful sound in the world to me. Mommy wonders often what your little voice would have sounded like. What words would you have said first? What would be your favorite words? Would you love Elmo, too? Would you have toddled after your big sister? Would you have cried when she cried like when the baby who would’ve been your friend, Cate, cries when her sister, Sophia cries. My angel boy. You would have been so sweet; I just know it.

 

I miss you so much my little angel heart. I think about your Uncle Adam a lot, too. You and Lillianne would have been the same age apart as Uncle Adam and Mommy are. I think about Uncle Adam when he was five and in kindergarten. I can remember his little cheeks and pointy chin; his shining eyes and hopeful expression. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings; he cared about everyone. I wonder if you, too, would have been as kindhearted as Uncle Adam. In the thoughts I have about you, I believe you would have been.

 

I’m sure you are thinking that I’m making a mistake in thinking of only how perfect you are and would have been. I promise I’m not so silly as to assume that you, too, wouldn’t jump on the furniture like your sister or wouldn’t throw your food when you were tired of it. I know those things would have made me tired. I wonder if I would have had less patience with those things had things been different.

 

I’ll never know, will I? I know that losing you made me realize how silly getting tired or stressed or frustrated over little things – a messy kitchen or unfolded laundry or having to get up 10 times a minute to keep your sister off of the furniture—truly is.

There’s no hyperbole for what I would or wouldn’t do to be able to have a few moments with you. Knowing the life I’ll have to wait a lifetime to meet (you, my son), I don’t feel like I can be bothered being upset over anything. I realize –and it scares me so much—that there are no guarantees for anything. I am not guaranteed to have your sister forever…or your father. I’m not guaranteed that you’ll have any younger siblings that you can watch over from heaven. Darling Jude. I don’t know if I did or how much I did take it for granted before, but losing you has exponentially impacted my desire to not take any of life’s moments or the people I love most for granted. Life is too short.

 

It’s ironic, in a way, that it’s the little things that matter least and the little things that matter most. Or maybe I’m saying that wrong. I just know that small things have become even smaller. Things that seemed like they mattered have no relevance at all. Little moments like reading a bedtime story to Lillianne or watching her dance around with her guitar dog toy thing rather than tidying up matter so much more than they used to. I always recognized that those moments were fleeting and enjoyed them, but I could have enjoyed more of them, and I could have enjoyed them better.

 

If living in regret weren’t such a frivolous undertaking, I would feel ashamed for how much I looked forward to your sister falling asleep when she was an infant, so I could have some personal time. I know you know that I enjoyed my time with her and that I loved her and held her and took care of her, but I know you also now know how I looked forward to her falling asleep, so I could have personal time.

 

Oh Jude. The perspective I gained is immense, but the cost is even more so. It breaks Mommy’s heart that I didn’t have the ability on my own merits to become a smarter, better, and wiser person without losing you. I promise I would have been a good mommy to you if you could have stayed. I would have loved you more and more everyday, just like I did when you lived inside of me and just like I do now. You’re my “son” shine, sweet boy. Thank you for the light and for helping me see the difference between the small things and the little things. I love you, Jude David Delcambre.