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 — 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