Sunday, March 29, 2009

Part of Our Family, Part of Our Home

At a neighborhood party, somebody asked me if I would show Kathleen pictures of Henry when she was older. My answer tied in nicely with one of the Under the Tree questions for this month, so here's my answer to the first question.

Henry is all over our home.

We have large frames with many pictures on our mantle along with the angel that was on Henry's casket during his funeral, and my Willow Tree angel of hope and boy with a HOPE balloon. In the dining room, there is one shelf on in the hutch that has pictures of him, one of his hospital hats and one of his pacifiers.

In my office, I have a little three-tier shelf. One shelf has a picture of a cardinal (one of my Henry symbols) and the stuffed cardinal that makes cardinal calls when you squeeze it that he had in the hospital, and a vase of dried white roses from his funeral flowers and memorials. Next is a picture of him, a stone from his grave before it was resodded, and a little bottle of colored sand from our grief group. The third shelf has a picture of him.

We have memory lamps for him in both the living room and dining room with a picture of him next to each. I light the lamps each evening and leave them burning all night. If Kathleen is with me when I turn them on and off, I show her his picture and we say good night, Henry or good morning, Henry.

We will show Kathleen pictures of Henry. We will tell her stories and talk about her brother. He is part of our family, part of our home.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Speaking of Henry Again

At the baby group on Thursday, there was a mom there who was there for the first time. She was one of the first people to introduce herself, and she commented that this was her second child. As we went around the circle, other people mentioned that they had one or two other kids at home. I knew some people had other kids because they had come up in our discussions before, but people don't usually mention them during the group introductions. But, it felt like yesterday was mention all your children in your introduction day, so I introduced myself and Kathleen and said that she was our second child. I named Henry and gave the briefest version of his story, simply that he died a little over a year ago.

Maria, who runs the group, thanked me for sharing and told the group that it was really hard to do. I couldn't look at people for a while after that, so I looked at Kathleen.

After the group, I was talking to one of the mom's and she said she was really sorry about my son. I told her a little more about Henry, how we knew he had a heart defect, how we learned he would need surgery, how we were sure he would be fine after his surgery, how he was fine for two weeks, but how he got sick and ended up in the hospital for 3 months, how we brought him home so briefly before he was back in the hospital and finally died. I didn't tell her how much I loved his smile. I didn't tell her how intently he used to study faces. I didn't tell her how he found his feet while he was in the hospital or how hard he could kick. Just what happened—and that I miss him.

I never know what to say when people say they are sorry, even when they seem sincere and don't walk away or rush the conversation on to something else. Am I protecting them? protecting me? I don't know. Is it just that I can't find the words to capture his spirit or the joy he brought me or the depth of my grief?

Maria emailed me after the group to see if had been okay for me to talk about Henry. She also said that whenever I say his name she pictures his beautiful little face. Somebody thought of my baby yesterday—and all I had to say was his name.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Speaking of Henry

Today at the baby massage class I've been doing with Kathleen, Henry came up in passing. The woman teaching the class commented on how bulky cloth diapers are. I agreed and said that with Henry we had stopped using them on the recommendation of his PT. We were working on getting his legs into a neutral position and I could barely manipulate his legs into a neutral position when he was in a cloth diaper, so there was no way he was going to get himself there.

Later after the group, she said that it was nice to hear me talking about Henry, saying his name.

I do talk about Henry often and freely with family and friends who knew him. Its when I'm talking to other people that I hesitate. I like talking about Henry, but I hate explaining about him. I hate saying he died. I especially hate explaining these things when they are not relevant to the conversation. How and when I talk about Henry has felt more complicated since Kathleen was born. Before, I usually just kept quiet during parenting conversations, but now I am part of them and part of my experience is with my first baby.

I realized that group discussions actually make it easier to talk about Henry. I can say things like, "With Henry" or "With my son" or "With my first baby" and the discussion simply flows on. The next person shares their experience. But in a real conversation, with back and forth between a few people, comments like that usually elicit a response like "So you have another child? How old is he?"

It's not that I want to spare people, avoid making them uncomfortable. Maybe it is that I don't want to make myself uncomfortable—at least not when all I was trying to share was that babies are different (my son hated baths but my daughter loves them) or a suggestion (Henry really hated tummy time, but he'd work at lifting his head up if he was lying on top of one of us) or something similar. I want to just be able to talk about Henry, not about the fact that he is dead.

Of course, sometimes I do want or need to talk about the fact that my child died. And I struggle with how and when to do that too. Today, I slipped him into a group discussion where one person in the room knew I had a son named Henry who had died and nobody else knew any of that. Later, on a walk with two other moms, I mentioned him and that he died. They made sympathetic comments and we continued on our conversation about what we do for work and when we go back and what we are doing/planning to do with our kids when we do work. It didn't feel like avoiding the issue, just like continuing with what we were saying. And now two more people, two people I did not know when I had Henry or when he died, two people I've met because of Kathleen know about Henry so when I say, "With Henry" or "With my son" or "With my first child," I won't have to explain.

I don't purposefully hide Henry. I don't avoid talking about him, because I do like to talk about him. But perhaps sometimes I think too much about talking about him. I'm working on this, because I don't like people not knowing.

I have a son. His name is Henry. He was with us for 6 1/2 months. He's been gone for about 15 months, and oh, how we miss him.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The First Hundred Days

Kathleen hit the three-month mark last week. Today she is 100 days old.

Three months, 100 days, however you count it, it has gone fast. My baby girl has grown and changed so much.

She is longer, heavier, stronger. She's able to hold her head up steady, face out instead of in when we go out walking. She is getting herself ready to roll over, hips up, legs swinging. She pays more attention to her mobile now and looks at toys around her, not quite ready to reach for them.

She is trying out her voice—and she has a lot to say. Cooing, babbling, trying out different pitches, different mouth shapes, different sounds. It has been a rough week, lots of fussiness, but my smiley girl was back this morning. I caught her laughing in her sleep the other day. I wonder often what is going on inside her head.

She's been to a sugar shack (no syrup for her yet), a farm (a horse stuck her nose right in Kathleen's face and the goats came over to nibble on her coat), church and a church supper, an art show at the library, a kids' concert, a neighborhood party, potluck dinner with friends, one of our favorite restaurants. So many firsts.

I've savored these days, tried to pay attention to enjoy this time, this stage in her life that is passing so quickly.

100 days . . . so much has happened and it's just the beginning.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maple and Memories

We had our first sugar shack breakfast of the season yesterday: pancakes, French toast, eggs, homefries, ham, bacon, sausage, and of course syrup. Mmm. And Kathleen was there sitting next to us on top of the vinyl covered picnic table. She was smiling, and we were telling her how much she would like coming next year when she could eat too. It was another in the long string of bittersweet moments comparing what is to what wasn't, what will never.

March 2007—I pulled out the full-panel maternity pants for the first time to go to the sugar shack. I watched kids at the little plastic kids tables, saw babies in the clamped to the table baby seat, and imagined bringing our baby there the next year.

Fall 2007—We thought Henry was coming home. On oxygen. Medically fragile. But home! I told him all the things we would do. I was overwhelmed by the idea of taking care of him, but I believed he would come through. I was looking ahead. I talked about March and sugar shacks. I figured that we'd go early when it wasn't too busy to minimize germ exposure. We'd sit in the outer room to keep the oxygen tank away from the wood stove. He'd taste maple syrup.

And then he died.

March 2008—Last year Brian and I did the sugar shacks as we had for years. We sought out normal things, so we made two trips to High Hopes, our favorite (they have an all you can eat buffet): once with my parents and once with Tricia, my friend from the hospital, and her husband and daughter. We went when they were busy and waited in line. We sat next to wood stove and enjoyed the warmth. We went for the sweetness, but those visits were bitter.

We tried a new place, too, and I ran into Carol. She scanned the room for me so that I could be prepared for Henry age baby boys—none. Brian and I sat in a sunbeam waiting for our pancakes. It was bright and cheery. We were just there; noise and life and syrup smells swirled around us.

March 2009—We went back, as usual. We went early, not to avoid crowds, but because we were up early with Kathleen. We sat in the room with the wood stove, but not near it. We took turns sitting with her and going up to get our food. Like so many things, our sugar shack breakfast brought back memories of expectations and dreams, memories of the depths of our early grief. And it brought a new set of dreams and expectations as we anticipate bringing Kathleen back next year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I haven't stopped at the cemetery for a long time. Part of it is that I haven't been out much, and frequently when I do get out I have a crying baby who likes motion. Part of it is that Henry's grave was covered with a mound of snow. Part of it is that I'm often not sure what to do when I'm there. It doesn't always feel natural, and in the winter when it is cold and I can't even touch the ground that covers him it often feels even less so.

There have been days I felt compelled to go visit him. I always like to stop on our way out of town and on the way back if we are going away for any length of time. I bring flowers and we water them through the spring and summer. Twice though, they were taken, which made Brian angry and me deflated.

So, I hadn't been in a while, but I was out driving and Kathleen had fallen asleep so I pulled in. I parked right next to his grave. He is so close to the road.

Things have been melting lately. There are bare patches of ground under trees, and the snow has retreated from the edges of the grass. His space was melted to the muddy, still frozen ground, and on top of his space was the heart-shaped wreath I had placed on top of the snow on Christmas. The red ribbon was still there; the red berries had lost their coating and were half red, half white.

It looked bedraggled, a little lonely, and a little sad.

But as I approached the house, I saw Henry's lamp on in the window. Brian had gotten home early and turned it on. The glow of the moon shaped lamp, gentle and warm, welcomed me home. I started lighting the lamp last winter during those darkest of days, and I have lit it every night since.

I will still go to the cemetery sometimes to "visit" Henry, but more often I have my time with him here at home. Here where I have memories of him. Here where he should be.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Yesterday I had some errands to run that took me close to a friend's house. We have been meaning to get together, so I emailed her and planned to stop by.

I met Jocelyn when Henry was a baby. Her daughter was born just a couple of days before him, and we met at the baby group. We bonded over our birth stories and went out for coffee once or twice after group. When Henry was in the hospital, she stayed in touch through the Care Page and email. When Henry died, she came to the funeral. We talked once, and that was that. I'm not faulting her; she is somebody I chose not to stay in touch with for a time. While I liked her as a person, we had not known each other that long and I thought of her as a mommy friend, somebody I'd visit with while the kids played. I just didn't know how to have that relationship without Henry there.

When she found out I was pregnant, she emailed me excited to say that she was pregnant too and also due in December. My first thought was that this was a second chance to try out this friendship. My second thought was how can I do this? How can I see her knowing there should be two May 2007 babies and two December 2008 babies.

Her son was born the day before Kathleen. Yesterday, I met him for the first time. I wondered again how it would be to see Jocelyn and her two babies so close in age to my two. Sometimes I think too much.

Our visit was so easy. We compared baby size and watched them on the blanket together. We talked about how much they were eating and sleeping. We compared this birth to the last. It seemed so natural.

Perhaps best of all is that she not only knows about Henry, she knows Henry. I could say "with my first pregnancy" or "when Henry was born" and not have to explain. She said his name as if he were just at daycare like her daughter. It was so natural.

So often I worry and try to prepare for the things I expect to be hard and it's usually something else that catches me in the end. But yesterday, nothing caught me. We had an easy, natural visit. Maybe another visit, seeing her daughter, will be hard, but I am glad we got a second chance and glad I took it. It was a quick little visit. It shouldn't have been a big deal, yet I made it out to one. And it turned out to be so natural.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Gap

We are in the midst of the gap months—January, February, March, and April—the months untouched by Henry's life. Although he was born at the tail end of May (he was supposed to be a June baby like me), May is a month very much a Henry month to me. But March? Henry was never here. He never visited a sugar shack with us. I never pointed out the snowdrops peeking out by the back door.

This time last year I ticked off the things that we did for the first time without Henry. The first Christmas without him, the first New Years, first Valentine's day, first muddy days that smelled of spring . . . all things we had never experienced with him and yet his absence was as strong as if we had had him with us for years. May is a month of waiting to mark his arrival and then a long string of memories that lead into the short dark days of December. But right now is that gap of time where I had a big belly and movement and "the baby" inside, but he was not yet Henry to me.

This time two years ago I was expectant, oh so excited. The baby was coming in just a couple of months. I envisioned spring walks and the baby sleeping under the pear tree by my kitchen garden. I was doing yoga and swimming and feeling fabulous.

This time last year, I was grieving. March was a particularly hard month for me. It felt like I had been sad for so long and yet I knew it was nothing compared to what lay ahead. Life was moving on around me, the weather was bleak, and each day was such a struggle.

And now? Still grieving, still letting go bit by bit, still holding on to Henry, and yes, excited and expectant again as I watch Kathleen grow, see her smile.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

'Enry 'Ome

Our neighbor Nicholas was here for lunch today. He is almost three and a half and has been very interested in Kathleen. He wants to hold her, show her toys, and give her a bottle. The first thing he did when he came in the door today was to ask where she was.

Last January, February, March, he visited too. He would come in the door and say, " 'Enry 'ome?" The first time he said it, I couldn't breathe.

Each time he came again, he'd ask again. I would say no and remind him that Henry was in heaven with Oma (his great-grandmother), which is how his parents had explained it to him. And he would walk over and look in the bassinet in the dining room, just to make sure. Then he would ask to see Henry's other bed (the crib that used to be his), and we would go up and look at the crib. We'd come back down stairs and he'd ask for Henry again. And I would say that we could look at his pictures, so we'd go around and look at all the pictures.

It broke open my heart each time he asked, but in some ways that question was easier than "How are you?" I watched him try to make sense of it all, not wondering that he couldn't, for I couldn't—still can't really—wrap my brain around it.

Today he came in asking for Kathleen, and I showed him where she was almost asleep in her swing. I smiled watching them, but I wish 'Enry were 'ome.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What I Expected

I walked down to the café at the end of the street the other day with Kathleen. A woman there smiled at me, asked me how old Kathleen was, and then asked "the question": Is she your first? I said that no, she was my second and took a deep breath in preparation for the follow up question that never came. Instead the woman said, "You can tell. You're too relaxed." I smiled at her and thought, "You have no idea."

I suppose it could have gone either way. After what we went through with Henry, I could have been a nervous wreck. I could right now be paralyzed with the fear that gripped me during much of my pregnancy. But I'm not. Maybe I'm relaxed with Kathleen because she is my second baby. I have done this before, at least this part of it, though it was so different. Maybe I'm relaxed because I know I only have so much control over the situation. I think I'm relaxed with Kathleen because in so many ways this is easy, normal, expected.

Summer 2007—Same café, same corner, me, my mom, and Henry. He was roughly Kathleen's age now. We had walked down, pushing Henry in the stroller, and when we got there my mom helped me juggle Henry, his oxygen tank, the monitor, and his diaper bag. I don't know that I enjoyed being there, but I was satisfied. Proud that we made it out, that I had accomplished one of the things I had expected to do with my new baby. Relaxed? Not at all. Surgery was looming. We had a better handle on keeping the oxymeter from driving us crazy than we did in the first week or so, but we were constantly on guard for signs. How is his color? Is he struggling to breathe? Does it look like he's retracting? What are his numbers? It isn't that I did not enjoy any of that time, but I was constantly vigilant—and waiting. I counted the days until he'd have his surgery and life would be "normal."

With Henry nothing went as expected and Brian and I did so many things to lend some sense of normalcy to our life which seemed any but normal. With Kathleen, I tried not to expect anything, but things went smoothly and life seems normal.

In fact, life is quite mundane lately, and I’m not complaining. Our days have fallen into something of a routine of waking early, changing diapers, feeding, smiles and play, changing diapers, feeding, sleeping, changing diapers, feeding, fussing, . . . We take walks when the weather cooperates, entertain visitors, and make the occasional outing. I wash bottles and diapers and tiny, cute outfits. This is what I expected having a new baby at home would be like, what I expected the first time around—except it's not, not quite, because I have done this before and I am missing Henry.

I hate the idea that losing somebody helps us sort out our priorities. I like to think mine were in order before and not much has changed. Family has always been high on the list. Surely even if I hadn't lost Henry, I'd take the time to trace Kathleen's tiny ear and stare deep into her eyes and have my heart melted by the warmth of her tiny hand on my chest as she sucks. I'd hold her tight and enjoy her warm body snuggling into mine. Yes, surely I would. But perhaps I wouldn't caress her cheek quite so often or keep her in my lap when she could surely be transferred to her bed or recognize the wonder of her being quite as deeply. Perhaps I would be distracted more easily from her smile or take the time to hold her less. Perhaps I would find the repetition, the very ordinariness of our days to be dull. But I relish every smile, I hold her knowing that this simple act is not a given, and I delight in our day-to-day, normal life. I will mark milestones with Kathleen, but in between them, I marvel in the miracle of the mundane—the weight of her warm body curled on mine, the quiet coos, and sweet smiles.