Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I'm slow, as I was last month, in getting to Under the Tree, but the first question hit on something I've been thinking about lately.

How long has it been since you lost your child? Has your grief changed at all? Is your life becoming any easier or is it just harder as time passes?

I've been saying lately that Henry died a little over a year ago, though I can't say that much longer. Soon it will be a year and a half, then almost two years or two years in December.

My grief has changed in part because of time and in part because of circumstance.

The first days and months were a haze. Henry died on December 17. We buried him on December 22. I don't remember what we did for Christmas that year. I have vivid memories of Christmas Eve, of sitting on the couch with my friend who's dad had died a couple of weeks before Henry with the energy of kids at Christmas swirling around me. I walked around in that haze for a while. It was a strange mix of numbness and searing pain. I slept with Henry's blanket every night. I avoided going to bed because it always made me cry, so I stayed up late reading babylost blogs or doing mindless tasks. I mediated and cried my way through yoga classes.
I hated the time I had to do it, the time I had to do anything for myself.
I didn't have the energy for the day to day stuff that needs to get done. So a lot of it didn't.
I was exhausted.
I cried every day.

In March, three months out, it hid me harder. I felt like any bit of protective numbness was gone. Outside was mud and dirty remnants of snow, nothing green in sight. It was bleak and lifeless, and it fit my mood perfectly. But March was a turning point: I didn't necessarily feel ready to have another baby, but I felt the need to make the effort, to work to create life as sickness and sadness and death past and approaching surrounded us.

My sister-in-law died in June, and in addition to the grief at this new loss, I was plunged back to December, to a place where just getting up, just breathing felt like too much. Brian and I struggled to communicate, both stumbling to find words and mistaking what the other was trying to say.

Some days were harder than others. Some days just knocked me out--I'd wail and weep, I'd literally be too weak to stand. As time moved on, these knock out days became less frequent, though no less intense.

As we approached the first anniversary of Henry's death, a day I dreaded, we were also approaching Kathleen's birth. Kathleen's birth has had a huge impact on my grief. I cannot focus so much on Henry or on the hole left behind in my heart anymore than I would be able to focus solely on him if he were here. This isn't to say I don't feel it, but more that it has taken more of a background role, tinging my whole life, but not the center of it.

Henry is retreating from me in some ways. I feel more distant from him. This bothers me, though I think it is normal and bound to happen. I don't have guilt, but sadness at the growing separation. In some ways, Kathleen increases this divide as my attention rightly goes to her and her needs, but at the same time, she bring Henry back to me in some ways. I can't help but contrast the experience of living with my two babies, and that brings him back.

And lately, many people have been telling me that they think Kathleen looks like Henry. I have seen it myself in flashes, a certain expression, a particular angle. So I feel heavily the growing distance between Henry and me and I love the anchors that help hold him near, part of our family, part of my life.

Some days still knock me down; they come out of the blue and hit hard and sudden. But they continue to be less frequent. I still start to realize sometimes that I will always carry this loss, that it is part of me forever. It's too disheartening to think that, so I just try to go day by day. I am able to feel joy more, to see the light more. I'm not sure life is easier, just different and still changing.
Sometimes it seems so long since I held him, and yet he wouldn't yet be two. It is almost too much to take in, how much has happened since May 2007.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hope for Healing a Heart

Erica recently wrote to request hope and love for Kaitlyn and her family. Kaitlyn was born with a heart defect and needs surgery now, rather than later. I would have sent hope to any family that they might not join the ranks of the babylost, but babies with heart defects have a special place in my heart.

Henry was born with a heart defect. He too needed surgery earlier than we expected. We were scared but we expected that he would come through as we were assured that the surgery was almost routine. And he did come through the surgery just fine, but two weeks later he ended up back in the hospital. We were there for three months, three days, before we brought him so briefly home.

I remember being at the hospital for his surgery, the tension of the day, waiting for our updates, waiting to see him afterward. How small he looked, how lost buried under all the tubes and wires.

I remember walking into the cardiac intensive care unit, three weeks later, in shock as my baby was wheeled in from an ambulance, already on a ventilator, already on nitric oxide. For the first couple of weeks, I tried not to talk to other parents, especially the ones with the permanent name badges, the ones who knew their way around, as if a long stay were contagious. But then the doctor said it could be weeks and weeks and weeks, maybe months before we got Henry off the ventilator. I got my permanent name badge. I stopped avoiding other parents. I knew parents who had been there for months, on and off for years. I met parents who took their babies home—and some who didn't. But I never thought I'd join the club of the babylost. I barely considered that there was such a group.

Through everything Henry went through, I had hope. It was sometimes faint. It sometimes seemed to have abandoned me, but it was like the embers of a fire that looks like it had gone out. A slight breathe could make it glow again. I got that breath from Henry himself, each time he showed any little improvement. I got it too from other parents at the hospital who bucked me up when Henry was at his worst or simply living in the hospital became too much. I got it from family and friends and people I didn't know who emailed and sent notes.

So I sent hope that Kaitlyn's heart will be healed, that her family will need strength now but not hope to heal their own hearts. Hope, hugs, healing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sunday to Wednesday Catching Up

When I was cleaning out Kathleen's closet, I found a card. Part of the handwritten note said, "I believe Henry is an angel sent from above to teach us to live and love." It was a card for his baptism from his godmother. It was written before his surgery, when we were scared but hopeful and we believed his heart would be fixed and all would be well. And yet, she was right.

Kathleen was baptized this past weekend. It was an event that I looked forward to and dreaded. I feared the memories it might bring up. For a while we had a priest who was always admonishing people to SMILE. I wrote dozens of letters to him in my head, because had he told me to smile at Kathleen's baptism as I was having a Henry moment I might have lost it. I needed him to know that we had a son, that he had been baptized in that same spot about two years before, that he died months after he was baptized, that his casket had sat in the center aisle feet away from the baptismal font, that six months later his godmother had died, so that while we were happy, we were also sad and we would smile—and cry—as we felt like it. But our priest was replaced and I never sent the letter or let forth that flood of anger at him.

And Kathleen's baptism was a joyous event. I had my Henry moment at the end of the mass that preceded the baptism. Tears welled up as I stared up at the font. During the ceremony, I was able to focus mainly on her; I only noted that she cried much more than Henry did when the water was poured over her.

Love Like an Ocean
I just got back from visiting my parents with Kathleen. It is a trip I never made with Henry. My parents met him as did my aunts and uncles—even my grandmother. But I never got to bring him there.

I grew up on the coast. The ocean is in my blood. It is the one main complaint I have about where I live now—too far from the ocean. I used to sing to Henry about the ocean in "Peace Like a River." I'd sing that I had love like an ocean, and I'd tell him that he had never seen the ocean, but when he did, he'd know what I meant. But I never got him there. I remember standing looking out over the water for the first time after he died, how I choked on the words as I sang to him.

But Kathleen made it, in what I hope is one of many trips. She saw and smelled the ocean. She was held by her nana and grampy and by her great-grandmother, aunt, and great-aunt. Her cousin Thomas brought her toys when she cried and helped feed her a bottle.

We walked up to the handicapped accessible playground, and my mom showed me the sign that remembers several kids who left too soon, including Henry. We wheeled Kathleen right up to the top level where the sign is, and I saw his name and cried.

Henry loved his baby swing. I imagine he would have loved the playground swings too.

Watching You Grow

In the past few days, Kathleen has changed remarkably. She went from tolerating and showing mild interest in her play mat to grabbing and holding onto the dangling toys and half -rolling herself over. She wants to creep forward. She writhes herself backward on her back. And she laughs! She continues to amaze me daily.

I wrote about Henry's song, and Kathleen has her own. One of the last verses is this:
Kathleen Avery we love you so.
We are looking forward to watching you grow.
You will get much bigger, so many things you'll do,
But one thing won't change. We'll always love you.

It took me some time before I could sing this verse with confidence, before I could believe that we would indeed get the chance to watch her grow. I hope to have a long lifetime of watching her grow, but right now she is changing so much I'm trying to just focus on the moment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

While You Were(n't) Sleeping

For a couple of weeks, Kathleen has not been sleeping well. I was averaging about 3 hours of sleep a night and just barely getting through the day. One day, I thought, "This is hell," but I quickly corrected myself, because it wasn't at all. I've been to hell. This was just hard and exhausting, but I knew it would end and I would sometime get more sleep and in the mean time I had a warm little body on my lap or next to me in bed. A couple of nights of five hours of sleep has made all the difference.

So while we weren't sleeping, I was getting behind in laundry and dishes and work and reading, so I just realized that Amy at Surviving the Day nominated me for the Sisterhood Award. I started reading Amy's blog because her blog name caught my eye . . . some days that's what it is, survival.

The rules* are to pick to blogs with great attitude and/or gratitude. Here are my 10 (and I know some have been nominated before:

I started to explain why I picked each one, but sleep is still a limited commodity around here, and it's taken me two days to get this far. Suffice it to say I'm grateful to have a window into the world of these other loss mamas and their sweet babies. They've given me things to think about and made this journey less lonely.

* The rules:
  • Put the logo on your blog or post.
  • Nominate 10 blogs with great attitude and/or gratitude.
  • Be sure to link to your nominees in your post.
  • Let your nominees know they have received the award by leaving them a comment on their blog.
  • Be sure to link this post to the person who nominated you for the award.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Henry's Song

Under the Tree—March, part III
Do you have a special poem, song, prayer or quote in memory of your baby/ies?

I've written before aboutthe Elizabeth Mitchell CD You Are My Little Bird that I played for Henry in the morning both at home and when he was in the hospital. I still love that CD and even though I play it often for Kathleen, we still call it Henry's CD. We played that CD in the background at the funeral home.

In particular, I think of Henry when I sing "Peace Like a River." I sang that song often to him without the CD. It is the one song we chose for his funeral. I wanted to pick music and readings that were meaningful, but I just couldn't think at that point.

Henry had his own special song, too, one I made up and sang to him all the time. It was very simple.
Your name is Henry. Your mama loves you.
Your name is Henry. Your daddy loves you.
Your name is Henry. Grandparents love you.
Nana loves you.
Papa loves you.
Nana loves you.
Grampy loves you.
Big Nana loves you too.
Yes, they do. They really do.
They love their Henry.
They love their Henry.

It goes on. There is a verse for aunts, a verse for uncles, and one for cousins. Sometimes I would add other family members or friends or neighbors. I started singing this song to Henry in the NICU. I sang it to him at home when he was on oxygen and I was so scared and waiting for his surgery. I sang it to him in the hospital when he was recovering from surgery, and home again during the golden two-week period when we had a healthy baby. I sang it, choking with tears and fear when he ended up back in the hospital again, and as he was dying, as they did chest compressions and gave him medicine and watched his monitor, I started singing to him and my song was a thread of connection to him until they made room around the bed for me and I reached out to hold his foot and I kept singing until he was gone.

I sang this song at his grave side. I sang it months later, deep in despair, the night he visited me.

Your name is Henry.
Your mama loves and misses you.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Welling Up and Subsiding

I cried today. Tears welled up and there was no stopping them. It was a quiet, but persistent cry as the tears seeped out of me. I cried while Brian held Kathleen. I cried as I worked in the garden, wiping snot and dirt on my old t-shirt. I cried as I washed the dirt from my hands and finished making dinner. And then I just stopped. For now.

Next week Kathleen will "graduate" from the baby group. The group goes up to four months, and Kathleen hits four months a week from Saturday. Maria, the group leader, is going on vacation next week, so she wanted to say good-bye to the three of us who will finish up next week. As she stood there and told me she was glad I came back, I thought of coming with Henry. Reaching the end of the group feels like a milestone in and of itself, one I didn't hit with Henry. He turned four months, but he was in the hospital at the time. We got back once after his surgery. It felt triumphant to go, to just carry him in, no oxygen! I thought we were really just getting started.

I feel us moving with Kathleen into things that Henry never did—finishing the baby group, wearing 3-6 month clothes, grasping toys . . . . And I know there are so many more to come.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Signs and Symbols

Under the Tree—March, part II
I have two main symbols for Henry: hearts and cardinals. I chose a heart, not only because of the obvious love connection, but because he had a congenital heart defect. Henry has always been my heart boy. While Henry was in the hospital, my aunt sent in a red stuffed cardinal that made cardinal sounds if you squeezed it. Between the sound and the bright red, Henry was fascinated by the bird. After he died, I found the sudden flash of red in an otherwise bleak landscape reminded me of Henry's smile, which could come out of no where and brighten my darkest mood.

These symbols have come up again and again, and I see them often as signs from Henry. We have collected heart stones, one from the beach when my family was together last summer, one uncovered when we were digging a hole to plant Henry's tree on his birthday, one found on our vacation last summer when I pregnant with Kathleen. I've seen hearts in the shapes of clouds, patches of snow, and leaves as I'm thinking of Henry or when I'm particularly sad. I smile and say to myself, "Henry."

Cardinals too seem a sign from Henry. I've seen one flash across the window as I was falling deeper into despair. A cardinal sat outside my grandmother's window while she ate her lunch on Henry's anniversary. My babylost mama friend Linda reports the cardinals she sees outside her house that make her think of my Henry. I don't necessarily feel Henry's presence with these signs, but they lift me up. They feel like a gift from him, often when I need it most.

The time I most felt Henry's presence was probably over a year ago now. It was late at night and I missed him desperately. I clutched his yellow blanket and I started to sing out loud to him. I sang his special song, the one that names him and all the people who love him. I felt him settle on my chest, snuggling there, as he had in the early months of his life. I finished the song and felt so much more peaceful. He stayed with me while I fell asleep; when I awoke he was gone. I've never felt him with me like that again.