Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taking stock

I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions, but I do pause at the end of the year to take stock, to figure out what is working in my life and what's not, what I like and what I want to change. 

So where am I at the end of 2009? What do I want to change going into 2010? 

I have loved watching Kathleen grow and change this past year. I look at her baby pictures and wonder that it was just a year ago she was born. She is so fun right now, cruising around on the verge of walking, taking note of everything around her, figuring out how things work. I'm looking forward to exploring this world with her in the coming year, seeing things through fresh eyes. There will be walks in the snow and sugar shacks, gardening and the beach, crunching leaves and pumpkins, and eventually another birthday. It will come sooner than I think. 

I continue to miss Henry, to accept over and over again that he is gone. Through much of the year, I thought I was doing well with this grieving life. I thought I had made progress. I have made progress. But I forget that this is not a linear process, that I slide back and forth, wend round and round. Some days are good, some are hard. It will keep going this way, like it or not. I'd like to change this part of my life. I'd like to make peace with this loss and not struggle so with it, but this isn't one of those things I have control over. But I will continue to work at making peace with the memories, finding the good buried under the rubble of bad memories and holding onto the joy and hope behind the sorrow. 

And I'm busy. Finding quiet, finding time to rest and think and write is hard, so I'll wrap up now. 

Wishing you peace and joy in the new year. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How it hits

Two years ago today a buried a baby, my son, my love, my Henry.
And yet this morning I got up with my baby girl, ate breakfast, laughed, played.
I wrote Christmas cards and packed up gifts. 
It was any other day.

At 9:15 I was out the door for Christmas shopping.
A stop at the post-office, a package dropped off at a friends house.
The first strip of stores, running through my list, waiting in lines,
Gathering the things I was looking for.

It was the bank that did me in.
I went to the drive through, sent my request up through a tube
I was starting to tire of my errands and was staring blankly across two lanes of cars,
There in the window. Today is December 22.

The 22 was so big. My baby was so small.
We had four pall bearers, which was perhaps overkill.
Two grandfathers, his godfather, and my uncle (who knows too what it is to bury a son)
And his grandmothers read the eulogy that I wrote.

Today is December 22.
My chest tightened and my arms and legs got both heavy and light:
almost too much to lift and yet feeling as if they might float right off my body.
This is how it happens for me. How it comes on.

I thought about heading right home.
Lying on the bed, wrapped in his blanket. Retreating yet again
But there are nieces and nephews who deserve something to open on Thursday night
So I pressed on, but my steps were heavier, my mind distracted.

I buried my baby today. Two short and endless years ago.
I was rushing on the way home.
I had been gone longer than I expected. There was traffic when I just wanted to get back.
And I drove right by the cemetery.

The cemetery where two years ago I buried my baby.
Drove right by, distracted by the falling down house that is finally being torn down.
I didn't stop, didn't look to see if the wreath I left on the 17th was still there.
Didn't even throw out an I love you, I miss you as I passed.

But I know he is there underneath the snow
Too close to the road, still unmarked with stone. He is there whether I look or not
And yet he is not really there at all, and he doesn't care if I stop or wave or leave trinkets.
But I wish I had stopped, just for a moment and left my handprint in the snow ever him.

Two years ago I buried my baby boy.
I know this, have known this, will always know this.
And yet still it hits me suddenly, unexpectedly, this reminder of what I cannot forget,
what I carry with me always. It hits me and leaves me drained.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Light in the darkness

My neighbors stopped by today to drop off their Christmas card. In it they wrote:
One of the mysteries of Christmas is how grace, like light, shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
This image has been walking around with me today. I see candles, small and flickering, but a beacon still in the dark.

And this reminds me of the way I hold joy and sorrow. Joy, pure and shining, warding off the dark and still of itself. Sorrow pushed back some by the joy but still present, still surrounding. They touch each other, yet don't destroy each other.

Thank you all for being a light in my darkness especially during these last few days.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Two years ago today, already and only, we said good-bye to Henry. 

Henry in October, days before we almost got discharged from his long hospitalization for the first time. He was so awake and alert and interactive this day. I remember his smiles and little noises and how intrigued he was with this little caterpillar. I had such hope and expectation for my boy.  

All month, I have been wanting to just sit, to be quiet, to have time to think or the space to not think, and it hasn't happened. But today, I gave myself that gift. I took the day off from work. I didn't hop on the computer first thing in the morning as I usually do. I didn't plan or try to do anything. When Kathleen napped, I rested on the couch, remembering lying there with Henry on sticky summer days. I remembered how perfectly he fit on my chest, how our breathing would slow together. I remembered how as he got bigger, he wouldn't just lie there anymore. I smiled at the effort he made to raise his head, the only time he liked tummy time. I rested while I could with these memories, the peace of those moments settling with me briefly. 

And when Kathleen got up, I played and I snuggled with the baby here with me. I smiled and I laughed with her. And I cried too. Cried in amazement and thanks for all she is and does. Cried with anger and sadness for all Henry never got to be and do. And yet he was and did so much. He is still so much; he's just not here. 

Brian and I went to the cemetery, standing briefly, huddled together in the bitter cold and blinding sunlight on the icy snow covering his grave. There was nothing to do there but leave the little heart shaped wreath I brought, let sobs wrack through me, hug Brian tight, and nod that it was okay for us to go, get in the car, get out of the cold. I felt so much the need to go to the cemetery today, and yet there I felt helpless and didn't know what to do. 

Tonight with dinner, I listened to his CD, filled with memories of sitting in the weeks before his surgery, tears streaming down my face, worried, worried, worried, despite what the song told me, worried that every little thing would not be alright. It's strange looking back on those fears. I was so anxious, and yet I never really imagined or believed that I might end up where I am. 

But here we are. 

I knew Henry had not been forgotten. I knew that Brian and I had been in people's minds and hearts during this dark month. Still, I have felt lonelier in my grief this month than ever before. But there were notes, emails, flowers, calls to let me know that truly we are remembered, Henry is remembered, and that we are all much loved. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The day before

As I was getting Kathleen ready to go to her 1 year checkup this morning, I realized that two years ago we were getting Henry ready to go to the pediatrician too. Hers was a scheduled visit, planned months ago. His was a nervewracking, maybe we should have gone to the ER the night before but I was too scared to take him in kind of affair.

Last year, I revisited, relived, processed, and otherwise dealt with all of the things I went through with Henry during his brief, intense life. All except the very end.

I don't like to remember the last night we had Henry home. He got sick so very quickly. Earlier in the day, the visiting nurse had been by. Henry was looking good. Heart sounded good, lungs sounded good, no fever . . . by 10 PM he had a fever. I gave him Tylenol. Then he started throwing up. I stopped his feeding pump. Then he got diarrhea. We changed the crib. We changed his pjs. Again and again and again. And then we gave up and just tried to keep up with a clean diaper.

This perhaps would have been a good time to go to the ER. I couldn't do it. I was paralyzed by what he germs might pick up there. I was paralyzed by the idea of going back to a hospital less than 48 hours after being discharged from a 3 month and 3 day stay. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and I couldn't do it.

I called the pediatrician. I called the nurses at Children's. I had the pediatricians and one of the Fellows at Children's talk. We agreed I'd give him ibuprofen for his fever and bring him to the pediatrician first thing in the morning.

He had a fever.

This is what bothers me. I knew, had seen too many times, how a fever affected him. How his heart rate went up and everything fell apart from there. It was one of the things I expected to have to argue with doctors and nurses about. I expect them to tell me his fever wasn't that high, it wasn't that big a deal. It is for my son, I'd have to explain. But I didn't. He had a fever and all I could think was We just got home; I can't go back to the hospital. 

The next morning it was snowing, but we got out and down the road to the pediatrician. This time when they wanted us to go to the hospital, I agreed, resigned, to go for tests: EKG, echo . . . As we drove, the snow got heavier and Henry's breathing deteriorated. I was sitting in the back with him and I just watched as each breath became more labored. I could do nothing. The highway was down to 40 mph; we were going 70 passing state troopers.
In the ER, they struggled for a long time to get a line in him. They were going to move him up to the PICU, but suddenly didn't like the looks of him, didn't want to move him anywhere. They pulled out what looked like a drill and got immediate access in his leg. That's new. Haven't seen that before, I thought.
The bearded doctor came out to tell me they had him on a ventilator. I started to cry.
It's just what he needs right now, he told me.
It's two weeks minimum to get him off it, I thought. I still believed he would make it. I still dreaded another hospitalization. It seems funny now—and not.
Sometime that night—time was a blur—Brian's mom suggested we go and get some rest. We had not slept in over 24 hours, and the night before that had been punctuated with a relentless med schedule, and the night before that spent sleeping upright in a straightbacked chair or on the hospital floor. She stayed with him. We went home and packed some things for our return. We had been in bed for less than a hour when the phone rang. How long does your heart stop when your baby is in the hospital and the phone rings late at night?
Back at the hospital in the parent waiting area, we tried to sleep. Brian woke me up in the wee hours of the morning. He had what Henry had. He was spent, weak, wrung out. I called his parents to pick him up. And I waited.

I didn't know it would be the last day.
I don't think about that last night at home with Henry or even that last night of back and forth between home and the hospital.

Mostly I remember that he came home. He did not die in Boston. He made it home. We carried him through the kitchen door where we brought him home as a newborn. We put him back in his swing and watched him noticing the mirror above it. We all slept in this house that we call home for one night.

It always feels like one of Henry's little gifts to me that he made it home. Not for long, no, not nearly long enough, but he got here. And that means so much to me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Not unhappy

Despite the sorrow, the sadness, the struggle that seems to be much (all) I talk about of late, I am not unhappy with my life. I am blessed with a close family that I love and love spending time with. I have a beautiful baby girl who makes me smile every day. I have friends who have helped me through the hardest time in my life. I have a comfortable home in an close-knit neighborhood. I mostly enjoy the work I do each day. I know who I am again and I'm comfortable with me.

I miss Henry deeply, desperately.  I am so sad he isn't here. But. I am not unhappy. As I sit tonight, even as I long for him to be here, I'm sitting with some kind of contentment with my life, something that wasn't here last year, something that gives me a little of the hope I thought I had lost to despair in this month of December.

Thank you to all who have sent your support to me in this dark month. It's funny what a big difference a few little words make.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two candles

We had a small party for Kathleen today, and two candles were lit:
the one on the cake that remained lit for only a moment or two,
to mark the life that has lasted a year and is still going strong,
and the one on the table that stayed lit all day,
that still flickers in the next room
to mark the life that didn't make it a full year, the one I still miss.
One birthday, two candles.
Two babies, much love.
And I continue to teeter between this awe and wonder and amazement
that she is here and strong and laughing and moving and learning
and the despair that he is not.
Among family and friends, I was able to smile much today,
to feel the joy,
but in the letdown of people leaving and a quiet house almost put back in order,
I find the ache growing.
So aware of and thankful for what I have.
So aware of and missing what I don't.

I am holding onto the belief that this will get easier again,
that this dark month will pass and heaviness will lessen.
The sadness will still be there.
I will still miss my boy,
but in the day to day I will get by.
I will see the light again;
tears will not be a daily event.
For this I am holding onto hope,
because I need to believe it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One Year

One year ago today this tiny girl entered my world.

Her first birthday feel like it has been more than a year in the making and yet wasn't it just yesterday she was perched like this on my chest?

Happy birthday, Kathleen.
Happy birthday, my baby girl, my light, my joy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I find myself craving quiet and time to sit and just be. And I don't have it. When Kathleen's up I'm a-going with her. And when she sleeps I work. But tonight, I'm taking a break, because I need it, because my brain is useless. I'm sitting in my chair in the living room—the chair I sat in with Henry, the chair I sat in with Kathleen, the chair I have sat in very little over the past several months. I'm sitting in the gentle glow of Henry's lamp and the candle I lit for him. 

The candle was a gift from my cousin's mother-in-law. I see her at Thanksgiving, but don't know her particularly well. But she bought be this candle, a white candle in a little jar, for me to light for Henry. She gave me one last year and another this year. I like having a candle just for Henry. I'm touched by her gesture. 

So I have his candle lit in front of his picture:

and I'm sitting and trying to deal with these waves that keep coming over me. Two years . . . two years . . . two years . . .  

I find my self close to or in tears often these days. It has not been like this for a while. I had forgotten how the waves could sweep over me, again and again and again. How the tears well up and subside and well up some more. How it feels to be teetering on the edge of holding it together. 

I had been doing okay. And then December. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


We are two days into December and I already I can feel it. There is a darkness to this month that has nothing to do with our winter short days. There is a weight that drags along with me. 

December 17 looms ahead. It will be two years. Two years since Henry left us.

But in this darkness, my light—Kathleen turns one. Her smile dimpled, different than her brother's, adds brightness. Her laugh makes me smile—even in this dark month.

I have been holding deep sorrow and great joy together, give each its due, knowing that each can stand on its own without muddying the other, but this month tests me.

December, my time to weep and my time to laugh; my time to mourn and my time to dance.