Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Letting go

I keep sitting down to write about late December and finding myself talking about letting go. Not about letting go of Henry or sadness or even the actual stuff that he used (or didn't), not about that kind of letting go that I struggle with so much. This month has been about letting of my lists and expectations.

I let go of getting all the Christmas stuff out. The tree, Henry's tree, the stockings, wreaths on the doors. A red and green mat with a candle and some greens on the table. Enough.

I let go of baking Christmas cookies (and made just the chocolate orange cookies I love and kept them for myself).

I let go of sending out Christmas cards and with it the struggle for both the "perfect" picture and a way to include Henry that felt right to me.

I let go of the idea (dream) of fixing up my old dollhouse for Kathleen for Christmas. Instead I latched on to her sudden and unexpected idea of having a toy toaster. Whenever people ask her if she had a good Christmas, she (unless she is taking a turn at being shy), says, "I got a toaster!" And I smile.

My jams and pickles are still sitting on the futon in my office, sticky notes designating where they are going. They still need to be packed and mailed or wrapped and delivered. I've doled out a few as I've seen people, but I let go of getting them all out in time for Christmas.

I'm not usually good at this, this letting of of to-do lists and trying to do far too much. Even when I try, I do so grudgingly and keep looking at all the things I want to be able to do. This year, like the year when I was pregnant with Henry and so tired, I really let go of all these things and took joy in tossing my undone list in the recycling. Some of that thinking and talking about prioritizing over the summer must have sunk in.

One more holiday celebration (and I am remembering the final project I wanted to do, that maybe I can pull off tonight, or maybe I'll decide to let go of . . . hmm, it would make a good birthday gift for my dad. Yep, just crossed that off the list) and then we settle in for winter. I'm looking forward to the slow down that seems like it should come after the bustle of the holidays, because they are busy, even when you let go and toss out your lists.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I'm exhausted today, less drained perhaps than years past, but more drained than I thought I'd be given how "well" the day went.

Yes, yesterday was manageable for the most part. We actually went out in the evening. To a holiday party. And it was okay. In some ways having something to do helped, and it was hosted by my first ever babylost friend so it somehow felt safe.

Just before bed, Brian asked me what we did after Henry died when we left the hospital. I told him we went to his parents house. We ate meatloaf. My parents, his parents, and his brother were there. I think this is true, but it could be a false memory or a mixed up one from some other time. We ate meatloaf and then we went to bed in his sister's old room.

He talked about how sick he'd been, how sick so much of our family had gotten.

Then I mentioned standing by the door at the hospital, waiting for a ride, and he said he remembered that. I didn't know, couldn't remember if he was there with me or not. I felt so separate from everything around me.

Then we said goodnight and he rolled over and then I felt myself break, the shattering I had expected at any point during the day. Before I was waiting by that door, I walked out of a door upstairs. I left by baby, just his body by then, on the bed with a nurse. I walked down a long hall, took an elevator, and stood there, arms empty.

I put him down and I left. And I don't know how I did that, how I came to have to do that, how this is my life, how he is not here.

I split open and everything flooded out. I didn't cry long. Today I didn't have that crying hangover of stuffy head and puffy eyes. I was just tired. I wanted to curl up and take a nap, and perhaps if we didn't have Christmas to celebrate with Brian's family and if I didn't have an insane deadline tomorrow, we might have taken turns getting a chance to do that. But it—life, the world—doesn't stop because I'm grieving, because I'm wiped out and need a break. It never did, never will. (But man, wouldn't it be nice if it did?)

I'm more than halfway through December. I got through the worst day and it's aftermath, tired, but standing. (And every kind word I've received has helped keep me standing and opening to the joy and light that shines alongside my darkness. Really. Thank you.)

Friday, December 16, 2011


Four years tomorrow.

I slept with his blanket last night. It was cold in the house (I woke up in the morning to find the front door ever so slightly ajar) and Brian wasn't home and the 17th was looming. I slept with his blanket last night, like I did every night that first year. Like I did for many nights after that. Like I haven't done in a very long time.

His blanket is yellow, like lemon chiffon. My grandmother made it, one of thirteen she has made for her great-grandchildren. I didn't use it because he always had velcro on him somewhere and it snagged on the knit blanket. But when we went to the hospital for the last time, I brought it. It is what he was wrapped in when we held him for the last time.

I slept with his blanket last night.

Tonight, when I sang Kathleen the "Kakeen" song, the lullaby I made up just for her, my voice cracked and I choked through tears when I got to the Henry verse.

Kathleen, my baby, your brother is Henry. 
He is an angel who watches over thee. 
He is no here with us upon the earth
but he's watched over you since before your birth.

He is not here with us upon the earth.
"We don't have Henry," she tells me sometimes. "No. No, we don't."

Brian and I went through the timeline again tonight. The discharge into the snowstorm on the 13th. Actually getting home on the 14th. The visiting nurse's stamp of approval that all looked well on the 15th. The fever and vomiting and diarrhea and frantic phone calls and exhaustion on the night of the 15th. The pediatrician, the ER on the 16th. The drill into his leg. The sighing over the weeks it would take to ween him off the ventilator again. Going home for a couple hours. The phone call. Back to the hospital. Brian wrung out sick and needing to leave somewhere in the wee hours of the 17th. The unfamiliar beeping. Singing him out, singing him love. Brian arriving too late, seeing my mom's face and knowing.

I have no idea what time he died. I have looked at his death certificate just to find out, but I never remember. Time had lost all meaning then. And it was the time of year, this time of year, when darkness falls so early and grayness sometimes conveys dark. Had I been looking out the window, it wouldn't have helped.

I am past the joyful days this week. I am not far from the day. I have been feeling it coming on today, even as I worked and read Christmas stories and delivered jams to our church and cooked dinner.

Four years.

I don't know what to do with that. Four years. I've come so far, but come these days of December, I am still standing there by the revolving door at the hospital, waiting, arms empty, for somebody to come to take me home. I don't remember if Brian was beside me or behind me or with me at all at that door. I was numb and searing and separate from everything that flowed around me.

I think I will go hold his blanket again and check on my girls and feel them breathe. I will go to sleep knowing my neighbors have been holding me in their hearts and my friend Tricia has been thinking of me this week sending big hugs. I'll go to bed knowing my friend Michelle will listen to You Are My Little Bird with her daughter tomorrow and remember Henry. I'll pass by my tree and see the ornaments others have made to remember him. I'll go to bed and hold his blanket knowing his place in the earth is marked.

I'll go to bed and wake up and it will have been four years and a new year will start.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


It has been a week of celebrations and cake, but we couldn't let today go by without one more.

It was a small celebration, but she's a small girl. The cake was left over from earlier in the week, but I cut a fresh slice and lit a candle and we sang. Kathleen helped Elizabeth blow out the candle. Elizabeth helped herself to the cake.

They opened Elizabeth's present together, a copy of Jamberry to symbolize the blueberry bushes we will plant for her next summer (along with the ones we are overdue to plant for Kathleen). Kathleen pouted momentarily that she didn't get a present.

When Kathleen turned one, I breathed a sigh of relief. It felt like her first birthday was more than a year in coming. The journey to that first birthday started in the fall of 2006 when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. Robbed of Henry's first birthday, getting Kathleen to hers seemed like a momentous feat. While I don't take for granted that my children will live, I am able to believe again that they will. Elizabeth's birthday was much more a regular first birthday. It's still amazing though, isn't it?

My baby is one. One!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Run away

I went for a run today. 40 degrees and mid-afternoon sun. I started out wishing I had another layer, grumbling and swearing I wasn't bringing anything to bring to the potluck dinner tonight (I had warned Brian it was on him.)

And then I ran and got warmed up and pushed past my usual turnaround point. I breathed deeply, or as deeply as I could as I ran on and on. I noticed that my run started and ended at a funeral home and my turnaround point was a cemetery, not intentionally, no significance. I didn't think about the hills. I'm not sure what I thought about. I counted. I considered an alternate end to my route. I took that route, extra hill and all. I finished strong.

I got back home and took my shower. The girls and Brian were still gone. I finished the first pass of my chapter for work. I looked at the clock. It was 5. I got up and made the chowder to take to the potluck. It was ready at 5:33, just three minutes after we should have been out the door. Kathleen had fun. Elizabeth didn't get to cranky, despite the late dinner and the third night in a row past bedtime.

I ran off the sadness and anger and frustration. I came back with more energy than a nap or another cup of coffee would have given me. I need more of this. I knew it, but today really reminded me how much good running away does for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A crack

There is a crack in my armor. I am not invincible against December, though I was starting to feel like I was.

It started just a hairline last night. I stepped out of my office and saw both my Christmas trees—the full tree and Henry's little tree—glowing. The house was quiet and a glow filled the darkness. I took it in. I smiled. Peace and joy and love.

And the memory of why I have that small tree covered in cardinals and hearts surfaced. It's not that I forget that Henry is dead, but sometimes I don't have to really think about it any more than I have to remember to breathe. But sometimes like last night, it hits me. A gasp, a quick sob. No lying on the floor. No crying for hours, but a crack.

Today, all my efforts to keep things simple fell apart. Brian introduced all kinds of projects into the day despite my efforts, and I ended up doing alone what I thought we would do together and finishing up one of his projects. So I spent the afternoon in a pissy mood and cried some more.

It doesn't help that I'm tired. It doesn't help that I feel fat and most of my clothes don't fit and I can see in pictures how I've gained weight since summer. It doesn't help that despite my best efforts and intentions I'm coming into some tight deadlines for work. It doesn't help that the 17th is drawing nearer.

But I'm not lost yet. As I sat in the car, taking deep breathes, waiting to pick up our pizza, I remembered all the kind words of support I've received this month. While I was gone, Elizabeth took her first steps. My behind schedule author sent me an email telling me how amazing I am. And now my work files have uploaded. I'm going to go sit in the glow of my Christmas tree and light a candle for my boy and drink some chamomile tea. And tomorrow I will do my work and take a run and try to take care of me some more.

It's still December. I'm cracked open, but I'm still standing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


My big girl is three.

I remember when Henry's third birthday rolled around feeling suddenly the difference between baby and kid. I realized he would have been a little boy and what I was missing, would miss hit me in an entirely different way.

Today, Kathleen's third birthday is here. And I see that I am right, that three is so much bigger than two. She is a little girl, not a baby. Even since last year, her face and body have thinned out. She uses the potty, and without her big cloth diaper butt sometimes she wears jeans. She gets the silverware for dinner and loves this little job. She explains things to Elizabeth: You have to be buckled in, sister. I'm buckled. Mommy and Daddy are buckled. You have to be buckled too! She plays, sometimes by herself and narrates her play (often interrupted by me thinking she's talking to me).

And sometimes she is still my baby who sits in my lap and wants to be held. But not too often. She's busy that big girl of mine.

That three year old of mine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This week

This is the week.
December 11–17

I knew my joy-grief was packed tightly into this month, but the alignment of the calendar brings that so into focus this year. One week to mark birth birth death.

Sunday Kathleen turns three.
Thursday Elizabeth turns one.
And Saturday Henry will have been gone four years.

We have a busy, but low key week planned.
Tomorrow evening, if we can, a train ride through the park to see the lights. A cupcake she doesn't have to share. A gift. Monday birthday dinner with neighbors. Tuesday more cake with friends. Thursday. Oh, my. I haven't planned anything special for Elizabeth's actual birthday. More cake? Something to open (her real gift will be blueberry bushes, as was Kathleen's on her first birthday, though they have yet to be planted). Poor second/third child. I was okay with not giving her a big party, but perhaps, I should do something to mark that day.

And Saturday?

All I knew was I didn't want a birthday party that day, for my girls or anyone else. It was one thing I didn't think I could handle. But we got invited to two holiday parties. We could easily have bowed out of either, but we're going to both. Part of reclaiming this month. Part of reclaiming our lives. And right now, it feels okay, good even. I need to go to the cemetery in the morning, so that we we head out in the evening and drive by his grave, I'll have been there already.

The next day, the 18th we start the Christmas cycle.
But first, this jam-packed week.
And to start that week, a birthday.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The stories of the tree

For as long as I can remember, I have loved Christmas. There was that Christmas when I was thirteen or so, an awkward age, and I lost the magic. But it came back, and I loved Christmas again. Until 2007, when Henry died on the 17th and we buried him on the 22nd and somehow managed to visit with family on the 24th in a blur. 

It wasn't that I hated Christmas after that. I just couldn't do it. Couldn't listen to carols or put up a tree. I stumbled through presents and probably baked cookies, but none shaped like Santa or reindeer or trees. 

I made excuses in the years following: I was tired and pregnant and we'd have a baby two weeks before Christmas; we had a cruiser who would surely just tip the thing over; I was tired and pregnant and we'd have a baby ten days before Christmas. But this was the year, I decided. I'm not pregnant. We have a cruiser who will, given the chance, surely knock the whole thing down. But we also have a little one who is starting to notice and remember and want her to have the magic I had. So, at the bottom of the stairs, behind the makeshift baby gate, we set it up. 

Over the past two days, I decorated. Yesterday it was just the tree and the lights and two ornaments that wound up in the wrong box last year—a cardinal from my aunt and one from Amy, a surprise gift last year. 

Tonight, before Kathleen went to bed, she helped me put a few ornaments on the tree:

This is Henry's heart, and one for Kathleen, and one for Elizabeth. The first year of the Buddy Walk, I used the leftover felt hearts we pinned to our shirts to make ornaments, and then, I made one with Kathleen's name on it too. This year, I added one for Elizabeth. 

People gave these to you your first Christmas, I say of the pink baby carriage and the peas in the pod. 

And then after she went to bed, I added others:
This was from Amy for our wedding. Two become one (and Brian adds, "As often as possible") and this one with the picture of us kissing 

I got this one for a report on Denmark in middle school (a straw star)

Here's the Mount Washington marker ornament. (I wanted Carrigain but they didn't have it.)

Aruba—Did we buy this or did your mom bring it for us? I'm surprised I can't remember how we came to have the little painted glass ball with sand in it, but Brian reminds me we bought it at a little market near the pool.

Oh, Bandit, I sigh at the little dog bone I made of clay and tied up with Christmasy ribbon

And this one's from my fifth grade teacher, I remember as I hang the glass clown with a glass balloon. 

My earliest ornaments, a wooden gingerbread man, a string covered ball with my name and squiggles in glitter, a shiny red ball with my name and birth year, also in glitter

These brass ones are from my friend, Tina, and my friend Erica made this mussel shell angel and hung it around a wine bottle (years and years and years ago).

Cookie party, more cookie party—For years I hosted a cookie party where friends would come over and bring a dough and we'd roll and scoop and bake and decorate. It got a little insane eventually and then fizzled (though we've talked of reinstating it with kids). But from that era, I have gingerbread ornaments and cookies on cookie sheets and rolling pins

Here's the canoe I bought you the year we bought the canoe. And the old wheelbarrow and my watering can.
Here are the snow shoes Amy got us. And the snowshoeing Santa I picked for you one year. 
And your AT ornament.
Brian is trying to read in front of the fire. It used to bother me that he wouldn't help me put up the tree, but this year, I just interrupt him occasionally to point out an ornament and tell him its origins or significance. The rest of the time I tell myself the story of the ornaments, because that is one of my favorite parts of the season. 

In years ahead, I foresee more cardinals and hearts, and I will tell their story too. This is for Henry and I'll tell who made it or where it came from. 

This is the star somebody from Canada made for me the year Elizabeth was born. Nana and Grampy brought the package to me to open in the hospital. 

This is the red bird, this is the heart that somebody sent me from Indiana, the year we had a Christmas tree again. 

Yes, this is my favorite part of decorating—the traditions and the stories and the remembering. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reclaiming this month

Perhaps it was a bit melodramatic to say that I feel like I am being challenged to simply survive this month. I've tied too much importance to December this year, but December 2009 scared me. I don't want to be in that place again, so I've made this the test, as if it will determine what every December here on out will be like.

But as I stumbled through draft after draft of a post last night that never came together, I realized that I'm not waiting for the month to test me. I'm stepping in and trying to reclaim it. I want to be able to listen to Christmas carols and put up a tree and host birthday parties and wrap gifts and bake cookies. And I want to enjoy all these things, not just go through the motions.

I want the 11th and the 15th and the 25th to hold their own against the 17th.

I want joy and peace. I want light in my darkness.

So I came into this month ready to battle my December demons. I came in armed with space carved out by turning down quick turnaround jobs and postponing pediatrician appointments and getting much of shopping done early. I carried a plan for simple birthdays and marched in with December 17th left purposefully empty on the calendar. I have candles to light and chocolate to eat and red wine to drink. I am moving forward planning birthday cakes and thinking about little hands plunging into Christmas stockings and the nip of a Christmas morning hike. I am enjoying the preparations, my crafting and shopping and figuring out where to put the tree. I don't quite trust this month still, but I'm trying to take it back and hold the peace and joy and light while knowing the time will come to sit with the darkness.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 1

It is here, the month of dark and dread. All year, I face it with trepidation or push it off when I can. I have faced three Decembers since that day when he died. Two were tempered with life and joy and love  and welcoming of new little lives. One almost drowned me. One took me deeper than I thought I could go. There is no new baby this year to soften the blow, distract me, throw me a lifeline, and it feels like a test of sorts to survive this month, to do better than survive.

Today I skipped our music class because we all have colds
I read stories with Kathleen
sipped the garlic chicken soup I froze months ago to stave off our first winter cold
sorted through my old dollhouse furniture to find the pieces appropriate to pass on to Kathleen this Christmas
prioritized my Christmas list and got ready to let go of some pieces
gave myself time to sit and read
worked on an ornament for another mom
really looked at Henry's face in the pictures in Brian's office, different pictures than those I look at every day

smiled as my girls induced big belly laughs in each other

thought about my friends who have reasons to pause in December as well.

I changed my calendars today. It is December. So far, so good.