Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The gift

I took a nap on the day before Christmas. It helped that I was feeling a little off, but I looked at my to do lists (the one for this week and the one for the day) and dropped them in the recycling bin. I decided the ornaments I was making for my girls didn't need to be finished before Christmas morning. I had already decided to nix a bunch of craft projects that would have been nice but didn't need to happen. There are presents to wrap for my family later this week. I still have a jumble of jams and pickles to be bagged and delivered to friends and neighbors. But it was done. And it was enough. 

I have not always been good at this, at letting go of what I want and expect to do. The truth is I'm still not always great at it, but I've gotten so much better. I still make my lists and sometimes they are ambitious, but I recognize when I can't. And then I don't. And it turns out, it keeps being enough.

For so many years, I set the expectations and then got frustrated and overextended trying to meet them. And then I got pregnant. I was exhausted in December 2006 and I looked at the list of ornaments that I planned to make for my nieces and nephew and friends babies, oh and wouldn't want the older sibling to be left out, and . . . yeah, nobody cared. It was one of those traditions I had established and clung to and finally realized I could let go of. Henry gave me this gift even before he was born.

And then after he died, there was just so much I couldn't do. So I didn't. And it was enough. Even now, as I start to reintroduce things and face new options I don't pile it on and if I do and realize it is too much, I back off. Sometimes it seems like less a lesson learned and more utter exhaustion, but for many years I simply pushed through exhaustion as if completing it all were a badge of honor, as if giving in was defeat. I still make to do lists, still like them as reminders of what I'd like to do, still love the satisfaction of crossing of the things I've done, but I've learned to love crossing things of the list that don't have to be done, that I can let go of. I've learned a lot about letting go these past five and half years. This is the bit that has served me the best.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Breaking Point

Last night, I was sitting in front of the fire, Christmas gifts spread out before me waiting to be wrapped, and I hit my breaking point. Weariness, utter, utter weariness welled up in me. It was not the constant lack of sleep or the extra bustle of the holidays, suddenly, immediately I felt I could hardly hold my head up, sit up right and I began to weep. And what I hated most was I couldn't say why. I always like to pinpoint a trigger or a moment or an event, but here I was past the dreaded 17, past the sometimes more exhausting day after.

"Is it because it's the 22nd?" Brian asked. I didn't even realize it was the 22nd, the day we buried him, but that may very well been it. December is sneaky. Just when I think I've powered through, it sucker punches me.

And yet, from that sprung a conversation that needed to happen about this life we live with two little people running around and one nestled in our hearts, about how the people we've reconstructed from our brokenness fit together and how we even try to figure that out between diapers and drop offs and pickups and bedtime and why,why,why, and work. Perhaps I needed to break last night, but, oh, I'm ready to be done with December.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tell me about him

I had coffee today with two preschool mom friends.

A. gave me a big hug upon arrival and then twice while we were there. I'll take them. I'll always take a heartfelt hug.

Then B. said "I wish I could do something, but . . ." and she paused knowing there was nothing really to do. "Can you tell me about him?" And I almost cried and half smiled and I told her about Henry's smile, how the picture I posted on FB shows just a hint of it, how we captured it only once in all it's bright openness on the day of his surgery, how when Brian, narrating for the camera said that we'd soon get rid of the oxygen, Henry's whole face lit up and burst into that brilliant smile that carried me so many days, the one that still makes me smile.

"Can you tell me about him?" Nobody asks that. People ask what happened or say that must have been hard, which launches me into what happened and how hard it all was. He was only 6 1/2 months old. He was sedated during an awful lot of that time, so sometimes I'm not sure I have much to tell about him, and I still, five years later, find myself sifting through the rubble to find the pieces of him I lost as our world kept shifting and falling. But today, I collected just a bit and shared it with a friend who never got to meet him but wished she did.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Five Years

Last Thursday, I sat with a friend and sewed felt ladybug Christmas ornaments for my girls while she needle felted and we talked and settled in silences and our coffee and chai grew cold. I told her I felt I was finally replenishing my reserves, that I was able to do things, little things like make a felt Christmas ornament for my girls, that I had wanted to do but just couldn't manage these past five years. I am stronger, better, not all better, but, perhaps living through this month rather than just surviving it. I'm able to look at, seek out the light, this year, even as I sit in the darkness.
Friday morning the girls and I ate pumpkin bread and played with friends. And then the news started coming in. Horror, sadness, fear, disbelief. And a deep welling of grief and sympathy for these parents who dropped their kids off from school and will never pick them up. These parents who will stand hollow beside their child's grave. I am stronger, better, but still in touching distance to that raw, early grief. I feel it—the searing-torn-asunder pain and numbness together, the wild-empty eyes, the hows and the whys.

I have purposefully limited my news consumption, but still I keep thinking of the lives cut so very short and of the parents of these little ones. I keep thinking of the Christmas presents hidden in closets or arriving by mail and the family Christmas cards with smiling pictures waiting to be sent. I keep thinking of the funerals that will happen in the coming week. I keep thinking of next December and how cruel the joy of the season will feel. I think of next December and the December after that and after that and how slow the light is to come back and how it is never the same.

I think of all this, and I do what so many parents have done the last few days and I hug my girls close. Do I do it more because of the killings? Do I do it more because tomorrow is five years? Do I do it because in this month when I mourn a loss I also celebrate two lives? Do I always do it this much? I don't know, but I snuggled up under blankets and played a bleary eyed peek-a-boo with my freshly minted two year old in the still dark morning. I helped my just-turned-four year old make gingerbread cookies and let her pile on the frosting. We read stories. We walked around the neighborhood. We lit a candle with dinner and ate birthday cupcakes. I cannot make sense, but I hold as much love and hope and joy as I can in the face of inside and outside grief, a tiny star in the darkness. And I wait to see what my own grief brings me as we approach the day.

Tomorrow it will be five years. Five years since Henry was last alive. Five years since I sang out his soul. Five years since I let go and walked out of the room leaving his body behind. Five years and I'm still surprised that this is my life. I look at the pictures on my mantle of my boy smiling and sleeping and sucking his thumb. I had a baby boy and he died. I can't make sense of it, don't want meaning ascribed to it, but I read these lines from Mary Oliver  in a book I bought in June that has been sitting on the shelf waiting for me to find it in December.

"If I was the song that entered your heart
then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
. . . 
And this was my true task, to be the 
music of the body. Do you understand? for truly the body needs 
a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, 
the soul has need of a body, 
and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable 
beauty of heaven
where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, 
and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart."
       —from "Red Bird Explains Himself"

I am so thankful for the song that entered my heart back in 2007 and for all my heart as learned from him. Ah, but I wish I could have learned that lesson another way.
Loving, missing Henry, five years later.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Lights: Early December

December 1, we woke to snow. A mere dusting that covered only the pavement and our dirt driveway, the grass was still its early winter mix of slumped green and blah beige. I might no have even bothered to note the snow if not for my girls who crowed, "It snowed!" upon looking out the window. They delighted in putting boots on over their jammies to walk down the driveway to feed our neighbor's cats, leaving smudged footprints behind them.

Out for a late afternoon walk, in the deepening dusk of winter 4 PM, we crested the little hill down the street. "Lights!" my girls cried seeing the reindeer and tree that they had walked by the past couple of weeks lit up for the first time.

Love Notes
I have a little tree that I put up for Henry. We bought it in December 2007 when we thought we might be in the hospital for Christmas. Family members were given little wooden hearts to decorate and send to us. My aunt was horrified hers were already in the mail when Henry died. I put the tree up with those hearts and some cardinals. Until last year, it was the only tree I had. Now, we have the big tree and Henry's tree too. Kathleen, out of the blue, decided she had to make something for Henry's tree, so she cut some strips of paper and wrote "Dear Henry, I love you and stuff, Kathleen" There are many, many of these bits of paper, and I look sometimes and think "What a mess," and other times "What love."

This year I am tackling the project of rehabbing my old dollhouse as a gift for Kathleen. I accept that it will not be perfect or finished really (I got it as a kit 30 some years ago and never put the trim or doors on), but she won't really notice that. Last year, I really wanted to do this for her for Christmas, but I hit my emotional exhaustion wall, and, as I have learned so slowly to do, I let it go. This year, I am finally able to tackle some of the projects that have languished, despite a true desire to do them.

Family Tree
Kathleen and I put up the Christmas tree today. The lower branches are heavily laden and luckily I have a large supply of felt ornaments as opposed to, say, antique glass. I told her the stories of the ornaments—the ones given to her when she was born, the ones I made when I was little, the mountain peak marker and wheelbarrow I gave to Brian, the hearts I made for each of them. And tucked in among those are little red birds ones I've bought each year on the day after Thanksgiving, a paper collage from Amy, a simple stuffed cloth bird from the ornament swap last year, a felted ball from Jenni, a painted glass ball from my aunt. And after Kathleen went to bed, I remembered to open the package that came in the mail (a bit of light and excitement any time) and found my new swap ornament, a cookie cutter with Henry's name on heart with a feather from a desert cardinal hanging. He has his own tree, but he's here with us too.