Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22

As we parked in the church lot this morning, Elizabeth asked, "What day is it?"

"Sunday," I said, and added, "December 22."

I looked at Brian. Half a beat after my mouth started to ask "Are you okay?" I knew why he wasn't quite okay.

December 22, 2007 was the day of Henry's funeral. December 22 is a day that has broken me before, sneaking up as it does after the 17th when my guard is down. Today though, I just sighed.

One good thing about always being late to church is that we never hear "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." It's nearly always the entrance song during Advent, and because we gave the music director mostly free reign, it was the entrance song for his funeral. I know people who carefully planned their children's memorials or funerals, picking readings and songs that meant something to them. I was too broken to do that. We asked for one song, "Peace Like a River," one of the songs I had sung to Henry nearly every day. We delivered a CD to the music director who not only played it, but wrote out the music and gave us copies. Today, had we been a few minutes earlier, we would have heard "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and maybe I would have broken. Music does that sometimes, much like smells.

It was a strangely warm and foggy day today. I don't remember what it was like the day we buried him. Cold, I think. Gray. But maybe it just felt that way, felt like that's how it should be. But warm and foggy is so wrong for December 22, it would have been appropriate in some ways for the burial of a baby.

I did not stop at the cemetery today, even though I drove by. I didn't mark the day in anyway, except to nod and squeeze Brian's hand when I realized.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The day after

There is no right thing to do on the anniversary of the day your child died, but what has felt most right to me over time is slowing down and making space.

I gave clients a heads up that I'd be out of the office with no email yesterday and put projects on hold. I didn't even turn my computer on. I knew I would find at least a few messages of support and remembrance on Facebook or in my email, but I'd also be distracted and find offers and ads and things that begged for a response.

Instead, I put together a basket of greens and a strung a heart of cranberries to take to the cemetery. I strung another heart to hang on our door. I sat and read.

We all went to pick Kathleen up from school and brought the basket to the cemetery. The snow was falling heavily as we stood looking at the small stone, the dark green and deep red. It was cold. The roads were sloppy. We didn't stay long. This is the only thing I ask for on this day—that we go together as a family to the cemetery, however brief our visit.

It was a half day because of the snow and I got my neighbor's kids off the bus. It wasn't part of my making space plan, but it worked. They made cookies with Kathleen and watched a show with her. They all, miraculously, got a long. When they went out to play in the snow while Elizabeth still napped, I read some more. It felt good to just sit.

After I got my girls to bed, I read some more. I finished The End of Your Life Book Club and then started (and then finished Sun Shine Down). A book about dying and life, a book about Down syndrome and living with the unexpected fit well.

For all the build up, this day I dread wasn't that bad. I moved through it slowly but without spills.

This morning I got up (late) and bustled us out the door. When I got home, I started up my computer and caught up with all I let sit yesterday. I should take breaks more often. I finished my chapter for work, helped Kathleen with her project, picked up milk and bread from the store. I took a deep breath because December 17 has passed again. I'm still ready for a new month, a new year, but I think (hope) the worst of this challenging month is past.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Clear and bright

The sky was bright and clear, baby blue. Outside felt still, but you could see the clouds move. Dusky gray and white wisps and mounds moved quickly across the sky. And even though I saw the sun sunk low behind the skeletons of trees and the house across the way, it was lighting up the tops of the clouds as if the sun sat within each one. 

I felt lighter today, as if the storm clouds that hovered low overnight Saturday into Sunday held the darkness close to me. It’s clear now, more open—and cold. The stars will be crystalline tonight over the glittering snow. The moon will encourage me to take a late snowshoe or ski, when I bring the dog out to pee, but I’ll go back in by the fire to keep watch over the girls who sleep above. (Or so I hope.)

An hour later, at five, I roused the dog from the couch where he’s slept all afternoon after a long morning romp through the snow. While I waited for him to do his business, I could see that the sun I had glimpsed at four had sunk away completely, but still there was the tiniest glow in to the west. We turned the corner and I could see the hint of a ghost of the full moon behind the tall pines across the street. As I waited, more clouds hurried across the sky, these glowing too, lit from below by the yellow moon. Even in the dusky purple gathering darkness, there was light all round me.

I’m tired, worn out from the tension of joy and sorrow of this month, worn out from the anxiety and relief about my dad, worn out from the bustle of getting ready for Christmas and birthdays even though I tried to let what I did be enough, worn out from this cold that has kept me up too many nights reading and sipping hot tea. I’m tired, but this open sky, this glow within the clouds, this cold, is stirring something in me, some energy I didn’t know was there, some energy that feels something like hope.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Five and three

I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old in my house, where last Tuesday I had four and two. Kathleen woke up singing Wednesday, "I'm five! I'm five! I'm five! I'm five!" She's still delighted. Elizabeth keeps asking "Is today my birthday?" She knows she's three, though she is uncharacteristically shy about saying it sometimes.

On Wednesday there was cake and sausage for breakfast, cookies for school, a lunch with dad, presents and more cake after lunch. Today we had pancakes and sausage and bacon, snow to play in, our neighborhood friends and Papa for supper, cake and presents. It's been a very birthday week.

And now nothing stands between me and the 17th. My dad is home and doing well. My girls have celebrated and grown. I am grateful and happy and exhausted. Today, I pulled it together as much as I could, but really, I was just done. I'm staring down Tuesday and wondering if I can I just sleep through the rest of the month.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My family

I'm blessed in my family. I've known this, but I am reminded again and again.

My dad is doing much better. But over the weekend when my mom seemed to need somebody there on Tuesday, my sister and I tried to sort it out. It was the day in my schedule I could go, though I needed to come back that night. I said I could do it. I assured my mom, who wanted my sister's understanding of medicine and the healthcare system, that I could talk to the doctors. I certainly have more experience than I'd like. I told my sister that I could and would do it, but if she could I'd really appreciate. Then thinking about how she was trying to reschedule an appointment that had to happen before Christmas and having her husband try to change his work schedule  and piecing together childcare from friends, I called her back and said, this is silly, I should just do it.

She wanted to do it, she said. She felt bad she hadn't been able to go when my dad was so sick before. She'd like to see him. And, she acknowledged, I know this is a hard time for you. This is what I love. My family knows—understands—that even six years out, December is a struggle for me. They get that having my girls' birthdays in this month makes it easier and harder all at the same time. I know people who didn't get that kind of understanding in year one. I'm lucky in my family and thankful.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What you can handle

God doesn't give you more than you can handle. It's one of those sayings like everything happens for a reason that doesn't sit right with me. Still, this was my prayer today:

I can't handle more. Please. 

My dad got very ill suddenly back in October. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital with a raging fever. "Sepsis," my sister told me when she called. Hearing the word, I could see it on Henry's death certificate. The word infiltrated my brain, spreading, growing, like the infection itself as I waited for more news, tried to figure out if I needed to go.

I did go that afternoon. As soon as I parked in the hospital garage, I was in in hospital mode—purposeful, quick, tense. I figured out where the stairs were and how to wend the maze that all hospitals seem to be. When I went in to see him, my dad was joking, shaken, but himself. They figured out the source of the problem. Treated it, got a bunch of antibiotics in him, sent him home with a plan for surgery in several weeks.

My dad had surgery on Thursday. It seemed to go well. Thursday night, he joked about going to work on Monday. Yesterday he was in a lot of pain. Today more. And he didn't seem right.

My dad was rehospitalized this evening. We're in the waiting stage now, waiting to see if a CT scan gives useful information. Right now, we don't know if there is really something to worry about. I'm waiting for the call, or if it's really late, an email from my sister and I keep thinking:  I can't handle more. December is enough already. I can't handle more. Please.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


I came home from Thanksgiving a bit reluctantly a day earlier than usual, which turned out to be a wonderful decision. I spent the weekend cleaning: clearing debris—scraps of paper, twisted pipe cleaners, bits of cloth, small sticks and pebbles—and tidying the art table in the playroom so you could actually do a project or find materials there. I dusted and vacuumed. I packed away sweat shirts and organized snow clothes. And I sorted through the boxes and piles that have covered and surrounded my dining room table since August when I gave up my office and transformed it into a playroom. I have no regrets about that change. The room gets much better use as a playroom, but the residual chaos has been driving me crazy. Some how, going into December with a clearer space (the table isn't quite empty, but it's getting there) makes a difference. I feel lighter walking through the house. There's something to that who clear space, clear mind thing.

Kathleen could barely wait to put up the tree. "Can we do it now?" "Let's put up the tree!" "You said we'd start during Lizzy's nap." We put together our artificial tree together. She watched me untangle the lights and wrap them around and around and around. She handed me the red and green wooden bead garland. Around and around and around again. Then we waited some more for Lizzy to wake up.

Here's the red bird paper ornament from Amy and the felt heart I made with one of our Buddy Walk hearts and the matching hearts for both my girls. Here's the red bird Jenni felted for me and the beaded star that arrived while I was in the hospital with Elizabeth, and the one from the ornament swap with the "desert cardinal" feather. Here's the felt cardinal we had on the tree when I was little that I loved just for itself that means something else now. Here's sand from my home town and the painted ornament Brian and I bought in Aruba. Here's the canoe I bought for Brian the year we bought the canoe and snowshoes and a cross country skiing Santa (remember when we did those things?) Our tree is too full. We have a small tree, so perhaps a full size tree is order, or maybe I simply need to weed out the ornaments that don't have a story.

The decorating is done, though Kathleen keeps asking if there are more Christmas decorations, more holiday toys. But we're done. There are red birds throughout the house. Snowflakes, the ones my aunt gave me one of those first awful winters, glint in the sunlight. I light my candle and Henry's tree. I sit by the fire and look into the empty space in the dining room. I look at the space I cleared and breathe into it.

December, three days in, still wary, but stronger.