Thursday, May 26, 2011

Right Where I Am: 3 years, 9 months, 12 days

Normally I wouldn’t bother with the days. Honestly, I had to do math on my fingers to come up with the months, but, it just happens to be the 26th. R died on the 26th and she lived for 12 days. So…

In the days immediately after R’s death, T vowed to make time every 26th to remember her. Implicit in this plan was his predicted inability to ever be happy on the 26th day of any month ever again. Judging from his grateful smile as I sent him off to work with a travel mug full of hot coffee, the plan didn’t take. I never bought into the plan, mostly because I couldn’t imagine any greater degree of sadness than I was feeling every minute of every day already. R was gone. C was in the NICU. Everything felt fragile and uncertain.

It still feels this way for a few minutes each day. My thoughts of R are like background noise or wallpaper. They’re always present but I don’t actively monitor them. After all, some things stay exactly where you left them. But, the memories still fly into the foreground at least once a day, unbidden, a freak wave splashing over the bow, leaving me shocked and spluttering, questioning the certainty of anything in my life.

Here are some of those moments from the past 24 hours along with other thoughts I had while contemplating ‘right where I am’.

While Peering Hopelessly into my Closet

It’s hot and sticky here in the mid-Atlantic. I’m finding that my wrinkle-proof, working-mom wear is making me a little too sweaty on my daily walk to the commuter train but I can’t figure out what else I should wear. The new girl at work, who speaks of fabulousness as a glorious island nation that I too could inhabit if I’d just use the right navigational equipment, mentioned that she’d purchased her chic linen pants (size 2) on sale at Banana Republic. I’d check it out but I prefer the “Frumpy Barista” collection at Penney’s for the elastic hidden in the waistband of most pants.

Stores are full of sparkly, flowy, brightly-colored clothes for summer and I can’t imagine wearing any of them. I don’t feel sparkly anymore and flowy is terrible on the playground. I can’t see the point of smart, sporty clothes that can go from office to rooftop happy hour.

I need something that says I’m no longer a frivolous person who uses precious brain cells on wardrobe development. A cloak or a monastic robe might work but, it needs to be stain resistant and have a skort built-in for the playground. The statement would probably be undermined by lollipops and princess stickers adhering to the hem anyway.

Looks like it’s going to be mom-slacks and cardigans for another few months.

While Driving

I dropped C off at daycare earlier today and almost smashed into a carful of teenagers making an ill-advised left turn. 21 years and a few months ago my brother was almost killed in a similar situation at the same intersection.

Luckily he escaped with a concussion and a neck sprain. A few months later, we sat the kitchen table and I helped him turn the incident into a compelling essay for his college applications. I’m not sure that a 6’2” varsity football player and home run derby champion needs to write a slam bang essay to get into college but it’s certainly a better ending to the story than what could have been. How would my life have been different if my brother had died or become an invalid that night? He was riding in a car with 2 other boys who only had one sibling. I was friendly with all of them. What would that have been like if we’d all become instant only children?

We had a tearful night last night. C’s cousins (the ones who wouldn’t exist if my brother had died) stopped by just long enough to set up an elaborate game of house/school/doctor. The 8-year-old had just prepped C for surgery and the 6-year-old was setting up the post-operative tea party when my SIL announced that they had to go home for baths and bedtime. It was hard to catch all of the words during C’s ensuing meltdown (C inherited my tendency to hyper-ventilate when crying) but I made out that she’s lonely and jealous that her cousins get to go everywhere together.

As we sat and tried to calm her down, T shot me a look over her head. You know the look I’m talking about. Well, maybe those of you who conceive easily don’t. It was the look that says hey-we-can-skip-the-Barry White-because-you-seem-to-be-infertile-now-but-maybe-we-should-discuss-our-other-options---sexily. I answered with the look that says, “Nope.”

I’m happy with our life right now. At least I feel like everything we have going on is manageable. I can see all of the ways that another child would be earth-shatteringly awesome and I can see all of the ways it could be heartbreaking. The awesome just doesn’t outweigh the heartbreak…yet…maybe not ever.

But, it does hover there in the back of my mind. What would it be like if we added a brother or sister for C?

Or, as I skidded toward a carful of oblivious children this morning, what would it be like if that new sister or brother died in some horrible manner?

While Playing with C

I can talk about R without getting even remotely teary or emotional now. This area has a nice, thick callus and I feel good about that callus. I remember sitting and rocking for hours with infant C and wondering how she would stand growing up with this hollow shell that called itself ‘mommy.’ I didn’t resolve to get over it or be strong for C’s sake. I figured that I’d always be sad and C would have a great career as a memoirist after she grew up and escaped.

But that’s not really how it’s turning out. We function just like any other family with one child and two parents who work full-time outside the home. C and I sit on the floor coloring together in the evenings while I assuage my guilt about spending so much time apart and the laundry piles up and the bacteria colonizing my bathroom threaten to devour the entire house.

Maybe I’d be more super-mom-ish if I didn’t grant myself the space to enjoy these small pleasures with my surviving daughter but that seems like the road to ruin for any mom. I can almost allow myself to think that grief has improved me in some ways. Of course, I probably would have improved in some ways as the mother to twin girls as well.

C recently started drawing more recognizable objects during our coloring sessions. First it was faces and stick figures. Then she started adding yellow hair and blue eyes to make them look like her. Yesterday she drew herself and then a copy of herself. She asked if I could draw some strawberries and a pear for R.

“R likes strawberries and pears, just like I do,” she explained and then she started telling crayon-R about all of the other things they could do together if they both lived here with mommy and daddy.

And it occurred to me that we may never be fully present, never completely right where we are. For me and C and T there will always be a little piece missing from this place and time and all of our future places and times. We’ll always face the past every so often and wonder what it would be like if R had survived.


  1. Wow, you know, those little moments describe right where you are so perfectly. You have the brilliant ability to make me well up and laugh in the same paragraph. It is uncanny and awesome. Thank you for sharing this and being so honest. xo

  2. This is so beautiful, and heartbreaking, and lovely, and just . . . well, thank you for sharing this glimpse into your life. You've perfectly captured how everyday life, no matter the place or happening, is always tinged with missing.

  3. what an incredible post...thank you for sharing your journey with us. I agree with Angie..laugh and cry all at the same time. This has been an incredible experience with every one's blog.

  4. I love that you took this one step further and gave us specific snippets from your past 24 hours. Brilliant. And Ya Chun also made me realise in her post, just as you did, that I had to use my fingers to count the months and days. That in itself has been a huge shift for me. I could once rattle off how many weeks it had been. Weeks morph in to months, months in to years. Then all of a sudden, you're just living this new normal, trying to make the best of it.
    And this. This really hit home for me:
    "I remember sitting and rocking for hours with infant C and wondering how she would stand growing up with this hollow shell that called itself ‘mommy.’ I didn’t resolve to get over it or be strong for C’s sake. I figured that I’d always be sad and C would have a great career as a memoirist after she grew up and escaped."
    I had these same thoughts and feelings. Most days, I still feel like that hollow shell. And why is it, that even though I'm a full time stay at home mum I'm also wary of the bacteria in our bathroom taking over our house?! I guess I have learnt, especially with livebaby parenthood, that guilt and mothering go hand in hand, no matter how we spend our days - in or out of the home.
    Also got a laugh out of your wardrobe section. Yes, oh yes! God bless elastic.

  5. I almost bypassed the 3rd one month and damn near had a mental breakdown. I'm sure it was there, I was just avoiding it and subconsciously trying to avoid another milestone. I hope in time it will be one of those precious moments I keep to myself. The part where C says R likes strawberries and pears too. That pulls at the heart strings. All of these posts have been so helpful. Thank you for sharing C and R with us~

  6. Thanks Tracy for your perspective.

  7. Those moments in every day is just how it is, like Angie I am smiling and crying at your post. Thank you for sharing. x

  8. Oh C's 'doubling' of herself and the strawberries and pears just broke my heart.

    A monastic robe with a skort sounds good to me too. x

  9. Thank you for capturing these moments and sharing them here. Like others have mentioned, I moved back and forth between laughter and tears. And that last paragraph is just beautiful and perfect and haunting.

  10. Beautiful perspective. Thank you for sharing those moments with us. I relate to the peering hopelessly in the the closet section...

  11. I'm a bit in love with this post, Tracy. I love the way these moments are all about things missed, or missing, in their own particular way. A story made of gaps. x

  12. I often wonder how things would be if when my son died I also had his twin, who lived. He was a singleton so it is just an exercise in make believe. I do imagine that there is such a whirlwind of mixed emotions in watching one child grow and thrive while deeply mourning the one who cannot and will not.
    Your post was lovely and heartbreaking to read. Thank you.

  13. Thanks so much for this Tracy. As Jess says, it's a really thougthful study in the gaps that we have to live around. Glad you liked the poem.

  14. Thank you for sharing and taking part in this has been quite an amazing experience to read where everyone is...yet at the same time, we all have such similar feelings and stories despite the time that has passed. I'm sure you will always feel and wonder the "what ifs", especially when you have C in your life to always compare it to. Thinking about you and your family and sending you much love.

  15. I'm familiar with the wallpaper background noise—and the questioning of the certainty of anything in my life, too. Love the way you put this together.

  16. I'm here for the first time. Angie's project is introducing me to some amazing writers and insightful women (not sure if any daddys took part?).

    That last paragraph made me catch my breath - there really will be a little piece always missing from this place and time.

  17. I'm here from Angie's great project - albeit a bit late.

    Thank you for describing with such colour your days with C and R in your life. It is hard for me to imagine how things could be for me further down this path, but is wonderful to have some light shed and therefore comfort too. I aspire to let grief mould me into a better person.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective and your precious R

  18. "And it occurred to me that we may never be fully present, never completely right where we are."

    I struggle with that too, and it takes great effort to be here, in the now. I remind myself frequently of that when my thoughts start to drift to what almost was, what could have been. Be here, I tell myself. Be here.

    Easier said than done.