Monday, February 11, 2013

What to Expect...Part 2

T and I decided to get married a couple of years before my dad died.  On the down side, this means that  we haven't had much time together without some sort of traumatic horribleness unfolding before us.  On the upside, it means that T got to witness, first-hand, the fumbling tangle of chaos that was my father.  I could probably have one of those sorts of blogs that leads to a book deal if I just wrote about my dad's various, hilarious brushes with death...

Anyway, the particular event that came to mind today happened during one of our visits to my parents house shortly after our wedding.  My mom, T, and I were all sitting in the room that we always called the family room but would probably be called a den by most people when our conversation was interrupted by a thud and a shout of pain from the bathroom.  At the time, Dad was about two years post cancer diagnosis and, given that melanoma tends to be a pretty aggressive and speedy killer, we probably all assumed that he was suffering from some sort of spontaneous, mass organ failure.  We all jumped up to rush to his aid but he emerged from the bathroom looking enraged and rubbing his shoulder.  Apparently he had attempted to remove a cobweb from the ceiling while standing on the toilet seat.  The toilet seat slipped out from under him and he wrenched his shoulder when he tried to grab onto the wall to break his fall.

My dad was a seriously scary looking guy.  T isn't here at the moment to confirm this but I think he'd acknowledge that he was intimidated by Dad.  And because fear and worry and discomfort can addle one's brain, T, listened to Dad's story and immediately burst into what can only be described as the giggles.


When I'm up early on a Saturday walking the dog to the park or sorting the laundry while everyone else is still asleep, I  examine the space that R occupies in my mind and heart.  Poke, poke.  Prod, prod.  It springs right back like a fully baked cake. The contents aren't warm and delightful all the way through but it feels like they are what they are going to be--plenty of sadness for my girl but held together with what feels mostly like love and happiness for the experiences she has given me.

For me grieving my daughter was like falling from a height in some sort of ridiculous fashion.  Just like my dad with his toiletladder (TM) incident, all of my attempts to slow my descent or to gain understanding from the fully-upright just made things worse.  As soon as I let myself plummet straight down, with no regard for how things ought to be, I could see how things were going to be.

This isn't intended to be self-congratulatory.  It took me a couple of years (and many hours of reading blogs and interacting with y'all) to realize that I could only get on the path of least resistance...if I stopped resisting.  I could grieve R without endangering C.  I could take a day off from work without risking a permanent departure from normal doings.  I could stop berating myself for the various ways I failed at pregnancy and motherhood. I could go on berating myself for the various ways that I failed at pregnancy and motherhood and stop berating myself for berating myself.  I could just accept all of my failings and strengths without putting too much store in any of them.

I probably could have just invoked terms like grace and acceptance to explain all of that but I figured that I owed you a story about my dad and a toilet.

When it is not a quiet Saturday morning and I'm sitting at work instead of sorting the laundry, I examine the empty space upon which I will build my future and find it uneven and inhospitable.  I used to speak the language around here.  I could go into a job interview full of ideas and convey drive and desire but, now that I don't want things anymore I find myself fumbling answer the questions. 

When it's a Saturday night and I'm chatting with a few other mothers while our kids play, I examine my parenting decisions and see the space between us.  Was I really so sad that I couldn't have snuck some kale into a smoothie like that other mother?  Would it be helpful to explain how I maintain my patience with C by remembering how much I miss her dead sister?

Why aren't the lessons of toiletladder universally applicable?


I feel like I have a handle on the internal world of daughter death.  What I need now is a practical guide for everything else.  I've toyed with this idea before but the more time passes the more I think it would be helpful to have a resource.  Does it already exist?  If so, go ahead and give me the link in the comments.  If not, can we start working on it?

Do you have suggestions for maintaining work-grief balance?  Stories about crying in your cubicle?  Do you have questions about going back to work or changing jobs?  If you have living children, do you have pointers for (or cautionary tales about) fitting in with the other moms at work or at kindergarten pick-up?  Are there other areas we should cover like health and fitness or financial issues? Are we ever going to get those 'my baby died' business cards?


  1. I have no suggestions, but I am glad I read this today. I just took my oldest to a birthday party where most moms wouldn't talk to me and where I could not relate to those that would. (There was much talk of sneaking vegetables into other food, btw.) And, I'm in the process of applying for jobs but can't imagine how to fake great enthusiasm during interviews. So, just happy to hear someone talking about the same things I'm feeling right now.

    1. Hi, there. Sorry I'm so late in responding to your comment. I suppose we're in the echo chamber of post-babyloss fumbling now. After 5 and a half years, I wish that I had something to offer to people who are newer to all of this but I still slink away from interactions with other mothers and sweat my way through job interviews. I'll be thinking about you and sending you much peace and strength as you find your way through the job search. Feel free to email and commiserate as needed. I think my contact info is in my profile.

  2. WHY did I not know that this post was here?! Stupid google Reader is already letting me down even before it is due to meet an untimely end.

    Love the story of the toiletladder. I never met your dad but, somehow, feel like I did. The stories that you tell about him always stick in my mind, I wish you would write your book.

    Still struggling to reach that sweet spot, currently still berating myself for . . . being myself I think. Which is unfortunate. As I will not get a chance to be anybody else.

    I think that my own internal world is slightly more settled now, after a LOT of furniture rearranging. But the external world, and negotiating that gap . . . . ah, it is still proving tricky.

    I stand in the playground on my own and wonder if J wouldn't still be in nappies or if her speech would be clearer or . . . any number of things. If I hadn't been so sad. If I'd put more kale in smoothies. Sigh.

    And I haven't told anybody in that playground about any of it. I just pretend that everything was totally normal. But, turns out, some of them know at least part of the story anyway. I don't know how. It isn't something that J could explain herself. But we live in a small town . . .

    So I just slink away into a corner and hope to be left on my own.

    Last week I messed up a spreadsheet and I almost wanted to scream that you don't understand, my brain was totally blown less than four years ago and I now have the concentration span of a flea. But perhaps I'm just making excuses for myself. Berate, berate. And so the cycle goes.