Saturday, December 15, 2012
Yesterday a bunch of kindergartners went off to school. In the morning, they were all C. By the afternoon, 20 of them were lost forever, just like R.
It's just like that, a tightrope that runs right through the divide between joy and despair and you never know when you'll fall off the wrong side.
I am so angry and bewildered and heartbroken for the children and their parents and siblings and grandparents and the teachers. Why? Why? How?
It is a long road that those families face now. They will learn the true meaning of words like never and forever. For the first time, they will find themselves using words like despair, misery, agony with no trace of hyperbole.
And, friends, you who have seen your babies laid out in the funeral home and gone through the exercise of positively identifying your child ahead of cremation or burial--I know that you are feeling every bit of the sadness radiating out from Newtown today. You are all on my heart. This is so, so painful.
My daughter died and it was soul-crushing, mind-numbing, world-ending sadness. But she died from a rare set of medical complications while surrounded by dozens of people working frantically to save her. There are people who go to work everyday and try to figure out how to vanquish NEC and TTTS--maybe not as many as I'd like. Imagine if the doctors in the NICU had just thrown up their hands and said, "Oh, disease will always be out there...it's people who really kill people we just have to move on together and rise above this."
I understand the concepts of grace and humility. I know that we will all die someday and that knowledge is what ought to unite us and strengthen our love for each other. But there is a limit to what I'm willing to accept.
There are people who go to work everyday looking for a way to stop the disease that killed my daughter. Maybe not as many as I would like but it's a start. You know what no one is doing? No one is out there trying to figure out how to make NEC kill people faster or defending its right to exist no matter what the cost.
314 million Americans and 300 million guns. 2 semi-automatic handguns, 100 rounds fired, 6 dead teachers, 20 dead kindergartners. 1 shooter, 20 dead kindergartners.
Add them to the list of other victims of mass shootings in America. Hell, limit yourself to the past two years if you can't remember back further.
A couple of months ago, a police officer in a neighboring town was murdered with a sniper rifle.
It's inconceivable. Unacceptable.
Add the number of representatives of the United States swaggering around the world, bristling with weaponry acting this life that we share, like relationships between humans who love their families and their homes, are all living in a reenactment of a fucking John Wayne movie.
I have friends and family members who own semi-automatic handguns. They say that they will use them to keep their families safe. How will your handgun help when it takes a handful of minutes to slaughter your children while they're at school and you're at work or at home folding the laundry? How? Why?
We talk about rights and distrust of the government and stockpile enough weapons to kill everyone on the planet 10 times over.
We must do better.
The sun came up today. 20 children will not see it. They will never do anything ever again. And I just want to ask everyone I can find--is it worth it?
NOTE: Since I published this post, the news outlets have changed some of the information. The 20 children were first-graders. At least 7 of them were murdered with a Bushmaster rifle. And I read on Salon that it's actually 310 million non-military firearms for 314 million Americans. The bottom line, however, remains the same.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Grit and Rambling
I've been composing a post in my head for several days now in response to the stories I hear on the radio. That's pretty normal for me. I fill up the sink, add the soap, fire up the radio, open a beer and seethe/laugh/weep while I wash the dishes. There's no curtain on the window above the sink. I'm surprised that the neighbors haven't sent the authorities to come and collect me yet.
The radio stories are unrelated. Except that they're about life and, you know, everything is sort of related when you consider the (say it with me now) interconnected nature of our existence and the unlimited possibilities presented by our vast and ever-expanding universe.
I'll endeavor to get a grip someday. Or maybe I'll just take up smoking and buy some black turtlenecks.
The thing on my mind is the future. Maybe you could call it the "unknown" or the "getting through" or the "going on". It's the thing that "can't be imagined" when you share your historic tragedy(ies) with someone and he or she says in response, "I just can't imagine."
I'm going to veer off on a tangent here because this is a common topic among the grief-stricken. When the recipient of bad news says it--"I can't imagine"-- my first reaction is always to think, "Sure you can. In fact, you're imagining your loved one's cold, dead body right now." But, now that more time has passed, I see that all of those people are right. I don't think anyone can comprehend what forever feels like until you've been at it for a few years.
So, I heard several stories last week that made a dent in my brain but two stand out--and, no, I'm not going to bombard you with more politics. First was the amazing episode of "This American Life" about near-death experiences (but not in a Shirley Maclaine sort of way) and second was a radio documentary on a charter school's attempts to get kids in low-income families into college and through to graduation. There was no overlap in these stories except that they all spent some time zeroing-in on the isolation factor of surviving something that either isn't familiar to your peers or isn't part of the mainstream narrative.
The first part of that TAL episode was just incredible. I actually heard it on my way to the grocery store the first time and re-listened at the sink (so that I could simultaneously laugh and weep in front of a window in view of as many people as possible).
And the story on the charter schools with all of the teachers and administrators puzzling over the role that 'grit' plays in future success. Why do some of these kids have 'what it takes' while some of them don't? How can these kids get through hunger and poverty and abuse and then throw their hands up when confronted with something as awesome as college? I was actually making tortilla soup but, if the neighbors were watching, they probably assumed that I was threatening someone with a slow, painful death at the point of that knife I kept waving around.
I know that I'm running afoul of my own beliefs co-opting other peoples' experiences when I say this but I felt like I have been in this place where there is just so much bizarre, bad news to share that there is neither a good way to speak to other humans about it nor a good way to avoid talking about it and there is no way to put it behind you while you assume your place in society and proceed along a conventional, approved path.
Because you can't imagine...
I'm well into the future/unknown/getting through/going on phase of things. My coping mechanisms are in place. Can't be totally sure but, to the folks I interact with daily, I believe that I appear to have shrugged it off or buckled down or mustered my strength/faith/hope.
It's exhausting to force my mind to care about conventional things. I can actually feel it on me like a hand pushing against my chest, slowing me down, cutting off the oxygen when I walk into the office each morning knowing that I will have to treat my work as if I believe it's important enough to take me away from my surviving daughter for the next 8 hours.
The 'grit' that those researchers were looking for in those college hopefuls...what is it? Why do some people have more? What do I do after I've used it all up, emptied my tank? Can I get more? Where does it come from?
I get up and go to work and coach the soccer team and cook dinner and laugh at stupid jokes and carry on conversations about home repair and traffic. Apparently, I have the 'it' at the center of 'what it takes' but, truthfully, even here, in the midst of what seems to be healthy coping, I can't imagine how I will get up and do it all over again tomorrow. I can't imagine.
I think we're all born with the ability to develop and use grit. Some people are just forced to dig too deep, too often or too deep, too early. I can't believe that this wasn't part of the radio story I heard. After you've struggled with something real...really real...it's hard to re-calibrate.
You know the feeling of your first post-loss baby shower or meet-up with a friend who has no dead babies or conversation with someone you haven't seen in years. It's fucking torture. How many of these things have you tried to avoid? How worn out did you feel afterwards?
I think this experience is comparable in some ways to the story about the kids in the charter school. Imagine fighting your way out of a hellhole and moving into a dorm where people are bitching about cell phone minutes and grades. How long would you last? Does anyone have that much grit?
I can't imagine how I will continue but I know that I will.
I will wake up tomorrow morning and R will still be dead and the other babies will also be dead and C will still be a mortal who is capable of dying at any moment and so will all of your living children. I will sit at my desk and try to make a difference with my limited influence. I will buy a new bottle of shampoo because my hair just comes a little too limp when I use T's.
I can't decide if this is horrible or heroic or something completely ordinary that doesn't have to be either horrible or heroic.
Remember R. Remember all of them.
Remember that we're out of mustard.
I watched a bird with a broken foot try to land on a wire . At first he was part of a group of 6 or so--starlings, flitting from place to place in that half graceful, half robotic way that birds have. Gradually, through the accumulated fractions of seconds picked up on each landing and take-off, the other birds outdistanced him. A hard-wired, bird activity suddenly requiring careful negotiation, time, energy.
I don't know what happened next. I kept walking to catch the train to the city.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Monday, August 27, 2012
five years...and one day...later
Hell is other people.
Isn't that what the author said?
I've heard it expanded--hell is other people at breakfast. Now, there's a sentiment I can get behind.! Last week Seth Mc.Farlane tweeted that, in the ninth circle of hell, you have to watch other people eat cereal for all eternity. All of the hair on my back is standing on end just thinking about the slurping and crunching. I might join twitter just to get more insight on this issue.
I started off the month thinking that I needed my own version. Hell is other people...in August.
Other people getting riled up about memos and grammar, treating work like life, acting like we can only prove we're something more than random collections of cells floating through space on a rock by pushing each other around.
My skin is thinner this time of year. The accumulation of coping and accepting stretches me into an overinflated balloon of memory, regret, and knowledge. Beware...other people...beware. I might explode if you try to cram anything else into my brain place. Not to mention my heart place...oh, my poor, sore heart...how it hates having to deal with other peoples' issues with bullet formats and passive voice. In weak moments it urges me to say things like, "You've clearly never had a real problem if you can get so upset about subject-verb agreement."
I stifle it and feel myself swelling further--the balloon pushed ever closer to bursting as I suck down the anger and focus on love for my fellow humans.
I don't say anything smartassy. I don't say anything at all. And the other people thank me for my patience.
I want to tell the other people that I am only patient with them because of R.
"When my daughter died," I want to say, "I decided that I was through with getting upset about small things. I realized how precious every life is and I celebrate her by
But dead daughters are not discussed in the office. If you bring them up, you minimize other peoples' s
Five years ago, during most of August, she was still alive and we thought she had a chance.
I review the12 sacred days between August 14 and 26 carefully every year. Was she wearing pajamas yet on day 6? Did I get to hold her? Is this the day that T took off from work to sit by her bedside?
And the questions that sneak in unbidden and unwelcome. How didn't I notice? Why didn't I do something?
Other people everywhere and I just want to sit still and remember. Just for 12 days. Surely I can have 12 days. It's hardly any time at all. Believe me, I know.
Other people take up my time with conversations about women who flirt with their husbands and complain about being too busy with their 100% alive set of children. Other people put things up on their FB walls in August like pictures of bumper stickers that say "falling down doesn't make you a failure. staying down does."
I think other people ought to try staying down every once in a while. The view is something from here.
Then we inch closer to August 26 and I change my mind. A door-to-door salesman takes the time to ask about my MISS Foundation t-shirt and turned out to have two second trimester medical terminations. My uncle posts an FB status about supporting people who have experienced stillbirth, infant loss, and pregnancy loss. Parents volunteer to help me with my insane plan to coach C's soccer team.
The other mothers just trying to make it through August.
My friend, Catherine, plants some rosemary in her yard on the other side of the ocean.
Other people can be alright. They can be part of the swirling wonder that is my daughter. Five years after we said good-bye to her. Miss you, always, R.
Monday, August 13, 2012
There's still a part of me that sputters in indignation when a turd pops up right in the middle of my morning. I call this part Buttercup. Buttercup is the one who reads up on these things and she can tell you that there are at least 2 ordinances being flouted by the neighbor and his or her smallish dog. Beyond the letter of the law, however, is the matter of decency--decent dogs who sleep on dog beds stuffed with cedar chips and upholstered with stiff moral fabric know that you go in the grass...and that's only because you can't get a good grip on the toilet seat without thumbs. She looks at the turd and wants explanations. What deviant little creature would do such a thing?
Because Buttercup (and every other upstanding citizen of the borough) knows that this is a public right-of-way. That means that god and country wanted some pavement here so that pedestrians could stay out of the way of the cars that are clearly meant to burn fossil fuels and expel noxious fumes 5 feet to the left. You can check the plat maps down at borough hall. That's where the fundamental truths lie. In the closet right next to the one where they store the cotton candy machine that comes out for fundraisers.
The plat maps will also show you where the sewer lines run in case you're wondering where turds really ought to be...flushed down using potable water into a pipe that only runs directly into a stream when there's a big storm. There are people paid to take care of stuff like this. They spend their days thinking about shit so that you and I don't have to. Because civilized creatures don't squat in the middle of the sidewalk Or, if they do, a more civilized creature comes and at least wraps that turd in plastic and sends it off to the landfill
A turd! Right in the middle of a pristine slab of pavement, lounging there so casually as if it has a right to exist. As if it has anything to do with the rest of us...
So, I was just about to kick it into the grass so that we could all forget about its existence and return to our normally scheduled, feces-free programming. But something stopped me.
I'm still a city dweller at heart and even the non-Buttercup parts of me understand how to get along to go along. I carry many bags and keep my dog on the leash whenever we head out for a walk together. But, it's August, the month of joy and despair and I kind of want one of my unsuspecting neighbors to step in dog shit and to contemplate the importance of shit as he's scraping it off the bottom of his shoe. Or to have the temporary feeling of good luck that comes when he narrowly avoids stepping in the shit. The bad, the good, all of it--all of it is necessary.
What's the difference anyway? Turd? Sidewalk? Flies? People? A million seeds that can't grow in pavement? People who don't walk enough to warrant a sidewalk anyway? Who am I to say how things ought to be?
Tomorrow is their 5th birthday--my daughters who are cursed with a mother who writes about dog turds on the internet in connection with their birth. Maybe R will never find out.
I don't know how to feel about 5 years. It seems to be the magic number of years that it has taken to get alright with R's death and to feel like a halfway decent mother. I can't/won't forget how my R suffered for those 12 days and I will regret that I couldn't give her something better for the rest of my life but, the central fact of her existence is separate from that pain. She was mine and she was perfect for me because she was mine.
Somehow this is harder with the daughter that I see everyday. For her, just the fact that she survived is so amazing to me that I can't figure out what happens next. Yet, I feel the unsolicited advice bubbling up. It used to be the basics like 'don't talk while you're eating' and 'put your bike helmet on' and (at night while watching her sleep) 'please wake up tomorrow.' But it's getting more nitpicky as she gets older and the stakes are raised. I worry about the future and the way she gets frustrated about coloring and writing her letters.
"You survived." I want to say, "You barely made it. Who cares about school?"
But that would be some crap parenting so, out comes the advice. She makes her B backwards and I point it out to her because I know that she'll be pissed when she notices it later. And then the tears and I immediately regret opening my mouth because she is almost five and just the fact that she is almost five is enough perfection to sustain me for the rest of my days on this planet. But, the B was backwards and we can't have meltdowns over backwards Bs so I tell her she needs to calm down and now I'm squelching her self-expression...
Every parent probably feels this way. I'm sure every mother I know gets accidentally wrapped around the axle of good intentions sooner or later. And every other mother probably tries to back away from the situation and reassures herself that this isn't a big deal...in the grand scheme of things. She may even utter it aloud, "Hey, settle down. It's not like someone died."
But still, my girls and I have come so far together over these five years. August is still challenging and exhausting for me but I'm thankful for both of my daughters and everything they've taught me.
Happy birthday to you, C and R!
Monday, July 30, 2012
It's been about a month now. Yesterday the spider dined on a tiny moth while we drove to the hardware store. T declared her to be the Evel Knievel of spiders and wondered if she has some sort of genetic anomaly that makes her more of a thrill-seeker or if she got tired of her humdrum life and decided to step out to the ledge.
Or maybe she's completely unaware that there are places to build webs that don't hurtle across the landscape at 80+ mph.
Or maybe she's unhappy with the situation but striving to make the most of it.
"I used to have a web in a quiet corner of the garage," she says to the tiny moth as she binds it down with sticky fibers, "You should have seen me back then, eating moths thrice your size."
The moth doesn't reply. They never do once she's paralyzed them with venom.
"Bloom where you're planted. Isn't that what they say?" says the spider, bracing herself as the car makes a left turn.
The moth has given up now. The spider feels a momentary pang of regret, having known struggle herself ever since she got stuck on the side of this car. She sinks her fangs into the still form and drains it, surprised and somewhat happy to find that it's just as delicious as the moths of her golden years. She wishes that she'd been able to tell the moth how delicious it tasted and briefly wonders if there might be a way to eat moths without actually killing them. But then she remembers that she's just a spider. Even here, performing amazing acrobatics while stuck on the side of a car in a twist of bad luck, she's just a spider.
Monday, July 9, 2012
It's not terribly useful for my particular line of business but I keep it around for two particular purposes. I use it to mark my file folders for projects that are finished and have been consigned to my forgetting-drawer and I use it to strike the days from my wall calendar.
Once upon a time I'd take the final moments of my Friday afternoon to strike through the entire weekend in the spirit of efficiency--FridaySaturdaySunday. One less thing to take care of on Monday morning when, naturally I'd be back in the office because of-course-I'll-still-be-here-on-Monday-what-could-possibly-go-wrong-in-two-days-time?
Do I even need to say that I've changed my ways? Does anyone who reads here take a single day/hour/minute/second for granted anymore?
My new world-view has imbued my sharpie with magical powers. It is now the destroyer of time and instrument of doom.
We're rounding third on year five and proceeding to home plate. For those of you with half a set of twins, you'll be familiar with the annual, double-penetration mind-fuck of the weeks leading up to your child's birthday.
I'm really not one to compare scars but, folks, their birthday (and its concomitant stew of joy, love, logistics, sadness, and regret) still makes me feel like I'm turning inside-out and transforming into a wild beast. By the time C blows out the 7 candles on her cake (1 for R and 1 for good luck) I'll be ready to howl at the moon.
We took another road-trip to Kentucky to visit friends and family this year. It wasn't the 2-week-long funeral/wedding extravaganza of 2011 but the trip wasn't completely devoid of drama.
On the first leg of our trip we saw an overturned minivan and an abandoned car that burst into flames from the extreme heat. As that insane, inland hurricane passed through West Virginia, we hurried off the elevated highway to take shelter in a Wendy's. Disasters small and large everywhere but we managed to emerge unscathed.
The night before our return trip, C and I went to bed early while T stayed up to talk with his mom. I had a couple of books but C didn't want to read. She wanted to talk about her birthday and how it was only 6 weeks away and all of the things she'd do once she turned 5 like chew gum and start kindergarten and all of the birthday party supplies that we could get once we got home from Kentucky.
Meanwhile, inside a nondescript, beige cubicle, deep in the bowels of a government office building in Philadelphia, an evil sharpie marker twitched to life.
I should probably be encouraged that, in spite of everything, C still trusts that the sun will rise and that the next few weeks will come off without a hitch but I have to admit that I slept very poorly that night. I wasn't really crying but it was like my head was so filled with worry that it started to leak. The tears caught in my hair as I stared at the ceiling and sent a silent warning to the fates, "Leave her alone. She's just a kid. She doesn't remember."
I'm just going to end this one by noting that my trusty macbook pro died at the end of May, precluding my participation in the 'right where i am' commenting bonanza. I haven't even been able to maintain my normal schedule of spotty posting and delayed commenting and, rather than try to make up for lost time, I've decided to just cut bait. Not that you're all sitting around waiting for me to eject nuggets of wisdom via blogger, but, I didn't tumble down the basement stairs to my untimely demise and I think I'm back to normal operations.
Now...on to August...
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
right where i am: 4 years, 9 months, 12 days
I suppose some would say that I'm actually at 4 years and 9 months since R died on the 26th and it's the 26th. But, honestly, I regret the circumstances of her short life just as much as I grieve her death--maybe more. So, 12 days it is.
I went back and read last year's post before writing this year's post and I've decided that I'm ridiculously predictable. Would you believe that I've engaged in the same activities and circled around the same themes in my head over the course of an entire year? Well, if you read this blog, you probably aren't surprised to hear that at all---yeah, yeah, infinite possibility, sorrow and joy, grouchy dog, left-wing politics.
When I search my closet today there will be some new stuff. I went shopping last week and bought some clothes that are neither black nor grey. Two of my new shirts have ruffles. I still want that monastic robe but mostly to hide my middle-aged spread. I smiled at the youthful stupidity of the returned college students who drove down my street this week towing a friend on a skateboard (with no helmet) rather than worrying about their soon-to-be bereft mothers and sisters. C asked me how I know she isn't really R last week and I didn't worry about her psychological health.
I've turned a corner this year.
R is just my daughter. Sure, she's dead but that's no longer the operative word. She is my first born. C's twin. A full member of this family with all of the associated rights and privileges.
I want to lounge around and watch TV with her snuggled on my lap, poking her big kid elbows into my ribs. I want her to hide a big-eyed unicorn toy behind the shower curtain to scare the bejeezus out of me. I want to argue with her about green beans and the importance of wearing a hat in the sun.
I can't do any of those things with her.
But I don't do any of those things with most of the people I know and, someday, I won't do them with C either. And it's alright.
I can love her just the same anyway.
Monday, May 21, 2012
I went to the woods...
That's right, y'all, I've emerged from my little cave and written a guest post at Glow in the Woods about how R's nothing became more like everything.
Now I will go and breathe into a paper bag until my terror subsides.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
What to Expect...
I just wanted to give you a heads-up that C is bringing a picture of her sister, R, for show-and-tell tomorrow (for 'R' week). R was C's twin sister who died a couple of weeks after they were born. I'm not sure if she'll mention that part. I'm also not sure what picture she'll choose but I'll steer her towards one that has as little medical equipment in it as possible. At the very least, I can guarantee that R will be alive in the photo that C brings in.
I don't think you have to worry about C getting upset. She's pretty matter-of-fact about the whole thing--because there isn't really any other way to be about it, I suppose.
We tried to talk her out of this but, we didn't want to push too hard. We try to be as open about R's death as possible and let C guide our discussions. Every once in a while that means that R gets mentioned in an awkward situation.
My guess is that most of the kids won't even realize what's going on but I didn't want you to be blindsided.
FROM: Pre-K Teacher
Thanks so much for the email. I LOVE how matter of fact children are about death! They are so truly accepting! I was aware that C had a twin sister that had lived for a short time at her birth,however, I did not know her name. I think it is so cute that she remembered R for R week! Don't worry -I am sure the other children will be just as accepting as C is. Thanks for the heads up though-in truth I can't wait to see a picture of R-It will be so neat to see how much they looked alike.
By the way- were C and R born early?(I just want to be sure we have the story right).
I am sure C will do a great job at it.Mrs. H
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Monday, January 30, 2012
i bet we've been together for a million years
Monday, January 23, 2012
My internal voice barks orders at me all day long. Everybody has problems! Nothing is guaranteed! No one said it would be easy! Vada a bordo!