Monday, August 19, 2013

In it again

I want a dishwasher.

Because I celebrate the birth of my surviving daughter at exactly the same time that I most regret the death of my other daughter.

I need everything else to be easy sometimes.

We get houseguests in August who are primarily here to celebrate the birth (and continued survival) of C.  But they are also here to get caught up with me and T which is fine as long as I don't have to answer any questions.

My August strategy is to keep it light--little soap bubble comments, noncommittal mmm-hmmms and how-about-thats to keep the conversation moving in hopes that it will pass me entirely.

I didn't even mention C's birthday directly here or on FB this year.  I haven't decided what to do on the 26th.

Because, for better or worse, I've decided to mostly keep my mouth shut when it comes to R.  I had about 100 things to say about her and I've said them.  And I've only said them in a semi-anonymous place where everyone is grieving or has experienced grief.

But I get pinned down when I'm washing dishes.

Before I moved into this house, I always thought that dish washing conversations were just a movie plot device to create an intimate, post-meal moment where THINGS would be said, where it would get REAL. For real.  For real, we are apparently all conditioned to believe in confiding over a sink full of dirty dishes.

In August I want to get the ketchup residue off the plates and hear what Garrison Keillor has to say and think about exactly nothing and say even less. But I hear myself telling someone who probably has good intentions that she doesn't understand how hard it was for T to watch his baby die and that he's permitted to say that it's a struggle to enjoy C's birthday.  And I find myself bending down so that my nose is almost touching the plates in an effort to avoid hearing how amazing we are and how our courage is an inspiring tribute to R.  If I lean down far enough perhaps I can sink into the dishwater and participate in this conversation from beneath the suds where the blobs of ketchup bob about enjoying their final moments of existence.  Oh, to be a blob of discarded ketchup...

I stayed dry and I mostly bit it back.  Here's what I didn't say--

"I neither need nor want unsolicited advice, admiration, or commentary on my chosen method of grieving my dead daughter.  But, if you're really into unsolicited advice, I have some for you. There are very few acceptable things that you can say to a grieving mother or father about their dead baby.  If you don't want to make the effort to find out what they are, don't hover about near the sink on some sort of emotional fishing expedition.  R can be anything to me that I choose.  I can cope with her death and this eternal ache and missing any way I want to.  I don't really give a fuck about how it makes anyone else feel...other than T...and I'll be goddamned if he has to justify his feelings about R to anyone."

As is my way, I defaulted to silence.  I am a viking when it comes to silence.  Eventually it got uncomfortable enough that I found myself alone in the kitchen with my dishes and my sponge and my fervent desire for an extremely loud automatic dishwasher.


These dishes need to soak for a few minutes anyway.

I rinse the soap from my hands and wipe them on the hem of my t-shirt.

"I want to show you something."

We go upstairs where I tap on the window that faces the backyard.  I have to concentrate to remember the pattern.  It's been a while but the window stretches and transforms into a solid door.

My companion is impressed.

"Is this a closet?  You're so lucky. Our house doesn't have nearly enough storage."

We step through.  There isn't a light in here because I don't really need one.  I pick my way around the clutter by memory. Eventually our eyes adjust to the darkness and we can both see the cupboard sitting in the furthest corner of the room.

It's smaller and much fancier than most of the others lining the walls.  There's some dust clinging to it but there are also footprints in the dust on the floor and some handprints on the door.  I've been been here a few times over the summer.

She tries the door.

"You won't be able to open it."

I touch the pull and the door swings wide releasing a puff of glitter and revealing shelves bursting with photo albums and notebooks.  Sparkly headbands and fluffy white stuffed toys tumble onto the floor.

She picks up a photo album and opens it to the first page.  There are some photos that look double exposed.  

A birthday party.  

C's 6th birthday party.

But there are two cakes and two yellow-haired girls missing a total of 6 teeth.  Shadowy images of a bounce castle are fading away and being replaced by two little girls holding hands and ice skating.

"What is this?"

"Oh, I thought that C should have the party at one of those inflatable jump places but she wanted to ice skate.  The pictures change a little bit to match reality."

"And that's R?"


"What's in these albums over here?" she gestures to a stack of uniformly sized and shaped translucent books.

"Just take a look."

She opens one and sees a double wedding.  C's partner has no face but R's looks almost exactly like the boy who took me to the senior prom.  I make a note to try again on that one. 

We could keep going.  There's a whole stack of Christmas photos in here and first days of school and matching Halloween costumes.  There are journals that I'd never read anyway because R intended them to be private.  There's a sweater that she loves that's just the wrong color on her and a photo of the scar  from that time that C bit her.  R holds a grudge--just like my mom.

She finds a photo of her son reluctantly posing on our couch.  He is 11 and sandwiched between two beaming 4-year-old girls.  His cousins adore him. She picks up the picture and smiles.

"Can I have this one?"

I take the picture and place it back on the shelf.

"These are mine.  If you want some, you're going to have to make your own."


I have no idea how I'm supposed to feel or what I ought to do with myself 6 years out but I thought I'd put something here for anyone who is still hanging around after the demise of Reader.  I hope you are all well.

Happy belated birthday, R and C.  I love you the most.

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?