Better

A few months after Jay died, people started asking me if things were better. If they were too nervous to ask me, they asked our friends. The answer I and everyone else gave was no. I hoped that after a year, things would be at least a little better. It’s now been 16 months, so I thought I owed an update to those asking.

I don’t often get that deep, terrifying sadness that I used to get. I’m not even sure I can describe that feeling. I think I’ve likened it before to dropping down an endless black hole. Like the feeling you would get in your chest if you’ve accidentally fallen off the Empire State Building. That moment when you know all is lost. That is the scariest feeling I’ve ever had. I only get that occasionally.

I can tell you that I don’t cry every single day. Most days, yes, but not everyday, and the crying is short. A few tears here and there when I’m thinking of him or smell his things. I never knew how much I would rely on my sense of smell when grieving, even though I never, ever smell him on anything anymore. But I keep smelling just in case.

Everytime I picture him in my mind, it’s not really him. It’s the memory of a picture or video I took of him. After the Sandy Hook shootings, one of the dads who lost a son said that everyday he feels further and further away from his son. Boy, he really nailed it. That is exactly it. Jay feels millions of miles away and I can’t even conjure an original memory of his face without trying really, really hard. I did it last night and cried. I miss him so much, and I hate that he’s been gone so long that his face, this face that we made and looked at every single day, is being erased from my mind.

I endlessly ask “Where are you?” That’s a question I started asking in the early days and I still find myself uttering that all the time.

“Where are you?”
He’s dead.
“No, but where are you? How can I get to you?”

Maybe it’s a factor of the human condition: an endless need to keep going, to refuse that death is really final. Not necessarily heaven or hell, just somewhere, where the energy that was Jay is still something I can access. I’m not sure that ever goes away.

When I lie in bed at night during a particularly sad moment, I still tell myself to wake up. I still hope it’s all a dream. Because this would never happen in my real life. It just wouldn’t. And then I tell myself that I’m awake, because I know I am. I tell myself that this is real, forever. And sometimes that’s when the hopeless off-the-Empire-State feeling comes. The reality that life can indeed be this dark. And it is. And it’s my life.

I have joy and laughter every single day. My family is what saves me. Well, that and my sense of humor. If I didn’t give myself the laughs I don’t think I could make it. Having a sense of humor in your darkest hour will keep your head in the game.

I can’t say I look forward to the future. It’s still too scary. I just try to appreciate the moment I’m in. The future isn’t guaranteed. Before you give me credit for living for today, don’t. This carpe diem thing isn’t built from courage. It just comes out of being terrified of the unknown and a devastating fear of death. Mine, my kids, my family. I’m not sure that will ever go away, that loss of hope. That’s a tough one to deal with. In fact, losing hope is one of the hardest parts about this level of grief.

So, is this better? Yes, it is better. I know I just gave a litany of super depressing paragraphs, but if you’re asking me on a scale of 1-100, with 100 being the worst grief I have ever felt, I’m at least down to the 90’s, and that’s something. Where I’m at now is the place I think I’ll be for a good while.

It’s a slowly, yet constantly morphing state. There are setbacks and improvements. The grief of losing a child is like working on the Winchester Mystery House. New rooms develop, projects get finished and new ones begun, and no matter what you do the end result is just, well, not done.

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Rip/Sew

I have been missing Jay a ton lately. At first it just seemed like the grief pendulum was simply swinging back and hitting me particularly hard. I started bringing him up in conversation more with my husband and friends. I would nurse Floyd in the glider and stare at the crib mattress, thinking about how Jay’s little head used to lie there dreaming at night. Or I’d stare at the changing table, or the dresser, or any of the other things in the room that I purchased when he was alive.

I slowly realized why things felt worse. It was getting a little too real with Floyd. Floyd is now at the age where I clearly remember what life was like with Jay. They look very similar. They have the same sleep patterns. They have the same disposition. They both favor their left hands. They both turn their heads to the left to go to sleep, and they both have a flat shape on their head where they lie. I mean had a flat shape. You know what I mean. Floyd has, Jay had.

I stare at Floyd while he nurses. I see his beautiful little head and I think about his flawless brain inside. Everything is working perfectly. I try to reassure myself that he will be OK, but Jay was OK at this age. Jay was flawless, and look what happened. I hold Floyd close to me and I stroke the back of his head, somehow trying to protect it from harm, as if those strokes will help him stay safe. “I love you so much,” I whisper. “Don’t die.”

It’s not all fear and loss, though, even during this pendulum swing. Losing a child involves unending grief–it’s like perpetually ripping apart a piece of fabric down the middle, except instead of fabric it’s your heart that never stops ripping. But Floyd keeps sewing my heart back together. With every new tear, he adds a new thread.

Today I headed into the store to pick up some diapers and I was so pleased to see he was big enough to fit into the baby carrier without the infant insert. So much easier. We meandered the aisles together while he snuggled up against my chest. I angled my head down and whispered to him about what things we needed to buy. I looked at “natural” weight loss supplements and realized I could take none of them while nursing. Oh well. I picked up his diapers, grabbed some shampoo and ambled over to the checkout. The clerk commented on how happy he was. “Yes, he’s Mr. Cheer,” I replied. He really is. Just walking through the store with him is an absolute joy. I walked out of the store and kissed his head until we got to the car.

I love those moments, and there are so many of them. Simple, everyday occurrences that I am so grateful to have. A life ended, and then another life happened. I am so wrecked over who was lost, and so in love over who then arrived. I don’t know who we would be if he hadn’t come. I’m sure we would have carved out a new life, just the three of us. But I’m so glad we took a chance at a time when we really didn’t know what the hell we were doing. It could have been just a horrible decision, but it wasn’t for us.

Two nights ago my husband and I were watching old videos on our home computer. We clicked on one of the hundreds of videos of our daughter at a sing-a-long at her school. It was taken when she was in the youngest class. She and her classmates sat on the ground, stone-faced and silent while the older kids recited the songs. My camera phone stayed on her for a good while. Instantly, the camera dropped down to Jay, sitting in his carseat and not really enjoying the show. He looked right at the camera lens so that both of us now were looking right into his eyes. My husband and I both gasped a little. I can’t explain how intense it is to look into his eyes like that, even though it’s on video. It always feels so real.

“That was a surprise,” my husband said quietly.

“Yes, it was.”

I really miss that little boy.

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Happy

A few weeks ago my daughter was in her first school play. It took place outside, every student sewed their own costumes and I nearly disintegrated with pride as my sweet little girl looked right at the audience and recited her 5 lines like a boss. Afterwards I hugged her with the same fervor as if she had just won a Best Actress award. The entire school seemed to be out there on the playground, milling about. There were flowers for the performers, pieces of cake going around, people screaming and crying (any event with children involves people screaming and crying). We hung around for awhile afterward talking to friends and waiting for the mob to die down before heading to the parking lot.

Finally, after every child on Earth was given a carnation and a piece of cake, we were able to navigate through the halls and go home. I wound up walking ahead with Floyd in the stroller as my daughter walked behind me discussing her performance with a friend. Floyd looked up at me with his little teeny smile. I felt my heart blossom inside. I leaned over the front of the stroller and whispered quietly, “You make me happy.”

It was the first time I had ever said that to him. It has been true all along, but it’s a scary thing to be happy these days. Anytime anything positive has happened to us since the day Jay died, it’s always “Oh wow, that’s grea…oh my God, Jay’s dead.” It’s impossible to avoid that. “Are you having fun? Well, Jay isn’t. What a beautiful day it is outside. Too bad Jay will never sit in the sunshine. Is that a funny joke? How nice it must be to laugh away when your son is gone.” Any happy thought is quickly replaced with a grand helping of guilt for enjoying a life my son will never have. Does Floyd make me happy? Immensely. But he’s here because Jay is dead.

But something happened in the days after I said it out loud. I started letting myself enjoy life a little. I told myself that Jay dying was enough sadness for a lifetime, and that I didn’t need to push future happiness away by reminding myself that he will  never enjoy all of the things I wanted for him. For awhile, the cloud was lifted. It felt good.  The other night my husband told me go outside and smell the jasmine. I opened the front door and inhaled it with all my might. It didn’t even cross my mind to feel guilty. We have an upcoming overnight trip where Floyd will have to stay in the travel crib. The last time we used that was when Jay took a nap less than 2 hours before he died. I haven’t even washed the sheet. It’s one of my many artifacts in my underwear drawer that I pull out and smell from time to time. But I will take it out and I will use the crib and the sheet. Why? Because in my heart it will always be Jay’s, but it’s also Floyd’s, too. I cannot take Jay on an overnight, but I will take his brother. Both of my sons deserve all of my love, and part of that is to not treat every single thing Jay touched as a relic. At some point the relics need to be stored in your heart. Well, at least most of them.

A few days ago I picked up my daughter from preschool and we headed over to her soon-to-be new elementary school for their kindergarten orientation. It felt so good to drive over there. I started thinking about the route we were taking, and how this will soon be the roads we’ll travel over and over again for the next 6 years. I stopped at a red light at the same corner as the mortuary where I laid eyes on my son for the very last time. It was there that I saw him not just brain dead, but everything dead. That was the worst time of my life, there in that building. Approximately 60 minutes of a deep, dark, dread that nearly cost me my sanity. A feeling that only those who have walked in my shoes have felt. I don’t think I will ever write about those 60 minutes. I have tried before, but it always feels wrong. I can’t let how I saw him enter the minds of others. He deserves more than that.  There are situations where words are uninvited, banished even. This is one of them.

The light turns green. We drive the rest of the way while Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of The Heart plays on the radio. I find it oddly fitting.

The orientation is exciting and inspiring. My daughter exclaims that she can’t wait to start. It is music to my ears. We walk happily back to the car as I hold her hand and hold a sweaty Floyd against me in the baby carrier. I feel pumped and am smiling from ear to ear.

I’m not going to be clapping along to Pharrell Williams’ song any time soon. That kind of simple, carefree happy isn’t here anymore. But even though my sadness is always right there at my fingertips all the time, the happy is genuine and real. Maybe even more so because I see the other side so often. When I laugh at a joke, or revel in the scents of our garden, or bite Floyd’s delicious tummy, it is a happiness that I know is so deep that it transcends the sadness of losing Jay, at least for a time. That is some real happy right there.

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Grief is like a noose. When I don’t write, it gets tighter and tighter. It’s slow, like a sneaky python, and I don’t realize how much I need to write until I notice that I’ve been writing in my head for weeks. My brain makes up different topics and I start writing and editing constantly while producing nothing at all. If I’m not taking care of Floyd, I’m playing with my daughter, or giving our cat medication, or doing housework, or, as of next week, going back to work. But I can’t make excuses anymore, because as I have no time for a therapist, this is where it all has to go down.

Floyd is tremendously amazing. He is magical. He is a perfect combination of my daughter and Jay, while also completely and totally his own little self. I am so in love with him. He is only a few months old and I can’t imagine our life without him.

I spoke to someone yesterday on the phone about having Floyd. We discussed how there are likely many people I know, even ones I consider good friends, who simply think we had a baby to replace Jay. After I hung up, I realized how much the conversation really bothered me. It doesn’t matter what other people think, I know this. But it bothered me not because they are jerks, it’s because they simply don’t understand.

Most people who might feel this way don’t know us well enough. They don’t know that we still sleep with Jay’s coat in our bed. They are unaware that my husband does not pack his suitcase for business trips without including Jay’s tiny plastic farm animal that he liked to chew on. They don’t know that the lantern in our kitchen is lit every few nights, a lighthouse of sorts to show Jay the way home. They do not see me donating money in Jay’s name for every department store sponsored charity for the simple pleasure of seeing his name written anywhere. They do not see the rare moments I am alone with Floyd’s closet open, inhaling Jay’s old sweaters. Some of those sweaters were hung up in haste, without washing them first. There are bits of dried food from over a year ago on them at the end of the sleeve. I run my fingers across this bas-relief evidence of an old life. Pathetic perhaps, but I grip that evidence with both hands because even traces of food that he ate is nothing short of magical, like finding Peter Pan’s shadow.

I never boxed up Jay’s clothes. They remain in the closet in the bedroom that now belongs to Floyd. It was only a few days ago that I removed his hooded doggy bath towel from a hook on the back of the door. I smelled the hell out of it before I carefully folded it and put it in the bottom of the dresser. “He won’t need it,” I told myself. “He will never take a bath again.” But the simple act of taking it down was still sad, somehow yet another nail in a long buried coffin. I have three kids, not two, and I can’t ever stop correcting anyone who assumes differently. So you see, regardless of the endless amount of love you can show any number of children you have, there can never be a replacement of a human being. And thank goodness for that, for if you could replace one human being with another, there would be no reason to live, as love would not truly exist.

Last night as I put Floyd down for the night, I grappled with the great mystery of dressing a newborn for bedtime. Footy jammies? Maybe too hot. Long sleeve with no feet? Maybe that’s too thick. I’m friggin’ terrified of SIDS. The exact thing I found appropriate was a pair of Jay’s jammies. I put those pajamas in the drawer before Floyd came, not knowing how I’d feel about dressing Floyd in Jay’s stuff. I knew it might be too weird but I decided to just see how things went. Some things I find are OK to use, some things are absolutely Jay’s and hold too many memories. This pair of jammies was one of the latter. It was getting warm at night. I decided to just put it on him and see how I felt.

The pajamas are dark red with the Puma logo all over them. They look exactly like something Ali G would wear. They come with an equally ridiculous matching hat. I put them on Floyd. “This was your brother’s,” I whispered. It was sad to see the jammies in action. I didn’t get any weird “This is Jay” vibe, though, and I decided that it would be OK, even if for just this one time.

We settled into the glider and I picked a few books to read. Jay was never much into books, preferring to chew on them instead, so much so that some of his faves were chewed down to the bare cardboard in some areas. I turned off the light and nursed him in the dark. I surveyed the bedroom, taking note of the things we changed to make the room really Floyd’s bedroom instead of “Jay’s old room.” My eyes fell on the hook on the back of the door, where Floyd’s hooded lion towel hung. It was a beautiful gift from a friend, with Floyd’s name embroidered on the back. I thought about Jay’s doggy towel, now in a drawer. I imagined what someone would think if they knew that, just days before, Jay’s towel hung right there, and how it’s been replaced with Floyd’s towel. I closed my eyes. People aren’t towels.

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Baby

Apologies for slacking on the blog (as if anyone was really freaked over that), but the extraordinary sleep deprivation does not get easier with each subsequent kid, probably because you get older and older as you have them.

I don’t use any real names in this blog besides Jay, and when I was pregnant I called our new little boy Floyd as a joke. So here we will call him Floyd.

I had a c-section. The moment he came out I loved him with all my heart. They laid him next to me so that we were cheek to cheek. I cried my eyes out. I thanked him for being with me during almost the entirety of this long, horrific year. He was my silent partner, the person who would (literally) kick me in the tummy and remind me constantly that life happens, too, along with death. It felt so good to feel him against my face. I cried so deeply that I remember wondering if they were having trouble stitching up my stomach.

During week 2 I missed Jay on an atomic level. The combination of exhaustion, a drop in hormones and grief is a horrid combination. I was afraid of how much I missed Jay and afraid of the future, too. Who was this new child? As you know, newborns don’t have a lot of pizazz, so it’s hard sometimes to figure out how the baby will fit into your family. I knew that Floyd would not ever replace Jay, but I think we all hoped it would make things easier. So far, it wasn’t making anything easier. It was harder. I loved him to pieces, but it was harder.

Floyd was an early smiler. Once again, he reminded me of life, and of hope. By the third week, there was no way I could imagine not having him. I have spent an exorbitant amount of time in the last year wishing I could turn back time. I wanted nothing more than to do over that terrible moment that Jay began to fall back in the chair as I reached into the fridge to grab blueberries. Over and over again, I reach out and grab the chair just in time, or I ask my husband to come get him out of the chair, or I feed him in the stroller. I couldn’t do that anymore, because another thought intercepts that thought process: What about Floyd? If I could turn back time, how can I save Jay and still have Floyd, too? I now loved them both with everything I have. In my heart I am hugging all three.

But before you say it, let me stop you. I am not ready to say this was “meant to be.” Is Floyd a miracle? Absolutely. Jay was a miracle, too. Don’t tell me it was meant to be, though. Don’t tell me my little boy was meant to be brain dead. Don’t tell me that my daughter was meant to lead her life with a little dark cloud over her heart for the rest of her life. Because that isn’t fair. Life doesn’t fit into a Hallmark card, as much as I wish it did, and as much as I know many people need it to. Having Floyd doesn’t close some loop, so that ultimately this whole thing makes sense and is fixed now. No. You cannot think that. I won’t let you. Don’t believe those inspirational quotes written just about everywhere, how there’s a meaning to everything, how whatever you’re doing is exactly where you should be. Let me be the first to tell you that actually isn’t how life works. Sometimes random bad things happen. Take a look around at the senseless suffering in this world. Are those people exactly where they’re meant to be? Yea, go tell them that. Shit happens and miracles happen, and the goal in life is to get lucky with more miracles than shit. That’s an inspirational quote you can take to the bank.

When I was pregnant, I likened having Floyd to turning a light on in a very dark room. That is how it is. He is a bright, beautiful light. We are still grieving, as I think we always will. And it is hard for me to imagine what Floyd or my daughter might grow up to be. Will they grow up? Will they be OK? Something that I cannot yet replicate from my old life is Hope. I know I need to live for today, to not worry about what’s around the corner. But I can’t. I have been scared to pieces. I have seen my worst nightmare come true. Fear still rules me, and it’s a demon that I will have to work for the rest of my life to keep at bay.

And yet, we had another baby. I know what can happen in life. I have walked out of a hospital with my brain dead son still inside, and yet we actually did this again. We opened ourselves to whatever life will bring us. I have dived headfirst into an endless sea of love and devotion yet again without knowing what will come next. I am full of fear, but I keep living.

Floyd woke up at 5am this morning and proceeded to have two blowout poops while I was nursing him. I took him to his room to change. He lay on the changing table, and in the dim light of his bedroom, he flashed a giant smile at me. Clad in a t-shirt covered in teeny tiny vehicles and a pair of pin-striped green and white trousers, his crazy mismatched outfit oozed with cuteness (and poop). His smile washed over me. It was full of joy and complete innocence. He has no clue what his family has been through. He knows nothing of loss or sorrow or fear. Oh, to smile like that again. To feel like that once more. He is chock full of Hope.

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Crazy

Immediately after learning I was pregnant, my husband and I shared an awkward “What have we just done” hug and I had to head to a dentist appointment. My head was reeling.

I walked in to the office and the receptionist said, “We’re planning on doing some x-rays this time. Is there any possibility you might be pregnant?”

Oh my God. My jaw dropped open. “Uh. Actually, yes. I’m pregnant,” I said quietly. “I just found out.”

At that moment hundreds of balloons fell from the ceiling. A marching band came out of nowhere while women twirling batons dropped everything to throw me up in the air in a blanket. Not really, but everyone in the office pretty much lost it. Smiles all around. A thousand congratulations. “When are you due??” I didn’t even know. “January, right?” In all the excitement of others, I prayed they wouldn’t ask if it was my first, or second, or third. Thankfully no one did. In all of their genuine well-wishing, I could only think of one thing: But my son is dead.

A friend of mine who also lost a child, a woman I met after I started this journey, said something to me before I got pregnant. “Let me know if you decide to get pregnant again. It’s no picnic.” Sweet Jesus, was she right. I will tell you without reservation that becoming pregnant does nothing to take away the grief. You’re racked with guilt for even trying to have another child. You’re consumed with worry that something will be wrong with the pregnancy. You’re terrified of what others will think of you for trying to put your life back together. And the final, overwhelming feeling was denial, so much so that I couldn’t actually fathom that this was real. I was actually carrying a baby, and it wasn’t Jay.

At 13 weeks we went to have our nuchal translucency scan to check for birth defects. I pulled into the parking lot and had a flashback to 2 years ago, almost to the day, when I drove over to get the same scan for Jay. I recalled the funny female doctor who walked into the office, took one look at the screen and told us she saw a third leg. We were so happy to have a boy.

I am not going to lie. My first hope was that the baby was healthy. My second hope was that it was a boy. It’s what i knew. What would two girls be like? It seemed so foreign, but maybe that’s what we needed. Maybe something completely different was what was best for us. This lab is fantastic. I knew this same doctor would be able to call it this early.

The scan went fine. She gave us preliminary results based on the previous blood work I completed weeks ago. “The baby looks great. We don’t recommend any more testing. The numbers are even better than what’s considered normal for your age. Did you want to know the sex?”

God yes. “Sure, can you tell?”

“Let’s take a look.” The baby’s legs were spread wide open. “Alright. You see that right there? That’s what we call two balls and a stick.” This lady really has her one-liners down. It was a boy.

I had started showing at around 10 weeks. Once you get to three kids, your body just goes full throttle with the bloating. Your uterus swells to six months pregnant immediately. Parents at my daughter’s preschool kept glancing at my stomach. They wanted to ask. I said nothing. My coworkers knew I was pregnant just by looking at the way my body was rapidly changing each week. I said nothing to them for ages. They didn’t ask and I was eternally grateful for that. No Facebook posts, ever. No emails to people. As far as I was concerned, one day I’d show up with a baby. I couldn’t discuss it. I couldn’t bubble up with excitement when my son was dead. But every day that went by, I fell more in love with this little person inside me. In the middle of this horrible grief was a constant, wiggling reminder that Life happens, too.

We told our daughter at 17 weeks. At this point it was impossible to hide. I was huge. She was pretty much the only person who had no clue I was pregnant. She must have been in as much denial as I was. We went to get an ice cream one afternoon and decided to tell her. She was completely stunned. She stood there as strawberry ice cream slowly dripped from her cone down her hand and stared at me for what seemed like forever.

“Is this for real? Do you really have a baby in your tummy? Is this for real life?” She asked over and over, and we confirmed over and over.

“How do you feel about it?” I asked.

“Well, I’m happy. But also a little nervous.” I was impressed by her ability to consciously hold both these things.

“Are you nervous because you’re afraid of losing this baby, too?”

“Yes.”

Yea, baby. Me too. The due date is very soon. The anticipation of meeting him is enormous. My births are always filled with a healthy amount of drama. Not dilating, cord around neck, uterine infections, meconium madness; I’ve seen it all. I don’t know what this one will bring, but I’m not too optimistic for a trouble free birth, although I hope so much for it. I hope with everything I have that he’s healthy. And I wish with all my heart that I could have all three of my children with me.

Sometimes when I wake up at night, the reality of the last 11 months is too much. My brain can’t process the pain, nor can it process that I’m about to give birth. I get so scared that this life, my life, could actually happen. I wish I could tell you that eventually I chill myself out and I can get back to sleep believing things will one day be OK. But I don’t. Instead, the only thing that helps me calm down is this thought: This isn’t real. He’s not dead. This didn’t happen.

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What We Did

My husband, daughter and I sat in the kitchen eating one day a few weeks after my son died. I can’t tell you the date; all I know is it was deep in the sea of shock and horror and hadn’t been that long. That entire time is a complete blur. I can tell you it was during a time when I’d put food in front of my daughter and not know how I even had the wherewithal to do so.

My husband made a comment.  Again, I don’t know what prompted it, but I knew it was coming moments before he said it. I could feel it.

“We have to have another baby”, he said.

“I know”, I replied quietly.

It wasn’t going to happen that day. Or that month. We couldn’t even wrap our heads around the fact that our son was dead. We didn’t know if we should even be concerned about this investigation going on. Oh right, and then there’s that saying about how you shouldn’t make big decisions in the wake of trauma. 

It wouldn’t have been a good time to do anything anyway. My days consisted of dropping my daughter off at school and coming back home to cry outside on our deck and smoke 2 cigarettes, and then get into his crib and cry some more, inhaling his crib sheet as deeply as I could to see if I could smell him. My husband and I also smoked cigarettes sometimes late at night in our garden after our daughter was asleep. Whispering near the hydrangeas, inhaling deeply and talking about how this could possibly be real.  I wasn’t eating very much, dropping down to a seriously unhealthy 119 pounds. I looked awful. I had deep circles under my eyes, wasn’t too fussed about showering and took a Valium at night so that I wouldn’t wake up at 2am filled with terror. When you lose a child, the middle of the night is pretty much the scariest time ever.

And yet, we knew that getting pregnant was what we wanted to do. Our daughter was an amazing sister who loved her brother with all of her heart. We loved raising two kids. The chaos of adding another person to your bunch is scary and hectic, and then one day you  realize you love it and that your family is really complete. We knew we could never get our little boy back.  But as someone else who lost a child put it, you want desperately to turn a light on in the incredibly dark world you have found yourself. It’s a world surrounded by death, and loss, and fear. All of those things wouldn’t go away, at least not for a long time. But after all that life had taken away, we needed to figure out what our future was going to be. Another sibling for our daughter? Ultimately being able to raise two kids?  Those things could happen, or at least we could try.

The cigarette smoking and nighttime Valium popping started to phase out. I was easing into this new life, mostly I think because of our little girl. She was there to help me smile in the midst of disaster, and by doing that, I was able to heal enough to get myself back in the shower. Back to life. Plus, I really hated how much my fingers smelled after smoking.

Nine weeks after our son had died, we finally got a call from the detective stating the investigation was over. As much of a relief as it was to hear that, we still hung up the phone in the same circumstances. The phone call we had been waiting so long for turned out to be pretty anticlimactic, and at that late date, it wasn’t even surprising. He was still gone.

I had previously downloaded an app to track my periods, as I am horrible at tracking my own cycle. I got a text message the week after we got the phone call saying that I was ovulating. It said, “The Flowers Are Blooming.” I wasn’t sure they were. I guessed at my cycle length when I downloaded the app.  I really had no clue when I was really supposed to start my period. I told my husband anyway.

“So, what do you think?” He asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe we should try…” I couldn’t even get the whole sentence out. It just made me cry. Trying to have a baby meant admitting to myself that Jay was really dead. It wasn’t a dream. We were “done” after we had Jay. We never would have gone for a third. We are only trying for a third because he is gone. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Day two came along. I received another text message about blooming flowers. My husband and I had the same conversation. I cried some more and nothing happened.

On Day three, I got out of the shower and got another message. I casually added up when the baby would be due if I got pregnant that day. January 2014. What if we waited another month? That would make it February, the month Jay died. I don’t want to do that. How old do I want to be when I give birth? I’m 39 now. How long would it take to get pregnant?  All of a sudden I knew what I wanted to do. Life had taken so much from us. We lost a child. We lost a part of ourselves, and a giant chunk of our life. What did we want for the rest of our life? We aren’t ever going to get that life back, so what do we want for our life going forward? How long do I want to wait to create another path for us? I impulsively called my husband at work.

“Hello?”

“We’re doing it tonight.”

“OK.”

And we did. Afterwards I had one thought: Well, that worked.  I had never stopped taking my prenatal vitamins because I was still nursing when Jay died. I stopped having any wine. I reached for my Valium one night and stopped myself, thinking, “Oh, I can’t take those anymore.” I had no nausea or bloating. No more fatigue than usual. I had no evidence I was pregnant. I just assumed I was.

Two weeks later I noticed some blood when I went to the bathroom (TMI, I know). I was confused. I was so sure I was pregnant. I just sat there on the toilet dumbfounded. This isn’t right, I thought.

I decided to take a pregnancy test. I dug out a super old test I’d had forever. It was so old that I literally got no result. Blank. Unbelievable. I headed to the drug store, the same one that I had gone to with Jay less than a week before he died to buy valentines. I couldn’t believe that I was now standing in line there waiting to purchase a pregnancy test. What a ridiculous situation.

I returned home with the test. My husband was working on his laptop in the kitchen. Without a word I made my way to the bathroom and took the test. I brought it back upstairs when I got the result and showed him.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“It’s my third time doing this.”

I am due in 2 weeks. We are happy about it. It is a good thing. And the most terrifying situation in the world.

**If you’re reading this from Facebook, please just comment on the blog if you wish, not FB.

Posted in Having a Baby After Losing a Child, Raising Your Living Children | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

This is just a crappy blog post. I wrote another one but I’m not ready to post it. I have a lot of those posts lurking in my Drafts folder. But whenever I write something I’m not ready to publish, I try to talk myself into putting it up anyway.  I wind up not posting it and also not writing anything new, and that’s no good for my head. So, here it is. Sorry for the bunk post but I really felt like writing.

Having a Christmas baby has its ups and downs. Actually, I just know the downs. Let me know if you have an awesome perk for being a Christmas baby.  My son was born a few days after Christmas, and I’ve been fearing that day so much that I didn’t give too much thought to Christmas Day. I read posts from other people who have lost a child. They talked about how hard it is, and you just have to do what feels right for you. “Don’t push yourself,” people wrote. “Just get through it.” I scanned through the messages, not feeling all that connected to the fear around Christmas.

My son had 1 Christmas. There weren’t scads of special holiday activities that we did together.  I feel especially bad for parents who’ve lost older children for this reason. So many years of developing special holiday traditions make it much harder for them than it is for me on that particular day. Last year he opened his little presents and we stuck bows on his head, which he cheerfully kept on until we took them off. He was ridiculously cute. I looked forward to the following year when I could buy him whatever he was interested in at the time. But that’s pretty much where it ended. He was even too little to get in the car and look for Santa the night before. He was in bed, sleeping.

The holiday approached. We bought a tree and presents. 10 months after his death, I still automatically look for gifts for him anytime I’m in a toy store. That made me sad, but no different from normal. I asked my daughter if she wanted to go visit Santa at the mall, like we did last year. She said no. Asked her a second time. No. We went to look at lights on Christmas Eve, scanning the sky for Santa’s sleigh. I wondered if he would be asleep at home this year, or if we would have put him in the car. I drove down beautifully lighted streets imagining him sitting behind me, staring at all the PG&E magic around us.

Christmas morning arrived like a truck. The second I woke up I knew I had underestimated this holiday. I had spent so much time worrying about his birthday that I didn’t give enough respect to this overmarketed, over the top emotional holiday. Spending time with family and opening gifts just feels wrong when our little boy is dead. He didn’t get to come. It’s bullshit.

We traveled to my brother’s house and had a good time in the afternoon. It was good to be distracted. He was on my mind constantly, but I was much better able to move through it with my family around. I knew they were thinking of him, too.

A few nights later I was lying in bed, thinking about his birthday the very next day. I checked my phone and noticed it was after midnight. It was now his actual birthday. I sang him happy birthday while lying there in the dark. It was his favorite song. Throughout the day I sang it several more times. We didn’t tell our daughter it was his birthday. She seems to be really feeling the grief lately and I thought it would be too much. At night, my husband and I went out. We parked our car outside a restaurant and I took two champagne glasses out of a bag that were labeled It’s A Boy! . We were given those glasses in the hospital when he was born 2 years before, along with a mini bottle of sparkling apple cider. Hoping the cider would still be OK to drink, we cracked it open and toasted to our beautiful son within minutes of the time he came into this world. We talked about how crazy life was, and how just 2 years before, to the minute, we were meeting him for the very first time. At home, we lit a candle inside a lantern and put it in the window, letting it burn all the way out during the night.

I cried a few times that day in between singing him happy birthday. But I was OK. I felt better prepared to deal with the birthday, probably because I spent so much time dreading it. I learned that The Firsts (first holidays after the death) can be the hardest, but as long as you mentally prepare for them, you can not only survive it, but you can actually crack a few smiles here and there.

We survived. Glad it’s over. Fuck 2013. Now to start preparing for the anniversary of his death.

Posted on by A Life After Loss | Leave a comment

The day before Thanksgiving, we crammed our car full of belongings and began our trip down south to visit the family. We were ears deep in holiday traffic when my cell phone rang. I recognized the phone number right away. I briefly contemplated not answering. My daughter was in the car and I have worked hard to protect her from certain conversations I’ve had to have this year. But things have gone on too long. I needed to wrap this up. I was desperate. I answered the phone. It was the detective.

He stated that our son’s eyes had finally been cremated. I asked what day, exactly, had they been done? “Monday,” he answered.

“Monday, OK”, I repeated. I told him I was on my way to my mother’s house. He sounded both surprised and pleased. Apparently he was trying to figure out the best way to get Jay’s eyes to us, and he lives in the same town as my mother. He gave me his pager number and told me to call him the day after Thanksgiving and he would personally deliver them to me.

I couldn’t believe it. This was finally coming to a close. I told my husband we would be getting a package at my mom’s house. He knew what I meant. I spent the rest of the drive down to my mom’s completely engrossed in thought. I thought about what it would be like to actually meet this man who has been holding my son’s eyes for almost 10 months. I replayed what it would be like when we met. What would he say? My husband told me he’d take our daughter to the beach before he came over so she wouldn’t have to know Jay’s eyes were in a box.

Thanksgiving came. We spent the day cooking. I felt tired, but brushed it off. We traveled to my uncle’s house and spent the evening chatting and catching up with the family. It was fun, but I was completely distracted. Some people I hadn’t seen since the Thanksgiving before, the only Thanksgiving my son ever attended. It’s always weird when you are thinking about your child who died, and the person talking to you is thinking about your child that died, and you’re chatting about something completely different. But I can see it on their face. It’s like having a conversation about the weather when you’re in the middle of a house fire. It’s scary and sad, but no one has any water to put it out so we just keep talking about nonsense. I don’t blame them because in situations like this, I can’t go there, either.

By the end of the night I was completely run down, apparently taken over by a horrific cold. I drove home with watery eyes and a cough and collapsed in bed, knowing that the following day I would finally be in possession of my son’s eyes. What a bizarre holiday.

The next day arrived. I was bedridden. I didn’t even know how I would get dressed. For some strange reason, I just didn’t want the detective to see me like this. I waited until the afternoon and paged him anyway. I dragged myself into the shower and put some clothes on.

He didn’t initially call back.  I paged him again. Nothing. I waited all day in bed for my phone to ring. I turned up the volume so that I wouldn’t sleep through it. There were no calls. I couldn’t believe it. On Saturday, we drove home from my mother’s house eyeless.

I called Monday and left a message. I was angry. I couldn’t believe that this was still not resolved. I know everybody waits months for an autopsy report (which we still hadn’t received) but this was turning into torture. I was so mad I didn’t even want to write about it. It was like this was going to go on forever and I would never be able to move on from this investigation. They would always have a part of my son.

Finally at work this morning, the detective called. He was mailing them today. He said I should get them by tomorrow or Thursday. God I hope so. He emailed me the autopsy report. Our printer isn’t working at home, so I actually printed it out and read it at work. I don’t know what I expected it to be. It wasn’t as hard to read as I thought it would be. We have had to have so many conversations about our son’s brain and organs, detaching ourselves from the reality of what we’re really talking about in order to be able to convey information to important people. Reading it was a much easier task. I will give it to my husband tonight. He will read it silently and fold it back up. He won’t have any comments. It’s a story that we lived, retold by someone who wasn’t there. I can look up the various medical terminology that I don’t understand, but the end is the same. My son fell, and then he died. No one will ever know exactly why he sustained such a horrible injury from such a short fall. Every doctor I’ve talked to has the same explanation: If you hit your head in just the right place, it can cause a fatal injury. Nobody knows what that exact place is. If you die, that was the spot for you. For my son, it was a posterior, low, occipital, midline contusion.

Tonight we are decorating our Christmas tree. Deciding to not celebrate Christmas wasn’t even an option. Our daughter lost her brother this year. There’s no way she’s losing out on Christmas. She’s excited for Santa and presents. She can’t wait to decorate the tree. We will put up our ornaments that we’ve had for years, including the ones we got last year when our son was still here. We’ll put up the “J” salt dough ornaments we made a few weeks ago. He will always be a part of our Christmas. A part of our everything.

Posted on by A Life After Loss | Leave a comment

When Everything is Nowhere

When I was little, I had an occasional babysitter who was also a religious zealot. She had a bratty daughter about my age who embodied zero Christian qualities. The babysitter would sit me down and play recordings of religious figures playing records backwards to show that the bands worshipped the devil. The one I remember was hearing Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” backwards and hearing “smoke marijuana, smoke marijuana” over and over. I also remember her taking me into a quiet room and having me recite a prayer that, according to her, would guarantee me a spot in heaven no matter what I did. My God, this lady was nuts.

But something she once said stayed with me for decades. One day I had lost a toy and couldn’t find it. “It’s nowhere!!!” I exclaimed. “Everything is somewhere,” she reassured me. That phrase gave me hope that anything was findable. This pretty, long-haired hippy gone completely wrong had come up with a life tool I could use.

Turns out she was wrong on that one, too. If there is one thing that has driven me crazy from the day my son was cremated was the fact that some things disappear forever. Sure,  you have the urn with the ashes in it. The ashes are composed of mostly bone. They also include ashes from what my son was wearing and the things they put inside my son’s body to prepare him for the viewing at the mortuary. If you aren’t sure what that means, maybe I’ll write about it later. I just tried to explain it right now and found I can’t yet, so I deleted it. The point being, there are a whole lot of things that just disappear.

There is tissue, hair, neurons, neural pathways and organs that are just plain gone. They can’t be found anywhere. Not that I ever got to lay my eyes on one of his neural pathways, but I saw them work. I look at his pictures constantly and whisper aloud, “Where are you??” I look at his arms and head and toes and legs. I look at ultra close-up photographs my husband took of our son’s hands. Tiny, original paths of lines covering them. He is not just dead. He is quite literally gone.

I got a call from the detective coroner yesterday. He had to call around and find a mortuary that would cremate only my son’s eyes. Our local mortuary here who handled his remains stated that they do not cremate single organs. One day I’m going to review those bastards on Yelp. Zero stars for those assholes.  The detective did find a local mortuary in his area who would do it. They will also put the eyes in a box so that I will actually have ashes.  As we learned several weeks ago, eyes are organs that would be essentially vaporized, so the box is used to give you some ashes to hold onto. Yes, we will be getting box ashes, but I’ll take it. They will put them in a little urn and he will ship it to me.

There are questions I wanted to ask the coroner, but didn’t. They were questions he would have hated answering. I wanted to ask what the eyes looked like. One of the very last pieces of evidence of my son. He has been gone 9 months now, and I still would have pressed the phone hard to my ear to know what they looked like. I also wanted to ask if anyone ever really thought we did anything wrong, or if the investigation was simply a matter of protocol. I wanted to tell him other things, too. He has held those eyes for 9 months. For at least two of them, he tried to figure out how to dispose of them in a way that would satisfy me. I am grateful. It feels strange to know that I will probably only speak to him a couple more times. This very strange, sad relationship that only had to do with my son’s death is coming to a close.

The other night I couldn’t sleep. I opened up the drawer by my bed and pulled out a clear plastic bag with the word “BIOHAZARD” on it. Only a few hours after arriving to the Children’s Hospital, we were told that not only would our son never be the same, it was incredibly likely he would  never wake up. I asked if we could cut his hair. We were given scissors and a biohazard bag. A doctor and a couple of nurses looked on as we wept and chose different pieces to cut off. We made sure to choose areas where the hair was lighter or darker so that we would have a complete collection. Everyone in the room cried.

Lying in bed, I took the hair out. I don’t normally do that for fear of losing any strands. I grabbed a bunch tightly between my thumb and forefinger and lay my own hair on top of it. It was the same color. His lighter skin tone, hair and obvious left-handedness made him my little twin. Not that he looked much like me, but I always loved those similarities.

I sat and stroked the hair and cried, trying not to get any tears on his hair. “It’s here,” I said to myself. “I can’t believe his hair is right here.” This hair was not destroyed. It was not even examined by any strangers. We cut it before they took him away 3 days later. Before detectives came, separated us and interviewed us alone. Before my talks started with the detective at the coroner’s office, talks with just-in-case independent autopsy consultants and just-in-case lawyers. Talks that took my son from a loving, living human being into discussions about disposition and body parts.

The eyes will be cremated today. But the hair is here, with us. The last real, untampered bit of my son. It is at home, where the rest of him should be, but isn’t. The rest of him isn’t anywhere at all.

Posted in Dealing with the details | Tagged , , | Leave a comment