Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Four Reminders

I know I have wondered publicly on this blog if I was inconsiderate as a friend, or if I took for granted all the blessing bestowed upon me in my "before" time. Yeah, sure. I was arrogant. I didn’t ever think my daughter would die, even when I was most terrified during my pregnancy, the worst I could think was “Nothing is going to be the same as it was.” The thought never even entered my mind. I never seemed to ponder that I would be a dead baby mama. Today, it seems, I am getting some important and difficult-to-swallow lessons. Today, someone compared the loss of my daughter to the death of their cat. Today, another person said upon finding out her third child was a girl (after two boys), “I just found out I am having a daughter. Shit.” This was after a long email to me complaining about pregnancy and being unappreciated as a stay-at-home mother. I am a tolerant woman. I am a kind woman. I think this grief thing actually has made me more empathetic and kindly towards those suffering, but I have my fucking limits too.

I had this deeply profound experience at my Buddhist therapist many many years ago, when I was newly single after a long relationship. I told him about my inner thoughts, you know, the ones that for your whole life you think everyone has until one day you mention it to someone and they look at you as though you have three heads. Anyway, when I realized that my thoughts were weird, I committed myself to therapy.

When I get into a plane, or a bus, or even a commuter train, I think, “When this plane/bus/train goes down/bursts into flames/spirals into an unforgiving sea, where are the exits? How do I get there? And who am I saving first?” There I said it. That is what I think every single time I get into a vehicle of one kind or another. The reason I realized that not everyone thinks it is that I was in a line at an airport, and a really obnoxious woman with lots of bling and fancy pants butted in front of me. So I said, “Excuse me?” And she said, “I am in a hurry, and clearly, you are not.” So, instead of continuing to argue (she was right.), I turned to my traveling companion and said, “I’m totally not saving her when the plane goes down.” He laughed. But after a few minutes, he turned to me and said, “You actually kind of believe that, right?” And I said, “So?” We talked the entire plane ride about it. Anyway, the metatext of the initial statement is multifaceted. 1. I always think the plane/bus/train is crashing. 2. I am not afraid of the aforementioned crash scenario. 3. I always think I am going to be coherent enough to rescue the lot of the people. 4. I am a planner. 5. I never think how am I going to go out without rescuing someone first.

The therapists among you will certainly have a field day with that one, and good on you. It is messed up. Clearly, you can imagine how the death of my daughter, in my own fucking womb, plays out in a deranged brain like that. I couldn’t save my daughter from the plane. She died and there was no catastrophe. She just died. That is why sometimes I think I am a character in a novel whose plot even tenth graders can figure out.

A few posts ago I said that my Buddhist therapist is good for me, but perhaps not for everyone. He responded way back then like this, "Angie. Obviously, I could go into a whole exploration of why you think this, it’s obvious you are a survivor, but it's really kind of arrogant."

I said, “Well, I agree, but I don't think that none of the other people could save themselves or someone else, just that they might not realize their own power to save themselves."

Then what he did at that moment changed my life. He looked straight into my eyes and said, “You are going to die, Angie, and the thing is you don't know when and you don’t know how, but you live like you have forever Maybe no one will save anyone. Maybe you won’t even save yourself. You could walk out of here and die. You might decide, based on that realization, that life is too short to spend an hour a week talking to me, and I would understand that. But let us get one thing straight. You will die, and you have no control over when or where. Are you living your life like that?"

He then encouraged me to start incorporating the Four Reminders in my meditation. They are: The preciousness of human birth (It is a gift you are here, Angie), the truth of impermanence (You are gonna die, Angie), the reality of suffering (It’s a gonna hurt, Angie), and the inescapability of karma (You better do it right, Angie). These were so good at the time that I felt like my cells had morphed. Like he hit me over the head with a reality fish, and I needed a good stink. I remember this clearly: after I left the therapist, I went to get my eyebrows waxed. It was a “long lunch” and my therapist and waxer were in the same part of town. This Asian woman pulled all the hair out of this delicate skin above my eye, but I was gleeful and beautiful. And I thought, “I should just hire a dominatrix to beat the crap out of me, it would be much cheaper and more time efficient.”

That is really beside the point. Today, I thought about all of this. I thought about it when these women told me their pain, forgetting that less than three months ago, their worst nightmare happened to me. And, there was a deep dark part of me that wanted to tell them to fuck off, but a stronger, more vocal part of me wanted to send them these reminders. I wanted to tell them, “You are going to die, Asshole. You don’t know when. You don’t know how. But are you living your life like you are going to die? Are you living your life like your daughter is going to die?” Because I sure didn’t. I thought that lesson sunk in, and then my daughter died. I argued with friends when I should have been spending every moment dedicated to serenading my daughter in utero. I wasted hours watching shitty television on Bravo when I should have been watching my living daughter sleep (she is truly a beautiful girl), or reveling in every gentle kick in my belly. I thought I lived the Four Reminders, but I was a fool, but perhaps we all are, until our most precious thing is taken from us.


  1. There is so much in here I want to comment on, but I think I'm going to sit on it for now. I think I'll have to come back for another read though. Needless to say, you are amazing Angie.
    So glad I found you but of course still so sorry you are here.

  2. First, thank you for commenting on my blog. I will most definitely pick you in the first round draft for Trivial Pursuit.

    Second, 'living like you are going to die' is profound and an excellent reminder. But, it's just so hard (insert whiny voice).

    Third, what did you say to these people? Seriously. After I lost E, as I lie on the hospital bed, I remember yelling about people who want a specific baby -- as if they have the right to pick. I never desired a specific baby. I never cared whether my baby was a boy or a girl. And I certainly wouldn't have complained about one or the other. I felt cheated. I think I would have let that person have it. Maybe not. But, I certainly would have reminded them of losing my daughter and hope they could decode that message for themselves.


  3. I look for the exits too, Angie - only I've never wondered who I'd save ...

  4. So much here Angie. We all lived in that arrogance...that it would never happen to us. Hadn't quite thought of it all in this way, but from early on I've been convinced that Ezra has reframed the way I live life...I'm just still sorting out what that means...

  5. beautiful and powerful angie. i've been thinking along some similar lines lately...that i could die at any moment or my husband or anyone that i love. so how the hell do i plan for next week or next month or the summertime. i had made some tentative plans, believing i would be a mom with a baby and how my life would be. and now that's all gone to shit. so how do we live knowing we could die anytime? why work? why plan? it's kind of an existential crisis. i have lost my identity or who i thought i was and was going to be and now it's all nothingness. does that make any sense at all?

  6. just for the record, i always make a mental note of all the kids on a plane, train or automobile so i can save them too. it is fucking twisted. powerful post, are magic.

  7. angie, a post like this makes me think i'm not crazy for believing we'd be friends even if we didn't share a common tragedy and timeline. i've never driven across a bridge without wondering what would happen if we went off the side, whether i could save myself and the people in the car with me. it's not a fear of death, more a desire to test myself or just curiosity. i guess it's a wierd tendency, but i tend to think that people who don't have these introspective thoughts/tendencies are the more self-involved. but clearly i am too. i have become so irritated with myself that i have become more afraid of death. is that just a natural tendency as we age?

  8. Bizarrely, I never thought I'd mind much if the plane went down, because I only fly when I'm going to or from someplace I want to go. I always figured if it all ended that way, I'd be in a pretty good mood when I went. It's the other people on the plane that I worry about, on the assumption that they do not share the idea that this would be an OK way to go.

    Much more to say about the 4 Reminders, but I have to think it through first. Two contradictory thoughts are fighting it out in my head.

  9. Wow. That was one amazing, thought-provoking post. Thank you. I have hours upon hours of housework to take care of today (my basement flooded last night, of course that's nothing major, but lots of cleanup) I mean this sincerely, you've given me much to think about as I go through my day, and I appreciate it. As I read, I just found myself shaking my head in amazement (the good kind) and agreement. You are a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings so honestly.

    I found you through OM's blog. I couldn't resist stopping by your blog when I read your last comment to her. It made me smile..."weird cousin". :)

  10. First off when you say things like "Anyway, the metatext of the initial statement is multifaceted. " you make me feel really stupid! LOL! I was all like "What??" But, I will say the whole morbid thoughts thing...I do that too. I've always been a "What if" type of person. "What if my baby dies?" Yup, had lots of those thoughts...people thought I was nuts. Now they must think I'm psychic. I even had a dream at 2 months preggers about going into labor at 6 months and the baby dying. My son was still born 2 days before he was 6 months gestated! And Buhdist or not, that therapists remarks about you dying...gave me goose bumps. What a thought!! I'm a control freak. That kind of just rattled my cage a little.
    A friend of mine is desperate to get pregnant. She said to me, about a month after my son died, that she wanted a girl, not a boy. I looked her dead in the face and I said "You'd better WANT whatever baby that you're LUCKY to get to bring home ALIVE" She stared at me in shock, and then said "you're right" and never said anything like that again. And then my mother...MY OWN MOTHER...made some off handed remark this past weekend about "people" (uh you mean ME!) being able to get past their own sorrow and see others sorrow. I'm sorry if I don't consider my brother and sisters petty squabbles over said brothers divorce (from 3 years ago!!) to be a significant source of sorrow that I should put my own sorrow of dead baby (from 2 months prior) on the side for them. I seriously am having a hard time tolerating anyone in the "real" world anymore.

  11. Buddha taught that it isn't what happens to us that brings us misery but rather the difference between what happens and our expectations. Perhaps your morbid thoughts would simply make you more present if that situation arose. The ideal is to have no expectation but I've never been successful at that no matter how much I meditate. So maybe you're just a step ahead. :-)


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