Monday, April 26, 2010

Impossible things

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 5)

I realized this morning that I am living six impossible things before breakfast. 1. I have a living child in my lap. 2. I suddenly find the screaming of a newborn relaxing and restful. 3. I appreciate near psychosis-inducing sleeplessness. 4. I find myself welcoming questions about my dead daughter from complete strangers. 5. I am drinking my third cup of coffee without shaking like a little chihuahua on speed. And 6. I am enjoying Weetabix with soy milk even though it tastes like tree.


After Lucy died, I really resented the fact that I could sleep through the night. As a lifelong insomniac, I suddenly could close my eyes and wake up nine hours later, refreshed. Birth recovery was much easier with sleep, I found. I could sleep whenever and wherever I wanted. Perhaps it seems strange that an insomniac would not suffer from renewed sleeplessness when her child dies, but I could just sleep and sleep. Maybe it was suddenly the thing that kept me up at night--the fear of one of my children dying--happened and now that worry was gone. Or perhaps it was just depression. Perhaps it also seems strange that an insomniac would not appreciate the sudden ability to sleep, but I would lie in bed in the morning, tears welling in my eyes, and think, "I shouldn't be rested. I should be up all night, exhausted, short-tempered and glaring at Sam's body in repose as I feed our screaming child." But it was just another shitty day in paradise and I felt pissy for complaining about all the amazing sleep I was getting.

I am not getting any amazing sleep right now. I don't mind. Sleeplessness is just another impossible thing that will end one day. I am inarticulate. I fall sleep sitting up with the baby on my breast until the kink in my neck pains me awake. My brain is set on the half-assed setting. I do miss my usual whole-assed thinking, I admit, but luckily, I am not running a large government agency or something. I admit the sadness has settled back in my bones, like the adrenalin and endorphin rush has ind of dissipated. There is no one thing that has knocked me on my ass. It is a sadness cocktail of hormones, daughter-death, and sleeplessness. But as impossible as it is to believe, I am enjoying all of this, even the sadness. The sadness connects me to last year, to Lucy's death, to mourning the last aches of my child-bearing years. The sadness and heartbreak is appropriate and real and part of it all, even though I simultaneously am reveling in and appreciating the impossible joy of birthing a child I didn't think possible.


When our doorbell rang, I had this image in my mind of the two Jehovah's Witnesses with whom I had a long conversation in January. Back then, I was massively pregnant and opened the door and listened, smiling. And the woman's faced lit up when I told them my second daughter died as though she hit the conversion jackpot. I listened respectfully, and told them I had a complicated relationship with God and religion right now. She promised to come back again when we could talk, after I read the booklet she gave me.

I did read the booklet, as surprising as that sounds, and I was ready to respectfully disagree. But not then, after an afternoon of bleary-eyed bliss with my family. I couldn't get into it, and so in my most proud, adult way, I tiptoed to the door, and peeked out the corner of the window. It was my neighbor. She was holding a box, and I invited her into our house, despite the mess and my dark-circled eyes.

We sat together at the table, as I untied the ribbon, and she sat with her ten-month old son bouncing on her lap. I couldn't control the tears when they came. It was a necklace. With all my babies' names on it. Each had their own unique medallion--Bea, Lucy and Thor. Together. All three of them. I haven't cried much since Thor was born, but this was a long, hard sob, and I repeated, "You remembered my Lucy. You remembered all my babies." And she cried. And we cried together.

I have spent a year trying to hammer my old square-pegged friends into round holes. With each bang, I declared that they should be there for me right now in the way that I need them. With each bang, I feel lonelier and more sorry for myself. With each bang, I became more self-righteous. With each bang, I grew angrier. With each bang, I became less of the qualities I once embraced. The early words of my dear friend echo in me, "Such is a bitter lesson for the strong, because we are strong does not mean that those around us, though they may revel in this quality, will be equally strong when we need it." It became a refrain as I hammered and watched friends break apart and away from our grief.

After a year of banging, I stare at the hundreds of splinters on the floor around me ignoring the round, beautiful, strong pegs tightly in the holes throughout my life. When she left a few minutes later, I cried more. This neighbor has mourned with me, every day this year, without fear. Her children are my children's ages, and she had every reason to smile from across our cars, make nice and not talk about the uglies of grief. But she didn't do that. She talked about our grief, about my children, about my fear, about my anger and ugly emotions, about my family. She never flinches at Lucy's name, or turns away from hearing of her birth. She didn't pretend to know what to say to make everything better, she just was present, asking questions, listening. The ease in our conversation has always been there--drifting between tears, humor, grief, gossip and chit-chat. At the end of our driveways, she became the friend that I missed in the people I have known for decades.

I certainly appreciated my neighbor before the necklace, but something changed that day. Instead of seeing myself bereft of all these long, ill-fitting friendships, I suddenly saw myself full of unlikely friendships and alliances that were deeply fulfilling. It is a fortunate place to have friendships that are so ingrained in your life and heart that you can take them for granted. For as lonely as I have ever felt, I was always greeted with warmth and love when I walked out my door and locked eyes with my neighbor.

I expected something that afternoon. To sit uncomfortably with strangers respectfully disagreeing about the nature of the universe and man. I never expected my Lucy to come into my afternoon and remind me of my belief in the goodness of people. I never expected that the impossible peace I have sought in the deficiency of others could already be in my life.


  1. wonderful - i am so glad your neighbor remembered lucy.

  2. What an amazing friend you have. That necklace . . . I'm sure you'll cherish it forever. Lucky you to have such a wonderful person in your life!

    It's true that people kind of filter in and out, and when the worst possible thing happens to you, you can see clearly who's by your side.

    It may not be everyone, but those round pegs are worth a million square ones.

  3. What a beautiful post and a beautiful neighbor! I am so happy you have someone like that, even if it's not from the people you expected.

  4. Angie, what a wonderful friend you have in your neighbour.
    (Oh and I had weetabix with soy milk for breakfast this morning too!)

  5. Someone gave me a similar necklace with my two boys' names - I don't even like it, its cheesy looking, but it touched me so. Love this post Angie.

  6. This is such a beautiful post, Angie. I've been thinking a lot about trying to hammer pegs into different shapes recently, having been hammering away at a few over the past two years. I'm hoping that there might be a place for the odd square peg at some point in the future; that just because they don't fit right now (or I don't) that it might not be a permanent mismatch.


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  8. I have neighbors like that. I have a SIL like that, a neighbor from my old state like that, friends like that. And while I'm so eternally grateful that they're there, for some reason they seem to shine a spotlight on the unfitting pegs. I laid my hammer down long ago, and yet those fucking pegs still pop out and manage to make my walls sag. Drives me nuts.

    I couldn't sleep after Maddy died -- far too many nightmares, and it hurt too much to wake up. So I guess I'm predicting sleeplessness for myself, no matter the outcome. The rest I could get used to.

    There's always an adrenaline let-down and I imagine for those like us it's more than most. Go easy on you.

  9. oh Ang, can I get through, like, one of your posts and not get all teary?? Probably not. Because your words speak to me. In so many ways.

    Sometimes we (M and I) feel so damn cursed and unlucky. I need to stop and remember how lucky I am to have both him, and you, and our babyloss friends in my life. Because it would be terribly, terribly bleak without all of that love. I need to pay more attention to the love than the hurt it is trying to heal.

    Love this post.

  10. I read this nodding. I LOVE the sounds of my boy's screams - SO alive. I also slept and slept and slept after Emma died - ultimate escapism (and I suspected depression too).

    I too have embraced the sadness as part of the happiness and the way it connects me to Emma.

  11. I too was astonished when I finally "looked" and realized the friendships that had risen out of the ashes. Thankfully I have those few who get it and get me.

  12. I am glad you found a friend in your neighbor. It is very true. The good friends are not afraid of talking about our dead babies. They don't feel awkward when we mention the pregnancy or the delivery. What a beautiful gift she gave you.

  13. what a gift to have this woman as your friend and neighbor. wish there were more people like that out there- that weren't afraid of us, of our truth, of life.
    sending you love

  14. What an awesome friend you have in your neighbor! We were similarly lucky (before we moved, anyway).

    There's nothing like a good neighbor.

    Glad you got some time with Lucy.

  15. Beautiful post, Angie. It made me smile so many times. I am so happy you are in the place you are in right now.

  16. A boppy to hold up the baby and one of those neck pillows to hold up your neck. I got lots of sitting up sleep like that. :)

  17. It's nice to know that there are people like your neighbor out there. Beautiful post, as always.

    Sending love...

  18. you write so beautifully, it really only takes the friendship of one or two people who are perfect for you to help you through . for me, out of dozens of close friends, this is how it has ended up. these few friends that have stuck by me though are my angels and everything about the way they are with me and they way they talk about harvey and acknowledge my grief couldn't be more perfect. i'm glad you have someone like that in your life and i'm glad she lives so close xxx hugs, anne

  19. Angie,
    I always mark your posts and wait until I really have time to sit and read and digest. I savor them. This was just about perfection to me. It makes me want to call you and talk because damn, YES and so true, all of it.
    I remember and still to this day on the occasional night when Cason wakes in the wee hours, never ever feeling the same "OH MY GOD CHILD GO TO SLEEP" angst that I had with my first two. The sleeplesness with Cason was so welcome. The waking hours with him, bliss.
    I slept like a log after I lost Caleb. I, like you, was a hopeless insomniac before. Always needing some sort of 'aid' to help me cross over. But after he died, all I did was sleep. I did only what I needed to do for my two living kids and then I slept. And I resented it too. All that sleep. I felt guilty that I could close my eyes and forget. But I did.
    Losing sleep over a living child is infinately easier than losing it over a dead one. Isn't that an awful thing to even say outloud?

    I love your friends quote about the strong. I think that my friends were equally lost in helping me, just as I was equally lost in asking for the help. I hid from all of them. Even bringing my daughter to school late on purpose to avoid seeing them. Beyond bringing meals and emails they were lost. But, like your neighbor did for you, others popped up for me as well. And they are who I confide in now. I know they won't wince if I say something about Caleb. And I am forever thankful for these women who said to me I am here, I am not afraid and I will be your friend who remembers him.

    A long time ago, I posted one of my favorite poems from Through the Looking Glass...

    You posting from the book now, it just reinforces how connected we are.

    A beautiful, moving piece.

  20. A tear. A laugh. Sincere happiness for you. Seeing you've written a post makes my day.

  21. Beautiful, Angie. Sending much love.

  22. I'm so glad you received something so special and that your neighbor remembered.

  23. such a beautiful post, Angie, it brought me to tears.
    and yes, new possibilities. Here's to new impossible possibilities and new friendships.
    Beatrice, Lucy, Thor. All yours.

  24. I too am amazed at the people who I thought were insignifacant in my life but who rose to the occasion. Who faced my grief head on and then road the train with me a while. I value those people so much.

    Your neighbour is a sweetheart. I can only hope I can be like that for someone else one day too.

  25. Sigh... beautiful post. The necklace made me bawl... what an awesome neighbour and friend. There is light where we don't expect it. xoxo

  26. beautiful necklace!

    for all the once-close "friends" I've lost, an unexpected stranger has filled that hole..


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