Monday, September 12, 2011

questions thirteen through fifteen: gurus, relationships and remembering.

Nerissa: Do you ever feel like a babyloss/grief guru? Not like you are an expert or you are totally enlightened about it all. More like, people (like me) come to you and seek your advice, even though it's not necessarily advice that you give so you are like a guru... Do you know what I mean? Are you ever overwhelmed at how many people share their stories with you and come to you in such a desperate time in their lives?

Thank you for that question, even though it feels a little weird to answer. Okay, firstly, no, I never feel like a babyloss or grief guru. I am just a mother who lost a child. I like to write. I like to connect with other people. And I majored in religion at university. I did that because I have always been seeking the answers to really large questions about the universe, God and human nature. Losing my child made me question everything I believe in and everything anyone else believes in. It also strengthened some really fundamental understandings of the world. I work those things out in a public place like Glow in the Woods and my blog because I crave discussions about these aspects of our losses and grief, so I never ever feel like I am lecturing, I always feel like I am having a conversation.

But more to your point, no. I am never overwhelmed with people sharing their stories with me. I always feel privileged and honored to be trusted with someone’s story and baby. I never take it lightly, but I also don’t feel weighted down or saddened by it, necessarily. If that makes sense. People ask me, particularly people not in this community, if it depresses me to hear about losses and grief. No, it doesn’t depress me. Maybe it is because I see grief as another expression of love. I am always amazed by the strength, compassion and love of the men and women I meet along this journey. Most of the time grieving parents ask me about Lucy as much as tell me about their baby. It was a surprise of talking to people freshly in this community. That is compassion and generosity. At someone's worst moment, people seek to listen and comfort as much as to be heard and seek comforting. And you are right, I just share my experience. I am always amazed at the wisdom of newly bereaved women and men. Their insights usually help me process some aspect of my own grief and experience.

When I first came into this community, I wrote to people a few months out from me, or years.  And I sought refuge in blogs and other women's writings. I also tapped into the community at LFCA and connected with other women in other experiences around pregnancy loss, like infertility or secondary infertility or recurrent miscarriage, but I focused on clicking, (sending stories to LFCA) with Jen about stillbirth and neonatal loss. Truly, being compassionate to another human being in the same situation as me helped and helps me understand and forgive myself for my daughter’s death and make peace with the decisions I have made along the way. They have not all been good decisions or healthy ones, but seeing someone else in their vulnerability and early grief helps me process where I was. If that makes sense. And to understand that I did the best that I could.

Cullen's Blessings (Leslie): How do you keep Lucy's memory alive for Bea and Thor? What did you do on the first anniversary of Lucy's death?

Thank you for your question, Leslie. I sort of answered this question earlier, but I will touch on it again.

The short answer is that I just talk about her, like I would anyone in our family who died. I don't harp on her, or bring her up continually, but I just bring her in naturally. Sometimes I tell the kids, "You have the same nose as Lucy did." And Thomas does. Beezus is starting to grieve her, because she is starting to realize what death means and that she had a sister. She really talks a lot now about sisters. When she asks me a question about death or Lucy, I just am honest. We do have a place where we light a candle and some incense or sage, the warmth and light from that candle feels like a presence in our space. I do it when I miss her, or just want to remember her. Sometimes the children collect things for Lucy's altar. All in all, we try to make it as non-weird as possible.

Lately, Beezus has been singing this song around the house. She is at an age where she makes up songs, and it goes "Fly, Butterfly, fly." Over and over. Sometimes the fly is float ("Float, Butterfly, float.") I asked her about the song, where she heard it, and she told me that she made it up. She sings it whenever she misses Lucy. I never associated Lucy with butterflies or anything, but Beezus made that connection for herself. I told her that when I see ladybugs I think of Lucy. So sometimes, when she is singing the song, that gives me an opening to ask her if she is missing Lucy and talk about how we hold the ones we love after they die. I also read When Dinosaurs Die if she has questions that are hard for me to answer..

We had a very low-key day on Lucy's first death/birthday. We napped and went out for sushi on her first birthday, because that is what we did for everyone's birthday back then. I cried often. I took a bath. Lucia died on December 21st, was born December 22nd, so three days before Christmas. I wish I could say that I have something set to do every year, but I suspect it will change every year. The first birthday seemed so important, I couldn't figure out what to do. I thought about it a ton, actually. I bought candles to light, wrote poems to read, and I did none of it, because it didn't feel right.

Because she died on Winter Solstice, last year we did some solstice-y type things, like light a candle for each window through the house. And say a poem for Santka Lucia. Talk about the lightness and dark. We ate a feast. Last year was also an eclipse, so my sister and I went out in the middle of the night and watched the eclipse in sleeping bags. That feels right and good to stay up all night, light a bonfire, and honor the seasons of change.  So, I think those rituals are going to stay in place now. I try not to worry about setting up something forever. I just do what feels right in the year and place we are all at. Beezus really wanted me to make a cake for Lucia last year. I am not a baker. But I did make cupcakes for her.

I hope that helps. I'd love to hear what other people do or did.

Ines: What's it like to be on the other side of the fence - of babyloss and sub-pregnancy and parenting after loss or through loss dealing - one side and the other side - with women who suffered loss of motherhood alltogether with their loss who have wanted a child or children and can't or don't get to? Do you feel the divide? Have you lost "friends" who "unfriended" or un-followed you? How do you feel about that? Would there be anything you want these women to know or would there be something you would do differently in retrospect? How do you feel about the question? Have I forfeit my chance to win -the gnome book? :-P I loved that book when I was a child and miss it like crazy just seeing the front page on the link you posted.

Ines, it is never too late for a good question, though I did pick a book winner last week. Maybe the gnomes will find their way to Ireland. Thank you for asking it, though I actually think this may be the most difficult question for me to answer. I don't want to sound like an asshole, and yet I also want to be honest. I am walking the razor's edge on this question, so I will try to be as honest as possible with as much love as possible.

I don't think of myself as now on the other side of any fence, honestly. I had a living child when my second child died, so for many people, my experience of loss was already different than their experience losing their first child. So, if there is a fence, I was already on the other side of it. When I began writing, I wrote this blog to process how to parent one child while grieving another. To have an outlet to write about grief and suffering and my religious ramblings and parenting a toddler and everything else in between. Also, I began writing to become part of a community and to connect with other women who were also grieving. And so both Beatrice and Lucia were part of what I imagined I would talk about here. I have never sold a bill of goods that was different than simply my life--all my children and all my parenting and all my experience. The joy and the grief. Perhaps that in and of itself was enough of a reason to not read my blog, or have a reason to identify out of my experience of grief for some people. After Thomas Harry was born, perhaps that divide grew larger, the wall between me and people who lost their only children absolutely impervious.

And that is absolutely fine. Do I feel the divide? No, not particularly. I see us all as grieving parents. And yet, I acknowledge that my experience is different from someone grieving infertility, the loss of motherhood, or recurrent miscarriage. It is an entire added level of grief I don't experience. There are very few people in this community whose experience is exactly like mine. I ache for my friends who want children and, through no fault of their own, struggle with conceiving, the grief of losing children or not getting pregnant at all, the loss of motherhood and their kids and the complex emotions of relating to people who they genuinely like who have living children. I cry with them. I root for them. I try to remain present with them. But I don't know what that is like. Any distance they need physically or emotionally doesn't stop me from loving them fully. I guess what I am trying to say is: I don't take it personally if someone can't be my friend, or read my blog. I want them to be happy and find comfort wherever it is and in whatever form it comes.

Have I lost friends, lost readers with the birth of my third child? I would be surprised if I didn't. I don't catalogue readers or followers. I don't know how many followers I have. I don't know who unfriended me, or who didn't. If you hold a resentment against me, I don't really know about it. (You can email me about it, though.) I think that it is absolutely natural to grow out of blogs, or move on from a blog writer. People cycle through blogs according to what they are going through and what they need. It never offends me when and if someone doesn't read a post I write, or stops reading my blog all together. It doesn't hurt my feelings when a post gets no comments. I am a writer. I am used to rejection, edits, rewrites and insults.

In the beginning, I did care. I wanted to know who read what, if my friends or family were stopping by, and then who were the grieving women coming to visit. I worried about what I wrote and how people took it. I started different blogs for different parts of my life. I tried to control your experience of my writing and my life based on what I imagined would be hard for you if you were going through infertility as well as loss. Then I just felt kind of started feeling funny about that.

I got to a place, and maybe that place I got to coincided with me getting sober and being more honest about my suffering and where I am in my life, but I got to a place where I felt like the reader needs to be responsible for his or her own experiences in the world. I cannot protect the reader from my life. I cannot guess what is and isn't hard to read. I cannot underestimate my reader's emotional ability to handle my happiness or my grief or my daily life. That is fucking insulting of me. How presumptuous of me. How arrogant. Now I work under the premise that people will stop reading if they don't like what they read. I think self-preservation should be the foremost guiding principle of what anyone reads. If a blog hurts to read it, stop. I certainly stop reading blogs, then I pick them up again, then put them down again. I also read blogs of people who have a different experience than mine. I read a lot of blogs of women who suffer through infertility as well as loss. I read blogs written by drunks and addicts. I read blogs of writers and artists.  I read blogs of architects and I have never built a house in my life.

You know what? There is also a whole other set of readers, people who have never lost a child, who can't relate to this blog from top to bottom. But I relate to those people in every day life outside of my blog. I talk to them. I laugh with them. I share experiences. Listen, what I am trying to say is that I am not three people. I am one person who parents living children, who is an artist and writer, who birthed a stillborn child, who rides bike, who is a wife and sister and daughter, who is a Buddhist and a Catholic. I'd love to combine all those parts of me into this blog. I am doing that gradually. I don't know. This space is confusing to me too. I don't know how to be here all the time. I am still figuring it out. I hope that if I lose readers, I don't lose friends.

So, what do I think I would have done differently? I don't think I would have ever split my blog into my everyday art blog and still life with circles. I want them all to be the same blog. I would have just been more authentic about this experience of grief being part of my life, a simultaneous experience with joy. I wish I would have written about my spiritual wrestlings a tad more frequently, because I think people go through that too. So, I guess I would have stopped worrying about who is reading here a long time ago and just been myself.

You asked me, Ines, "Would there be anything you want these women to know or would there be something you would do differently in retrospect? How do you feel about the question?"

To be frank, this question makes me feel like I am missing something. Did I offend these women? Did I upset them with the birth of my child? Did I upset them with something I wrote? I don't know. I understand if it is hard to read about my children. I understand. No one needs my blessing to not read in this space, but if you want to know if I will still be friends with you even if you cannot be present with my parenting posts, absolutely. It is important, drastically important, to protect your heart. So I would say the same thing I always say.

I love you. Go if you need to go. Come back if you want to come back. I will always be here with open arms. Loving you. Email me privately and we can have a friendship separate from my blog. I will always be here for you in whatever way you need me to be.

Ironically, as I was writing this post, my arm was resting on some papers. I picked them up to move them, and a postcard from please be still fell out of the pile that said, "We Are All Connected." Suffering is suffering is suffering. Grieving is grieving is grieving. Love is love is love. We grieve for different things, but we grieve. I think it is a universal form of suffering that every person can relate to, even if they haven't lost a child, or they lost their only child.

If you want to clarify the question, I would be happy to be more specific if it relates directly to something I did at some point in time. Otherwise, thank you to everyone who asked me questions this month. I love answering questions because it helps me to clarify these things in me, and it helps direct my writing when I am feeling scattered and unsure of myself, and I have been feeling scattered and unsure of myself. I hope everyone writes on these topics and links to their blogs. Much love to all of you.


  1. I lve what you said about grief being an expression of love. I will hold that idea close when the wright of my sadness overwhelms me.

  2. Great questions. The question Ines posed is some of the background to my recent post about my own confusion about my blog and purpose. Your response was much more concise than mine could ever be. Thank you for sharing more about yourself in answering these questions.

  3. What a lovely post and what an articulate answer to the question posed by Ines. As a mother who lost her first and only child, I appreciate this very honest and insightful response.

  4. I love what you said about being a guru (or not being one as the case may be). I agree whole heartedly, though I do feel like a bit of a "guru" for lack of a better term, in terms of pointing people where to go for help and knowing where people can go for support, etc. In three years, I've amassed a lot of knowledge in that area, though I realise that everyone is certainly very different when it comes to approaching grief and what works for one person certainly wont work for the next.
    And I loved your answer to Ines' question. I feel like I jumped from one side of the fence to the other when Angus was born, and certainly again when Juliet arrived. So I feel that divide more keenly now, though I can certainly vividly remember what it was like to be on the other side. And yes, I know for a fact I have lost friends and followers, but there is not much I can do about it and I cant hide or change who I am now.
    Love to you Angie. Your honesty is always refreshing.

  5. There are so many things to respond to here, but I'll chime in on first birthday/first anniversary of death.

    For Henry's first birthday, we had all of our family here. We had cupcakes. We went to the cemetery together. My sister read a poem. I gave all the cousins heart shaped balloons and we let one go for Henry. I remember that in addition to the hard, hard grief that swelled as we got closer to that day, I also felt such pressure to figure out the "right" thing to do, to start a tradition. I've since realized that traditions evolve and we are still figuring ours out. I buy something for Henry's garden, and spend some part of the day working in it.

    For the first anniversary of Henry's death, I had a six day old baby in my arms. I was in such a daze. Stooped by sadness and welling with joy and hormonal and sleep deprived. We went to a mass for him. Our families were going to come and we were going to have dinner after, but people were sick and a snow storm sent those who could make the trip scurrying quickly after mass. Kathleen held me, for the most part, in the present. We watched some of the video of him that evening by ourselves.

    I'm still trying to find the "right" thing to do for these days. My husband I approach them differently, which has made figuring it out a little more challenging.

  6. Coming in late with an unsolicited comment about the children after loss or not divide. This is an issue I am sensitive to basically everywhere I go, but rarely, if ever, with you. I really have felt surprisingly little difference in our friendship pre-Thor and with Thor here- or, for that matter, when you talked about Beezus pre-Thor and when you talked about Lucy.

    I think this is due in part to your general fabulousness, but I also suspect that it had a lot to do with the fact that you have always let me be me no matter where I have been on this journey, and you have always been very clear about being you. And there was never any comparison between where we each were.

    Even at the times when I have been most raw and most sensitive to what the world has that I don't, I never heard you say, "This is my life, as opposed to your life. This is what I have. I'm so sorry you don't have it." Rather, you took in where I was, heard the truth of it, accepted it, and let it stand. And you told me with honesty and directness where you were, which made it easier for me to hear your truth. Your life AND my life- not your life VERSUS mine. And that has made a world of difference.

    Away for the week- email headed your way soon. Much love to you.

  7. Sending much love and gratitude your way Angie. We have just made it through to the other side of a year, and quite frankly I can't believe the months have passed as slowly and as quickly as they did. Thank you for this project, for being a support to me, and for your work in the community. We love you mamma...

  8. Oh Angie. I suspected your answer would be as much. Sorry I haven't been around. I owe you an email update of the general soap opera that is my life. Maybe I should blog it, but I am too scared.


What do you think?