Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ezra Malik

All weekend I've been thinking about Sarah and David. Remembering Ezra. I wish I had something profound or original to say today. Ezra is so missed. And it is so unfair that today I am going to his unveiling rather than his birthday party. And yet, I'm glad to be going. To stand with the other people that love Sarah and David and hold them close. To cry with them. I have the privilege of knowing Sarah in real life, and breaking bread with her. Sharing stories together. As I have been reading other tributes and remembrances of Ezra, it strikes me how everyone is mentioning that Sarah was one of the first women each person talked to. Sarah took the time to write and reach out. In the midst of her own grief, she brought so many of us together.

Sarah has taught me a great deal on this journey. She has taught me about grace, compassion, kindness, love, but I think most strong on that list, Sarah taught me a great deal about community, about friendship and about mothering. Ezra has an amazing mother and father. I do feel privileged to know beautiful Ezra through Sarah and David.

And so today, on Ezra's birthday, I will tell you a story about last night. Last night, as we emerged from a Jersey eatery, all bloated and tired, the rains came. Torrential and fierce, we took refuge in another chain store to buy some time and peruse books. And we heard the thunder. The lights flickered with the lightning. We waited until we saw the brightness of the sun poking through the western sky. We walked out, rain still drumming down on us, and saw an amazing full rainbow.

My first thought was Ezra. The rain and the beauty. Of course, I know rainbows mean something different in this community, but I didn't think of that connotation right then. What I thought was of God's promise of peace through the storms. I am not a religious person, but when I thought of Ezra, this is what I thought. Peace.

Friday, August 28, 2009


And we are home again, back to our routine. Sam worked a 24 hour shift yesterday, so Beatrice and I spent the day reading books, running errands, finding activities around the morning, Beatrice and I spent an inordinate amount of time with the camera. I taught her how to take pictures without me hovering, and let her go. She asked me to make silly faces. Click. She demanded I play her out of tune guitar. Click. She placed the camera an inch from my eye. Click. She photographed her books, my back, her doggie, my hair, the pillows. Then we finally stopped, and I paged through the camera. Seeing the world through a Bea's eye view is fascinating.

It got me thinking about how amazing it would be to have a day where everyone took their camera through their daily routine. And took photos of how the coffee lady looks at them, their commute in the morning, and just documented their everyday experience. Maybe it would be like a scavenger hunt. We would each get a checklist of things to photograph and compare our experiences. What could we learn about how each of us engages with our world?

Later, after camera-time, we hit the storytime at the bookstore. The lady who runs storytime asked me if Beatrice was British. Not a British name, but if she was literally a British child. The question/assumption happened in front of everyone, and the woman next to me looked shocked and horrified by her question, having had the luxury of hearing Beatrice call me Mama for fifteen minutes before the storytime lady arrived. Here is my photograph of the morning: having my motherhood denied by a well-meaning reader.

I know as a parent of a child that looks nothing like me, this is par for the course, but it gets exhausting. I just think if Beatrice were the dark one, and I were the white one, no one would assume I was the nanny. And that is so disappointing to me. There are some that would disagree with that, I'm sure. That think people would think it whether I was white or brown, but my experience as the mother in a multi-cultural family has shown me the world through a different lens. People are generally kind--ignorant, perhaps, making assumptions based on stereotypes, perhaps--but I think, in general, people are well-intentioned. They try to start conversations, telling me that my daughter is beautiful, questioning our interesting relationship. People have told me how much Beatrice seems to love me, even though I am the nanny. But the point is, they are drawn to talk to us. I just think in my head, "They are staring at us because we are so fascinating."

When I was younger, perhaps more beautiful, single, I would get asked at least once a week where I was from.

"Schnecksville, Pennsylvania," I would quip dryly.

Not the answer they were looking for. What they were looking for was something exotic. Something far away. Something to explain my black hair, interesting nose. "No, no," they would say, "What are you? Where is your family from?" If I wanted to be obtuse, I would say "Pennsylvania." And if I wanted it to end, I would answer my dad is Irish-American and my mother is Central American. That is the answer they want. What is my heritage. What they are asking is "Why do you look like this and talk like that?" I realize, now that I get asked a lot less, that it was a way to start conversation, a way to tell a stranger that she is beautiful. During those years, though, I frequently thought about what it was to be American, about my identity, about being Other, and about how different I was from both of the cultures that made me who I am.

I know the storytime lady's intention was not malicious. She made an assumption about us. There are many nannies at that particular storytime. If I had corrected her, or explained the genetics of our family, I'm sure she would have apologized, or corrected herself, or as most people do, joke about how different we look. But the point is, for me, I get exhausted by it all. I get exhausted having to justify our genetics. I think my daughter looks like me in some ways too as much as others think she doesn't look like me. I get exhausted at having to be compassionate with them, to think of people's intention, make apologies for the ignorant people in my head so I can continue thinking of the world as a place that accepts me, mixed ethnicity and all.

In this roundabout way, I've been thinking a lot about Mel's blog post yesterday, and the blog post that prompted it. And so, I think my thoughts have really been circling around the idea of intention.

This writer of the childfree/childless piece, inadvertently, hurt a community (ALI community) of women of which she claims to be a part. And I think, as I wrote on Cait's Mom's blog, she set off a bomb directed at a certain childfree group, but when you set off bombs, you easily hit innocent people in the vicinity. And as Cait's Mom said, she meant to hurt someone. She didn't write to explain or be kind or be compassionate. She wrote it to lash out at those she felt attacked her. That impulse is in all of us. But what do we do with those feelings of anger and hurt?

I have certainly used my blog to vent. I don't have nearly the audience as a writer for the Orlando Sentinel, but still, I cannot take the moral high ground. My blog is a safe haven for me. I have been unkind, I'm sure. Her post, and feeling a great deal of anger and offense at her words, made me think about my own intention. My intention here on my blog, and in this community.

I think I was most offended by the original blog post because it seemed so unnecessary. I felt a kind of visceral reaction to her flaunting her child's love, exposing her version of motherhood as the only way to experience a relationship with a child, and for belittling someone's choice in life. I, for one, applaud anyone who knows their limitations and knows for certain that living childfree is best for them. And her intention, from my best summation, was simply to be mean.

And so I will walk away from yesterday with thoughts of intention. Maybe for a day, I can see people as the series of photographs that make up their world, rather than the captions they write underneath.

"Breathing in, breathing out; feeling resentful; feeling happy; being able to drop it, not being able to drop it; eating our food; brushing our teeth; walking; sitting - whatever we're doing could be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up, we want to ripen our compassion and we want to ripen our ability to let go; we want to realise our connection with all beings. Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us." - Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Honest Scrap Award

Thank you Cait's Mom for awarding me with the Honest Scrap award!

Here goes...

1. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs you find brilliant in content or design.

I think most of the ones I love have done this award already, but here it goes.

The Unlucky Lottery
Ezra's Space
Samuel Marc
Ferdinand's Gifts
Life Without My Baby
Tuesday's Hope
Between the Snow and Huge Roses

2. Show the 7 winners’ names and links on your blog, and leave a comment informing them that they have won the Honest Scrap award.

3. List at least 10 honest things about yourself

1. I am an identical twin, six minutes younger than my sister. Our parents named my sister after the Irish side of our family, KellyAnn. I was supposed to be named after the Spanish-speaking side, but my parents ultimately decided on Angie because of the Rolling Stones song.

2. My mother emigrated to this country in 1968 from Panama. She is the second youngest of twelve.

3. I have been removed from both my mother and father's families, because of distance with the former and family arguments with the latter. But for a decade, I have been collecting the stories of my family, and keeping lists of who is who and their relationships and stories. I have a life fantasy to write a novel exposing the secrets of my family. I know no one would believe it is the truth.

4. My husband and I have never been to a movie together. When we were dating, we talked about it, but sitting in a dark theater for two hours seemed like a waste of time to us.

5. In 1996, I won the Southwest Barista Championship in San Diego and competed in the finals in Seattle. I got so nervous that I broke out in hives for a month before the competition.

6. About ten years ago, I knocked my front tooth out and received 15 stitches in my lips in a bicycle accident with a roller blader. When the ambulance driver picked me up, he told me he just read an article about knocking out teeth, and he helped me save my front tooth, which is still the real tooth, maybe slightly discolored.

7. When I get nervous, I talk about Nixon and 60s politics.

8. I used to want to work for a year as a window washer in a high-rise building in a big city to satisfy my inner voyeur, my daredevil and my love of physical labor.

9. When I was a girl (fourth or fifth grade), a particularly cruel kid in my school told me I could not be a writer because my mother doesn't speak English. My school was so homogeneous that not only were we the only children of color in our grade, we were the only ones with black hair.

10. I bought my first car, a yellow 1974 super beetle, when I was fourteen, and spent the next two years illegally driving it around the backwater streets where I grew up fixing it up. I sold it for twice what I bought it for and bought my mother's car. I totaled her car two months later.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fortune telling

Did you know that you can buy a psychic reading on Etsy?

During one of my bored rambling search journeys through Etsy, I found one. You can buy a psychic reading here? Woah. I did a more extensive search. You know, losing your baby, visiting the abyss, trying to conceive again, figuring out your future, fearing your living child's well being at every turn, well, sometimes you just want an impossible answer to a questions you dare not speak aloud.

When I was a child, my mother used to tell me about a psychic my parents saw before she got pregnant with us. My parents attended a party where this psychic was invited to give readings. (It was the 70s, and my parents named me after a Rolling Stones song, so you do the math.) My mother spoke with both reverence and fear for this psychic. According to my mother, this women told my mother everything that was to pass in her life. About my father. About us. About her. Later, after my parents divorced, she found this woman again, and she was still giving readings. She made an appointment for her, my sister and I. My experience with this woman at age 20 made me believe that some people have gifts that are not explainable. I still shiver to think of all the spot on things she said to me about my past, my present, and yes, even my future.

Many years later, I tried to find her again. Driving aimlessly through a town I dimly knew, I recognized an overpass, an oak tree, the scribbled address I wrote on the back of an envelope. A sign was posted on the front door.

"The fortune teller does not live here anymore."


I am a rational person. I am. And yet, the impulse to have my future told to me is too alluring. To be fair, there were some aspects that were about the future. "You will have another child who will bring great joy." I think I got that in a fortune cookie once.

But my Etsy psychic experience was interesting, not because of what my future holds according to a complete stranger who sent me an email after I paid them ten bucks, but because of what the psychic is allowed to say to the grieving mother. The tarot reader said things that no one else in my life would dare say.

"The Past card for you, the ten of Cups reversed, shows that you thought you were bringing forth the perfect family situation and it failed to materialize. This has set you in this place of stasis, but you must move on. It’s not safe to stay here; your power is draining away and soon you will be overwhelmed."

It's true, but damn, lady.


I turned to Sam after reading the psychic lady's email and said, "Is this comforting to you? This tarot reader said that Lucy was at the end of her lives. She was reaching enlightenment, but she needed her last life to be in me. That her life in a womb was an important experience that she needed to have. The closeness, comfort, love and safety of being in my belly served to heal some of her old wounds and once that was done, she could be free. The psychic said she chose me for my love and because I was a good mother to her. She also said that I also benefited, though it may not seem so now. This experience has opened me up in ways I will need to access later in life. Do you find that comforting?"

"Yes. I do."

"Me too."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Travel and home

I've never traveled sad before.

It was more like living the life of a manic depressive, rather than a grief-stricken traveler. In some ways, instead of visiting Panama, I felt like I visited crazy.

Some days, I was ecstatic, driven to travel long distances with a two-year old for the possible glimpse of a hummingbird, or totally jazzed to hit the fisherman's beach to bargain for some fresh catch. I tweeked on some self-motivated high, bouncing on the balls of my feet, clapping my hands like a motivational speaker. "Come on, people, those monkeys aren't throwing poop at themselves. We've got a jungle to trek." Other days, I could barely muster a walk out of the bedroom. I woke up several times during the night thinking about Jack the dog at my sister's house, dissecting our last phone conversation. I was wracked with guilt, and overwhelming anxiety that her husband was put-out by watching the dog. THE DOG! My anxiety ruined my sleep. In all, my lows were...dark. I felt so far away, so alone, so so sad. Lucy's death seemed so small and far away, like a dot I saw on the tarmac of Newark as our plane arched toward Central America. Oh, but I packed her death. It ached in my every joint, in every inch of my being. Some days, every activity seemed rather pointless or overwhelming or both. "Eh, I'd rather be watching Dora the explorer in Spanish with Beatrice."

And I remained cold. Eight degrees off the equator, and sister is shivering. I wore my sweater most nights, and during the day, I laid in the sun without breaking a sweat. I couldn't get warm. It's been like this since Lucy died, not being able to feel warmth. Maybe in some ways, I carry a bit of winter solstice in my body now.


Our vacation was sandwiched between two incredibly trying flying experiences. Let's just say, on our way there, we arrived at Newark International at 1pm, we arrived in the beach house in Panama at 5am. Beatrice feel asleep for the first time at 3am. I was the lady in the back of the plane holding her screaming child and thinking, "Why did I do this to her? Why am I so fucking selfish? What is wrong with you, Angie? Now you have to go back the same way. You have to repeat this experience in ten days." The way home all I can say is two words. Hurricane Bill. I cried during very chaotic turbulence, because what I didn't dare speak before my trip, or during, was that I was convinced I was not coming home from Central America. Riptide. Hanta virus. Panamanian drivers. Mud slide. Pool accident. Infected finger. Lightning. Freak machete accident. The ways in which one can die on a vacation are surprisingly varied, interesting and around every corner. The pilot actually came on the loud speaker on our return flight to say that we may have to make an "emergency fuel landing." This is it, I thought. I was the one with tears in my eyes and hand raised. "Uh, is that emergency landing because we have no fuel? Or is that a landing to get fuel? Could you just clarify the emergency part?"

Once you are on the shitty end of statistics, you know, you think that is your homeland. A shitty small land where no death scenario is too far-fetched, wild, or out of the realm of possibility and everyone's last name is Murphy. I even imagined different ways to be imprisoned in a Panamanian jail for being at the wrong place at the wrong time during a drive on a desolate piece of highway. None of this is easy to explain to people who don't live their day to day life with two people raising a curious, adventurous two year old while also mired in grief because their youngest child died for no apparent reason. My mother lost patience, thought I was crazy, is possibly writing her own post about her batshit fucking crazy daughter and son-in-law on a blog I do not know about.

Sometimes I just cried, not because I saw Beatrice's imminent drowning, but because I wanted Lucy to be in the pool with her sister and her father, bouncing and just was supposed to be different. I hate seeing Beatrice without her sister. My husband without his daughter. The world without a little giggling girl.


There was part of me that imagined this trip as something healing, something different than it was. I tried not to build it up or imagine it being a vacation from my grief. But I admit part of me felt like maybe a change of scenery would change my grief, a respite from the exhausting heavy weight of it. Maybe like Atlas passing the world to Heracles for a brief minute just to stretch the shoulders. How could I not be happy in such a beautiful place? But the anxiety, the pure exhausting nature of grief, it sort of felt amplified because of the harsh juxtaposition. Lush green. Grief. I could look out of our room onto the expanse of the Pacific, and still, I was sad, so fucking sad. It's easier to be sad in New Jersey. You are supposed to be sad in New Jersey. You aren't supposed to be sad in paradise.

The other part involves this deep fantasy of my youth. One where this large Panamanian family of women like the best parts of my mother would rally around me during my time of need, where I would be in the center of this great knot of women supporting me, grieving with me, holding me close, loving me. Like this community, except with a bunch of women that look like me. Thirty some cousins (three aunts) came over for a day, and not one person mentioned Lucia. They berated me for my horrible Spanish (One of those things upon which my grief wreaked havoc. I couldn't think in another language. I just wanted to cry during most conversations where I had to translate.) They talked about how beautiful Bea's eyes are, and Sam's height. They lectured me about how I need to teach her Spanish before she gets too old. But I felt so fucking alone. So very Other. No one approached me, unless I held Beatrice. One cousin who I have been closest to asked me what I do all day, you know, for work.

Later after everyone left, I asked my mother if everyone knew about Lucia's death, if they knew I was grieving. And she said impatiently, "Everyone has their own losses to deal with, Angie." And she proceeded to list everyone in our family who has died in the last two years. Okay, I fucking get it. I'm a selfish asshole as well as grieving. Everyone suffers. Suck it up, kid.

On one day, during a particularly difficult scene in HP7, which I finished during my trip, I was weeping. Not a tear, but a deluge. A full-on sob. No one else probably wept at this, but when Mrs. Weasley begins fighting Bellatrix...screaming...yeah, for those who have read it, you know, she was protecting her children. She was screaming at her, releasing her anger. I freaking lost it. And Beatrice, who had been coloring, got up, and ran out of the room. Back she came with my mother in tow, repeating, "Ita, look Mommy crying. Look, Mommy crying." For fuck's sake, it is Harry Potter, and my mother is trying to comfort me.


To say I didn't have a good time is not true. It was beautiful, and some highs were incredibly amazing. To be present. Have your breath taken away by a moss covered wall and a waterfall. To eat up a view. To delight in twenty hummingbirds flying around your daughter and you. To just have a few hours swimming with your family, without a thought of cellulite or bills. Well, we did. We had some amazing days. But right now, late into the night, after a long flight, and staring for fifteen uninterrupted minutes at a heartbreakingly small urn, all I can say, I missed home.

(PS: I'm trying to catch up on email and blogs. 259 in my reader. Holy shit. I thought about all y'all a lot.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Remembering Lev River

Dearest Aliza,

If I were home, I would send this as an email, but I'm not. So, I will do it this way. I wish I could see you this week, though we've never met. Maybe we would meditate together, or walk in a jizo garden. Maybe we would smash plates or drink some beautiful local wine, but I know we would sit together and cry. It is so unfair that Lev is not here with you. I cannot pretend that his first birthday will bring any sort of peace. In fact, I know it won't. It means you have spent a year missing part of your heart. It means a year of mourning.

But I do know, Aliza, that this year you have given me an understanding of truth, mothering and love. I hold you, Arik and your Lev, your beautiful Lev, in my heart everyday, but in particular, this day, I remember. I cannot see a heart without thinking of him, without remembering his short life, without seeing a small glimmer of beauty. I miss your son, Aliza. I miss Lev in this world.

With love,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remembering Hope Angel

Dearest Sally,

I am in Central America today. Hope's birthday. But I know on her day, I will be thinking about her, remembering her, and holding you and Simon close to my heart. But because I am not near a computer, I lit a candle on one of the days before I left and I cried thinking about how unfair it all is, thinking about how beautiful she is, thinking about how I wish this weren't the way motherhood was for you the last year. Her candle stands next to my Lucy's candle on our mizuko jizo altar.

I wish, I fucking wish, we didn't meet in this damn dead baby corner of the universe, but I am also so thankful we met. My friend. My pen pal. You give so very much to this community. I don't know if you realize how much compassion and love you spread here. I don't know if you realize the impact of Hope's life in the lives of all these women grieving the loss of their own is palpable, Sal. We all love Hope. We all miss her. And we all hold you close, as part of this large mourning family of women.

And so, today, on Hope's first birthday, know I am remembering Hope, missing her, crying with you, looking towards the future, with the pure beautiful optimistic light of Hope.

Abrazos y besos,

Monday, August 10, 2009

Marriage and travel

It is so freaking difficult to maintain a relationship and marriage through the very solitary act of grief. It is so achingly hard to feel alone next to someone you are in love with and like so very much. Sam and I often fall into bed, and forget to say goodnight, or 'I love you'. And I think, “Did we even kiss today?” There was a time when, if we went to bed with just a peck, I was disgruntled, tossing and turning all night imagining arguments we never had. I suspect all parents, grieving or not, go through this at some point in their marriage.

Many people thought our first child made it easier to deal with the death of our second child, that we could just focus on her and not our loss. It is partially true. We did just focus on her. Sometimes I think the only reason we spoke out loud was because we were talking to Bea. But how does that bode for a marriage? Even date nights, which seem so essential to the vitality of a marriage with kids, were forced. We didn’t want to leave Beatrice, not because we didn’t want to spend time alone together or we didn’t trust the babysitters (we do implicitly), but because losing our child made us keenly aware of how fleeting it all is. We just wanted to stare at her aliveness, her smile, watch her. Our children, grieving one/reveling in the other, has trumped our marriage these last eight months.

We tried to maintain as much normalcy as possible for Beatrice. People would stop by and see us being normal parents to Beatrice, teasing her, chasing her, getting her milk and think we were doing great. This didn’t seem like a choice to us, to try to be the best parents we could despite our grief and sadness. And maybe it speaks volumes to our partnership that Sam and I could come together between sobbing and screaming, and guilt and getting angry and feeling shitty and recovering from birth to parent.


Parenting and discipline takes so much psychology, higher brain power, and patience. I sometimes do not feel up to the task. All my emotional energy is spent keeping my grief from engulfing my life. Our grief frequently came out early on in anger and impatience at each other, at the dog and at Beatrice. We are not violent people, or even screamers, but it all would erupt in that exasperated, annoyed voice. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeatrice: the path of irrational punishment and snapping. While frequently the easiest path unfortunately leads to the ugly town of Guilt. Now the impatience, squarely focused on my husband, is palpable. Our grief has changed, and our reactions to it have changed too. It isn’t the constant sharp daggers in my heart like the beginning. It is a general malaise, a suffocating sadness, and even some days just a crippling ennui. A “Well, fuck it” attitude. All my patience ends up completely spent on mothering Beatrice, caring for Jack the dog, and navigating the waters with my father. When Big Daddy comes home, I pick at him. Tell him off. Stomp off and pout. I can see it when it is happening and I cannot escape the Siren’s call of the quick, sarcastic, nasty snap.

I am not proud of the wife I have become.


"Let's go to the zoo!" Sometimes that actually works. Gritty nights followed by mornings of forced fun. We end up, more often than not, having a nice day, feeling lighter. Parenting together gives us a sense of bonding, of talking, of checking in, of supporting each other. We often smile and laugh telling each other stories of our daughter, even though we were both there watching the same thing happen. More often, we are so exhausted emotionally, physically, and spiritually that we do more of a tag team kind of parenting. When he gets home, I can go cry somewhere, or write, or cook, or read blogs...Sam resents that my online life sometimes gets the best of me. That I talk more here than with him. It sometimes worries me too, frankly. When I try to be true to how I feel on this journey, I don’t always trust I know what is best for me. Writing to a mostly nameless audience doesn’t seem better than talking to my husband, and yet, some days it feels so vital to my survival.

I am both terrified and ecstatic to leave my fortress of solitude for our vacation. I suffer from both wanderlust and homebody-itis. I haven’t really traveled with my grief--folded it into my heart, and tried to get it through customs. I only know how to travel happy and carefree. I imagine I will be a mess some days, blissful others. Just like at home. But I am scared to leave Lucy’s house, her candle, her ashes, the little reminders throughout my space that she existed, and I’m also nervous to leave this on-line community, my blog, my daily ritual of reading and writing, my support system. But I know that this time away will be good for Sam and I. A time to reconnect, to come together without all the daily life, to talk again…maybe beautiful places will bring out the beautiful in us.

I can only say, every couple of weeks we stay up late, and really talk...those nights will save our marriage. Lately, those nights are fewer and further between. Sometimes we catch each others' eyes across Bea's little head, and smile. And he, Sam, has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. I am optimistic, and downright enthusiastic, that we will spend our time in Panama getting to know each other again, reconnecting, enjoying our family, but most importantly our marriage. Despite all this, I think that I have a good marriage and I know that I have a good man. We are just so deep in grief that I am not sure what we will look like on the other end. I hope stronger.

(So much for that quiet until I get back thing.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009


About a week ago, a swarm of bees attacked my 85 year old neighbor. He moved a lawn chair, and they attacked him. In the end, Stan was fine. He had many many bites, but was up and around. The paramedics came and made sure of it. My sister and I had quite a few bites between us.

It was horrifying. Watching nature do its damnedest to kill a human. I mean, they are just bitty old carpenter bees, and it would have taken another swarm. Nonetheless, most of us on our best day are prepared for A bee, not hundreds. My neighbor was just laying there with a swarm covering his body, unable to move, paralyzed with fear and pain. When I saw him, it was akin to the feeling I would have if I walked into an auditorium watching a girl in her bra and hole-y underwear on stage trying to give a speech she couldn't find the notes to. You know, like walking into a nightmare I once had. You swat one bee, another moves in. You feel a pinch here, then there, and next thing you know, it is a matrix from which you cannot escape.

Today, I moved the bee and wasp spray back into its mostly ignored corner of the garage. We generally have a live and let live policy on the ranch, except when bastard insects attack one of our own. Then it is every bug for himself.

Before Lucy died, I probably would have sat down for meditation and put all these pieces together and tried to figure out what the universe is trying to teach me--fire at my mother's house, dead bird with maggots/scarab in my office, almost amputating my finger, neighbor attacked by certainly seems as though this last month was about learning impermanence.

Thinking about impermanence these days is like pouring salt into a wound, you know. My daughter died. I FUCKING GET IT. Nothing is guaranteed. The only thing that doesn't change is change. I get it. But it is something deeper than just the bittersweetness of impermanence that is important. And during these last eight months mourning my daughter, I wanted to learn something more than "life sucks." And so I turned once again, to When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron to look up impermanence.

People have no respect for impermanence. We take no de­light in it; in fact, we despair of it. We regard it as pain. We try to resist it by making things that will last—forever, we say—things that we don’t have to wash, things that we don’t have to iron. Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life. We tend to forget that we are part of the natural scheme of things.

Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.

I like that. It turns my whole raison d'etre(fighting against the death of my daughter) and turns it on its head. Change should not be regarded as negative or positive. Now why do I keep learning the non-judgment thing? When we live in harmony with change, we accept reality. And so, I am letting go on my trip to Panama this week. Accepting what comes when it comes. Trying not to despair at the change of my fortress of solitude, and being away from my Lucy's ashes, and her candle, and my computer...just roll into the jungle and live in reality.

I may or may not post again before Wednesday, but if not, just know that I will be out of email communication for the next two weeks. I know I will miss this space, but I'm also looking forward to connecting with my family and just being present.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I heart my free speech zone

Did you ever go to the Grand Canyon? There is a space with a picnic table that is the Free Speech zone. What you go there to do is beyond me, but that space always fascinated me. I understand what happens at a free speech zone at, say, the 2004 Democratic National Convention. But the Grand Canyon? How did that happen. Who uses it? I just always imagine nudists, self-interpretive dance hour enthusiasts, or chicken-wielding performance artists.

When I first began writing this blog, two months after Lucy was stillborn, I basically copied and pasted the incredibly lengthy birth story I had been working on since I returned home from the hospital. And when I posted the last part of the birth story, I thought, “Now what? That's all I've got.”

I walked into that hospital one kind of mother, and came out a very different kind of mother. I couldn't ignore the experience of having my life so dramatically change in twenty-nine short hours. And I thought, narrowly, that Lucy's death, how it happened, what was said, how I reacted, was the important part of the story. Everything else seemed so much more tragic. Our zombie-like existence flitting in and out of keening and rage, thankfulness and anger. We were beaten and exhausted, hurt by friends, and warmed by strangers all while raising a child. It all seemed way too complicated and messy to sort out in front of complete strangers.

I now realize that the greater part of our story is not how she died, but how we lived.

I'm not celebrating any kind of blogoversary, or anything. Just a random Saturday watching Inter.vention and thinking about this space, especially after my incredibly vulnerable and difficult post about my father. I just feel such an immense gratitude to this First Amendment free zone space that is my blog. I really does help. A lot. I cuss, change my mind, contemplate the existence and lack thereof of meaning in this universe, grieve, get angry, love, cry...Basically I am in my own little cordoned off space, dancing the cabbage patch completely nekkid with poultry in each hand. You know, proverbially.

* I just want to apologize for the weirdness of this post and yesterday's posting. This was written and meant to be saved as a draft, but I published it, and Sam's post was supposed to be published and I saved it as a draft. Either more coffee or more sleep.

Remembering Samuel Marc

Monique and Norm, One red candle for love of Sam on his day. Incense and thoughts about him. Surrounded by jizos, sage, rocks, and Lucy's candle too, Sam, Beatrice and I stand with both you and Norm today. Our hearts are broken too, Monique. We cry for your loss. Missing Sam, so desperately. As we manifest strength, grounding and peace, we share with you what we have through our tears and combined love.

Today, as with everyday, we remember Sam.

Friday, August 7, 2009

My father

I’m not sure if my father remembers that my second daughter died in my belly. I’m not even sure if he remembers that I was pregnant.

Little Bea and I visited my father today. He suffers from primary progressive mul.tiple scler.osis. He has been wheelchair bound for the last seven years. He lives in a nursing facility outside of the city about an hour and fifteen minutes from where I live. My sister and I see him once a week, to take his laundry and have lunch with him. We watch our babies crawl over his electric wheelchair and dance for him. Cheering and yelling at the Price is Right, and joking about everything, we just try to enjoy our time with him. He is paralyzed now on one side of his body, he has trouble with his speech and swallowing. I have to translate what my father says for most people who talk to him.

When I last wrote about him, I was so warmed by everyone’s acceptance and love for my father. My father drove a forklift. That’s what he did for money, worked in warehouses driving forklifts. He can pick up a nickel with one. I’ve see him do it. Ingenious that man. He is very skilled at Le System D. He worked in a frozen food warehouse. And on those days when my mother wasn’t sure what to do with me between driving my sister to ballet and shopping for the week, she would drop me off at the huge warehouse where my father would emerge from the freezer in a full snowsuit with icicles hanging off of his mustache holding a broken box of Pudding Pops.

He worked his ass off. I won’t lie, I resented how much he worked. Thirteen hour plus days. Weekends. He didn’t want to drive a forklift forever. He didn’t go to college. He went to Vietnam instead. So, he worked hard. He finally became general manager of the warehouse. Ultimately, quitting that job brought on his disease. The type of MS my father has is tempered by cold. His symptoms flare up, confound and destroy him in the heat. His late hours at the warehouse masked his symptoms until he quit his job, a year after my parent’s split. They split up, and my father got sick, and more depressed. My mother admitted that she thought my father was drinking a lot at the end, but the truth was he was suffering from the beginning signs of his disease, symptoms very close to appearing drunk and depressed.


The day after I returned from the hospital, after birthing my stillborn daughter, my father asked me when I was coming to see him. He asked me when I was bringing his laundry to him. I hung up and wept into my hands. And my sister took care of it. She took him laundry, saw him and spent the holiday with him, while I recovered from birth. But birth, dead child…he still needed his clean clothes. He still needed his clothes.

I have been bitter about people who did nothing. Yet I have a vast well of patience and acceptance of my father. Maybe that is why, because so much of my emotional forgiveness is spent on him some days, I cannot tolerate insensitivity from people who are well enough to know better.

My sick father. My dead daughter. One is enough.

Still, I have my moments where my patience is threadbare—worn so close to the surface of my open wounds that I feel I am bleeding anger onto my father. Even with our four kids screaming, my father will look at us, my sister and I, and ask us to fix the sheet on his bed, or stack his t-shirts straighter in the drawer. He will then ridicule our children’s crying, “WAAAAH HA HA.” It enrages each of them from the smallest to the biggest. It reminds me of my childhood where crying was mocked relentlessly by my father. My eyes sometimes well up, and I feel overwhelmed and so very young again. I want to scream obscenities. I want to turn around and leave and never go back. Then I think, “This is a luxury, Angie. It is a luxury to be annoyed with your father.” It means I see him enough to be pissed off at his self-absorption. Guilt, in that moment, is not my primary emotion. Anger is better than guilt.

There was so much I resented about my father. He withheld his praise. He was withdrawn and depressed. He was critical and teased us to the point of bullying. He didn’t tolerate anything out of place. Not. One. Thing. It ruined whole nights, sometimes whole weekends, if our school bags were left next to the couch when he got home from work.

Last night in bed, I stared at my incredibly intricate ceiling. Guilt encompassed every ounce of my sleeping energy. I want to take care of him all the time. I want him here, and I know I can’t do it. I’m not capable of caring for him in the ways he needs. I wish I were stronger, more selfless, more capable. That is the big guilt. The small guilt is, well, smaller. See, he had called yesterday morning, and I didn’t hear it. I didn’t check my cell phone until I was in bed and realized I didn’t have any idea where it was. He wanted to chit chat. My phone was in a pocket in the laundry. How fucking selfish am I to not keep the phone near me? Tears rolled down my cheeks.


He cried when he talked to me about Lucy in the tender days following her birth, even as he asked about his laundry. He asked me how I was doing. He sounded concerned. Now, he tears up when I talk about her, like he forgot that I was mourning my baby and more importantly, he forgot he was mourning. But mostly, he just says to me when I see him, “How’s the new house, Ang?”

I’ve owned my home for three years, and always say, “It’s great, Dad.” And tell him about our latest home improvement project. We haven’t traditionally talked much about emotions—my dad and I. My father once said to me, “I’d kill myself, Ang, if I had the balls to do it.” I was haunted by that sentence for more than a decade. Angered by it at times. Compassionate about it other times. But our talk has mostly been dominated by football and car repair, taxes and hard work, movies and television. We avoided conversations about politics and college. He didn’t ever care if I went to college; in fact, he often told me that he thought college kids were self-important and devoid of real-world knowledge. That I graduated from college didn’t much matter to him. Now, we don’t talk about football, or cars. He sometimes asks me, “How is He doing?” And I know who he means. He means my husband Sam. He can’t remember his name, but he remembers that he likes Him. And really, is the name part that important?


The first time that I felt like an adult I was driving my father home from work, and he cried. “A bathroom. I need a bathroom.” And I panicked. I never had seen my father so afraid. We were driving, surrounded by cornfields. If the closest gas station was ten miles, that would have surprised me. But I floored it, scared for myself. Scared for what could happen. I couldn’t bear watching my father soil himself. I sped in that way you do in the country, which means you drive 45 instead of the speed limit, and my father wept, repeating, “I’m going to wet myself.” He wouldn’t let me pull over into a cornfield. He wanted the dignity of a bathroom. We just made it to the gas station, and I watched him drag the dead weight of his leg into a bathroom. Those scenes are part of my everyday relationship with him now, but then, when I was 25 and no other adult had ever counted on me and I could be a fuck-up for as long as I wanted, it was a devastating day. The second time I felt like an adult I was calling funeral homes to cremate my child.

I hold his hand some days, and say, “I love you, Daddy.” And his tears well up, but I cannot take away his illness no matter how much I love him. No matter how much.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Thinking about karma today.

Last time, I talked to my Buddhist therapist, way back in April, we were doing the contemplation about the Four Reminders, he mentioned the last one: the inescapability of karma. Karma is, he said, how our actions affect our suffering. I said, “Oh, I have been meaning to talk to you about that.” And I had. I’d been thinking about how different religions deal with my kind of suffering. I actually recently had reread the Book of Job. But, in Buddhism, something never sat right with me and karma. Hell, I want to believe that if someone does a horrible thing, he or she will suffer eventually...but what if you are suddenly the one suffering? Now, with something like stillbirth or the death of your baby without any reason, I wanted to know, uh, you know, I mean, when I think about karma, with this kind of suffering, the bad-things-happen-to-good-people-type suffering, uh, this is awkward, but what I want to know is: do Buddhists think it is my own fault that my daughter died?

He said that traditional Buddhists might explain that in our past lives we were all kinds of people: thieves, mothers, butchers, farmers, murders, liars, monks, doctors, children, animals…He said a monk once told him that if we piled the bones of all the lives we have lived, it would reach through three universes. I may be going through this as a result of past karma from a life hundreds of years ago. I hated that answer. I mean, spit-on-the-floor hate that answer. Then he said, but the Buddha said not to take his words literally. He said to use his teaching to develop your own understanding of the universe. He asked me what I thought. What does karma mean to me now, as the mother of a dead baby?

I think the world is chaotic and random and often cruel. The death of my child had nothing to do with me—nothing I did, nothing my husband did, nothing my daughter did. She died. I can’t live thinking that Lucy’s death is my karma. The guilt of that interpretation would eat me from the inside out until I am nothing but a withered shell of a parent. There is no physical reason Lucy died, no medical reason, that is. I also don’t think there is a metaphysical reason.

But I think, spiritually, I have to figure out my reason to move forward. What I do have control over, and think has to do with my karma, is what I do with my experience of chaos and suffering in the world. This life, right now, is my choice. What am I going to do with this experience of loss?

Compassion. Fear. Love. Understanding. Grief. Sadness. Comfort. Kindness. Anger. Patience. Misplaced emotion. Mourning. Selfishness. Selflessness. If I toss each one, carefully peeled and scrubbed, into a blender (fingers safely tucked away from blades) and drink this past year down, I hope to emerge healthier. I hope this bitter juice with its subtle sweetness coating my throat helps me emerge more of those things I believe in. I control that part of me, the patient loving compassionate part, the part that experiences other people's suffering and loves. I sometimes feel very impatient. I sometimes feel very unloving and unlovable. I sometimes give into anger and throw pillows around my house. I write on here about the worst that life has thrown at me—death and loss and grief and suffering.

But through this year, I have seen the best humans have to offer. Truly. Someone wrote a comment on another blog about how negative babyloss blogs are, that people are stuck in their grief and it is unhealthy. And I just thought how narrow that was. How incredibly wrong. “The supportive, beautiful, unconditionally loving part of strangers, don’t you see that?" I wanted to scream. "Don't you read beyond the post? Don't you read what women, complete strangers on opposite ends of the world, write to each other through their own pain?”

That is all I see--compassion and love, not negativity. Send us your ugliest thoughts, and this group of suffering women will listen. In the most selfless way, they will embrace you and just say, "I know, sweetie, I know." The selfish post suddenly becomes selfless.

These women, all suffering and grieving, hold your hand, tell you you are normal, listen, and transform the ugly into love. For most of us, this little dusty corner of the internet is the only space where we can express our ugliness, anger, sadness and fear, but by speaking its name, I believe we transform our own karma. When I shake my fist at the world in anger, the comments on this blog give me patience. When I cry onto my computer screen, the comments sit there, embracing ((arms)) and listen. When I write of my selfish, self-absorbed, guilt-ridden feelings, the comments fill me with compassion towards myself. In these many small, tiny gestures of love, I think we all are transforming the world's karma. And so when I think of karma now, I think of this.

As I walked away from that session, he said one last thing just as I left his room. “And about Lucy’s karma, maybe Lucy fulfilled her karma by living her life just as she lived it.”


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mothering grief

It is hard to talk about my live child around dead baby mamas, and it is hard to talk about my dead baby around live baby mamas. It is so complicated, the emotions around having one living daughter and one dead one.

I have been feeling so alone these days, so different from everyone and everything. I feel like a Vulcan in the last stages of life. (Hello, nerds, time to shine.) I have reached out to some babylost women who parent living children to talk about what it is like to grieve and parent, and my emails seems to never get mentioned again. Lost amidst my other whining, I suppose.

Catherine wrote a beautiful post about her twins. And it resonated with me a great deal. I have read women talk about how much easier this journey is when you have a living child. I won't presume to know the other way, or pretend that my experience is harder. The prize for that competition is not pleasant. I have absolutely no desire to compare griefs. It all hurts. It is all complicated and sad and achingly tough. That is all I do know. I will talk, however, about my experience grieving and parenting.

In my experience, I do appreciate my living daughter in a way I didn't before. I look at her some days and think, "How did you make it here? How is it that you lived so easily?" I look around at a lot of children and think that. All they have to do is eat and breath, poop and giggle. But I appreciate that, yes, I get to hold a child every day, but not the child who died. I mother a child that looks exactly like the child who died, and is passing milestones my dead baby will never pass. I take care of a beautiful girl, yes, who has no idea that I am so sad I want to turn into a thousand pieces of ash, let the wind carry me in all the directions closer to oblivion. I have a daughter that needs me to get up and get her milk whether I am sobbing or not. And sometimes she points at me and laughs when I am crying. She laughs and says, "Mooooommmmmmy," as though I am doing some ridiculously silly thing. She just wants to play fairy princess, or baby dolls. Watching your child play baby doll after your daughter was stillborn is remarkably difficult.

When I read first time mothers who have lost babies question whether or not they are a mother, my heart breaks. And I want to explain to them how I know they are mothers. I know they are because I know what it is like to mother a living child and a dead one. Don't mistake it. I actively mother both Beatrice and Lucy. That love I have for Lucy is as present and deep as if she were here. And I ache that she is not here. That feeling of panic I have when I see Beatrice about to get a scraped knee, that is the feeling I carry with me everyday. That feeling of not being able to catch a falling child. That pain, I absolutely know, is something only a mother feels.

Maybe what others might not understand is how present Lucy is in our home. She demands, like a living child. “Pay attention to me, Mommy. Pay attention. Watch me not grow up.” And I sometimes spend the day in bed sobbing, giving in to her demands. The Lucy-sized hole in our lives sucks our smiles into it some days. When I ask Beatrice who Lucy is, her reply remains, “Lucy is Mommy crying.” Her sister is my grief.

Today, I am exhausted.