Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reflections on the year

After Lucy died, the year ended. Suddenly it was 2009. People wished us a better year. Even our daughter's birthday seemed like part of a large slide show of reflections on the year. I wasn't reminded by writing her birth year. But somehow it meant 2009 was a clean slate to fill with Lucy's death. I can't help but contemplate what a profoundly sad, fucked up year we have had. Mourning defined this year from beginning to end. I was lost in a cloud of grief colored with the Lucy crayon. It was a year of bad omens and meaningless symbols. It was a year filled with the challenges of the mundane. And yet, in the sort of cliff notes version of my life, I can see this time line of events. A definite progression through my grief, though it is impossible for me to see the trees through the forest. Changes in me. Changes in my life. Changes in my relationships. I'm not sure how I imagined 2009, but if pressed to imagine a year without one of my children, okay, yeah, sort of like this. Unbearable. Hazy. Lonely. Fucked. My only resolution last year was to survive.

I am still breathing.

I feel like I am cleaning up after an atomic bomb. I cannot make sense of these relationships that have withered away. I look at the dust and cannot tell if it was my safety, my lightness of being or my ability to forgive and forget.  I often have the inclination to pick up everything wholesale and move to the middle of nowhere. It seems far easier to resettle somewhere else, abandon the vestiges of a life I didn't get to live. I have privately contemplated what it would cost to move our entire house on a plot of acreage in the middle of nowhere. I am feeling restless and bitter. I want to go where no one knows me. A magical place where I can reinvent this sadness, retell my story, and make a new community of people who won't disappoint me.

My birthday comes a few days after New Year's. Usually it is the day everyone goes back to school/work. This year is no different. It is a Monday. That is sort of how I see my birthday--a cold, wet Monday. I have traditionally had shitty birthdays. Everyone forgets. My sister bails. And I am left alone, taking myself out for a martini. Now that I have a husband, he takes me out for sushi. The husband and the girl kiss me in the morning and I feel less alone that I ever have in my life. Last year, I lost my voice four days before my birthday. Laryngitis. I don't know if it was from crying too much, or simply a virus, but I couldn't really talk. It was a welcome respite from my continual refrain of "Lucy died. I can't believe Lucy died."

Last year, my sister and I, deep in grief, talked about what to do on our day, Lucy's due date. We decided to relive our childhood birthdays, which were always spent going out for Chinese food and then bowling. Due dates can get emotional the first year, I knew that, so I wanted to just avoid thinking about anything but throwing a ten pound ball as hard as I could. If there were a batting cage, I might have suggested that. Or a smash shack. One year for our birthday, my father bought us bowling balls with our names engraved on them. We didn't bowl that often, but I think it was a time we all loved. I still have and bowl with my ball, even though my fingers swell and welt from the small holes. For 2009, we ate Mexican food and bowled. It was a Sunday. I had no idea what venturing out of the house would be like, or how it would be celebrating anything, let alone my birthday. The day before, a mere twelve days after Lucy died, my mother sent me an email. I guess in the flurry of laryngitis and bowling plans, I never called her with an invitation to our birthday luncheon/bowling, but my sister did. My mother wrote me an email saying she invited herself along, and she now is reconsidering that. She said that she realizes now that we never had a good relationship. She wrote, "I'm sorry you are going through difficult times." She wrote that she has no idea how to support me. 

I had foolishly imagined that one was afforded latitude to grieve. I had no voice, but I called her. I convinced her that I wanted her to come to our birthday. I explained that I thought we did have a good relationship and that I am sick and grieving and it is not personal. I tried to explain that none of this is about her. And I kept thinking, "I cannot believe I am comforting my mother right now. I cannot believe I am having this fucking conversation." There are some defining moments in this year. This was the first little dash on my timeline, I suppose. Something changed in me after that email and conversation. I suppose I realized that life was not going to stop. That even the people that love me unconditionally don't always know how to support me. I realized that I was alone now. No Mami kisses were going to soothe this boo-boo. I was an adult. You find your own comfort when you are an adult.

Nonetheless, we hit the bowling alley at 10am, and rolled a few. My mother showed up and I kissed her. Sam and I played Dance Dance Revolution, even though I was postpartum, breasts filled with milk, fat and sad. I cried when Sam won, but not because he won, but because I was having fun. It felt like what I imagine finding out as an adult that Santa actually exists and he and the elves have invited you to visit their candy cane village feels like. Fun was possible. We ate Mexican food, and for some reason having to deal with one of her children, my sister stayed home for most of the meal while her husband stayed. It is always sort of the fucked up dynamic of my family that someone is not sitting at the table during dinner, and we are staring at an empty chair wondering when they are coming back. I remember being so sad about that, though. Empty chairs. Too many empty chairs. I wanted to scream and cry . I drank a vat of margarita as they put a gigantic Mexican sombrero on my head, sang a stupid Mexican birthday song, and took my picture.

This was my first lesson of my thirty-fifth year--people really only want to see you smiling with a sombrero on your head. I threw the picture out when I got home. I couldn't imagine a time when I would reflect on that birthday, or find it and laugh like some kind of demented newscaster, "Ha, ha ha, look at me. So sad and wacky!"

For my last post, when I was looking for the picture of my gnome environment, I paged through our family pictures for the year. I skipped January, February, even March...and in April, I began. Our new puppy. And pictures of Bea and I painting circles. Photographs of my paintings for my newly established Etsy site. Beatrice jumping in puddles. Fire trucks parked in front of my mother's house on July 4th.  There is my finger mutilated by the hand blender.  A picture of a dead scarab in my office. There was the trip to Panama. Videos of me hiding; the family posing and laughing. I have this inclination to put together a slide show of the traumas and the growth, just to remember something about 2009 besides a profound sense of what was absent from the pictures. I have never broken up with someone and cut them out of photographs, but there was this otherwordly experience, like Lucy was cut out of every picture. There is the hole where Lucy is supposed to be. Right there.

Right here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New year/New poem

I have been thinking long and hard about the most appropriate way to kick-start still life 365, my art project for 2010. And while chatting with my dear friend After Iris and kicking around ideas, she suggested that the best way to kick off this art project for the community was to have a community art piece up. In five days? Impossible? We'll see. Perhaps I am slightly mad for trying this less than a week before the blog goes live, but that is me. Nutty. Insane. Bonkers. Wack-a-doodle for the Art-a-doodle.

So, let's do a group poem. All of us, even you lurkers out there. And well, get everyone you know who has lost a child too. Submit one word in the comment section of this post, or email me at uberangie (at) gmail (dot) com. Put POEM in the subject, so I don't think you are just telling me off. A word describing you, your baby, your loss, your grief, your next phase, this community, a support person or just a word you like. You do not have to explain it. Please no proper names, perhaps we will do that project another time, like when art gets slow in March. For now, let us write a litany of loss. Together. I am opening up anonymous comments for this post, since some of us are shy.

I will start it off with the word that most echoed through my brain during Lucy's birth:



Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gnomes, art and magic

We have moved through the holiday. It was a low day. Neither the husband, the dog or the girl got out of jammies all day. I changed from pjs into lounge wear, and then back again at the appropriate time. I also did not make a single cohesive meal all day, since we had a ton of leftovers from Christmas Eve. We ate carrots and dip for lunch. I watched a documentary on Heidi Fleiss and the newest HP movie and needle felted most of the day (I made a gnome environment). I didn't get on-line after morning coffee (does blackberry reading count?) I took three baths, and helped my daughter fall in love with a firetruck. And didn't lift the shades once.

I was depressed, I suppose. My kid died. I imagine most Christmases will have a twinge of ache for what isn't. I was thankful for not having to be present for anyone but this little family. We just say no these days to invites we can't handle. We do not push ourselves to be jolly. There were moments of absolute silent heartbreak. When I heard my husband say to his mother, "It is just the three of us today." When I read one of Bea's new books with a character named Lucy and Bea asked if it was our Lucy. When the fourth stocking hung empty next to ours. (Why did I even put it up?) My sister-in-law called and told me she was thinking about us this week. She also lost a child at 40 weeks many years before I came on the scene. In the early weeks, she called, but I haven't talked to her since March. I do not begrudge her that. I cannot imagine being eight years out and be thrust into that raw space of loss again. She asked me if I felt Lucy all around. And I didn't know what to say to her. No, I don't. No, I didn't. That is the fucking problem. I am bereft of imagination or sensitivity. I can't dream her. I can't see her in shadows. She isn't in my arms. I have no magic.

Still, I know that if Lucy were anywhere, it would be with me. I am all she knew. I love her more than the air. But sometimes, just for a minute, I'd like to feel her again.


A number of times in the past few months, someone has asked me a question like "Gnomes?" And I realize that I never really answer that question. We sort of enjoy gnomes around the house. If something unexplained happens, we attribute it first to gnomes, and then find out the real story. We have this incredible book called The Secret Life of Gnomes. It is quite famous. (the cover is at the left) If you have seen anything about gnomes, this is probably the book. It is kind of largish, and has beautiful illustrations about the gnome world. There is also a Gnome Christmas, illustrated by Rien Poortvielt too. I just love the universe of gnomes. So magical and beautiful. If you have never looked through it, it is quite incredible--elaborate and detailed. When Beatrice is underfoot and being impatient, I tell her to grab the gnome book. She can look at it for an inordinate time. After Bea turned one, I looked for small toys to litter my diaper bag. And I found a woman on Etsy who makes beautiful gnomes, and then it became a "thing," I suppose, since we began traveling with gnomes. I made them a "gnome pocket" to house them on the road. When she is bored, in doctor's offices, waiting for dinner, or just on the train, I pull them out and we have adventures with our gnomes. I created a moss environment to house the gnomes when we are home. I have taken it down recently, but that is what the picture is below. Gnomes and mushrooms. I admit I always have had a garden gnome, even when I didn't have a garden. I called him kitchen gnome, and he sat in my kitchen. He still does. He is what I am kissing in my profile picture.

So, why gnomes? I have no friggin' idea. I wouldn't wear gnome t-shirts or have gnome-inspired housewares, though occasionally I do say answer the "what's up" question with "Just hangin' with my gnomies."  We aren't into tacky gnomes, just hiding gnomes around the house, imagining they do stuff for us, help animals...everyone has a thing. And this is ours. But connecting the above to the middle, I suppose, part of it is a desire for some magic in our world. For a hidden world where little beings are kind to the universe and live for five centuries and always have living babies and rarely die and eat bread made out of one acorn, one walnut, one hazelnut...you know, magic. I miss magic.


So apropos of nothing, last night, I got six anonymous comments asking me to check out pictures, buy Via.gara and/or invest in Panamanian real estate. And while I am intrigued, I also accidentally erased a comment I wanted, and so I am going anonymous-less. Sorry to anyone who commented that way. I suggest opening an anonymous gmail account that is something like ihateangie(at)gmail(dot)com or yaygnomes(at)gmail(dot)com. Alright, that might be taken, but you know, I hate to limit communication in this way, but that Anonymous dude is such an a-hole.


I also want to remind everyone again to submit something to still life 365. I am so excited for my new project, but I really cannot do it without submissions. No one really wants 365 days of my art...so please please consider sending anything in! We are starting January 1st. You can submit at the email stilllife365days(at)gmail(dot)com. More details are available at still life 365, or just email me. I'd be happy to talk to you more about it.

YAY, art.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The day after

Holidays mark milestones. One cannot help but remember what happened last year, the year before that one, and imagine the upcoming year. We remember the good years, and the bad ones. It seems unbelievably cruel, these days of living through holidays without our children. I have the unfortunate whammy of remembering my daughter the same week as Christmas. But perhaps it helps to get the milestones out in one go. I don't know any other way than to grieve my child now. And though I have lived through only one Christmas without Lucy, entering into my second, it could be one hundred. I would believe whatever you told me. It feels like an eternity without her.

That is why your compassion, love, support and words of comfort have truly humbled me and my husband. We are all suffering right now. We are all grieving. We are all being heartlessly reminded of our losses by commercial after commercial, songs in the background of our daily interactions, and Santa and his band of merry elves littering the streets for the children. I love Christmas, but it is cruel to us all. Simply, thank you. Thank you for giving me love. Thank you for your compassion. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for remembering my daughter and speaking her name. Thank you for giving me the strength to move through her day.

We had a quiet family day. Sam took the day off to spend together, and we shopped for Christmas Eve dinner, and had a long nap. We ate sushi at our favorite restaurant. It is interesting, because this time last year, I had the mental checklist of places that had seen me pregnant that I would never step foot into again. Our local and renowned sushi place was one. It is consistently ranked the best sushi in the city, though it is in our little town. It is family-friendly. Casual. Absolutely the freshest most perfect sushi. Sam and I have been going there for years, and the waitresses know us and our daughter, who we have been taking there since she was, well, born. I always joke that Beatrice only eats once a month when we go for sushi, because she will eat and try anything if served on chopsticks. I like to joke that Sam enjoys going there because the ceilings are maybe 6'4" and he is 6'3". The first time we ate there together, it was a slow night. The band of Japanese waitresses were gathered at our table asking about Beatrice and us. And we paid our bill and stood up, and all of them gasped. "Ah, you are so big." "You so tall." I know it is crass, but I do think that having a group of beautiful Japanese women say that to my husband at the same time made him fall madly in love with our sushi joint.  *sigh* Men.

At any rate, we had gone there while I was pregnant with Lucy. A lot. I feared going back there: belly empty, no newborn. I tutted about it. I rued our favorite restaurant, until one day we just decided we were strong enough to go and answer any awkward questions. The food is that good. And they were glad to see us, but no one mentioned the baby. Either they forgot or they ignored it, which was more than fine with us. I admit we go for Japanese when we are feeling down, when we have had bad days, or when we want to celebrate. Anything. We stopped even trying other restaurants which leave us regretting spending money on something other than sushi. As we ate Lucy's meal, our favorite waitress came over. Her older daughter is the same age as Beatrice. She noticed my belly last time, and riddled me with questions. She told us last visit she was newly pregnant too. This time, as we left, she asked me how it is the second time around. And I told her that this was actually our third child. I told her we were here today celebrating our second daughter's birthday, though she died. "Oh, a miscarriage?" And I explained calmly, "No, actually I was 38 weeks. She was stillborn." And I looked at my husband crying. She began tearing up. I explained without crying, "We always come here to celebrate our birthdays, and we wanted to celebrate Lucy's birthday here too, even though we are very sad." And she nodded. Then I said, "But yes, it is different, this time around. I'm scared that something will go wrong again. But also I feel different. Maybe because it is a boy this time." And we talked about her pregnancy. It transitioned easily. But I spoke of my daughter that night. I told someone about her. About us. As we paid our bill, I said to her, "We always come here for sushi to remind ourselves of the joy in simplicity. This last year as we grieved our baby, your restaurant calmed us and made us thankful. We always come here to be a little happy." We walked into the cold night, and the moon shone above us. This night is a little shorter than yesterday's. That also makes me a little happy.


I try desperately not to believe in ghosts, to not see omens and signs in every corner. As I gave Beatrice a bath on Lucy's birthday, she said that her best friend was her cousin. Oh, and her dog Jack. Oh, and the Other Beatrice. The Other Beatrice was her best friend.
"The Other Beatrice?" I asked.
"Yes, the Other Beatrice."
"Who is the Other Beatrice?"
"She looks like me. Only little. We play tea party."

Why did she invent an imaginary friend who looks just like her, only little, today? 

We talked of the Other Beatrice, and she said the Other Beatrice was standing by me. And I kissed the air. Far from being creeped out, in the end, I began to find comfort in imagining the girls having a relationship, even if it is imaginary.


By the end of Lucy's birthday, I began growing impatient and grouchy at the familial calls of "Sooooooo, how are you doing?" Everyone sounded so somber and morbid. I am still the person I was yesterday. And I wanted to say unfair things. "How the fuck do you think we are doing? Our baby is dead. We have a lit candle and a jar of ashes instead." But I called on my better self and thanked people for calling. I said appropriate things. I know they are grieving too. Sometimes I don't think I will ever be happy with the way some people talk to me about Lucy, and others can say horribly inappropriate things, and it is fine. Why is that? Oh, because I am a psychopath. Apparently.

After a bath and a good cry, I found myself stricken with horrible vertigo. "Is this it?" I thought. "Am I losing this baby on Lucy's birthday?" I curled up in bed closing my eyes. I ordered Sam around, digging out ignored pregnancy books. "Look up 'dizziness'. Look up 'vertigo'.  Look up 'premature labor'. If it is not there, then go google it, Sam. Now." He is so patient and good. Vertigo without heavy bleeding is nothing out of the ordinary. I just closed my eyes, still spinning, hoping for a long sleep. Grief and mourning catches up with you, even if you ignore it with unagi and stories of imaginary friends.

I woke up incredibly emotional the day after her birthday. Surrounded by love from our friends and family the day before, I found my bottom dropped out. I missed my daughter. I missed the person I used to be before I embodied grief. I missed my guitar, which was broken last week by my niece. Instead, I did deviant guerilla art. I read books about winter with Beatrice. I organized things. I listened to Elliot Smith. I took a long nap and dreamed of crying.

I have been reading a book that my friend gave me a few months ago. I hadn't much opened it, even though when I received it, I was so moved and glad to have it. But you know, sometimes you just don't have the energy to read about grief when you live it every breathing minute. It is called In the Midst of Winter: Selections from the Literature of Mourning. It is an anthology of writing on grief and the subtitle thing reads: From Catullus to Camus, from Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf, from Lady Ise to Adrienne Rich, great writers express the inexpressible. Mary Jane Moffat, you had me at Camus.

At any rate, the first poem I opened to many months ago has been the one that has stuck with me. I wanted to share it with all of you. I know this sounds strange, but it is also one of the things that inspired my project still life 365. I just had this compulsion to share this poem, and wanted to read and see other people's expression of grief and mourning. Expressing the inexpressible, indeed.

"Lullaby for my Dead Child"
by Denise Jallais, translated by Maxine Kumin and Judith Kumin

You shouldn't be afraid of the dark
Or of worms
Now you can play with the rain
And see the grass come up

You shouldn't put dirt in your mouth
And sit still waiting for me
We've given you some flowers
To console you for being little
And dead.

taken from the book In the Midst of Winter, Selections from the Literature of Mourning, ed. Mary Jane Moffat (New York: Vintage, 1982)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On the anniversary of her birth

Winter Solstice

It is the shortest day of the year.
Or the longest night.
(Is the glass half empty or half full? Or is the glass just not the right size?)
She died today.
Why does my life have to read like a high-school-English novel?
Symbols for everything, nothing as it seems, lessons learned by everyone.
The night is day, and St. Lucy stands with two eyes on her tray,
Looking over my family as we huddle around a small bundle
On someone else’s bed,
Soaking someone else’s sheets with our tears,
Staining someone else’s floor with her blood.

It is the longest night of the year
Or the shortest day.
(Our glass is transparent. You can make it whatever liquid you like.)
She died simply.
In the time between day and night, night and day,
A dusk that never shed a beautiful light.
That is now eternally dark.
Solstice is magic, I said once.
It is the darkest day of the darkest year.
Solstice means a beginning and an ending.
Tomorrow will be lighter.
The next day, more so, but does the sun really matter anymore?

When we don’t sleep, this is the longest day of the year.
(Our glass is broken. The floor is sticky from my carelessness.)
She is dead and born together in the same moment.
Her first day was her first night.
Not being able to tell the difference, she just continued sleeping.
Like some little, perfect Rip Van Winkle, who they had forgotten under a tree.
I am not a storyteller this time. I am a mother.
I am not a mother this time. I am a truth teller.
I am not a truth teller this time. I am a soothsayer.
I am not a soothsayer this time. A fortune teller with a cracked crystal ball.
Solstice is a curse. I said today.
Solstice is a nightmare.

originally published in Exhale Magazine May 2009

When we found out her due date, January 4th, my birthday, I visualized December. Beatrice was born at 37 weeks, and I never thought Lucy would go until January. "Why, she will be born on solstice," I said pointing at the weekend of the 21st. "Lucy will be a solstice baby. It will be magic." And knowing the roots of St. Lucy and her associated festivals in Sweden, it just enhanced how perfect her name was for her. We decided Lucy's name long ago, when we were pregnant with Beatrice even, but the longer name Lucia, we didn't finalize that until November. But there was always a sense in me that she would come on the longest night.

I wish I was telling you this story as she teetered next to me trying to walk.

I admit that when I find out my children's due dates, I look on the Catholic Calendar. Each day in Catholicism is associated with a saint or martyr. My birthday, for example, is St. Elizabeth Seton's Day, and I chose the confirmation name Elizabeth. I always kind of imagined that I might use the middle name for their saint as was the tradition in my family. My great-grandfather's name is Michael Mary named after his saint day. We take this seriously. Gender be damned. As it turned out, the Catholic Church changed Santka Lucia's day to December 13th. They do try to hide their pagan roots. But no matter, we were hooked. We actually preferred the pagan associations. We bought candles, and imagined setting up solstice rituals for Lucy's birthday--to distinguish it from Christmas and make everything a bit special for our winter baby. (Poor Beatrice has the saint day name of Crescentia. She was just got middle named Grace for its beautiful qualities.)

And so Bea and I sat in bed last night and talked of solstice, of the Earth and the Sun and of our friends experiencing the longest day of the year in Australia. We talked about St. Lucy and our little Lucy. A sister never met, but everpresent in our house. And we looked into the sky, which is our knotty pine ceiling, looking for pictures in the intricate knots. "I see a baby," Beatrice said.
"Me too, love."

I always see my baby.

Today is another day I woke up without my daughter. It is her birthday today. We talked about so much about what to do for her day...I have handmade Moravian candles for her wreath, which I have yet to compose on our table. We will light them and maybe we will tell stories of Lucia, and folktales of solstice and light and dark from one of the many books I have purchased in this last year dealing with winter solstice. (This one Return of the Light is really quite cool.) But when we talked about it the other night, Sam and I scratched our heads. Nothing seems quite right. "What do we do for our birthdays? She is another member of our family. Let's do what we always do." And we decided to go for sushi, which is what we do when one of us has a birthday. Sometimes we go bowling. It sounds irreverent, and yet I imagine it will be solemn and fun in the same moment.

I was 38 weeks along. One day, she just died...one day. Solstice. That was a bad day, followed by an even worse day. I gave birth to her and she lay limp on me while I wept. I miss her every minute of every day. Now I have had day after tired day when I cry. I keep thinking I will have a better day, but each day is worse than the next. I am that woman--the one that cries. La Llorona. Wandering like a lost soul in the darkness crying. (Email to friend, December 31, 2008.)

Throughout this last year, I can talk about all the disappointments I have had in friends. All the weeping. All the lessons I learned, and the wisdom I lost. All the stories of misplaced anger and oversensitive hurts from people trying, but careless. But in honor of my daughter's birthday, let me tell you about the beauty and love, and the friends that held us, the love that kept us strong and laughing. I would never have imagined building such a beautiful community of strangers. No one, any more, is a stranger here. People I have met through my blog, through their blogs, through forums, they have become part of this large family of grieving mothers, fathers, sisters...I thank the universe for all of you everyday, and for this sacred space.

Early in December, Sarah sent me this beautiful Rosemary tree. She called it Lucy's tree. We called it Lucy's solstice tree. Beatrice and I cared for her. She became part of this beautiful ritual of her birthday. Sarah organized my beautiful babylost friends from around the world to send an ornament to adorn her branches. One thing that I cannot show you on the internets is how amazing it smells every time I hang a new ornament. We strung some little white lights, and added the amazing contributions to her tree everyday. Some days, I admit, it was overwhelming to receive such gorgeous words, loving expressions of our loss. And I would put the package aside, paper ripped, but boxes unopened...and other days, Beatrice screamed, "Mail, MOMMY!" And we gleefully opened a package, and oooh-ed and aaahed over the newest addition. And so, to any and all of you who sent an ornament, or a card, or commented on my blog in these weeks, or wrote to me, thank you. You have made this incredibly difficult time easier. I know that participating in something like this can be incredibly time-consuming and emotionally draining. Some days we have just enough for ourselves, but your compassion, selflessness and love has held us close and made us feel so warm in the stark cold of solstice. And so, here is something I put together to share Lucy's tree with the world. Much love to each of you.

and Petra sent this gorgeous picture for Lucy's birthday:

and the other remembrances around the web, which have made me cry. Thank you to you all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the anniversary of her death

I do not know when my daughter died. It was a year ago today, or it may have been tomorrow, or even perhaps yesterday. She was in my belly. I should know when, I suppose, but one of the first things you learn when your child dies--you have no control over anything, especially what you get to know. And despite how much you may want something, it is not up to you.

Things you may never know that you desperately feel like you should know: why she was taken away, why she died, when she died, when you could have saved her, how you will survive.

No matter how many nights you stay up asking these questions, you somehow manage to sleep again, and to forget that these questions mattered so very much in the beginning. I haven't learned much in a year, but realizing that control is an illusion is one. The other thing I do know is that on December 21, 2008, Winter Solstice a year ago, someone told me my daughter's heart had stopped beating. I have not quite yet taken a breath myself since then.

I have been doing well as I approach this anniversary. A year. A day, a week, a month, three months, six months, nine months, a year...I have moved through time. Glided through the days, tripped over the rocks of ordinary moments--some of those anniversaries have been overwhelmingly hard, and others not so much. My angst and desperation came out in the beginning of this month as I stressed about our amniocentesis and all the other things piling on top of itself to show me how sad and unpredictable life is. I have thought about a thousand things to do for her day, but we will probably do nothing at all in particular. It is just another day without her. She is still hopelessly gone. Another day of grief after what feels like an eternity of mourning. Though it feels like a big anniversary, I have not really been focusing on it too much. Christmas has trumped this anniversary in some ways, much like I imagined it would have trumped her birthday. In fact, Lucia was due on my birthday, and so I understand that strange liminal place between holidays and your day. People forget mostly. I also projected this strange quirky personality of mine on hers. I imagined her like me, and when she died I wondered what that meant about who I was. Was it too heavy of a burden for her to carry through birth? Being like me--full of existential angst and questions about why and what and how?

This post, though, is about her death. Her birth is different. I try in my mind to separate the two things. Lucy died. Lucy was born. It isn't the same thing. One was sad. One was the day I met her, which was also sad, but somehow beautiful too. Today, I had the impulse to reflect on this last year without my girl. I have tried to follow the ebb and flows of this time, and today was the first time I felt like reading back, or thinking at all about last Solstice. It was naptime for the girl, the dog and the man. I had an impulse to open a folder of my writing. I found this letter I wrote not long after her death. Somehow, of most I have written, this sort of captures her death at the time. I cannot remember if I sent it or not. I don't even know what to say about it except that there is part of all of this still in me, even though I am also so grossly different. Not better. Not healing. Just different.


Letter to G.
January 2, 2009.
Two days before her due date. Twelve days since her birth. Ten days since her death.

Some days it is like the last nine months have been a strange dream, and I suddenly awoke not pregnant again. Other days, I spend the day pinching myself, sobbing, and repeating the words, "My daughter is dead." One day she was wiggling in my belly, and the next, limp. There are no whys, or hows. It just is. They have said we may never know why, though we are awaiting an autopsy. Lucia came out perfect, G.. I wish you could have seen her. I wish everyone could see her. Black hair, beautiful little face, blue eyes, and a perfect nose. I dreamed her once, and she was just as I imagined in my dream--the girl with purple eyes. The one that looked like me. Everything about her was perfect except she was not breathing, or crying, or going to stay with me ever again. Quite simply, my heart is broken.

I am here on the precipice of never loving another soul again. It just hurts too damn much to lose the love. It was too much to hold my dead child. Something in me died when I couldn't breathe life into her, when I realized my womb was her coffin. What if I disallow myself to feel again? Will that help?Somehow I think my heart will overcome my will, and I will simply love despite myself, but right now, my heart has no room for anyone who isn't already there proving their worth.

I am finally feeling physically whole. I am grateful for this small blessing. The birth itself was surrounded by a dark calm--no tearing, no bleeding, just my girl and me, and my husband whose tears nearly did me in. I grieve for my husband's loss as much as my own. My breasts thought she was alive, and I suffered the torture of making milk for the last week. Even my cancerous disfigured breast, from which Bea could never get milk, wept for her. It hurt, and I cried as my milk ran. How cruel life can be?

There is no measure of grief. We just grieve, eternally, those of us who have lost a child we never slept with, or fed. Those of us who lost a future we fell in love with. I loved Lucy not simply because she was part of our family but because she was part of a future I wanted. We have to reinvent this life now. How the fuck do we do that? How do I ever let this womb hold another child? But still, I am not drawn into the abyss, not yet. I've got a little girl who needs a mother who is whole. So I remain in my most Buddhist moments, wholly present, aware, engaged, and simply in the now. It is all I can do for my soul and my family. Sam is beyond himself too, but brave and beautiful. His father died in the beginning of December. Lucia's birth was supposed to be a sort of zen reminder of the cycle of life and death.  And now, we are left with just the death. And I am finding out who amongst my friends are the true cowards, afraid to talk to us, afraid to enter our world. I guess it wasn't surprising, but I expected more. I always expect more, I suppose, it is my most alienating quality. I surprisingly feel absolutely no guilt about expecting people to step up and be here, but I realize that means I will probably be alone in my grief. And alone long into the future.

Since Lucia died, I have been thinking endlessly about a story I once read called the
Mustard Seed. It softens me, and takes me outside of myself. This grieving is such a narcissistic process. I am always thinking about what Lucia won't experience, what I won't experience. I am always thinking about me. Me. Me. Me. But this story has made me think a great deal about all of us, and helped to get me out of constantly thinking I am the only one in the world suffering. We have all suffered. How I have been so ignorant and shallow and small to not see how everyone aches for their own Lucia?

I am sorry I was selfish in my life. Maybe this is my prayer to the world, or my apology. I am sorry I was selfish. I will be selfish again. I already am selfish again to tell the world to fuck off while I grieve. To be angry that the universe demands my breath when my child is absolutely still. To demand that people say her name: Lucia Paz. Light and Peace. 

Thank you for being my confessor today. I have more sins, but no voice left.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

the Boob Years

I got felt up the other day.

By a lady. It isn't as exciting as it sounds. We talked about traveling on the holidays while she reached under my bra feeling for lumps and bumps, tender spots and cysts. This used to happen a lot. I once joked I got to first base with anyone in this city who was wearing scrubs and had an inclination. By surgeons. By residents. By students while doctors looked over their shoulder. By nurses. By ultrasound technicians. By mammogram machines. My cha-chas have drooped helplessly into two holes as I lay motionless on my belly in an MRI machine, spending the hour trying to drown out the whirring and fear of what could be with useless headphones blaring NPR's monotonous drone. "Scream, Terry Gross," I would think as loudly as I possibly could. "I can't hear you in here."

My boobs have been nothing but trouble since I got them.

I did not blossom early. I worked out too much to get my period or boobs until I was in high school, but when they arrived, they arrived with a vengeance. I had a boy's body--inverted triangle, all muscular and stiff. I grew up thinking my wide shoulders and strong back were for football. It didn't take long after my period arrive to realize they were there to carry these large breasts around the world. Unbalanced by small hips, I often referred to myself as a linebacker with tits. I know it sounds like "Aw, poor Angie, got big boobs, let's cry you a fucking river." But to wear a size twelve on top and six on the bottom means you get lots of attention from the wrong people. You slouch. You wear unflattering men's clothes and binding brasseires. I'm not exactly the kind of person to wear a push-up and see how many men would ask me to dinner. I really thought of myself as more of a not wearing a bra at all, A-cup type of girl. I remember the disappointment as a male friend I was interested in confided in me over beers that he wasn't really into boobs. "I'm more of an ass guy." And I thought to myself, "Figures. Guess I am out of the running." There is a myth that men like big breasts, or maybe it is simply that the men that like big breasts aren't exactly the kind of men I like...I turned around in the mirror whining, "But I don't have an ass."

Oh, sure, NOW, I have an ass. Along with every other large part that comes with middle age--hips, bellies, asses, thighs, but you know, I'd rather be waif-y. I'd rather enjoy running as a sport rather than form of medieval self-flagellation. I'd rather be able to buy lace-y underthings in pretty colors. I'd rather not wear two bras to keep everything in its right place, and still, you know, look kind of obscene when working out. I'd rather not wear a sports bra to sleep. I'd rather know what it was like to burn my bra instead of cling to it out of desperate urgency.

At some point, I stopped sort of ruing and just accepted. No matter how much I fight it, there they are, in the way. These double whatever they are are my breasts. And I wasn't about to change them, no matter how inconvenient they made dress shopping. It went like this in my life. Hate my boobs. Hate my boobs. Strongly dislike them. Sort of dislike them. Moderate acceptance of my boobs. Then, BAM, I began getting lumps here and there. At age 25, I was getting yearly mammograms along with ultrasounds and MRIs of my breasts. And I found a new way to hate my boobs--for their disloyalty. One day I was laying in the bathtub, relaxing. I looked down at my floating boobs, and saw a red fuzzy lint ball on my nipple. I wiped it off. In fact, it wasn't a fuzzy lint ball at all. Blood was smeared across my hand. I grabbed my glasses. Blood was coming out of my nipple. After weeks of tests, what not and hooey, I had surgery to remove the small tumors riddling the inside of a few milk ducts. Any wait for biopsy results is a long wait. It becomes longer when you start reading book after book about breast cancer. I didn't have cancer. I had an aty.pical hyp.erplasia, which means that the cells were going to turn into cancer...you know, some day. It was all very scientific in a Nostradamus-type way. They called it pre-cancer. Could be two days, two weeks, two months, two years, two decades...no one could predict. It just meant that my cancer risk now quadrupled. But I was, you know, okay. Today.

It sent me into a tailspin of cancer world. I mean, I didn't have cancer, but I had to begin this road of seeing oncologists, geneticists and surgeons monthly. Anything my breast surgeon recommended I did. I went to studies at universities studying women in high risk categories. Oncologists prepared me for cancer. I found myself frustrated at every monthly feel-up to be told that "that new lump needs to be looked at" or "that lymph node feels suspicious." Every alarm was a false one. Women called me with surveys asking me if I would have a voluntary mastectomy if I knew I had the breast cancer gene. Would I remove my breasts to prevent me from getting breast cancer? Would I remove these breasts that I loathed? Would I do it to save my life? Would I do it for a moderate risk? Would I do it on the off chance that maybe I might get this disease one day? Would I want to know that it also meant I could get Alzheimer's disease? What would I do? Hypothetically and in reality.

I became frustrated with medicine in general, and with my breasts in particular. I longed for an Amazon-like reason to get rid of the damn things. "It would improve my archery shot," I would think to myself as I stared at my apartment ceiling. "You know, if I actually shot bow and arrow." And my loathing of the breastuses became a kind of meditation on myself. I hated them for being part of me. I hated them bcause I had to nurture them. I had to cut down my caffeine and alcohol. I had to prioritize my life. And accepting them meant I had to accept me--grandma bra-ed and all.

There was a time when this was my story. This boob crap changed my life. I broke up with my non-committal asshole of a boyfriend. I decided to ride my bike everyday in whatever weather was thrown at me until I could finish a century (100 mile bike ride). I became celibate and saw a therapist and tried to write a novel in a month and joined a basketball league where I was the only woman and had insomnia and meditated and wrote a blog and took care of my father and named by breasts by the tattoos I imagined on the scars after they were gone and went to church and did something nice for a stranger on Fridays and ate sausage and fruit for breakfast every morning and forgot how to flirt with men and thought about joining the Peace Corps and just appreciated every damn thing I had because I was convinced it was going to be taken away. And then I met Sam.

And that story lessened. It became less about surviving and more about thriving. I saw a new surgeon who said that he thought that the previous surgeon was overreacting. A bit. He said I wasn't the ticking time bomb I had been led to believe I was. He lowered my Boob Threat Level to Yellow. And when I told Sam over some margaritas about how much I hated my breasts and why, his eyes didn't glaze over. He didn't hear a whole heap of baggage. He didn't contemplate my knockers being gone in relation to his sex life. He simply said, "If we have to, we'll remove your breasts. Your breasts are beautiful, but they are not you. I want you alive."

I was suddenly reminded of all this as I lay back on a table looking at anything but the midwife's eyes as she did a breast examination this week. It has been a long time since I even thought about my breasts as a separate hated entity, or got them tested for anything. Sure, the effects of those boob years still echo through my daily life. I still have a dimpled scar across my nipple, have fairly consistent gnawing pain and was forced to breastfeed my daughter with only one working boob, but my breasts and their troubles stopped defining me. I even stopped thinking they were freakishly large. I stopped thinking that my large boobs were inconsistent with my personality. I began thinking of my Boob Years as just part of my story of becoming an adult and facing my mortality. As I thought about it more riding the train home from the midwife later in the afternoon, I wondered whether Lucy's death will be like my breast surgery some day--a hidden scar shown only to the people I loved most in the world. I wondered when and if her death would cease defining me, even though it changed everything about who I was, who I am and who I will become.

As I come up on a year of living without my girl, I can say I still feel like Lucy's death colors the background of every scene into which I walk. I'm not yet ready to reflect on these years of grief and mourning, like I so readily reflect on the Boob Years. I'm still in the thick of it, but I can breathe some days. Deeply. Satisfyingly. Happily. Despite it all. Or perhaps, because of it all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On our stories

"So, what is it like being a twin?"

Amongst the top five questions asked of me throughout my life, it has to be one or two most consistent, if you weed out "What?" and "Huh?" The others are some variation of:
  • What country are you from/what nationality are you?
  • Do you, like, feel it when your sister gets hurt?
  • So, do you speak Spanish?
  • What can I get you?
The first one is very strange question. I mean, I can't quite compare it to anyone else's experience. I've only ever been an identical twin. My entire personality is formed by being a twin. (I read a study about how twin personalities are formed by their womb experience, i.e., the smaller twin tends to have the more anxious disposition. ) I have suffered both from massive identity crises and taken refuge in looking exactly like someone else. And by taking refuge, I of course mean that my sister has called boys in junior high school saying she was me and broken up with them. And vice versa. Most of my childhood I was referred to as a collective noun--the twins. And I have no patience for children who scream "MINE" all the time. I grew up without my own birthday, my own toys, my own clothes, my own classes in school (we spent most of our schooling in the same classroom) or my own personal space. My own name was even lost amidst squints, long drawn out pauses and awkward moments: my "very special relationship" with this teacher or adult made painfully clear when the person failed to take the time to identify me as the correct twin. My relationships are haunted by having always had someone who knows what I am feeling. I've only ever known my life with a person who shares my DNA. (Interestingly, my sister and I have children, DNA-wise, that are technically half-siblings.) My sister and I even see identical twin doctors in the same practice, which means one twin's diagnosis goes on the other twins record for testing.

Being a twin, at least when you are growing up, is like growing up with your insecurities out of your control and running away from you. Here is the person who looks exactly like you--someone whose name frequently gets interchanged with your own, even by your parents--going out in public with unhip clothes and a medicine bag around her neck filled with power crystals. (You did that in 8th grade, Kel. Okay, so did I, and I did it with a mullet, but you know what I mean.) And yet, that person is your best friend.  At times (especially junior high school) your worst enemy. I frequently consider the other FAQ "Can you, like, feel when your sister gets hurt?" Yes, I can. But probably not in the way that you think. Sure, my sister and I have some random weird twin stories about injury and premonition. But in terms of other hurts, on the day-to-day basis, those cut deeper and were felt more acutely by the other twin.

Here is my theory: I have been in the womb with this woman. The first time her feelings were hurt, I was there. The first time she was sad, happy, anxious, silly, mean, kind, or compassionate, I was sitting there staring at her face, registering her feelings. I have a three dimensional database of my sister's moods based on subtle, imperceptible changes in her voice and face that I have catalogued in the dark recesses of my brain. I couldn't consciously tell you what it is that she does when she is anxious, I just know it when I see it. Or even, say, hear her voice. Frequently, this is how telephone conversations begin with my sister and I.
"What's wrong?"
"Say it."
"Oh, alright, so the other day..."

So, why all the blasted twin talk? Because I just cannot say that being a twin is better or worse than being a singleton. I am not Tiresias. I have not experienced both sides of one coin. I resented it some days, and other days reveled in it. In much the same way, I can only know this experience--this experience of losing my second child. I have heard some people talk about how comparison is a normal and natural part of this process. I just disagree. Maybe it has become part of this community, because we read so many different experiences and situations. But it doesn't need to be. It is a futile game and one in which nobody wins.

I have not experienced infertility. I have not experienced parenting childless. Believe me, I appreciate that the getting knocked up part was easy for us. I appreciate that I have not had to go through these devastating situations. I imagine it is, as someone explained it to me at our retreat, like experiencing loss after loss after loss. Sharing my story at the retreat was a difficult exercise for me, mainly because I feel guilty for being so fortunate. And when the flow of sharing skipped me, I couldn't really jump in. I have a living child. I get pregnant easily. But I lost a child. Somehow being in this community and hearing horror stories over and over again, I feel fortunate for simply experiencing one of the the worst things life has to offer a parent: the death of one of my children.

In the past two days, I have read a hang of a lot of posts about this topic. I admit that I can not relate to some of the feelings of other babylost mothers: jealousies and resentments of pregnant women, for example. And yet, I feel they are so very important for me to read. While I cannot feel those emotions, I can understand them. I can try to empathize with them. I can try to use it to become more compassionate. It certainly has already made me recognize some awful old impulses in me and adjust my way of being. I no longer discuss my pregnancy with strangers, or wear the proverbial "Baby on Board" t-shirt. I never take for granted that someone's fertility is a choice. I also don't tell my story as though it is the only one in the world, or even the worst one. It is one of many about suffering and grief , life and joy, light and darkness.

Reading many different blogs written by many different people with many different experiences has made me see the world with a completely new set of eyes. All people have complicated stories, even the ones that seem straight forward, even the ones who have never lost a child, or suffered through infertility. My friend Max's first question upon meeting someone is: "So, what is your story?" And I remember some great responses to that question, but one that always sort of haunted me was of a meek 21-year old girl who simply said coquettishly, "I don't have a story yet." I sometimes read blogs and try to imagine them in their real life walking into an office with this heavy burden of loss and infertility carefully packed in a beautiful bag and chic suit: women that worked next to me, women that I once passed on the stairs, women that I sneered at, "She is so skinny and rich. Everything comes sooooo easy for her." I realize now that no matter how easy someone's life may seem from the outside, the inside is often a dark, lonely place of suffering.

This space, though, is my space to process things, and my dark, lonely place is lit by the candles of other compassionate women. When I visualize this space, that is what I see. A circle of women with candles remembering our babies, witnessing our suffering, sharing our stories. This circle is where my pregnancy fears come out, or my grief from losing my daughter's sister, or the goofiness of having a day where I could simply be present in my awkward crafting. Or remembering my little Lucy a year after she died and a year after she was born. I can only say that I hope people are in this circle out of choice and not obligation. I know I have lost readers with my pregnancy, and I am okay with that. I would hate to imagine someone reading my blog and muttering under their breath, "Ungrateful bitch." Because I may be a bitch, I am never ungrateful. Not ever.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

still life 365

As most of you know, I have explored a lot of creative outlets since Lucy died this year. Art and poetry sometimes gave me the voice I lost in my sadness. Other days painting gave me a moment of peace and calm. As I have shared my work, other women have shared their work with me. And I have been so inspired by your poetry, your paintings, your crafts, and all of your art. I have been kicking this idea around for the past month or so, envisioning a 2010 project extraordinaire. So, I am asking you to participate and contribute as well, because this is a project for all of us. It involves a new blog/website, though this one is not going anywhere. I am still writing here about my journey. My new website is called still life 365.

Still life 365 is a unique art project for, about and by mothers and fathers who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. Still life 365 posts a piece of art every day by a poet, artist, photographer, crafter, musician, collagist, paper artist, filmmaker, painter, sculptor, fabric artist and ordinary person exploring grief through creativity. Each piece is an expression of grief, survival, sadness, love and hope. Still life 365 is intended to be a safe space for creative expression, to explore the conflicted and varied emotions after the lost of our babies. Most of us are not professional artists, but simply grieving parents searching for some grounding.

This project will start January 1, 2010, and will continue, hopefully for a year and beyond, but it really depends on you! I need your artwork, your poetry, your music, your films to show on still life 365. It is a great way to showcase your blog, your Etsy site and your work. It is also a great way to remember your baby(ies). 

How to submit

Still life 365 accepts all forms of art and expression including poetry, haiku, photography, paintings, fabric art, paper art, sculpture, collage, printmaking, drawing, music, video/filmmaking and craft. Still life 365 does not want your originals. We are not in the business of "accepting" your art. All work is welcome here without judgment or change*. We do not mind pieces that have been published or shown elsewhere, but please get all rights and permissions before submitting to still life 365. If rights and permissions are not needed, please still give us the link to where it was originally published. We accept only digital copies of your artwork along with title, description, medium and materials used. If we receive photographs that are not easily reproduced, we may ask you to rephotograph, or rescan. Along with your piece, we also love hearing about your inspiration and ways in which this piece of art came to be. Also, if you feel comfortable, include your baby's or babies names. To showcase as many different artists as possible, we will publish multiple submissions from the same artists at different times. For example, if you send me three pieces, we might spread them out and show one in January, one in February, and one in March. We also welcome crafts that seem to be unrelated to babyloss, like knitting for example, but hearing how it soothed you, or helped deal with loss, can make it related.

Please submit your work to stilllife365days (at) gmail (dot) come. Please put SUBMISSION in the subject line. To submit your blog to the blogroll, email your link to the same email address putting BLOGROLL subject. And to submit art-related blogs to our blogroll, put ART BLOG in the subject.

I hope you all will consider submitting something to this project. I am very open to any critical analysis or ideas you might have. You can either leave them in the comment section, or email me at uberangie (at) gmail (dot) com, or stilllife365days (at) gmail (dot) com. I also have a button you can grab, if you are so inclined.

* We will spellcheck and check for major grammatical errors in poetry and writing, though all changes will be sent back before publication.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


For how much I am loathe to admit it, Dances With Wolves (DwW) plays a rather large part of the daily language between my husband and I. I dislike Kevin Costner. I have never seen him in a performance where I felt anything from him except pure amazement at his rise to stardom. How the...What the...And yet, he has made it into the daily lexicon of our marriage. This is how: Sam announces, "I'm going up to bed." And I reply, "Yeah, so am I." And he stops and says, "Say it correctly." And I have to pause, and gesture between us, and say, "I go where you go."

But, truthfully, the DwW phenom sort of started before Sam came along. After seeing that movie, I began the curious and somewhat annoying habit of giving people fake Indian names based on watching their behavior. And conversely, I have also been dubbed a few names in my life. My husband suffers from low blood sugar-induced snarkiness is named Lashes Out At Loved Ones. My mother is Travels With Ham, since any visit involves my mother obsessively insisting that we need a ham and she will bring it. Our in-house graphic designer became Dances with Exactos. And I was baptized many years ago as Many Bourbons. My life has changed a lot, and it has been a long long time since I drank even one bourbon. Oh, I joke about it, but that is because I come from Irish people who think drinking jokes are hi-larious. It is the Dean Martin School of Comedy, but truth of it is, I need a new name. I have considered Alphabetizes the Rocks or Cries a River, which sounds vaguely like a Monty Python name. Sir Cry Alot.

If the fake Indian name doesn't work, then I usually go with a rap name. My friend Kathy McGuire* is henceforth known as K-Mac. My rap name is A to the G. My sister is DJ Fancy Pants. My sister many years ago, created an alterego who is Japan's Pop Sweetheart named Sweetie Pumpkin Kitty Cardigan, but it is simply by dint of her fabulosity that she gets a Japanese name.

Anyway, since being cleared in the amnio and finding out we are having a boy, the moratorium on name talk has been lifted. As previously demonstrated, I have extensive experience giving people goofy names, but naming someone, I mean, naming naming them is overwhelming me. We have had some, uh, heated discussions on naming our little bub. The issues surround the fact that I am a rational person with extraordinary taste in names, and my husband is insane. Funnily, we basically picked Bea and Lucy's name immediately, but boy names...oy, vey. Boy names are much more complex, mainly because cute is not so cute on a man with a beard. And quirky ends up being alienating. We are currently stuck on just naming him after our fathers. But privately, we call our fetus Thor. Now that Thor has been normalized as a name in our home, I argue that it would make a fantastic name for him. American convention be damned. It has everything--strength, coolness, pronunciation ease, fun, integrity...you know, everything, except public acceptance. Sam, on the other hand, thinks we should name him something normal, and call him Thor as a nickname. During dinner last night, he went through a litany of men he has known with great nicknames that have nothing to do with their real name: Turk, Boo, Bub, Win...Have I mentioned my husband and I are a multi-cultural family? I am a Yankee and he is Southern. I often stare slackjawed at him as he tells childhood stories, not because of the craziness of the escapades, but because I get stuck on the fact that someone named their child Snookey. In fact, my husband is actually referred to as his middle name, which is confusing to people here, but makes perfect sense in the strange land from whence he is comes. I really have no place. Our male family name is Durward, and my grandmother had two brothers who called her Sis. So, I grew up with much of my family referring to my grandmother as Aunt Sis. The mind reels. I already have a fake Indian name for Thor, which is Scares the Hell out of his Mother.

So, here are a few questions for you. If you had to choose between a fake Indian name and a rap name, which would you choose? And what would it be? And what is your position on nicknames v. name names? And any other insights on naming?

*not her real name.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Alright-y, lots of catching up to do, but first things first, the winner of still life's first giveaway is...MK, as is evinced by the random generator screen shot. YAY, MK! Congratulations. After I post this, you will be receiving an email from me. For anyone who said they didn't want to be entered in the drawing, but still left a comment, do not be alarmed that I erased your comment. I do not possess the higher math skills to figure out the random generator without erasing your comments. I did note them, and thank you to everyone who participated, and said beautiful things about my paintings.

I have to say that the paintings came out of a need to find a ritual and image with which I connected. Someone mentioned that this is an image for babies in utero, and yes, it is, partially, but mizukos jizos are protectors of ALL children. In Japan, a child's being isn't supposed to be fully formed until they are six (or seven, I forget). So slowly, through the years, the being enters the child like water; hence the idea of mizuko, or water child. Anyway, I love the images created, and the starkness of zen. This is an image, ritual and bodhisattva created solely by women with a need to recognize their loss(es), and it is a wholly 20th century creation.

Alright, we have had enough jizos for the moment. If you are interested, there are some other artists making jizo art as well. I have one of Mother Henna's jizos on my altar. The beautiful and lovely Mother Henna does some amazing work. She actually recently had a tutorial on making her jizo notecards. If you are not acquainted with Mother Henna, go, get acquainted. She is an art therapist and artist and writer and all things beautiful, creative and important. She hosts many classes. Last spring, I was fortunate enough to take a creativity in grief on-line class with her called Grief: Finding our Way. The "class" was made up exclusively of the babylost mamas, and opened in me in flood of different ways of exploring my grief, my emotions and my art. It was gateway art.

After my beautiful Lucy died, I scrambled. Sam actually stayed home for a month and we parented together, sort of tag-teaming with Beatrice. One would lead until falling apart, then the other would take over. When he finally went back to work, I found myself full of fear and apprehension. How do I do this again? What I did was make a kind of psuedo-schedule for Beatrice and I. It was winter, and I moved all of my art gear into my warm office space. Beatrice and I set up our easels. I gave her paint, crayons, chalk, markers and some cardboard. She had free reign. And I set up next to her with a book of "How to do watercolor." Now, I grew up going to art school on weekends, and painting, so it wasn't that foreign, but I had never done watercolor. My sister and I often buy each other starter kits for different art mediums or crafty crafts for Christmas to inspire each other creatively. And I received a started kit for watercolor. Beatrice and I would put on some music, mainly Tegan and Sara or Bjork, and paint. I would do a very detailed lesson in my book, and Beatrice would do modern art. It was exciting. I let her paint anything and everywhere. I can say that doing a little art, even though it was so regimented, helped me express myself. I wanted to paint what I was feeling. So, I began painting babylost paintings, like little itty bitty snippets of my really heavy angry emotions juxtaposed with a kind of glorified stick figure. That is from where "She is not an angel" came.


Enough of this arty talk, I have some other things to discuss. The amnio results came in yesterday, and the baby boy is good. Everything came back normal, so no chromosonal issues. Yay! I cannot even tell you what a relief it was. I actually began singing What a Difference a Day Makes. We have some other hurdles this week, but that one has been jumped, and I can relax a bit into this pregnancy. I have found myself distanced from this child, unable to sort of visualize myself holding another baby. Protection? Self-preservation? Just hearing he is fine, I felt that excitement in my chest. We gonna have a baby.

I just want to again thank each and every one of you for your love and support, your words of cautious optimism and your understanding of the pit of despair. I am a situational depressive. And this situation was simply one from which I could not see the light. That all is okay chromosonally is such a huge comfort and relief. Sam woke this morning to tell of the most amazing dream. He dreamt of our son last night with dark hair and olive skin, and full of life. The mood has shifted here at the ranch. Thankfully. And not in small part to the love and support I receive from everyone. Thank you.


In an effort to keep damn busy while waiting for the results, I organize. Clean. Bake. If you walked into my house, you would have no idea, but yesterday, for example, I went through my wrapping paper/gift bag selections, organizing it by occasion, size, and quantity. I also organized my felt in order of the colors of the spectrum. Someone asked me if I am Type-A the other day. Does getting up at 5am and having organized gift wrapping making me Type-A? Then yes. Yes, I am.

I also finished my package for my Gift Exchange partner (can't wait to post my crazy ornaments). And my package to Once a Mother. And just generally organizing things for the holidays. This past weekend, when writing about my crappy moods, my husband and I ran holiday-ish type errands, and I popped into Sur La Table to look for "tossie" pans. Does anyone know what tossie pans are? Or even what nut tossies are?

To be honest, I had no idea how we spelled that word until a year or so ago when I actually read recipe for the first time in my life. They are one of my family's favorite cookies. My mother makes them every year, and I devour them. They are like miniature little pecan pies, except made with walnuts and more runny. Often, you have tossie juice running down your chin, and people stare. Nothing worse than a fat girl with sugar rivulets making their way to cleavage. Well, my sister and I have actually had the discussion. Having vanilla creme hanging from your lip, and powdered sugar on your boobs after eating a Krispy Kreme donut pretty much is the lowest feeling in the world for a fat girl, but the caramel rivulets is a close second. Nut tossies require a special pan, which my mother claims are no longer available for sale. And thus, I have never looked for them. I call bullshit on that one. I found them, in a French place no less. Suck on that, Mom!

Of course, there is no such thing as a "tossie pan," mainly because that is some kind of made-up Pennsylvania Dutch thing. The recipe comes from one of those 1970s artery-hardening church cookbooks from rural Pennsylvania. It does not have an equal. It is one of many in my mother's extensive cookbook collection. I have tried to collect church cookbooks from all over the Northeast trying to find the kind of beauty in my mother's book, but it always leaves me with recipes like "Sue's Spaghetti Delight," which reads something like "Open a jar of tomato sauce. Boil pasta. Cover with mozzarella cheese and put in the oven. Delightful!" This book has traditional Pennsylvania Dutch, Slovak and Polish recipes that came from the pre-Puerto Rican immigrants that settled in and around Allentown, which makes up most of my childhood eating experience.

So, I had to call my mother to 1. admit I was going to try to make nut tossies without her and break her heart and 2. beg ask her for the recipe. To be frank, she really didn't care. I often think my mother will be heartbroken by things, and she is non-nonplussed. But my sister happened to be there. With awe, she asked, "You are making nut tossies?" We waxed poetic about the cookbook, which is ripped at the taffy recipe when my sister and I tried to make taffy at age 10 during a snow day. Some taffy got tragically stuck on the page tearing it and causing ripples of panic as we realized that cleaning up our clandestine cooking experiment was beyond our capablities. My mother returned from a full-day of work to a kitchen full of stickiness, ruined pots, torn cookbooks and sheepish girls.

While my mother dug out the sacred cookbook, my sister and I talked about how awesome and unrivaled it is in the realm of local church cookbooks, my sister suddenly, and I might add rudely, screamed to my mother, "Can I have this cookbook when you die? Quick, say yes." Son of a bitch. I have been tempted to copy and rebind it and sell it as the bible of regional Pennsylvania cooking. The recipe for nut tossies itself is great. It calls for a pound and three tablespoons of butter. A "box of brown sugar." (What size box exactly?) And yields 100 cookies. ONE HUNDRED!

All this cookbook in your will stuff reminded me of this beautiful bright orange Betty Crocker cookbook I inherited from my grandmother. Well, inherited sounds official. I asked my grandfather if I could have it, and he said, "Sure, kid, take it." And so, I have it and cook from it often. It works like this. Sam says something like, "You should make Turkey Tettrazini with all the Thanksgiving leftovers." And I look at him like the Victor dog, and he says, "It's a casserole." My mother was not big on casseroles. Panamanians don't really bake many dishes with cream of mushroom soup. And so, I pull out my 1971 Betty Crocker cookbook, and lo and behold, there it is, in technicolor brown, calling for lard and a quart of heavy cream.Alright, not really, but still, there is a lot of heavy this, and fat of that.

The inside cover reads, "To Mary Lou from Mary Lou. Christmas 1972." My mother received the same cookbook from my grandmother, Mary Lou, with the same inscription except for "To Linda from Mary Lou  . Christmas 1972." So, I grew up with a lot of the same recipes. Food photography today is very very very different than it was on Planet Betty Crocker circa 1971. The colors of all food can only be described as unholy. And often the food, often casseroles, are pictured in what is supposed to be the food's "natural environment," like the Broiled Lobster Tails are pictures on the sand with a big rope. Placing food on the sand, even on a plate, never works out well. Ever. There is a recipe in the cookbook for Instant Coffee. Which is a bit mindboggling because, well, doesn't instant coffee come with directions? And the fact that it says "instant" in its title and description sort of imply that you just, you know, add water? Escoffier this ain't.

Yet I delight in it in a way few things make me happy. Cheesy + Delicious + Americana = Good Afternoon. So, I went through it, like a depressing, snarky little Mystery Science Theater 3000 making comments about the worst of the pictures. Then I googled something I vaguely remember from my corporate days. My grandmother also had these: Betty Crocker Recipe Cards.  Oh, they were terrible, but my grandmother used them. Often. But on this cold weekend, when I could see any light, it brought me some joy to read and remember the 1970s through its food and colorizations.

One day, when you are feeling low, perhaps you will remember this post and the link, and click on it, and get a few chuckles and gross outs. Enjoy this one: 1971 Betty Crocker Recipe Library. Click on the recipe section on the side to see the sections. It actually starts a bit slow, so don't get too discouraged and think I have no sense of humor. I have to say, I am partial to the idea that there is even a "Men's Favorite" section, and that it doesn't start with sausage.

Monday, December 7, 2009

25 Days of Giveaways

Today, we are in day 11 of Living without Sophia and Ellie's 25 Days of Giveaways.  The giveaway today is sponsored by Mallory at Mother of an Angel. Go check out her giveaway, write a comment, then come right back. I'll wait here.

tap. tap. tap.

Hi. Now, welcome to day 12. Technically, when I started this post, it was around midnight thirty December 8th in Auckland, New Zealand, which is how I am justifying my impatience posting my giveaway on December 7th. I actually am terrible about missing deadlines when I only get one day, so I am opening this up to the worldwide day of December 8th which gives everyone a  fair chance to get their comments in. Always thinking of my Aussie sistahs and brothahs. Hollah.

My giveaway is an original watercolor painting of six mizuko jizo. The painting is entitled "Six Prayers." It is 6" x 9" (easily frameable in a 5" x 7" frame) and painted on cold-pressed 140lb. watercolor paper. I generally paint my mizuko jizo painting with a purple swirling background. Purple is Lucy's color,  but it is also a beautiful cooling color. My mizuko jizo paintings are usually done in one sitting during/as meditation. I sit. Meditate. Then paint. They have been very soothing and healing for me to do during this year. I have copy and pasted the expurgated description of mizuko jizo below from the other day. I know most of you have probably read it before, but I didn't want to leave out newcomers from describing the subject.

To enter the random drawing for the recipient of this mizuko jizo painting, please leave a comment below. In the early morning of December 9th, I will use random.org to randomly select someone.  So, please try to leave your email either linked to your name, i.e., sign in to comment, or within the comment itself. It is all very exciting. I did attempt to take another photograph of my mizuko jizo painting so the colors would be more true to life.  *sigh* Photography is not my strong suit.

I have painted mizuko jizos for many babylost mamas this past year. I often customize them with personal messages, prayers and wishes for the babies. Mizuko jizos are said to carry the name into the afterlife so that the ancestors can recognize the baby. So, I often start a painting with the prayer, "Mizuko jizo, we name her Lucy." And I follow up with prayers for comfort, guidance and calm. Here is my own Six Prayers for Lucy painting.

While the painting I am giving away today does not have any prayers on it, I wanted to sort of give the full picture of what my mizuko jizo illustrations and paintings can be. But if you would like your own jizo painting, I am happy to paint one for you too. You can always visit my Etsy Shop called the Kenna Twins to see which paintings move you, or you can order a customized one. I have done custom painting of my "She's not an Angel" painting (see on right navigation bar), mizuko jizos of all shapes and sizes, and Meditating Mamas, as well as custom illustrations of children and families. I do love collaborating with someone about paintings that are meaningful to the person. During custom meditation paintings, including my meditating mama paintings, I meditate for the person ordering the painting. Part of what I meditate on during the meditating mama ones is "Bathing (insert mama's name) in a warm light. Seeing (Mama) full of life and baby." Those paintings are great altar paintings to meditate on during pregnancy, labor or conception. With the jizos, I meditate with general compassion, calm and grounding specifically thinking of the missed baby or child. The 4" x 6" size is a great size for altars. My prices for custom paintings are the same as my other paintings. 4" x 6" - $20, 6" x 9" - $25, 9"x 12" - $30, 11" x 14" - $50

Alright, enough shameless self-promotion. Good luck and have fun.

Mizuko jizo are bodhisattvas unique to Japan who specifically guide miscarried, aborted and stillborn children into their next life. "Historically, Japanese Buddhists believed that existence flowed into a being slowly, like liquid. Children solidified only gradually over time and weren't considered to be fully in our world until they reached the age of seven. Similarly, leaving this world -- returning to the primordial waters -- was seen as a process that began at 60 with the celebration of a symbolic second birth. A mizuko lay somewhere along the continuum, in that liminal space between life and death but belonging to neither. True to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, it was expected (and still is today) that Jizo would eventually guide the mizuko down another pathway into being. The idea behind the offering was to bid the mizuko farewell and wish it luck in the life it would have to come.” (from Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein)

When I began reading about about Mizuko Jizo, I was fascinated with the image of Jizos. They are usually portrayed as happy little monks with a red bib. A pillar of rocks standing next to the statues, as well as offerings of toys. They are often childlike, yet wise, in appearance. I began painting jizos as a form of meditation and my own Mizuko Kuyo or ritual. I paint them from my soul, giving them blessings and prayers I want for my own daughter on her journey. I am particularly fond of the six prayers paintings because each prayer is associated with one of the six realms—Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity and Heaven. 


Sunday, December 6, 2009


I had a terrible day of snapping bitchiness and impatience. It was snowing here. The Christmas music was echoing through the house. It is the formula for my happiness, and yet: The dog. The kid. The husband. Lack of sleep. Dust bunnies. Things dropped and broken. Being smacked across the face with a stuffed tiger. I  could not manage that "Up With People" kind of attitude you need with toddlers, so I put my apron on and made her some cookies, just to, you know, buy her love with chocolate. Maybe a little. Beatrice asked to help, and for a while, that worked. We stayed present and focused on Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies. (They really are good.) But after the last batch began cooling on the rack, I barked at the dog and girl for being underfoot and wrestling in the kitchen and sent them both for naps, muttering cusses under my breath.

This year has left me absolutely unsure of my ability to be a decent friend, good mother, and adoring wife. I'm not even sure I can be a good me anymore. I went into my corner and licked wounds this year when I could not be generous with my listening and with my spirit, but somehow, I just never fully came out of the corner. About June, I began feeling friends become less and less patient with my grief, my sadness and my sensitivity. Maybe it is that their defenses went down and they were ready for the old Angie, though my heart was still raw. Or perhaps it is just that I began telling people my truth, and I seemed too impossibly hard to read, or deal with. Somehow things haven't really recovered. I read blog posts about women talking about girl's nights, or getting together with friends, and I don't even know of anyone I could or would call anymore. I am simply a vessel now. A vessel for emotions. A vessel for babies. A vessel for grief.

Early in this journey, someone said to me that I would "feel" Lucy all around me. "Just wait, you will. Lucy is everywhere." It made me angry to hear that then, and I almost rejected this community wholeheartedly because of it, as though they knew this supernatural essence of my baby when I didn't. I miss not knowing her soul or her spirit. I miss not feeling her aliveness enter a room.  I still haven't felt her. Not the ghost of her, not the memory of her. I feel like I even fail in being a dead baby mama when all these women feel their babies or see them everywhere. I can't imagine Lucy as anything but what she was and is now--dead. I am somehow incapable of visualizing her, or conjuring an imaginary future for her.  I can't even imagine her smiling, because she never breathed and I never saw her face move. I conjure her in symbols, but can't even develop a mythology elaborate enough to make her responsible for the symbol I created. I pretend for a day or two, then abandon the endeavor to poetry and allusions.

I stopped looking at my pictures of Lucy. Not because it hurts, or reminds me of what I have lost, but simply because she looks dead to me now. I am disgusted with my inability to be a proper mother to Lucy. I used to will people to say her name. I wanted to speak it aloud right next to the phrase, "My daughter." I wanted to write it across the sky in big loopy letters. I wanted to be asked the questions about myself, so I could tell my story. Now, when people speak of my daughter, I recoil. Everyone seems to know her better than I ever did. They imagine her, what this one year old little stranger would be doing. And I just hold a dead baby lost amongst disturbing nightmares and fearful realities. There is a sinking resignation in the complexities of having to talk about Lucy. I didn't just lose a daughter. I lost everything, except the facade of our life. Last year, I was exactly right here, sitting on this couch pregnant, yet things couldn't be more different.

This past week or so, I have been writing my depression, my anxiety, my insomniatic inarticulations and self-pitying rants on this blog. And the emails have been coming in, "Are you okay?"

I am okay. Nothing has changed, sadly. Nothing. Has. Changed. I have no insight. No enlightenment. No deep knowledge or insight into the universe. My daughter is still impossibly dead. I am still waiting for results and answers about this new baby. My other stuff is still there, the same as last week, and the week before, and the month before, but I'm just exhausted and overwhelmed. Everyday I pull it together for the life and joy of a two year old girl who needs a whole mother. I simply have nothing else left. This past week, we remembered my father-in-law on the one year anniversary of his death. (God, we miss him around here.) There is a distinctive pallor of grief around both Sam and I, and the bubble of ignorant bliss around the girl. When we cry, she still wants milkie. We just miss our people and our feeling of safety. I sometimes just want everything else to pause, so I can go have a good cry somewhere, and a night where I fall asleep easily with no nightmares, or interruptions of oppressive anxiety and grief. It is the same as everyone else in the community of sad people. It is just another in a series of bad days.

In two weeks,  we remember the day that Lucy died and then we remember the day she was born.  I don't really know what to do for Lucy's day. Part of me wants to do some elaborate ritual, and the other part wants to treat it like every day when I ache for her and miss her, but manage to exist without reliving the trauma, grief and pain of that day by immersing myself in snips of her hair, her pictures, her footprints on a piece of paper in a box. There is no ritual to commemorate the death and birth of your child. I crave something automatic and unthinking. All the creativity of trying to discern where I will be emotionally on that day seems too impossibly cruel. I just want to kneel. Stand. Sit. Stand. Cross. Sit. Stand. Shake hands. Cry. My children have given my life a deep sense of meaning and essence. In Lucy's birth, I gained a sense of God and lost my faith in the same moment. How can someone so beautiful be so dead?

What kind of cake do you bake for that?

Friday, December 4, 2009

25 Days of Giveaways

For those of you here from Living without Sophia and Ellie, today is not my day. Visit Jill over at Footprints on our Hearts.

I am definitely participating in the 25 Days of Giveaways. It is slightly confusing because the 25 days did not start on the first of December, so I am Day 12th, which is December 8th! I will be posting the giveaway a day early, so you can have some time to get your comments in. I will be giving away a mizuko jizo painting. I have a few descriptions of Mizuko Jizo around this site, but here is the latest description with a faded picture of the ACTUAL painting.

Until then, please visit Tina's blog for the other participants. And good luck and godspeed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Insomnia and tonglen

When I need it most, meditation seems impossible. So very far from me.

It isn't simply about quieting my brain, it is about quieting the cellular terror of silence and being alone. I fidget in a way that feels like physical pain. Since simply sitting has seemed absolutely impossible, I have been listening to Pema Chodron's Good Medicine, which is subtitled "How to Turn Pain into Compassion with Tonglen Meditation." It is amazing, truly, and yet last night, five minutes into the meditation, I couldn't do it. It overwhelmed me, and tears fell thinking about the my father and his suffering. About mothers who have lost their babies too.About illness and suffering. Fires and tragedy. About all that could go wrong this month. My guilt over my good life, my warm house, my health (ha!), my marriage, my beautiful, clever daughter...I grabbed my belly pillows and headed down to the couch to find something to divert my attention. Anything but thinking about the possibilities of what could be in our life right now. I turned on the television to Truth Be Told, which featured mothers of children with special needs. Not. At. All. Helpful.

Some nights, I wish I could open the roof of my house. I watch all our fears blow into the night, the cold rains of December baptizing our home, cleansing our dark sadness. A winter purgation.

I feel silenced right now, unable to talk about all that is going on in our home, because of loyalty. Because of fear that speaking my worst nightmare will make it true. Waiting for our amnio results are only one part of our stresses. That is enough. I miss finding solace in a place, in ceremony, in saying my fears and giving them to the Other to mind. I feel in touch with the divine through the profane act of respecting its place as separate from our lives, yet I miss the smell of incense. I miss the repetition of prayers and movements that allow my brain to go into auto-pilot as I feel the collective energy of hundreds of years of ritual.

One part of Good Medicine that stuck with me as I headed to the couch reminded me of touching that energy through cultivating tonglen thinking in one's life around both pleasure and pain. When things are painful and difficult, the quality of difficulty should remind us to have the thought, "Other people feel this." Isolation in our pain and the loneliness of our burden reminds us of our shared humanity. "This," Pema says, "is what heals the darkness and desperation we feel." Even if the sentiment of "Other people feel this" isn't a genuine feeling at first, it shakes up your complacency, she says. The tonglen thought can go further when you are ready. When you have the discomfort, just think the sentiment, "Other people feel this." And then furthering the thought, "May we all be free of this." And when that feels comfortable and you are ready to move even further still, "Since I am feeling this already, let me feel it for everyone, so that they may all feel free of this."

And as I listened to her lecture, I was strongly reminded of this community of grieving women who in their darkest moment visit other grieving mother's blogs and share their pain. Who say, "Abiding with you in this moment of darkness." Or who send emails that say, "I share that ugly thought you are having. I am sad too. I am jealous too. I feel isolated too. I feel like the only woman to experience this loss too."

Still, as I lay in the dark in awe of the beauty of this sentiment, embracing the truth of what she said, I turned off the lecture and avoided thinking about other people's pain. It was too overwhelming, too intimidating to think about taking on more suffering. To be honest, when I think of suffering, I think of my father. Though our little family has faced many hardships and much suffering this year, I still remain guilt-ridden, sad, and overwhelmed with thoughts of my father. It beats up all the other stresses, perhaps because it has resided in me longest, it is the strongest anxiety. A jealous possessive anxiety. I still have these haunting thoughts that I should be taking care of my father full-time, even though that would leave not five minutes of attention for my Beatrice. So, in the midst of all these big anxieties, my heart and brain still rests on the guilt of the last twenty years. Is it the devil that I know? It is so overwhelming that I literally cannot lie still. I would run if I were a runner. I would take drugs if I were a drug addict. I would knit a blanket to cover the house if I knitted. But I am a lazy ass, so I watch mindless television. And try to remind myself that it is one fucking step at a time. I cannot bend time to my will. I cannot fast forward through the discomfort. I must simply move through my grief and pain and anxiety, moment by moment, until it becomes bearable. And it will become bearable. Other people feel this too. Other people survive this too. Perhaps that is its own meditation.