Saturday, May 29, 2010


There is something about therapy that I miss.

A few weeks ago, when I was doing the mid-month challenge for still life 365, I wrote down the quotes that have most affected me during my grief. I picked one about how people who love me don't know what to say, so they say nothing.

"Even as your therapist, I think you come off as a little too competent." 

My therapist, the one that saw me both before and after my Lucia died, said this to me. I couldn't even begin to make guerrilla art from that shit. But I thought about it so much after he said it. I am still thinking about it. What did that mean? Here I was in therapy because I can't do this. Because I felt completely incompetent, inadequate, out of my league...I couldn't figure out exactly how to live without my child. My daughter was dead. I felt like walking into therapy was my way of saying, "I am floundering. I don't know what to say to the neighbors or my mother. My daughter is dead and life is confusing and impossible and so very cruel. I don't know how to keep it together. Help me. Please."

But what I really said is, "My daughter is dead. No amount of praying is bringing her back. I have a living kid who needs me to pull it together. I'm not sure how to do that." The therapist told me I was too blunt, and it even caught him up when I would say things like that. He told me it was no surprise that I was alienating people with that kind of talk. He wondered if perhaps I wasn't trying to shock people with that kind of statement. People don't like bluntness about mortality. And I would lean forward in my chair, head in my hands, and stare at my feet.

I didn't know any other way to describe what happened to us. I was so confused. She actually was dead, not lost, not passed away, no born sleeping. She was actually dead. I wasn't about to use euphemisms regarding Lucy's current state as ash in an urn on my antique secretary. Imagining my daughter in a better place might have helped me, but heaven is not something I can force. Particularly, in therapy, it felt best to state the facts: my daughter died. I birthed her little bruised lifeless body into the world. I held her for three hours until she was cold, so they could take her away and take pictures, which I would never receive. Her ripping skin disturbed me. I feel guilty about that. After that experience, I no longer know how to play in the sand box with others. I fear. I felt like I was stubbornly and squarely stuck in an existential nightmare.

It was a Catch-22. I was competent because I knew I wasn't competent enough. This I do know: I am not too competent; in fact, I think I am the Mr. Magoo of Competency. Things work out, somehow, in spite of myself. I am somehow almost eighteen months out from Lucy's death with absolutely no idea how I got here. I didn't meditate on acceptance. I didn't make peace. But somehow it happened. Time moved forward. I get it. I fucking get it. She is dead. I miss her.

I will always miss her. I will always be sad.

What I don't miss about therapy is the fucking hopelessness of talking about Lucy's death. Finally, after months of going to therapy. Crying. Talking about how my daughter died. Crying again. Repeating. I left sadder than before I walked in. I stared at my therapist, bored with myself, frustrated with his frustration. He could not fix Lucy's death. She is just dead. I was not delusional. I was not suicidal. I was kind of competent. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do everyday. I wanted him to follow me around and tell me what to do. He wasn't willing to do that, so I needed silence.

I'm sorry your daughter died. There are no words.

For others there were no words, but for me, there seemed to be an endless supply of the same indignant words. Finally, though, I reached the end of the speaking the words. The last echos of my first cry, "Lucy is dead," died out to a hollow empty silence as I stared at the Buddhist therapist. It happened in therapy. It happened because of therapy.

A headline on the Onion this week reads, "Existential Firefighter Delays Three Deaths." That was what therapy was like for me. "Existential Bereaved Mother Can't Believe that We Are Even Surprised by Daughter's Death." It shut me up. The endless repetition of the obvious: my child died. We are all going to die. And I don't think that was a bad thing.

Of course, my emailing dried up. My non-babylost friendships fell into this abyss. I couldn't hear about other people's shit. Not even my own. I somehow could only muster writing it once, on a blog, and disappearing into silence again. I feel lost trying to explain all this. It doesn't even make sense to me. It seems easier to start fresh. And now, I can't quite imagine how to do that. Fresh? I am anything but.

Still, what I miss about therapy is the deconstruction. That one comment about my competency has been replayed in my brain a thousand ways. I have broken it apart. I have thought about it. I have juxtaposed it with my friend's wise words:

Such is a bitter lesson for the strong: Because we are strong does not mean that those around us - though they may revel in this quality - will be equally strong when we need it; Indeed, it is in times of weakness that you find that those around you who rely vicariously on your strength are nowhere to be found because they cannot fathom the responsibility of shouldering the load; they cannot be strong for you... And you must find it in your heart to forgive them.

I once had a dream that I took my skin off, and laid it out on the table, and smoothed out all the scars and blemishes. I plucked unwanted hairs. I ran my hands along the surface of me. Then I grabbed my paints, and began painting me again. Making me beautiful. Making me the person I wanted the world to see. That is what I liked about therapy, figuring out what makes me tick in any given situation. Pulling off my skin, smoothing out the wrinkles, pulling out the bumps, and trying to make me more compassionate.


I have a tiny boy now. He replaced no one. He is eight weeks old.

Apropos of nothing, he smiles. And then when I smile and say hi, he coos. He seems to like us, even the dog and the very tiny urn of ashes. I feared he wouldn't be a happy baby. I was grief-stricken in pregnancy, sad and anxious, afraid of his health and happiness. When you are pregnant and in desperation for someone to listen, you might admit to someone you aren't that close to that you are scared and depressed. And that person might be kind and say, "I can imagine." Or they may say things like, "Relax. Anxiety isn't good for the baby." It fucks with you. You imagine that bout of anxiety has caused your child be sad too. Old superstitions die hard. Mal de ojo. Tie a red ribbon around his wrist. You know, a theoretical one. But Thor appears to be, you know, normal. Just thought you should know, in case you too are worried about the evil eye and anxiety.

For some reason, I felt compelled to send my therapist a birth announcement, even though I can't quite remember if he knew that I was pregnant. I also sent it to all those people who didn't say anything about Lucy, who didn't even know I was pregnant again. I debated it in my head.  Maybe I should just become a ghost too, I thought. The ghost of a friend they once had who had a stillbirth and went crazy, you know, in a very competent way.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Our Woodland Creatures

My son looks like a woodland creature. Big eyes. Small nose. Cheeks stashed with something milky. And he has the disposition of one of those beer-brewing Trappist monks. Eternally happy and silent. Smiles here and there, but mostly, his arms stay crossed over his ever-increasing belly and he just lolls in blissful happiness. I, Duchess of Histrionics, asked at his one month check-up, the kind of question pediatricians roll their eyes about after they ask "So, do you have any questions?"

"No, not really. Um, well, one, uh, he doesn't cry much. My older daughter cried for three hours every night with no consolation, and he just doesn't much cry. Do you think he is okay?"
"He doesn't cry ever?"
"No, no, he does cry. Just not for long periods of time. He cries if he is hungry, or wet, but when he is changed, he stops."
And the doctor flicked Thor's heel a few times, progressively harder and harder until he screamed bloody murder.  "Well, he can, in fact, cry. So he just appears to be happy."

Touch wood. "Stay happy, kid."

I wonder if that is in his medical record now. "Child, happy. Mother, crazy."

Often, after staring into Thor's zen chipmunk-like face, I am drawn to his belly. It is mesmerising. He looks like a boa constrictor that has swallowed a little baby pig.  All animal comparisons aside, Thor looks so very much like me superficially. Dark hair. Olive skin. In the same way, he looks like Lucy with her dark hair and olive skin. But Lucy looked exactly like me in features, in coloring, in everything. Thor, on the other hand, looks exactly like Beezus in the face, who looks exactly like Sam.  Now, when we are all out together, people say things like "What a beautiful family." It is like we suddenly look complete. Bea looks like Sam. Thor looks like me and Bea. To be honest, Bea looks so much like Sam, I think people were afraid to say things to us before. Strangers would ask me if I was her mother, then tell me she was beautiful. But Thor is our own little familial missing link tying each of us together. An obvious little combination of Sam and Bea and me.

Sam confessed to me that he chokes back tears when people remark about our family, because we are incomplete. No one can see Lucy. "We can't argue with a compliment, but we should argue," he said. "'No, we are not beautiful. Our daughter is dead. Lucy is not here.'"

Without forethought, I responded, "But our family is beautiful because of Lucy. Lucy made our family beautiful. Lucy made our family look like this." And then I thought about what I said. It was perhaps the most positive thing I have said in seventeen months. She does make our family beautiful. And it made my mind wander to last summer when I was obsessed with finding joy in my daughter's life. But I was so mired in grief, so mired in sadness...her short life, her beautiful face, her perfect being, while wracking me with complete unconditional love, also made me blindingly sad. I couldn't think of Lucy and conjure smiles, and puppies, and balloons. I could only feel bereft. The only image I could conjure was abyss.

But Lucy made our family beautiful.

I do not care to engage in the Choose Your Own Adventure novel of my life. "If Lucy dies, turn to page 345. If Lucy doesn't die, turn to page 125." Lucy did die. Pages 125-344 were ripped out of our book. We never got to peek ahead and read how that path ends. Thor is here. And he fits in perfectly. Whatever magical combination of fate, sperm meeting egg, timing, careful planning and readiness for another pregnancy happened, Thor was born right when he was supposed to be born--into a family ready for his little monk-like spirit bearing stout.

I asked Bea the other day is she remembered a time without her brother, and she said no. Thor has always been here. And Lucy has always been here--the daughter we miss.

Thor in his papa's arms, getting ready for a bath. 
Saralee, can you see your painting of the broken pier in the background?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Life after the L- and G-bombs

My husband always teases me because he says I dropped the "L" bomb first. It has never really been my way in relationships. To wear my heart on my sleeve, or reveal my hidden romantic, or drop "L" bombs first. I play my cards close to my chest. But I did tell him that I loved him first. It was a warm autumn day, and we were dating only a few months. We lounged in my apartment with that rolling, easy conversation about nothing in particular but details not yet learned: "Have you ever jumped out of an airplane? Have you ever gone surfing?"

He asked me something about whether I would tell him if he had food stuck in his teeth, and my immediate, non-thinking answer was, "Of course. I love you. I wouldn't let you make an ass out of yourself."

SCREECH. The brakes came on. The air sucked out the room. I believe I spoke very quickly and said something like, "Uh, I'm sorry, uh, you don't have to...uh, I have to pee." And I fled the room, and soaked my head in cold water, and came back abruptly demanding that we drink some more wine.

The next evening I sat at Jolly's Dueling Piano Bar with my friend Paul the Suit, as he is known, explaining the situation over some bourbon.
"I dropped the 'L' bomb accidentally last night."
"How long have you been dating?"
"A few months. I didn't mean to do it. It slipped out, but I do, actually, love him. I just wasn't ready to say it yet. I think I freaked him out. What do I do?"
Paul took a long sip of his Manhattan and leaned back in his chair, like some rockabilly Buddha. He lit a cigarette and then leaned forward. "Okay, I need to explain this in terms that you might understand--football. You are off-sides. You need to take a fifteen yard penalty. It is his first down."

Paul proceeded to tell me that he didn't think it meant the game was over for us, just that my being offsides could be interpreted as CRAZY, and I should consider, perhaps, not speaking again until spoken to. Or, perhaps, he said something like, "Do not say another word that starts with the letter L until he says one first." I got it. But I also was decidedly against the whole pretending that I didn't love him approach, which was another suggestion by Paul, to feign that I even spoke the words. "I didn't say I love you. What I actually said I'd LOOFAH your teeth if I had to, because spinach in molars disgusts me." As the bourbon flowed more freely, ridiculous ways to cover my ass became the highlighted conversation topic of the entire bar. Every person that knew Paul and approached the table was given the scenario and asked their opinion. I was told to just dump Sam, because it was the only way to save face. Men told me I committed the quintessential relationship splitter and my only hope was to now begin dating women, and could they watch. As the prognosis became more dramatic and dire, I became more resolute that what had happened did not happen accidentally. That I was meant to tell him first, to lay my heart out there and not play games with this man I loved. It was precisely because I trusted him, that the love came out. Vulnerability will be my strength, I vowed silently. Being honest will be my shield. I'd rather sink this relationship, in the immortal words of the Butthole Surfers, regretting something I had done instead of regretting something I hadn't done.

Still, I backed off. I didn't tell Sam again that I loved him. I didn't mention the faux pas at all in fact. It was out there. The love cloud hung over me, and I liked it. He knew where I stood. Saying it or not saying it was the same thing--I loved him, regardless of his feelings towards me.

The truth that I never shared with Paul, or the drunken sociopaths who advised me that night, is that it wasn't the first time I told Sam I loved him. One night as he slept soundlessly on my bed, his almost deaf ear faced me. I whispered into it. I said, "Can you hear me?" And he didn't move. And I said, "I think you are so amazing and beautiful." And I sat up and looked over and his steady rhythm of breathing continued, and then I grew brave and strong with a few glasses of wine and infatuation behind me, and whispered, "I love you. More than the stars." And he didn't move. And so I would wait until he fell into a deep sleep and tell him that I loved him.

It slipped out the night of the questions because I was used to saying. I said it in my head all the time. I whispered it to him while he slept. Four days after my bourbon with Paul, while Sam and I ate Mexican food in New Hope, he said, apropos of nothing, "Hey, Ang, by the way, I love you too." And he stood up and kissed me. From that moment, Sam was my family. About four months later, he proposed to me as we got ready for a dinner out, a towel wrapped around my head. It was the only time in my life, I shook like a leaf because I was so happy.

It disturbs and warms me when my three year old daughter declares suddenly, as though it just happened by dint of a little brother coming into our lives, that we are now a family. And I want to explain all of this. That Sam and I were a family first, way back when we lived in a shitty apartment in the city drinking wine and staring into each others' eyes dreaming of our little family. And then we had her and we were a three-person family, then a four-person, then a four-person/one dog family, and now we are a five-person/one dog family, even though one of those persons is dead, and the other four-legged, we still are a family. Still. Not just. And yet, just hearing her say that we are a family makes me happy and cry all in the same moment.


I read Tash's last post at GLOW with a huge knot in my stomach and a tear in my eye. Not because it seems impossible, but because I totally get it. I have written about my marriage a few times. We get each other. We are best friends. We just grieve separately. We are two introverts raising children together while mired in grief. And as a week moved into a month and then a year, we find ourselves growing desperately apart in this grief. I just couldn't much talk about my grief anymore. Talking about grief out loud became so redundant.
"Lucy this. Lucy that."
"Wasn't she beautiful?"
"Don't you miss her?"
"Isn't this hard?"
"Isn't life so fucking hard?"
I fucking bored myself as he nodded along saying, "I know, honey, I know." And then I just stopped really talking about it. He knows. I know. It was like we were in 100 degree weather constantly repeating that it was hot.

Having a kid gives us the ease to talk about nothing. Engaging in Beezus makes it seem like we are holding a real conversation, but the truth is we spend many many days on end only talking about what is for dinner, what Bea did during the day and stuff for the house. We don't, you know, talk about our sadness or our anger, our dreams or our future. Sam stopped reading my blogs, or peeking at my artwork in the studio. He doesn't ask about my writing--he just understands and gives me space to do it.

In November, my mother-in-law visited and declared that we were to have a date night and she was watching Beezus, Sam said, "Nah. We would rather spend time with you. Plus, we like going on dates with Beezus."

"We do?"

My big, sad, grief-stricken self mourned that part of our marriage, the one that my husband wants to keep sacred and unfettered by children. I felt slighted and angry, even though what he said was true too. We crave keeping our family close together, even if it means we are uncomfortable. The truth is we became so obsessed with Bea's aliveness, we didn't want to spend a night away from her. We just wanted to stare at her until she answered our unspoken questions, "How did you survive? How are you alive? Can you teach your brother before he dies in your mother's belly too?" And part of the thing we do not speak of is that Bea looks like Lucy. She is like Lucy. Perhaps it is strange to think that an older sister can remind a mother of her younger sister, but sometimes it is heartbreaking to look at Bea through the Lucy Lens. Bea is passing milestones Lucy won't pass. She likes princesses and unicorns just the same as I imagine Lucy would have liked. And every precocious statement she makes we don't want to fall in an empty forest. So, in lieu of date nights, we watch our girl grow up,even if we accidentally watch ourselves grow apart.

The week after Lucy died we sat in our brand new grief therapist's office. She prescribed us weekly date nights.
"Are you fucking serious? My kid just died, and your advice is to go on a fucking date?"

And we didn't, you know, go on dates often. We, in fact, so rarely go on dates, we don't even know how to use a babysitter. The other day, my husband took Beez to the playground, and the local town paper interviewed him about date nights. "Where do you and your wife like to go on date nights?" And Sam gave the name of a restaurant we once went to, because I said the martini was good and the jazz was nice. He blushed when he told me, and said that he knows we don't go on dates but he didn't know what else to say. I asked him if the place was even still open, did he know?


Now, a year and so many months later, I sort of see grief like I see those drug movies from the 80s where good rich college kids try coke, and ten minutes later they have crashed their sports car, lost their apartment, their girlfriend has overdosed and they are on the precipice contemplating suicide. I believed that before I tried drugs. I believed I would smoke pot and my whole life would fall apart. Then I went to college, smoked a joint and my life didn't fall apart. It was fun, and it didn't turn immediately into Reefer Madness. I didn't become an addict or a crazy person. But when I met long term drug users, people who recreationally used drugs for decades, I realized that it was much more depressing and pathetic than any movie could portray. People on drugs woke up at age 45 still just barely making their rent every month having not really done anything they wanted to in life, like a perpetual pause button was pushed. And everyone thought they were kind of an asshole.

We thought the same thing about grief. We read that grief splits marriages apart. We thought that when we got home from the hospital, if we didn't go to couples therapy immediately, we would immediately divorce. We thought the death of our daughter meant we would freak out, scream at each other, turn to booze and loose women, we didn't realize it was much more sinister and pathetic than that.

We went to therapy immediately, but that early part of the journey was fairly straight forward for us. We were raw, angry and screaming already. All those feelings were new and new effects of grief and of Lucy's death occurred to us daily. But we weren't prone to take it out on each other. We clung together. My husband in those early months seemed like the only person in the world who knew what I was going through. He saw my baby come out of me dead. We held her together. We kissed her cold skin together. We could talk about it all, and we did.

But when life became slightly easier, and we weren't breaking down in the market anymore, we felt like therapy wasn't necessary. We thought we were on a slow trajectory upward. We thought we knew how to talk grief. We thought we had this marriage part in the bag. But when it became easier to exist, it also became easier to not look directly at our grief. Always in the peripheral vision of our life, yes, but we didn't have to face it, name it, constantly point it out. I felt bored with my own voice and my constant refrain of "Lucy is dead." But the truth is without naming the obvious, we just sort of stopped talking about our grief and the profound repercussions of it in our daily lives, even though we needed to keep talking about it.

Grief snuck up on us like drugs sneak up on other people. We knew our chances of splitting up doubled or something suddenly with the death of our daughter and yet somehow, a year later, we let it get away from us and in between us. We are now trying to figure out how to restart this conversation, how to find that feeling of first dropped L bombs and date nights. We aren't done, or even damaged beyond repair, we are just sad and hurt and desperate for each other again with no idea of how to talk about it. So we are back to the stupid therapist's very very good advice. Back to whispering L-bombs in the dead of nights and remembering. We are back to trying on flirting for a good fit. And dealing with the aftermath of the gigantic Grief-Bomb dropped in the middle of our marriage.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How to Deal

There is something deeply satisfying about singing Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now while doing dishes. If a tear or two falls for your lost angst-ridden youth, so be it. The salt will not hurt your dishes. The echo of your angst will be palpable.

I seem to be going through some kind of postpartum mid-life crises wherein I ordered a pair of 1460 Greasy Black Doc Marten boots, and actual CDs of bands I listened to in the late 80s when I wore Anarchy T-shirts and a pissed off expression of exasperation at all authority figures. Bands like Joy Division, the Smiths, the Cure, Siouxsie Sioux...well, you get the idea. I can say that being an adult mostly sucks what with the planning funerals-cleaning-paying taxes thing except that you mostly have the money to buy the things that satisfy your particular mood at any given time. When I was 16 and wanted Doc Martens, I couldn't afford the hundred bucks, and so I wrote it on my Christmas list. It was the year after my parents separated, and Christmas morning rolled around with two presents wrapped under the tree--one for my sister and one for me. I opened my gift, which was a boot. A used combat boot. My sister had the other one. There was a price tag on the bottom that read: $5.00.

I have given birth to three children in three years. One of them was dead. I deserve a new, greasy pair of shitkickers.

I wish I could say that the postpartum sadness never caught up with me, and that I am drifting along in my beautiful little bungalow in a state of perpetual idiotic bliss. But you know, we are experiencing the -BA factor, which is the result of this debilitating formula:

Sleeplessness (S) + Daughter Death (DD) + Postpartum Hormones (H) + Not Eating Chocolate (-C)+ being alone all day with a newborn and a very independent minded three year old dressed like "Wonder Woman Girl" (AAD+NB+WWG) + Perpetually Bad Hair (PBH)= Blubbering Angie (-BA)

I cry because Thor's tootsies are just so damn cute. I ask myself incessant painful questions about Lucy's feet. Why didn't I photograph them? Did I kiss them? I cry because Beezus' insane rambling stories reminds me that I will never hear anything so long and drawn out from the urn that sits in my secretary. When anyone asks about Mother's Day, I feign impending sickness. Sunday I will be mostly feverish with an acute case of self-pity. I kiss my baby until I cry. I listen to the windchimes. I remember that my life is good even if my daughter is dead.

I think I am a psychological hypochondriac. I fear the crazies at the first good weep. "Is this finally my hidden borderline personality disorder coming out? I could be exactly like that woman on Law and Order SVU, you never know." I google "Excessive Crying." "Postpartum Depression." "Psychological Hypochondria." I google "grief." I call my Blackberry a judgmental little bastard. Throw it across the room. Focus on television. Chew my fingernails. Pick up the blackberry again. Apologize. Google "Impulse control."

I am really sorry if I owe you an email. I'm sorry if I have been a shitty friend and support. I am sorry if I was supposed to walk you and opted to lay on the floor tearing up instead (that one is for Jack the dog). I'm sorry if I didn't kiss you goodnight. I'm sorry if I was supposed to call you and forgot. I'm sorry if I asked you what color the unicorn was when you were telling me a story about monkeys. I'm sorry if I forgot your birthday. I'm sorry if I ranted about something unrelated to our conversation. I'm sorry if I talked too fast from having a third cup of coffee. I'm sorry if you want me to carry something large and I said no. I'm sorry if I was supposed to take out your trash while you were on vacation. I'm sorry if I nodded instead of stopped to talk while I was weeding the other day. I'm sorry if you wanted me to read another bedtime story, and I said that it was No Third Book Night, which happens once a week. I'm sorry if I forgot to mail your thank you note. I'm sorry if I was blogging when you wanted to go for nap and you fell asleep on the chair in your Wonder Woman costume and the skirt is itchy.

I've been busy and sad.