Saturday, December 31, 2011

new year

It's been a strange year. Revelatory and trying. Restless and spiritual. I have more adjectives in me, but I am sitting upright, and they are lying down descriptives. Hold on. My stomach is settling. A low rumbling belch is working its way up.


Right, and that too.

I wrote an awful lot and had an awful lot of it rejected. Not the same stuff, but still, there is some kind of cosmic balance of shit rejected to shit written. So much so that I didn't rightly have one acceptance letter, though I did publish some art here and there, and wrote stuff east and west, and felt accepted.  And that felt good. I kept blogging. And painting, and parenting, and staying sober. When the equation for poetry didn't quite add up to proper algebra (one rejection too many over work output divided by too many other projects subtracting passion for it from the whole thing), I decided to publish my own book. That felt an awful lot like giving up. Hell, it was giving up, or surrender, or acceptance. Giving up wasn't the most terrible thing I have ever done. It feels an awful lot like peace. I wanted an end to my poetry years--years marked by toiling at submissions and manuscripts and competitions simply to tear up rejection letters. I wanted the poems to go through their last edit--the interaction between the reader and the poem.  So, I put them out there. And now I have a wee little book with some of my poetry in it. I hadn't examined it too much when I decided to self-publish them, but once the proof came in the mail, and I held it, and read it, and smelled it, I knew it was the right and proper thing I did. It felt an awful lot like closure.

My goal for writing about Lucy's death was never to heal. It was not to be over it. I think my only goal, if there was a goal, was to integrate Lucia into our family and into my life, and I have. This space gave me the time and space to explore and examine my grief. You loved me when I couldn't love myself. You helped me more than I can ever repay. It is part of the reason I have continued to write about grief here, because when my milk came in, and I found blogs and this community, people who were three years out from the death of their child, were writing about their grief with such clarity and insight, I felt like they were looking into my soul. They had the distance to remember, make beautiful words, help me make sense.

I have been thinking a lot about this blog and the rest of my thousand projects. How busy I feel all the time. How unzenlike my day is mostly running, writing, driving, shopping, cleaning, mopping, sweeping and worrying.

I have a book in me.

It is stuck in all the worrying and sweeping, mopping and cleaning, shopping and driving, writing and running. It is lodged in the tread of my tires, smeared across the driveway. I hide it underneath blogs, and mix it up with some paint, drag it across the canvas. I stare at my day, draw it out on paper as a flow chart with arrows and question marks and what can give here and what can't. It all works. I am happy. Yet it is clunky and complicated. It is kinetic and unbalanced. And though I am happy, I am not complete. There are parts of my day missing, like the stretching and lifting weights part. And the sitting still with my children and husband part. I have three blogs, for example, as though I am three people. I tried to integrate everything once, but it was too soon, and I worried about my readers, and what they would think if I crafted here, or talked about parenting. Except that I am no longer tending to different parts of my life in different ways. I am just Angie, the grieving, artsy, craftsy, writery stretchmark bellied sneech.

What I am trying to say is that my passion is writing. I always wanted to be a writer, from the earliest memories of wanting to be something. I would want to be a doctor, so that I could write about doctoring. I wanted to be an architect, so I could paint houses. I wanted to be a cowboy because cowboys spin yarns around a campfire. I just want to spin a yarn or two. I can't write a book, and do all the other stuff I do. I can't work out without giving something up, because I have every little minute accounted for in my day.

I am thinking of maintaining one space. This one. still life with circles. Here I would publish a few times a week, and I would publish crafts, art and things I publish on my still life everyday blog, as well as talk about mindful parenting, buddhism, religion, recovery and of course, grief. I am handing over still life 365 to another editor, since that space has gone dormant because of my inability to give it the proper attention it deserves. It will be something like a one year sabbatical. (Baby steps.) I thought about focusing all my energy there, turning it into a book, making it monthly, or quarterly or yearly, but I want to write, and it keeps me from writing the book in me. The one I have to scrape off the bottom of my Docs.

I am giving up my Kenna Twins shop on Etsy, even though I love painting. It doesn't feel right anymore to paint in that way. Rather once, perhaps twice a year, I will ask for names here and on Facebook. I will sit in tonglen and paint mizuko jizos in a large session, like I did last year for the Kindness Project. That felt right to me. (So, buy on Kenna Twins now, before I close shop forever.)

I need to find that physical part of me--the one that chops wood for hours, and has a physical, brutish, fleshy understanding of the world. The person who picks it up, smells it, throws it. I feel disconnected from my body. I want to integrate me into me again. I am hoping that shedding some of my projects, focusing on writing in one space and then writing the books scattered all over my life, will help focus me. Last year, I wanted to make peace with my body. I quit drinking. It is all I focused on--quitting drinking. Now, I am bringing my body back to life, reminding it who it was, igniting the cellular memory of sweating. And I am writing a book, dammit.

What are you doing for the new year? Not resolutions as such, but do you have goals? A word to sum it all up?

Sunday, December 25, 2011


No one in this house dresses on Christmas. I don't cook. We play with our toys in front of the fire. Nap. Watch the movies Santa brought (Kung-Fu Panda I & II). We listen to the last of the Christmas music. We read the books once wrapped in red and green paper while under blankets (this year, the kids got the Last Wild Witch, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, Conejito). I drink coffee. We eat leftovers and large clunky candy canes from Hammonds. I don't want to go anywhere. That is the last of the grief rituals we have. Prepare for a bad day. Hunker down. Make a weep-friendly zone. Play when you can.

My children were Santa-happy this year. Santa this and Santa that. Beezus told me this morning she heard Rudolph's nose when the reindeer were on our roof. You know, the noise his nose makes when it is blinking on the 1964 TV special. I thought I saw the Easter Bunny when I was a kid. Standing in my living room. I was four. And the Easter Bunny looked like the one from Hess' Department Store. He filled our baskets. The crazy thing is that my sister has the same exact memory. So, yeah, the Rudolph thing, I get it. I also completely support that delusion, because it might buy me a year or so before she notices me and Santa have the same exact taste in toys.

This year, Beezus wanted robotic animals. Perhaps in Japanese Astrology, 2011 was the year of the Robot Kitty. Specifically, she wanted a white cat that meows and purrs and walks, and a dog too, with a leash. A robot dog. I remind her that she has a real dog and his name is Jack and she is welcome to walk him any dang minute of the day. She rolls her eyes and sighs. This robot doggie is white and has a leash. It is small and fluffy and has a pink bow and is named GoGo, she explains. I roll my eyes and sigh. The robot kitty cat has been meowing for weeks in the basement. It drives me insane. I would hear it and say something like, "I think I just got a text message."

This year I received some glass blown straws, and silver Mexican earrings, and socks I wrapped for myself. I love everything. Particularly watching Thor open one gift at a time and just play, even though more gifts sit there wrapped. Beezus tells me repeatedly that Thor still has gifts to open and should she help him? "I have a new matchbox car," he seems to say like a little monk, "Why do I need more?"

Something has been nagging at me all season. It is this thing I haven't quite articulated yet. And I'm not sure how to explain why it is so difficult. So I will just explain it. Beezus and Thor are almost exactly three years apart. His birthday falls five days before hers, but essentially, they hit the same milestones at the same time of the year.

You know what I am saying?

So, Thor is exactly the same age Beezus was when Lucy died.

I don't remember Christmas 2008. Lucia was dead four days. After the funeral home picked up her body on Christmas Eve, the funeral director was at our house asking what kind of urn we wanted. On Christmas Eve. Christmas morning, I was three days post-partum. Beezus received a play kitchen that year. I only know that because I saw a picture of her playing with the kitchen Christmas morning. There was a bow on it.

See, I don't remember much of Beezus at this age. I have been told I was a good mother to her, that I seemed completely absorbed in whatever she was doing right at that moment. I remember reading my journals and blogs around that time that being with Beezus made me very present. That I felt moments of happiness because her spirit is this large happy Buddha spirit and I could turn off some of the refrain: "Lucy is dead. I can't believe Lucy is dead." But that Christmas, I wailed most of the day. I have snippets, like a dream vignette in a movie. I remember wondering how I was going to live this life. I remember wondering if you can die from obsessive thinking and heartbreak. I remember being so afraid of Beezus dying, and wanting to hold her and not let her out. I wondered if every Christmas would be so fucking terrible and gut-wrenching. I didn't think I would ever like the holidays again. I wondered if I would have a stocking for Lucy or not the next year, because I had already filled her stocking when she died. (Incidentally, we don't hang a stocking for her, but we do hang all the ornaments with her name sent to us on her first birthday.) In 2008, we ate carrots for Christmas, because we simply couldn't function enough to cook anything else. We didn't even peel the carrots, we ate those little silly carrots that are made little by some machine.

Thor is still so little. I can't believe it. It keeps catching me off-guard. He doesn't quite talk, nor does he not talk. He communicates through a series of half-words, grunts, hand gestures, real words, and emotional responses like kicking shit and throwing himself on the ground. This week, he began grabbing a pillow, putting it down, and then throwing himself on it to have a tantrum. I admire his dedication to comfort. He likes cars, and making roads for his cars. He likes making off-road terrain for his cars, like my belly or my head. He kisses and draws and paints and sings songs. So many songs. So many heartbreaking songs.


There are so many layers to her death, so much that changed that day. I remember one thing specifically about Christmas 2008. I sat with a heating pad on my belly, uterus still contracting, on the couch. My milk came in that day, so my breasts formed hard painful pulsing lumps of grief. I tucked cabbage into my bra, and ice packs. Milk ran down my belly. Beezus wanted mostly nothing to do with me. The baby was dead. And I was sad. On Christmas, she came near me and crawled on my lap. It had been the first time nearly in two days that she wanted comfort from me. Sam left the room. I had begun to cry because her distance was so hard for me after Lucy's death. I couldn't bear it. Beezus rested her head on my breast, and I said, "Do you understand what is happening, Beezus?'

She shook her head no.

And I said, "Remember the baby in Mama's belly?" And she touched my belly.

"The baby died. Something happened. Lucy died. She is never coming to live with us. That is why Mami and Daddy are crying and sad. We will not always cry this much, but right now, we are so sad." And she stared at me. I had no idea if she understood what I was saying, but I cried and she kept hugging me.

That is what I remember about Christmas 2008. And I guess, stupidly, I thought Beezus understood that Lucy was dead. I thought that conversation gave her a kind of compassion and understanding. I see Thor now, and I can't believe how little he is. He is 20 months old. And I don't know if he gets that he has a sister that died either. After I post this, I am going to lie on the floor in front of the fire and drink a cafe au lait. I warm the milk in the microwave and use the little frother and pour in Kenya AA. It is a respite and a comfort to drink coffee that way. That is something Lucy's death taught me, to enjoy a moment of peace even if it is couched with a thousand torturous moments of grief.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


It is too warm to be her birthday. The sun didn't rise and set the sky into otherworldly pinks and oranges. It didn't humble me at God's grace. It was just suddenly bright grey at 7:17 am.

We didn't light candles, or tell stories, or feast last night as I had imagined. No one but me wanted to remember her in that way. Everyone seemed worn down and emotional. I don't want to force grief rituals on the kids, or my husband. That is what I want our grief to be--a rhythm we follow as a family. Every year is different. Rather than candles and solstice, Bea climbed on my lap and asked me to tell her the story of when she was born. And then I told her the story of Lucy's birth and death, and then Thor's birth. My husband cried gently as I told them the stories of our family.

After they went to sleep, I wrapped gifts for five hours. Everyone's gifts, even my own. I wrapped gifts from everyone--us, Santa, my mother, my father, my husband's family. I just wrapped and wrapped until it was her birthday. Then I cleaned up my workspace, and walked outside.

The clouds covered most of the sky, but there was one star I noticed. Maybe it was Lyra's star. It was so bright. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I sat on the steps and tried to meditate, but I kept thinking about how much of a failure I have been at this grief thing. How exacting it was. Someone told me that that is what being an alcoholic is about, and now that I am not drinking, I will heal from her death. I thought about how someone I loved told me that I disturbed them with my grief, that I had made her death a cottage industry. I thought about how much I failed at that friendship, and how much that friendship failed me.*  I try to accept that sometimes people don't like me, and I fail at things. Like I failed at bringing her into the world. And civilians think grief is something you heal from, like it is the goal of my life, or a comfort to think I am ailing now with something temporary.  I thought about all the lovely words everyone said to us on Facebook, in emails, on my Glow post. That warmed me. Then I felt like a failure for focusing on all the negative emotions, rather than just that. What is wrong with me that I can't just focus on all I have? Why can I not be filled with gratitude? Communing with my daughter wasn't exactly working. I was thinking of everything but her.

I didn't even want to sit there in nature, in the dark, and think about her. I just wanted to run out of my skin, away from those words, and that feeling of shame and guilt and failure. The feelings of not being gracious enough, or thankful enough. Someone said to me yesterday that my kids needed me, and I needed to hug the ones that were here. I do hug them. Every day. Lucy gets this one moment these days where the grief is hers, where I am wholly hers.

She never belonged to me. But I always belonged to her and Beezus and Thor. Lucia belonged to the sky and the fire and the wind. I don't know her. I never knew her. I miss everything I didn't know about her. I miss everything I did know about her. I hear her in the chimes in the Spring, feel her warmth in the wood fire that heats our house, smell her in the nag champa that we light to remember her.

I prayed a small thank you for the sky and went inside. Then I prayed to feel her, or have a dream of her.

Please, God, I just want to feel her again. Not in the wind, or the trees, but her. The weight of her in my arms. I want her to nuzzle, to open her eyes. I want to see her live.

I woke up four hours later. Unrested. Sad. The children were awake and wanting to play. I had no dreams. I just shuffled my way downstairs, poured coffee. The kids and I painted in the studio. We watched the sky turn brighter. No sunrise, just brighter.

I haven't cried about her death in a long time. This space is where I come to grieve, like a small sitting room in the gigantic hypothetical farmhouse where we can afford rooms to dedicate to a single emotion. The joy room. The meditation room. The grief room. That room has with a shrine to her, a large leather chair with a broken-in quilt. There is a table with enough room for a book and a cup of coffee, maybe my reading glasses. A box of tissue. The light is soft and a picture window with a seat facing east, overlooking trees and a lake, mountains in the background. That is where the sun rises. There is a sketch pad there. A zafu, a Buddha and a jizo. Windchimes that move indiscriminately. A fireplace.

I don't think we ever heal from our children's death. I will always be sad that Lucia died. That seems more normal than trying to heal. Healing is not even my fucking goal. I just want to have a day like I am having, I suppose. Solemn with pockets of joy and sadness and a feeling of her, or the feeling of a lack of her, all around me.

Thank you for being present with the anniversary of our daughter's death, and her birthday. Thank you for the notes, emails, wall posts, comments. I don't have to space to express the full depth of my gratitude. Your love warms me, holds me, makes me feel loved. Thank you.

* I am not sharing these things because I want you to tell me how good I am, or how wrong anyone else is. I don't think any of this is an abnormal part of grief. This is grief for me. It is guilt and shame and fear and nonacceptance and anger and sadness and restlessness. All the emotions and obsessions from feeling the weight of her death, they are all little emotional avoidances. Maybe you can relate to that too. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Beezus talks about death these days. She understands what it means to lose a three year old sister. Newborn to two was intangible. But three is something. Beezus remembers what it is like to be three, back when she was little. Three talks. Three runs. Three skips. Three has ponytails and smart alecky comebacks. Three likes the color purple. Three throws tantrums.

I throw tantrums sometimes too. I stomp around and smash the plates I always hated and wanted to break anyway.  I want her back. RIGHT. FUCKING. NOW. I just want to see her face again. It was perfect, wasn't it? It was perfect. I throw myself on the ground. Kick. It isn't fair. I am going to hold my breath until she comes back or until I turn blue.

I am blue.
Sooooo blue.
I sing the blues.
I sound like a dying creature. I feel like a dying creature.

The saxophone kicks up as I sweep up the plate. I am the mother. I clean up the mess. I pull it together. I get zen about justice and fairness and how it never has been in the history of the world. I channel my father: Who ever said life was fair? Stomp. Stomp. Sweep. Sweep. I keep maniacally busy. It is the holidays. It is easy to be maniacal. Must. Keep. Moving. Or. I. Will. Cry.

It's hard to explain how happy she makes me when it comes out it in such gut wrenching grief. The tears flow if I let them. I don't let them. That is the difference between now and then. I couldn't stop the grief in the early days. It came in waves over me, over my children, over my husband. It flooded my house. The water level rose marked the wall, marked our hearts. We tread water until it receded enough to find a mop. Then we worked on the water, one bucketful at a time. Now, I can will myself silent. It looks like a holy stance, but it is a kind of torment.

She died.
Did I mention that?

It seems like her defining feature, but it isn't. She is everything and in everything. And she is nothing and in nothing. Somewhere in there lies the truth, just as the truth sometimes lies. Like the truth is she is dead and always alive. She will always be a baby and the most wise being I know for she holds the secret of life and death. A tree, perhaps. Maybe she is an old staid tree in our yard.

When I edge on her day, I sit in the anger. Anger at everything else but her death. Or maybe I am just angry at her death. It is all conflated into a restlessness. This dialogue of resentment and sadness and anger replaces the mantra: This too shall pass. I want to DO something when I am angry. Sitting is the last fucking thing I want to do. Sweep. Mop. Cry. Anything.

Everything about my life changed after she died. Everything about me. And I feel attached to all those things I once was, like grape vines winding around all my character defects, my arrogance, my lightness of being. I cut the shoots and they grow back. I'm not sure I am a better person because of her death. I just want to be a better person. I want to have found my center. I want to have come out the other side of something. I want to have rekindled my life. Villages of friends are gone. I walk into the ghost town and sidle up to the bar. There is nothing left. I am not part of their tribe any longer. It makes me angry. It makes me angry that my daughter died and then I kept losing more and more and more until it was just us in this flood prone house.


I can see her sandwiched between Thor and Beezus, playing restaurant and wrestling and fitting into the bath. It makes me calm and happy to see them play. This week Thor wants to wear Lucy's butterfly towel. It is pink and has little antennae. I bought it for her a week before she died, and washed it and hung it next to Beezus' towel. Then she died, and I couldn't bear to move it. He points and stomps until I wrap him in it. This week, the week of her death and birth. He looks like her. My God, he looks like her. I tell him he is a beautiful butterfly, and Beezus sings Lucy's song.

Fly Butterfly Fly. 
Fly Butterfly Fly. 

Maybe I am doing a couple of things right in my life.

Friday, December 16, 2011

waning gibbous

It is a waning gibbous moon.

I am a waning gibbous woman. A humpbacked thing half of what I could be. The moon hangs over the tree line, bright and sure of itself. I am floating somewhere else, to the north, cold and unsure. It is day and you can still see me, even though I am a creature of the night these days. Don't let the list of things I do fool you.

I am on autopilot.

Bake cookies. Drive children. Drink coffee. Sweep floor. Make craft. Cuddle children. Wrap gifts. Send Christmas Cards. Chit chat with parents. Pick up girl. Answer email. Go to the market. Send text. Watch Miracle of 34th Street.

I pencil in crying.

Schedule a meltdown. Between pediatrician well-visit and lunch.

I don't know how to feel anymore.

It is the sad truth of my life that I can't quite figure it out these days. I feel happy and like a liar. I am in awe of nature. This morning, I walked out as the sun rose over the CVS at the end of our street. It is the most photographed strip mall sunrise in New Jersey. And the strange lighting, the still illuminated bright waning gibbous moon over the trees, make me feel silly for being all up in my deformed head, pointy and shadowed. See how I am a liar?

I want a mountain top.
Legs crossed.
Palms up and open.
Watching my breath drift out of my nose and my mouth.
I would soak in the sky until my belly puffed out with clouds and nothingness.
I eat the moon, and the solstice and the sky.


There is something pulsing behind my eyes. It is blood and love and moonlight. It is cold outside, but not December cold. The cold pushes against my eyes too. The unseasonable warmth pushes back. It has the feel of the first warm day of Spring. It is confusing my grief hormones.

I lie on the ground, my arms outstretched. The ground is wet and dry, and the points that touch the ground grow cold. Carrying three children within me marked my body, changed my person. I have crow's feet and side saddles, and large sagging breasts. My stomach muscles tore. I carry my weight like I am still carrying a child. My knees ache. My back spasms. My boob leaks milk. My skin's dull and pocked. My hair falls out.

 My friend photographed my family last weekend.

My husband asked me how I like them. "They are all so gorgeous except for the ones with me. I look fat and scabby and sickly." There is nothing more attractive than self-loathing. His eyes go all glassy and he thinks that I am the most charming woman he has ever met.

"You are beautiful, mama." I turn and the girl is standing in the doorway. I am ashamed of my lack of confidence and constant focus on how ugly I am. I want something different for her.

Thank you, my angel.

She watches everything. She listens to everything. She soaks me in like the moonlight. Even if I am a waning gibbous moon, I am still bright to her. Sometimes I think my body beautiful in its transformation into the soft warm pile of mother earth flesh that folds on itself. She sees me differently than every other person in the world. And she makes me beautiful.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

the knot of a tree

It is morning. The sky is pink.

It is mourning. My sky is black. My arms grow like grape vines, winding around all I love, weaving into the tree we planted for her, in the hair of my boy and his sister. I feel something more than grief, something like a chasm of hurt in me. Every piece of my life falls into it. Every hurt goes in there, screaming and grasping for ground.

I pour the coffee. It is morning. The lights slices through the clouds like a ladder. Oranges and pinks and weeping and hunger. Sometimes I believe in heaven simply by dint of the beauty above. Something besides the cold and emptiness that science insists are the only thing residing there, something like the beautiful essence of our collective conscience, should control that light and live there.

Beezus asks me if her sister is big now or if she is still little. She gestures with her arms, open and then brings her hands together in the size of a newborn. And I say that she is neither. She is just ash and bone. She is dead and not growing anymore. I tell her we can look at the ruins of her sister. Lucy is in a jar on the shelf.  We could pour her out on an earthenware plate, and see if she is still there, in the white of who she once was.

It feels inappropriate to say this to a child, but I want her to know that her spirit isn't in the jar, just the shell of her is. She is somewhere else, somewhere within us and outside of us. She is the wind and the breath and the whispers and the phone falling off the wall. She is the ladybug and the hummingbird and the moss in our terrariums. Some people believe that babies who die turn into angels, but in God's world, angels were never human, they were warriors. I ask her what she thinks.

She tells me very matter of factly that she thinks when people die, they go into the trees.

"That is why it is very important to hug trees."

God speaks through other people, maybe God speaks through you. Maybe God speaks through Beezus. Maybe God was speaking through the people who have told me that I am a horrible person. Or the ones that insinuate that grief is something different than love.


I know I have said this before, but I am grateful.

Not that she died. But that I had somewhere to go when she died. I am grateful for the ones who can hear her name, and bear witness to our struggles without judgment. I am grateful to my friends who love my children, all of them. I am grateful there are trees to house our children, and children to tell the story of the earth to us.

She died.

Almost three years ago now. It feels like I can count my grief in rings. The years of famine and grief and withering mark me, gnarled and grey. I looked dead once, but I am green again. I have a knot in the middle of me that small rodents crawl into and make a home. The knot feels like a hole, but it is a home. I must remember it. I cry again and know that the tears carve something like a chasm of love. They formed the knot and the hole and the gulf between before and after and everything falling inside of it.


You are all winners in my opinion, but here are the people receiving the giveaways from the last post.

Susan won the chapbook.
Jill A. won the 12" x 24" painting.
Kate won the 5"x 7" painting.

Please get in touch with me, lovely women, and email me your addresses and thank you to everyone who entered and who read in this space.

Friday, December 9, 2011

25 Days of Giveaways--Day 10

Welcome, Auckland, New Zealand!

And all the rest of the world. It is midnight on Day Ten in Auckland, even though it is 18 hours earlier in my neck of the woods. Tonight is also the Long Nights Moon, which is the full moon of December. It is an auspicious time for a giveaway, me thinks. I am so grateful for Tina at Living without Sophia and Ellie for hosting the 25 Days of Giveaways every year. I have been participating in this for the last few years, and always think it is an incredible way to bolster spirits and bring our community together. Plus, I just love giving shit away. I am opening this at midnight in Auckland and posting winners on Sunday. That gives you the 10th in your time zone to put in a comment to win.

This year, I am offering three giveaways. The first two are finished, original mizuko jizo bodhisattva paintings in acrylic. Both paintings were created specifically for this giveaway. I have been working more in acrylic this year and experimenting with some other media. The first painting is a joyous mizuko jizo painting in acrylic and oil crayon. The canvas is 12" x 24".

 The second painting giveaway was donated by someone who won one of my paintings in another giveaway on Creme de La Creme. She wanted to remain anonymous, but you all love and know her. She already has a painting of mine and wanted to use this opportunity to share my work with another person. And so, the second painting is also joyous mizuko jizo bodhisattva. It is significantly smaller, and the photograph crappier because I could only photograph it tonight. It is 5" x 7". Purple background. The purple is much gentler than the picture makes it appear. Both of these paintings are on canvas.

I am also going to use this post to tell you about some upcoming events. In the month of January, the Mulberry Art Studio in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, will host the art exhibit five. Stephanie Paige Cole, author of Still. and the founder of the Sweet Pea Project, is exhibiting the breathtaking and aching work that emerged after the her daughter Madeline was stillborn as well as some more recent work. In addition to Stephanie, I will be showing my recent acrylic paintings and reading my poetry at the artists' reception on January 15th from 1p to 4p. Other artists and poets in the show are Kara Jones, Joanne Cacciatore, Sherokee Ilse, Laura Seftel, Catherine Bayly, Carly Dudley, Janel Atlas and more. At the reception, I will be selling prints and postcards of the work featured in the show.

In addition, (Breathe deeply. Don't puke.) I will be selling copies of my newly pressed, self-published chapbook called Of This, We Will Not Speak. I am finally releasing these words and these works into the world after getting some published here and there, and trying to get others published for much too long. Half of the chapbook is my grief poetry and the other half is work written before that time. It also make a very reasonably priced Christmas gift at $9.95. It is only 27 pages of poetry. And so, because of this newly printed piece, I am offering a third giveaway. You can win a copy of my chapbook.

If you are interested in purchasing postcards, prints or chapbooks at the art reception on January 15th, twenty percent of the proceeds from the reception sales will be donated to the Sweet Pea Project. If you are in the area, please come by the show (and let me know in the comments below.) I would love to connect with each of you in person and if not there, then somewheres else, peoples.

This giveaway is open to anyone--babylost or not. The only way to enter is to leave a comment. Every year I ask people to choose which prize they want to receive, and this year is no different. In the comment section of this post, tell me which prize you would like to win. If you want to be in the running for more than one, that is totally cool. Leave a second comment with that prize too. I am going to cut up the comments, put them in different hats and choose them. I usually ask people to tell me something else about them, so I can get to know people. If you are a babylost mama or papa, tell me your child's birthday and/or loss day, so I can add it to my calendar. And for the personal aspect part of the comment, tell me one of three things: 1. what you feel your greatest strength is, 2. tell me the secret dream life you would have liked to live or are trying to live (spy, rock star, famous knitter) or 3. what book has been the most influential book of your life. If you are entering for more than one, you must answer a different question.

I am posting this today, which means you get thirty-six hours or something to leave a comment on this post.   Please remember that you can always purchase my work on my Etsy site. Or email me directly and we can work on something together. And my new poetry chapbook can be ordered on Amazon or on Create Space.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I have finally reached the point where I had to wean Thor. He would not stop nursing on his own and he only liked to nurse in the middle of the night. I was the human binky, sticky and abused. I curl around his body, breast exposed to the night creatures. He paws and grabs and bites and sometimes screams at me for not being right where he wants me just when he wants me to be. In daylight hours, he looks so small to me, so very little. Something to protect. At night, when he stumbles into our room, the digits on the clock all vertical, 1:11, he imposes on our bed, stretches across the vast ocean of mattress that separates the continents of Sam and Angie. He is the ruler. Where his legs want to be, no one will lie in his way. King Thor, Tyrant of the Ta-Tas.

I haven't slept in five years.

It's not an excuse. I have had a random night here or there, but mostly I just haven't slept. Pregnancy. Grief. Writing. Art. Death. Insomnia. Nursing on-demand. I cobble seven hours together some nights, maybe in three hour increments, but mostly, I am just so tired. So last week, I just said, "No mas, mijo. Basta ya." I am ready to come into my body again. I am ready for my body back.

I am a woman who once had a form besides boob holder. I had cleavage without snaps, and shirts without inside secret holes. I wore dresses and heels and long yellow earrings made of gold. I had a stud through that nipple, and one through my tongue. And another that sat in the cleft on my nose. Last night, I fell into a half-sleep and dreamed that all the places of me that once touched jewelry puffed into a purple, angry welts. Soothing them with aloe, I looked like a shiny grotesque caricature of me. The beauty is wrong here, it screamed. I am built wrong. I reject the beauty.

There is the muscle memory of grief in me. It resides in my breast. Just one. I could only ever feed from one side, and she weeps. Last night, in the shower, the other breast wept too. The sympathetic boob. The week after Lucia died, the sheer pain and ache in my breasts would make me want to crawl out of my body, unzip my skin, walk out. My inner core is flat-chested and asexual. It wears no adornment. I would stare at the skin of me, lumped on the floor, breasts hard and stiff against the rug. I am not the shell of me, and neither is she.

I swirl in a kind of grief, hormone panic. She is dead. He is alive. He is growing. She is not. That is why my breasts weep. That is why I am not feeding, because he is 20 months now and he eats two sausages for dinner. I want my body back. I have to remind myself that I chose this path, because everything is exactly as it should be. But all this engorgement reminds me that there was once a baby who did not feed.

I cut a cabbage in half, place it in the freezer. I brew sage tea. These are the ritual of early grief for me. And yet it is almost three years later, she didn't just die, but the ache reminds me of her death, like a thousand things throughout my day. I try to unzip myself from my body and lounge in front of the fire, soothe the welts of beauty, drain the breast. But this body made those babies, it is inextricably part of the core, even if it is the shell of me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

the doves

Her tree stretches up and out. I hung a small bell patina-ed green. Her tree is still small, but taller than my husband. When it dropped its leaves this year, they blushed from red to yellow to green, top to bottom, like the rainbow. I kissed Lucy's tree when I was stacking wood beside it. It caught me off guard. I thought of it and kissed it and then thought myself crazy.

We search the nooks of our postage stamp backyard, looking for gnome homes.

I am crazy, possibly silly.

Beatrice hears an owl. "Mama, mama, I hear an owl saying, 'whooo, whooo.'"
"That is the sound of the mourning dove, my angel."
"Because it is morning?"
"No, because it is in mourning, grieving."

Like us, I think. Are we still mourning? No, we are something else. We are just doves, cooing and sounding sad, rooting for coffee in the rocks. They still call us the mourning ones. We lost our baby once. She flew from the womb and out the door and into another bird nest. It rested above a bell that chimed every time she sang.

The mourning doves bleat. Or coo. Or weep. Or keen in the sunlight, nesting in the river rocks that circle our house like a moat. I watch them scurry, like rodents, when I approach. They protect their nest, or mourn their nest. Their song makes them mysterious, but I cannot help but think them ridiculous when I see them waddle away into the driveway.

Their grief makes them sound like owls, like night hunters, like something other than defenseless, featherbrained doves.

Whoooooo can save me? 

They sing their dirge.

Whooooo will sit with me? 

It is a eulogy.

Whooooo will accompany me to the underworld, save her soul? 

The doves bring compassion and absurdity, like a comedic Greek Chorus.

Whooooo are you? Really? When the daughter dies, whoooo do you become? Whoooo do you mourn? She whoooo never breathed. She whoooo only slightly came into being. Whooooo was she even?

Whooo are you even?

It never gets easier to write her name amongst the dead. I do it every year. I write their names every month, on the top of my blog, but when it is her name, it catches me up. I hiccup in sadness. It sounds like the croak of a dove, mournful but silly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the rain

The rain drummed on the roof last night, suddenly torrential, like the sky opened up, like it was summer. I had read on the weather website that the rain was coming, but then when I heard it, it felt different. I can't articulate it but it felt metaphoric, perhaps important. I would have highlighted that section of the book if I had read it. The rain continued steady and true all night and into today. I didn't mind it. I like the rain. I liked that it was more than a drizzle, and that it was either raining, or not. I stood in the rain for a while tonight talking to my friend. "I am getting wet," I kept thinking. "I am getting wet." I just noticed the wetness on me, but I didn't try to change it. I didn't move or mind it. I wanted to talk to R. He is struggling. We cried first together, over different things. We cried in spite of ourselves. Then we laughed at our crying, then we laughed at the rain. 

Earlier in the evening, I called out to her as she walked out the door. She stopped and turned toward me, waiting.

I love you. I said, You saved my life.

I love you, darling.  You can always call me. I'm not going to Mars.

And then she walked out the door. I wasn't sappy with her. I didn't cry often. It wasn't our relationship, but she heard my deepest secrets. The things I never told anyone, not even you. When someone hurt me, she was the first person I called. She told me to pray. She told me to meditate. When I was annoying the fuck out of her, she told me to read page 417. She told me I walked in God's grace. She told me I had twenty good things about myself and if I couldn't write what they were, then she would. And she did.

My hands went to my face when she left. I cried in spite of myself. She is gone. She walked out the door of the church, just like every night. Her life is blossoming. I want her to be happy in the new place, far away from me, but I am afraid to be without her. I am just a drunk, still learning to trust. I am so sad to see her walk into the rain.

My hands are wet.

The women rally around me.

It is a big deal to lose a sponsor. It is a big deal, honey.
It is okay to cry.
You are going to be okay, Angie.
Oh, honey, cry. It is a big deal.
Call me tomorrow, Angie. Call me.

She is the woman who saved my life by sharing all the dark, hurt parts of her, and then sharing the hope. She is the one who showed me how to recover, the one who guided me in meeting my demons, the one who loved me until I loved myself. She is my first sponsor. She was the first person I met where I wanted what she had--serenity. She said that it was okay to want that part of her. She told me exactly what to do with every minute of my day until I stopped shaking and moaning and crying, until I found serenity. She introduced me to God, and to myself. She listened to the worst I had to offer. She abided and then she said, "I have to tell you, Angie, you are a very nice person. I am privileged to know you."

The rain was not too cold tonight. It is the end of November. The leaves are all fallen. I don't even think we will have to rake again. The sky blushes a soft pink with orange streaks in the mornings without rain. Tomorrow there will be streaks in the sky. It will remind me of a watercolor. Tomorrow she will drive away from this town forever. She will close a chapter of her life, and I will begin a new one myself. My chapter will start:

There is a woman who drives through the rain. She saved my life once. 

Despite myself, I am soaked with tears. I knew they would come, but they are steady and torrential at times, but covering my face. The tears are warm, like gratitude, and puddle under me.

some additional thoughts and questions on anger and patience

I just feel like I have to say that the anger we feel because of our children's death is, of course, justified anger, a natural element of grief. And what Cathy said, anger at evil, or child abuse, or sex trafficking, those are circumstances that should make us angry, angry enough to want to change something. But I think the important part is what we do with the anger. Cathy brought up some interesting points about justice, and I just think that releasing anger doesn't necessarily release the need to find justice. We can be compassionate and seek justice. While still understanding, at least with most personal issues between two people, there is no justice, no balance of right and wrong, because truth is a subjective, slippery object.

One thing I feel like I failed to mention is that patience is NOT ignoring. It is actually inspiring curiosity at our own intentions. Sit with the anger, become curious about it. The way we examine ourselves, our goals in confrontation and anger, our intentions in the friendship/relationship. Neither is patience a kind of endurance. While patience is slow, think of it as something like cultivating loving-kindness. You retreat until you can come to the situation with pure heart, pure loving-kindness. That is why this is a hard conversation to have when we talk about the anger of babyloss and grief. We are angry. If we practice patience in regards to grief anger, we simply can't sit with it until we are cool with it. Because we will never be cool with it. We can always dredge up our anger, I believe. We have to live with the anger and the injustice of our losses. In some ways, many of us channel that energy into something else. That is why I find my painting, my blogs, serving as editor on Glow in the Woods, being a HOPE Mentor for MISS Foundation such vitally important work for me, because I channel that anger energy into seeking some kind of justice. Not justice in her death, but justice in our lives, creating spaces to safely explore all the emotions and experiences around the death of our children. I am grateful that I had people to turn to after her death. All of you. I set my anger aside. I don't forget it. I don't ignore it. I sit with it. You witness that in this space and at Glow all the time. The other part of that experience is commenting on other blogs, and reading comments. I love you, the other grieving parents. I feel such overwhelming compassion for others who are just like me, and in that way, learn to forgive myself and the anger I feel at me that she died in me and I couldn't prevent it.

And to follow up on Monique's question: How do you express/release these emotions in a healthy way?

Monique, honestly, I have been thinking about this a ton and I think we release emotions/anger in a healthy way here in this community, by abiding and listening and venting here, and not to the object of anger. I don't know about anyone else, but for me, I used this space to honestly explore and talk about my anger. It felt safe. I did end up alienating some people in my life who saw my anger as unwarranted. Those people visited this blog and read. This space is public, and I suppose I forget that, because it just seems like it is other grieving women and men and me having a conversation. These people did not lose children. They just thought I was being unfair across the board. They didn't like who I had become. I agreed with them. I didn't like who I had become either. But I was trying to be honest with those emotions, trying to handle it in a safe way.

Anger is not a comfortable emotion to dwell in or visit. It is not comfortable for the angry person or the person near the angry person. Babylost blogs have created a safe space for anger, and I think that is a good thing. So, we write about it, we art about it. We smash things in a controlled setting, then make art about it. Generally, we do not engage in the anger with the people we are angry with. To me, that is healthy. I love what Pema Chodron says about aggression and anger--it is such an uncomfortable emotion, our psyche demands we change it, so that is why we lash out. We need it released. So sitting in anger is a rare thing for most of us. How do we accept and not act on anger? I think that is why they call it a practice, because it takes discipline and work, a second by second mindfulness to break the habit of anger and aggression.

One thing I wrote to Monique privately is that I don't think we failed at mindfulness because we were/are angry. How could we not be angry? Our children died. It is a primal emotion. It is a natural response. I think this article really deals with anger at other people, institutions, etc. I think for me the issue is misplacing the normal anger at losing my child on people who said benign, but thoughtless, crap to me, or acted in ways that normally wouldn't get me angry. Grief really twisted anger into a dangerous bedfellow for me. What feels so overwhelming about this whole line of thought and patience is the sheer work it takes to deal with every emotion until it becomes second nature to us.

The wisdom of Jill's comment is staggering. Writing down your anger and letting it sit for three days. I love the idea of an anger journal and exploring what makes you angry and if it still makes you angry three days later. My sponsor always tells me that the only response I should give when I am angry is "Oh." or "Ouch". or "I will have to think about that and get back to you on it." I call it dropping the O-bomb. When someone says something unkind, the well-placed "Oh" disarms.

Here is the other question in the comments: Um, yes. How do you pray for people who you are really angry with? Thanks

In recovery, the prayer is called the resentment prayer. I wrote a post about this about a month ago, but never published it. It was intended to be self-deprecating and funny.

I asked my sponsor the other day exactly what to do when I am supposed to pray for someone. You know, when someone hurts you and you tell everyone the situation. Other people get quiet and look like they're thinking, then they clap their hands together and say, "Pray for them." They say it like they invented the concept, and you roll your eyes, and think in your head, "Hell, no, I'm not praying for that douche." And then you remember that changing every little bit of you is about changing every little bit of you, particularly those nasty little bits you rarely admit aloud, the ones that pop in your brain and stick around like truth. But how do you bridge that place between thinking they are a douche and praying for them?

My current prayer involved me telling God exactly what a douche this person is and can you please make him see what a douche he himself is being. In my feeble brain, I somehow put together that I may be doing more self-harm than good with this sort of prayer. Praying for a douche by calling him a douche probably isn't the point. My godliness seems to be degenerating.

So, I just asked her. That is what a sponsor is there for. To guide you spiritually. To answer the questions you are too embarrassed to ask anyone else.

How do you pray for someone? What exactly do you say?
Here, she said, I will tell you exactly what to say. Get a pen and paper. Ready? God, I pray you release me from my resentment towards (blank). Please bless (blank) in whatever (blank) may be needing this day. Please give (blank) everything I want for myself. May (blank)'s life be full of health, prosperity and happiness."
That is really beautiful. 
I didn't write it, but it is and it helps. 

God, I pray you release me from my resentment towards that douche. Please bless the douche in whatever the db might be needing this day. Please give that douche everything I want for myself. May the douchebag's life be full of health, prosperity and happiness. Amen.

Wow, I do feel better.

Melissa asked this question: My heart is sore with anger and resentment, and I need a path for letting it go. At the same time, how do I do that knowing that other people are angry with me? Nobody is at complete fault, nobody is without fault. Everyone is miserable. How do we reach peace?

Man, this question nails it. The pain of that place of being angry and being an object of anger. Thank you for asking it, for sharing your experience here. I think this is the space where we can cultivate empathy and compassion since you are both angry and someone is angry with you. You can understand what your friend is going through because you are going through anger too. One piece of wisdom I have used as a mantra all weekend is this: "What other people think and feel about me is none of my business."

Letting it go is such a throw away statement, but truly letting something go is really incredibly difficult work. My approach to guilt and feeling sad because others are angry with me is to write about it in a very detailed way. I write about the incident in as much fact as possible, then I write the way it affected me, the parts of my life it affected--my security, my finances, my sexual identity, my self-esteem, my reputation. Then I write about how I played a role in the incident and what guided that behaviour--my fear? My selfishness? My inconsiderateness? And maybe none of those things apply. I then identity the kind of character defects that contributed to that behavior and I use that as a kind of mindful practice for the next day. If I was not listening to a friend and interupting or trying to posture and share my very wise insights, then I write I was being inconsiderate. I cannot change the past, but I can change my future. I then work on listening more than speaking the next day. I have to say, I pretty much write this down every day.  But there is always one change I try to incorporate into my life. In the same way, I write the ways I made a positive contribution to the situation, and if I can't find any, then I write five things I like about myself that I can use in the situation.

In this way, you can identify your own behaviour. You only can change, or control that truly. When you feel your heart is full of love, rather than anger, you can approach the person by taking responsibility for only your role in the argument/disagreement.

It was wrong of me to talk over you when you were trying to communicate such an important experience.

Whether that person gossiped about you, whether they were horrible to you, if they are mad at you for something else entirely, that is all you need to take responsibility for--the thing you have done wrong. I have done this with people who have wronged me, and wanted me to take full responsibility for more of our disagreement. I remained loving, but did not waver on what was my responsibility and what was theirs. You are absolutely right that nobody is completely at fault or nobody is without fault. We are all flawed and good people.

I often think that I did the best I could with the tools I had. We gain tools through our life. We amass wisdom. And we would probably react differently today than to the situations in our past. But we don't have that luxury. One thing that helps me to say to the other person is that I never have to be that person again, and I will move forward. Can we let go of resentment and anger? Yes. They are emotions that are not truths. They are not constants in the world. How we let go is to pray for them, even if you don't know who you are praying to, speaking about your hurt, your resentment, asking for help, even if you don't know who you are asking help from, all of those things help clarify.

I hope I got at some of the essence of your question. I found so much beauty in the struggle of what you were saying, because we have all been in that place of feeling angry and feeling bad at someone else's anger at us. What a shaming place to be.

Monday, November 28, 2011

question: anger and patience

Edited to add: This question came in the comments of this post: another post where I kill a metaphor by slow torture. In that post, I talked about how I drew lines in the sand with friends, resided in a place of anger and impatience. And how through recovery, I am learning about how detrimental anger and resentment is to my spiritual condition, and how it feeds into my spiritual malady. I also talked about patience and how I lacked patience, and am trying to work on that aspect of overcoming anger. Cathy asked me this question, and I read this question as her asking me to expand on the philosophies that led me to believe that anger is inhibiting me, and patience is a virtue I need to cultivate. Hope that makes sense. As I said in the comments on this post, I am not perfect on this. In fact, I am just about as far from perfect in this as I can be, but I am practicing letting go of anger.

From Cathy from Missouri.

I wondered if you would expand on some questions that surfaced about today's post?

What *should* make us angry in life? Anything? I can't settle in with the idea that "nothing" is a reliable answer, or that anger always = weakness. I don't think you would say that, either - wondered what your thoughts are?

What is the patience for? As in, what are we waiting for? Patience without an object doesn't seem like patience; more like denial. What about when the "patience advocates" are actually trying to deny the reality of suffering? Or is that the goal?

I hope you don't mind questions. Your posts always make me think and that's very welcome.

Cathy in Missouri 

Thank you so much for your question, Cathy. I have enjoyed thinking about this, writing about it, meditating on it.

I engage in two lines of thoughts in regards to my philosophies around anger--Buddhism and what I have learned in recovery. In recovery, anger is kind of a gateway emotion to the behaviors that keep us drinking, drugging, eating, sexing, gambling--those coping mechanisms that addicts develop to deal with normal life. In this way, "I am so angry, I need a drink to calm down." Or "You would drink too if people ticked you off the way I am ticked off." See, it is not that there is no justifable anger. But the line between justifiable and unjustifiable is barely legible. It is hard to discern, hard to recognize. In recovery, there is a line in the main book that calls anger the "dubious luxury of normal men." And it feels like that a luxury, something indulged in, something I cannot indulge in, like bourbon.

In Buddhism as in recovery, anger is a poison. Deadly and potent. A way to justify all kinds of wrong behaviour. Buddhism takes the same line of thought about anger--there is no justifiable anger. All this is being said in the same breath that I can say that anger is a natural emotion. Anger is a response to fear. Anger works in nature to defend the vulnerable animal.

"So what should make us angry in life? Anything?"

Ideally, nothing, but I don't think that is realistic. I also do not think there is one answer that fits that question. Buddhists believe that no anger is justified. That doesn't mean that anger is not a natural human response, but simply that indulging in anger is not justified. Personally, I think anger is a habit. Anger is a conditioned response, and it can be conditioned out. That certainly does not mean that we ignore anger and pretend everything is okay. Mostly, I have found in my own experience, anger is a response I barely recognize in myself. I think I am hurt and the person betrayed me. I often put it in terms of loyalty. I cry. I grow frustrated. I misplace it easily. I don't realize that my anger is there, and it comes out in being overly sensitive, overly critical, overly everything. Anger, in my experience, distorts the truth.

Which doesn't answer your question, I realize. The only way I can think to answer this is to help you recognize and dispel anger rather than tell you what I think is justifiable and non-justifiable anger. My hookable places, as Pema Chodron calls them, are different than yours and different than the next person and different than Pema Chodron's. This is where the patience comes in and what we are being patient for.

There is this saying in Buddhism: Walking in the rain is only uncomfortable if you are trying to stay dry. That is to say, any human experience is suffering if you think it is suffering. If we agree that anger is a normal response to fear and it is natural, then we need to stop punishing ourselves for feeling anger. That takes part of the suffering of anger out of the equation--the guilt of anger. It is only then that we can deal with the anger. The steps for dealing with anger are exactly what you think they are, except they are much harder than they sound. 1. Admit that you are angry. I can't think of anything more frustrating than talking to someone who is clearly angry and keeps denying their own anger. Maybe more frustrating is talking yourself out of your own anger, and having someone continually tell you you are angry. Can you allow yourself the space for anger? Can you honestly assess anger and work towards its elimination? There is the key to dealing with anger. 2. Identify why you are angry. I find most of my anger comes from a fear of not being loved, but that is just me. 3. Cultivate patience.

Patience means waiting out your own anger. You restrain yourself and your responses, because anger comes out in every word you speak to the person. Pema Chodron writes about anger and patience, "Patience means getting smart: you stop and wait. You also have to shut up, because if you say anything it’s going to come out aggressive, even if you say, 'I love you.'"

That is true, no? You can tell when someone is angry with you by their tone of voice. The part of anger that makes it so indulgent and difficult to channel into love is that anger is such intense suffering. It is a ball of differing emotions--aggression, betrayal, hurt, loss, pain, resentment, fear, irritation. It grows the more you feed it and it becomes a planet that has its own gravitational pull. It sucks other emotions into it. In that way, anger demands resolution. You just want to stop your pain and suffering. We scream and yell, or even calmly explain why the other person is wrong and you are right. But the way we resolve issues in anger does not help the situation; it escalates suffering. Patience is the way out.  Patience isn't to deny the anger or suppress it, but to call the thing by its proper name. This is what humility is to me--taking ourselves right where we are. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Patience isn't just waiting--it is fearless waiting. It is reacting internally rather than externally. It is listening. It is breathing. That is scary to our egos--to hear someone's grievances with us, or hateful words, or watch their wrong actions, and sit silently with them, not indulging in the drama, not being right. It is setting a goal to your anger--to stop your suffering and the suffering of others--while understanding that there is no resolution to suffering and anger. Do you understand that? Patience advocates (in Buddhism, at least) are not trying to deny the suffering, but to acknowledge, understand and cease the continuation of suffering.

I am going to stop here and just mention that the goal is to cultivate a loving-kindness with all sentient beings. That is always the goal. The caveat is not "except for those people with whom you are angry." Christians counsel to pray for the people you are angry for*, Buddhists counsel the same thing, to approach each person with loving-kindness. To share your compassion, to want to literally remove their suffering and take it on ourselves.

This really leaves us with nothing. We can never be "right", right? Right. You can be right or happy. Because indulging in that anger, fighting, trying to convince, change, cajole...where does this lead us? To more suffering. When we leave an argument where we "won", the other person is hurt, sad, rejected and dejected. Have we truly won? Patience is a way to diffuse yourself, to react in a way that is going to help alleviate suffering rather than create more. So, what do we do with all this self-knowledge after looking at our own anger and suffering? We let it go.

Easier said than done. I have such a hard time letting shit go. I open my hands to let go of the reins, and I realize I had been holding so long and so tightly, that the rope are burned into my skin. So, we do it  little by little. We let go of our need to argue, first. We let go of wanting to be right. We let go of the importance of our anger. We let go. And we will indulge in anger. We will confront people even when we know this, we are human. But we will try next time to walk away if we cannot sit in silence. To ask for twenty-four hours to respond to confrontation. We set boundaries so we do not have to indulge in anger. And that means the practice of patience is also patience with ourselves. Patience with our own humanity.

I hope this sheds some light on this topic in my life and my approach to anger, which is a new thing. I should say, it is a practice I have focused on in the last eleven months of sobriety. I didn't realize how full of anger and resentment I was before. Seeing that in my has really forced me to understand and confront those anger demons. As always, I love answering questions about Buddhism, grief, sobriety, parenting, mindful parenting, loss, art, religion (I love religion questions) and everything in between. I like riffing on topics other people pick, if I have to be honest. Anyway, you can leave them in comments or send me an email at uberangie(at)gmail(dot)com. I can also clarify any of this and welcome any Buddhist or AAer to clarify their understanding of these topics.

* I actually wrote a post about exactly how you pray for people with whom you are angry. I can publish it, if anyone is interested. 

I consulted this article by Pema Chodron called The Answer to Anger and Aggression is Patience. I read it a few months ago when I was journaling about my own anger and resentment and read it again before writing this post. It is worth the read if you are interested in this topic.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


After an early Thanksgiving dinner, the baby started whining and grabbing for my shirt. I try to limit breastfeeding to before nap, but I wanted to be still. To lie on my back and not speak. Nor smile, nor cook. Just be. So I grabbed the baby up took him up to bed, even though it was much too late for a nap. After days of preparation, and Thanksgiving pre-k crafts, and pictures, and airport runs, and no shower since Tuesday, I fell asleep. The baby never slept. He slid off the end of the bed and ran to the stairs and called for someone to rescue him. "DA! DA!" I slept a deep hard sleep that made me bleary-eyed and grumpy, but rested. I forgot where I was for a moment. When I woke, I forgot that I wrote about you. I forgot about Thanksgiving and the tree being gone and my daughter being dead. I just slept without conditions. Then I stumbled to the phone on my bedside table, and saw it was 430, and that I had an email. It was from Sugar on the Rumpus. And then I remembered how fucking grateful I am to be able to sleep.

Can I tell you a secret, loves?

I am grateful.

Not that she died. But that I had somewhere to go when she died.

That in your desperation, you created a place.

I pulse gratitude. It pumps through me. In waves. Circulates through the outer reaches of my body, the extremities of my being, even my swollen, grumpy fingertip still gets some thanking blood.

She died.

I don't say that lightly. I just say it because it happened, and I forget that is how we all met. Well, not quite forget, but I look past it. I am grateful for many things, after all, not just you. I spread my love around, Internet. I scoop up the baby and pretend to smell his tootsies, but I spend ten minutes just kissing each toe, and each cell of him. This week, with all this gratitude talk, I have been staring at him more and more. He lived. Do I say that enough? Do I sit in the grace of that enough? I am grateful for my health, my family, my house, my little dog who is quite big now. I am grateful for being an alcoholic and being able to fix the broken parts of me, because now I know what is wrong with me. I am grateful for my strong calves even if I can't buy boots easily, and my long nose.

I am grateful for so much, the solidity around the absence of her. And yet, when a Sugar column popped up in my email last week, asking people to submit their gratitude, all I could think of was you.

94 Ways of Saying Thank You.

Can you find mine? If not, here is what it says:

Dear Sugar,

I am grateful for the on-line community of grieving parents that formed a mini-country after their babies were stillborn or died early in life. At first, I felt exiled to their barren wintered land. Those brave, vulnerable souls saved my sanity, my humor, my baby’s memory. They saved my life. They keened with me. They expressed outrage and stomped their feet. They asked me to tell them the story of my daughter’s birth, even though they knew the ending. They looked past my daughter’s torn skin and white skin and told me she was beautiful. (She is beautiful.) They made me laugh when the last thing on earth I wanted to do was laugh. They shared their wisdom and their children and their unconditional support. They made me feel normal in a world and society unfit to deal with baby-death, dead baby grief, and the idea that healthy people have stillborn babies.


What are you grateful for, my loves?  
 (Oh, and I am totally answering Cathy from Missouri's question, but this is the first time I have sat to write in a few days. Will do that this weekend, promise. And answer emails. And comment on blogs. )

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

pilgrims and indians.

My daughter came home wearing a pilgrim hat today.

She has this sort of light brown strawberry blonde hair, and she wore a little jumper today with flowers on it. A pair of pink sparkly Mary Janes. She looked edible, that is how adorable it was, except that my insides went all haywire. We are Native peoples, not pilgrims. And what is she learning about American Thanksgiving? She is in pre-kindergarten. What blanks can I fill in? Small pox? Mass execution? Guns? Reservations?

Howard Zinn bounces through my head, and I kneel in front of her and say, "We are Native American people, Beezus. We are the Indians." And yet, I suppose, she, like me, is part pilgrim. She doesn't understand, and I don't know how to explain. She is little and the myth of Thanksgiving is beautiful, healing, forgiving and compassionate. I want her to learn about gratitude. I want her to share her harvests. Strangers sharing a meal, making peace, giving thanks--those are good things, but the whole white-washing-the-relationship-between-white-people-and-the-Native-Americans-through-Thanksgiving-thing depresses me.

I had to make sense of who I was, culturally and ethnically, eventually. How I identified, who I am, what I hold as my cultural heritage.  And now I have to help my children make sense of that. I am a first generation American. My mother came to this country, but her people have been on this continent for a long long time. My mother is Central American. Her family is a mix of European and native--mestizo. In this country, my family were at one point aliens. Foreigners even though their history on this land spans longer than the people making those rules.

I have a pipe-smoking Indian great-grandmother who wore weavings and braided her hair together in a long loopy braid. And another who was Italian and Spanish who grew up in Panama cooking paella and spaghetti. My father is Irish and German. But what I look like is brown. Brown and not white. That is what people see--the brown. The Latina. That is how they treat me. And because I get ignored at jewelry counters, and followed in malls. I identify as a Latina, because I am treated by people as a Latina. I am brown. It does not deny my white father.

When I was younger, thinner and more beautiful, I would get asked where I was from on a daily basis as I walked down the street, waited to come into my building at work, buying my coffee. Mostly from men, sometimes from older women. It was a conversation starter, I suppose. I looked exotic, not American. People have asked me if I am from India, Turkey, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, Italy, Mexico. People have wondered if I am half-African-American. Sometimes they would ask me in loud halting English, like my first language had me translating each well wisher. I would answer "Schnecksville, Pennsylvania," because it was like a giant eff off to the idea what it means to be a Latina.

I once dated a man who told me he could hear my Spanish accent when I got mad. Spanish is not my first language, or even really my second. I do not have a Spanish accent. I am able to communicate enough in Spanish to find a communist camp and get us hydrated, but I wouldn't exactly say I am fluent. We all project something onto the person we are with, what we want them to be, why we chose them them in the first place, but there was something about that comment that felt so alienating, so objectifying. In that moment, my identity felt so confused, even to me. I had always felt in between races, cultures, identities. I was seen as white in Latino communities and Latino in white ones. But the Latinos would approach me to say, "Speak Spanish more. We need you. We need you working in our communities, smashing the stereotypes that people have of Latinos." And I felt like I fit precisely because I don't fit.

A couple Halloweens ago, I was dressed as Frida Kahlo. I was drinking beers with my neighbors, and I said something about how I am turning into that crazy Chicana who dresses like Frida slowly once a week, then every third day, then every other day, then every day. And my neighbor said, "Oh, honey, you are white." And someone else nodded, and I grew red hot with confused anger.

Do you think I am white because I live in a nice house in the suburbs?
Because I am not doing your lawn?
Because I am not taking care of your children?
You think I am white because I am smart and articulate?
Because I am confident and look you in the eyes when I speak?
Because I dress in black and listen to the Smiths when I get depressed?
Why do you think I am white? Because of the color of my skin? Because of my voice? Because of what?

I said nothing.

It shames me that I say nothing. But I don't. There is a historical and upsetting history of white people passing laws about what it means to be white or black or Native American and making judgments on who is and isn't white. White people assigning racial identity has a long and dark history. Just because you have never met a "Latina Nerd", or a successful, articulate Latina does not mean they don't exist. There is not one way to be Latina, just like there is not just one way to be white. People who diverge from the racial stereotypes about money, education, articulateness, skin tones, and music preferences are not diverging from their own race. I hear it said about our president, the mayor the city near where I reside. It makes me bristle, because I understand what that feels like to be told that even though you are brown, you are not brown enough. I know what it feels like to be told you are not white enough too. I am both in equal measures. I am not white. I am not brown. I am not not white. I am not not brown.

When I just had Beezus, she of the blue eyes and blonde hair, people would approach me and talk about how beautiful she is. Coo at her and then turn to me.

"Is she yours?" 
"Are you the babysitter?" 
"The Nanny?" 
"Her mother must be jealous at how much she loves you."

That is a role people understand--brown lady caring for a white baby fits what it means to be a Latina in the well-to-do suburbs of New Jersey. But brown lady who gives birth to a white baby is confusing. Now with Thomas in my arms, my little baby with brown eyes and olive skin, people seems to understand something more about our family. That we don't neatly fit into a box marked Pilgrim. or Indian.

I am sharing this today, because that is how all these things feel to me--PICK WHO YOU ARE. Mark a box. White. Latino. Native American. And if so, which type? What nation? Are you an alien? Are you legal? Are you illegal? You must be something. Who are you? Let's define you. What is the color of your skin? Where are your people from? What kind of music do you like? What sneakers do you wear? What side of the Thanksgiving table are you sitting? Maize or creamed corn?

I am many things. My children are even more. I talk to Beezus about the Native Americans, the Five Hundred Nations, the myths and the religion, the food and the connection to the earth. I don't speak of the mass slaughter, the disease, the humiliation. I do not speak of Leonard Peltier or Chiapas. One day, but not today. I tell her about the reservations, the loss of their language, the racism. We pray for the people suffering. I speak in ways that explain why the Pilgrims told the story of Thanksgiving and not the Indians. And I include her.

You are Native American. We are Native American. We are part pilgrim too. We have a little bit of all parts of this country. And for that I am grateful. I am grateful to feel a little bit a part of everything. I am grateful to be part of your tribe.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

question: grieving openly around children

This question is from my lovely friend MA who would like to remain mostly anonymous: 

Do you think it is bad to grieve openly around our kids, or not to do it at all? Do you think they are growing up with a sort of ..shadow? I know I always, every day, miss my brother who was my mother's first child and stillborn. My mother only talked about him twice, and I don't know anything other than his name and that he is dead. And I have felt an intense sadness all my life. Is being open about it a better idea? Or worse?

Thank you for this question. I just want to express my condolences. I have known you for four years now, and I did not know you lost a brother in this way, like my own child. I imagine that growing up in this way was confusing--to feel grief and not understand it.

This question was sent to me a month ago and initially, I thought I had heaps to say about it, then I kept staring at it, turning my head, re-reading it. If it were a three-dimensional object, I would have taken it up, spun it around, held it, studied it. I would have allowed the weight of it to sink into my arms. I would have made notes on it. I would have seen it is a loaded question for me, and not coincidentally, issues I have been thinking about lately in regards to my own life. So, I am grateful to visit this topic. Thank you, love.

The truth is I don't know what is bad or good, what is better or worse, but I can only tell you what my philosophy is and what approach I am using with my children and what I experienced coming up. I have written about this here, about raising my children with a dead sister. I'm sure my views will evolve and change. One noticeable change is that the immediacy I once felt to connect them to Lucia is diminishing. Not that I don't want them to develop a relationship with her and grieve for the loss they experienced, but I don't want to force them to grieve. I want to give them the space to come to those questions on their own timeline, and not force them to love and grieve Lucy the way I do. I include Lucia where it seems appropriate. I will always stop any conversation, event, daily routine to answer questions or talk about grief with my children, and to allow them the emotional space to feel sad and to miss. Lucy is my child. I never deny her to my children.

You asked me if they are growing up with a sort of shadow. And I think yes, of course. My husband and I have a shadow too. We lost a child, and that is never really gone no matter how much we acknowledge Lucia and integrate her into our lives. That shadow is our grief. It is the space where we imagined a daughter, where she fit into our family, where she is not. The depth, breadth, weight, height of our girl is simply a darkness. We will always see it. We will always grieve. It is okay. We grieve because we love her so damned much.

I grieved and still grieve openly in front of my children. The early months of my grief were so powerful that I couldn't contain it if I had wanted. I couldn't have grieved entirely separately from Beatrice, even if I wanted to, though often I did grieve alone and away from everyone. I just had to pay attention to grief. It demanded everything of me. Yet the equally demanding nature of having a twenty month old, for that is how old Beatrice was when Lucia died, meant that I was very present most of the time with her. It is not that I didn't feel that claustrophobic grief perched, talons deep into my flesh, on my chest, constantly pecking at my heart all day, but rather, I just did what I had to do, because a twenty-month old needs to eat whether her sister is dead or not.

There were times when crying overtook me while I toasted bread and spread butter on it for Beezus. I sat uneating, head cocked, watching her take her small sparrow-like bites and tears fell in spite of myself. But in general, I used Beezus as a way to hold those emotions at bay and just remain in the moment. My inner dialogue mostly was like this:

Take out bread. Put it in the toaster. Lucy is dead. Holy shit, Lucy is dead. Why isn't this toast popping? Lucy is dead. Bread pops. Pull out bread. Butter toast. Cut it up into squares. Lucy is dead. Put it on plate. Call Beezus to the table. Grab her put her in the chair. Listen to her voice. It is a bell. Her voice is angellic. What would Lucy's voice sound like? I am weeping uncontrollably. Stop crying. Lucy is dead. Baby Bea is eating. She is eating. She is alive. She is so cute. "You are so cute, Beezus. Give mama kisses. YAY, butter kisses." She is perfect. So was Lucy. Lucy is dead.

But mostly, when Beatrice went to bed, I broke down. I screamed and howled. I cried and wrote Lucia's name a thousands of times in a notebook. I allowed myself to feel the full weight of the grief that I had been carrying. I allowed it to crush me and to cry about it.

So, did I grieve openly? I did. Did I really grieve openly? I didn't.

I did not and do not now express all the emotions I feel around my children. And I don't think any adult should. Not joy, or grief, or anger or lust, you get what I am saying? My children are young, and their emotional understanding is limited, so I don't put all those heavy adult emotions on them. I don't scream at the top of my lungs when I am angry. I very often pause and breathe deeply, because that is what we do as parents. And I shake off the immediacy of the anger. We rein in our emotions and parent. It is the same with grief. It is particularly difficult with grief because grief is like the hobo train hopper of emotions--it comes in the form of sadness and anger and guilt and jealousy and apathy and all those emotions we misplace. So, it is particularly difficult not to scream at a two year old for very normal two year old behaviour in the early months of grief. But we cannot succumb to those impulses, no matter how urgent they feel. Anger is a normal, healthy response to something that scares us, but what we do with it defines us.

In my childhood, I didn't see my mother (or father) cry until I was well into my twenties. It was a weakness in our house to cry or express any negative emotion, like anger or jealousy. Emotions were not encouraged. If you feel angry, there is something wrong with you. I grew very ashamed of my very normal emotional responses. My parents taught me that you suck it up. The effect of that has permeated and deleteriously affected every aspect of my life. Swallowing my emotions did not teach me that there weren't problems, or that my parents weren't depressed, it just taught me that emotions were weakness. That I was supposed to be different, or special, or superhuman. It was a kind of terminal uniqueness--death by being special and a-emotional.You suck it up and drink. I have learned through coming to a point of acceptance in my alcoholism that I either have to spit it out or drink it down. Lucy's death was the catalyst for my sobriety and for really looking at my approach to my emotional well-being. I could no longer stuff the grief and negative emotions into the deep recesses of my body where they were allowed to create a rotted out hole in me. I could not hide the crying, or the emotions. I couldn't ignore the very demanding emotional rigors of my daughter's death. And I had been taught throughout my entire life that the emotions I was feeling were weak, pathetic, unbecoming, and downright wrong. Today, I understand that I don't have to live with shame on top of grief.

So, I am trying teach my children that all emotions are okay, but what we do with them defines our character. Being able to express themselves and have the emotional intelligence to understand what they are going through, I think, will be a gift to them. To see their parents experience their emotions in a healthy way, i.e. grieve and cry and light a candle, rather than get loaded and pass out on the couch, hopefully will help them when they face the grief they will feel about Lucy's death. One thing I have learned in recovery is that just because I feel something doesn't mean I have to act on that feeling. Feelings change. But actions remain permanent.

Have you every seen that book Everyone Poops? I tell my children this: Everyone poops and everyone cries, though they usually don't poop and cry at the same time. I think seeing their mother and father cry might make them both more compassionate adults, give her the permission to be true to her emotions that I didn't have. At least that is what I am hoping. What do you think?

For Cathy from Missouri, I am going to be answering your incredibly beautiful comment/question from this post tomorrow. Thank you for asking it. And as always, I am always willing to wax and muse on any questions you might have about religion, parenting, sobriety, kids, crafts, arts and anything else. I read a lot, so there is that too. You can email me at uberangie(at)gmail(dot)com.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

another post where i kill a metaphor by slow torture

I feel like I am the precipice of major change in my life. I read the cards, lay them out, one right after the other. Something has to give, but I feel paralyzed by something like too many choices. It's a first world problem. In my card layout, there is beauty and fear in the middle of sticks and wands and cups and...Grounding, that is what I wanted early on. Some ground beneath my feet. My life restarted after Lucia died. I can't integrate that person I was with the person I am now. It's not even that I want to, but in my mind's eye, there is a line. A deep line. I can see it. That line reminds me of the line in the sand that Bugs Bunny draws for Yosemite Sam.

I feel like I am falling. I dared myself to cross a line into the air. I threw myself into the abyss. It was all I knew, now I am searching for grounding.

I was someone else.

I sometimes like that someone else. I mean, frequently, I liked her. It took me many years to like her, despite the teenage angst and the anger I once held. She was ignorant and oblivious, but she was trying to find something resembling serenity. She searched and studied sacred texts, meditated on red rocks barefoot. She shaved her head, and wore beads, and she liked people. I'm not sure how I feel about me now. I don't like me or not like me. I just am a deeply flawed person who is trying to do the next right thing. Before I was a deeply right person doing the next flawed thing. I can see that clearly now, but I still liked her earnestness.

After my daughter died, the easiest part for me was that she died. I could wrap my brain around that. Death happens. It was a medical fact. She was not breathing. Her heart stopped. I understand science in that way.

I engaged in magical thinking, willing her back, praying for something like Lucia in a sunspot or a ladybug or just a sense of peace around me, bartering with God, the gods, the universe, anyone that would listen. No one took my trade, and to be honest, I wouldn't have believed them if they did. It took a long time to realize I couldn't wish her back, or pray her back, or find peace in her gone, but when I did realize it, there was a peace in that realization. Conversely, the hardest part was being so far from my spiritual and moral principles. To be so angry and sad that I could not be the best me, I could only be the angry and sad me. To know it and not be able to change it. To work so hard at being honest and kind with friends and family about where I was, but still hurting them in the process. Yesterday, the Dalai Lama's status update was "Many people think that patience is a sign of weakness. I think this is a mistake. It is anger that is a sign of weakness, whereas patience is a sign of strength."

I never thought patience was a sign of weakness, I just couldn't be patient. And I knew it was weak to be angry. And that heaped shame and guilt and all the other crap that makes us feel worse on top of me. I was anger personified. Daughter-death is a justifiable anger, I thought, I still think. All the anger I swallowed for years while I endured humiliations and heartbreaks, it all came up again when the doctor said my daughter's heart had stopped.


I was being as patient as possible. Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth. I hear that a lot these days. I think it is true, but it was a resentful petty growth in the beginning.

Fine. I'll grow. But I won't like it. 

I only grew in the way I wanted, toward the other babylost people I met. They received my patience, but no one else. Another line I drew, I suppose. I don't resent it anymore, the growth that came after my daughter's death, it just came much much later than I initially thought. In the early months, I was able to see through this dimension. I saw all the death around me, the suffering of people. I couldn't see the normal people going about their business. The funeral homes on every corner were lit from behind, beckoning me to look more closely at the suffering and the death. People hold grief in their shoulders, in the bags under their eyes. They hold it in their haunches which slow them down. I could see it hanging on them. And that, I thought, was my growth, the seeing and empathy part. Maybe it was, but I had no tolerance for the unsuffering amongst us. And even though I could see it, I drew a line in the sand, and said, "I dare ya to cross this line."

Someone said to me a few weeks ago, "Do you want to be right or happy?" And that is where I am now, trying to choose happy, even though right now, I am not happy. I am saying all this because I have to live with the consequences of drawing lines in the sand, keeping people at arm's length, of being a flawed creature succumbing to the demands of grief on a daily basis. There was room for understanding, but I chose to ignore it, instead choosing to dwell in a rickety cabin alone on the edges of the wilderness writing manifestos about grief. When people made mistakes in my grief, I graciously told them that I needed space and never came back. I suppose I didn't even draw the line. The line cast by my daughter's death was a ravine, long and deep with rabid weasels in its basin. Maybe I am just slowly filling that line, trying to rebuild the gap between who I once was and who I am.