Thursday, July 17, 2014

right where i am: five years and almost seven months

A few years ago, I launched a project called Right Where I Am where I asked other babylost parents to write about right where they were in their grief. And it also was about how wherever you are, it is right. I asked people to only talk about the present moment in their grief, not where they were yesterday, or tomorrow, but how they were feeling today. I asked each person to title their piece with Right Where I Am: followed by the time since their child or children died. Here is  the first year's postHere is the second year's post. Here is the third year's post. One hundred and seventy-nine people wrote about right where they were the first year, the second year, it was one hundred and thirty-two, the third years, there were seventy. I haven't written here since last year, but I thought this might be a good project for me. Also know that if you are new to this community, we want to hear your story too.  I hope you decide to join in. If you do write, post your link in the Mr. Linky below. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, I'll answer them as soon as I get them. 

Today, the wind blows through the house. The children play in the basement, as the chimes call to them. Come outside, children. Ride your bike. Slowly, they emerge from the earth, barefoot. "The sun," they say. "We see the sun." I don't follow them outside. Since we moved last fall, we don't have city issues to worry about. We live in a rural community far from a main road. We have a few acres, sixteen chicks, and Jack the dog roams free. He sticks close to the house. The stables fill with feathers and entrails from the owls eating rodents at night, and then the other animals scoop up the guts for dessert. My children find this absolutely fascinating. Death in all its gory, life-affirming mess.

It's been five years. We left it all behind, as was our instinct when she first died--to run to the middle of nowhere where no one knew our story. Far from the tree I planted on my first Mother's Day without my daughter. Far from the place where she died and was born and where a funeral director walked with her ashes in the smallest jar I'd ever seen. Far from the people who remember me locked in my home for months on end, and who later whispered, "I remember when you wouldn't talk to me." Far from the hospital where I held Lucia's dead body in my arms, kissed her nose, crying, " I don't want to forget her." The nurse and everyone treated me like a child, then.

"There, there. You will never forget your daughter."

That is not true. I am far from her now.

I don't forget that she existed, but I forget what she looked like and smelled like and whose hair she had. I doubt my eyewitness account. I vividly remember seeing the Easter Bunny fill my basket when I was four; I am a highly unreliable witness. I cling to these things like what color eyes she had, or what color I thought she had when I briefly lifted her eyelids to peek--a color that would have obviously morphed through the months, settling on something else by age one. That color is blue almost purple, but that cannot be. My baby's immutable eyes are a color that does not appear in eyes. Or her hair, it seemed black, except it was wet from birth, and all hair looks darker when wet. Maybe it was brown, or something else. Maybe I should forget those things anyway. They lack the essence of her. And the pictures of her show a dead baby, not my daughter. I don't even look at them now. All those things I thought were important seem meaningless. The things I remember now aren't my memories at all. They are the things that five year olds embody, the things I am missing.

Five is kindergarten and bike riding. Five is writing your name and singing songs Mamas didn't teach you. Five catches frogs in the pond. Five tells you dreams, and sometimes fibs, and often says the most profoundly simple statements that change the way you look at the world. Five is ballet dancing, beauty, curiosity. Five runs and skips rope and tries the hula hoop. Five has baby dolls named Jane and Purple and Apple. Five collects rocks and feathers in cigar boxes. Five kisses and tells you that you are the best mama ever. Five thinks farts are hilarious and helping to sweep is a treat. Five is all arms and legs and not baby anymore.

But Lucia will always be a baby. It is what I grieve most. That she will never be five. That she never lived a life of mistakes and grace.

Yesterday, I went to lunch with my friend. We've met since I moved here, and she never knew me actively grieving. We talked about our respective grief. She asked some beautiful, honest, straight forward questions about Lucia's death and birth. And I welcomed the space to think about how much my life has changed since her death. And to talk about my silent daughter. Lucia gave me many gifts in this life. At five years, I can appreciate and voice that gratitude for her life and death without diminishing the real sadness of her death. Her death split me into two, and forced me to exorcise my demons. My sobriety directly came from Lucia's death; my grief drinking pushed me to look at the ways I use alcohol in my life. I am sober over three years. I wrote about my friendships that have been lost, but I have so many friends who have come into my life because of Lucia's death, or through my other work as a direct result of Lucia's death. These people are my soul family, I think, not just friends. My best friend Jess at after iris comes to visit each year, and we forget we have the dead baby thing in common. It comes up so easily in conversation, we don't even realize we talked about stillbirth right before Run-DMC. I have grown closer to my family through the years as they abided our suffering, then swooped in to remind us they have always grieved with us.My lowest points afforded me my most valued spiritual lessons, and I have gratitude for those lessons.

Because of Lucia's death, I lost the spiritual center I thought I had. I had constructed it of half read books and a respect of faith that I never quite understood. My religion was a mix of Buddhist bravado with dropping acid and running in the desert. But her death brought me to a dark desolate place. There was me. And something had to give, or I too would be nothing. So, I found my true spiritual self, and began healing myself, then others. If you didn't know, I have left this blog for my spiritual writing, but it so often is informed by my experience with grief and in this bereaved community, learning about unconditional acceptance, suffering and abiding. I have made a career of my spiritual work. It satiates me in a way that no other job has, even writing about my daughter. This is another gift from her.

On Vernal Equinox, a week before my husband's scheduled vasectomy, we talked about our last days of fertility. Ruminating about how much we wanted another child, and how silly that would be, and then why would it? And then how we are old now, and sleeping through the night, and out of diapers, and how ridiculous another child would be and how we probably wouldn't get pregnant anyway, we talked ourselves into trying one last time. Just once. On Vernal Equinox. The day marked by bunnies and other horny little animals making littler animals by the thousands. Centuries of people worshipped the day for its fertility. Not surprising in retrospect, we conceived our fourth child on that day. I am now nineteen some weeks pregnant with another boy. We are due on Santka Lucia day in December, only a week before she died.

Life is strange.

Grief seemed like this heavy jacket I would never shake or take off, the cumbersome thing I would carry forever. And anxiety, like heavy rocks, seem sewn into the pockets. And yet, I have either gotten so accustomed to the weight, I don't notice it. Perhaps through the years, worn from salt water and a relentless wind, it shredded without me realizing, falling at my feet as I trudged to the next milestone. I carry a child in my womb with almost no worry of his death. If he dies, we will survive. We will grieve. We will cry. But I control nothing. It is as though I have turned it completely over to the universe--whatever happens, we will face one moment at a time. I eat right, take my prenatal vitamins, see the midwife on my monthly appointments, avoid radiation poisoning, but I don't obsess on his death, like I did with Thomas in my tummy. My anxiety rests comfortably in a lounge chair down in the field. I could call it up, reacquaint myself with its seductive obsessiveness, but I don't. Life is too good without grief and anxiety as constant bedfellows.

My children have grown up without a sister. Beatrice doesn't remember a time when Lucia wasn't dead and I wasn't a grieving mother. Her memories start after Thomas was born. Beezus tells me, "I want a little sister who doesn't die." And I say, " Me too, love." Thomas recounts the little brother he might have had if I hadn't miscarried two years ago, or the big sister that isn't here. He knows they died, and says it like he understands all things die. Raising children in a home with grief means we talk about death fairly often, maybe more than one that hasn't lost a child, but not daily. Unlike other bereaved parent friends, my children have never asked me about their own death, or my death, or Sam's death. They don't seem to have fear around death at all. Of course, I always say things like, "Everyone poops. Everyone cries. Everyone dies." Beezus and Sam grieved when they found out the baby was another brother. "Now, I will never have a sister who lives," she wept into my shoulder. There is no replacing Lucy, she says, but still, she wants a little sister.

When we moved last fall to the middle of my home state, we faced all those old scenarios as though facing them anew. How many children do you have? What kind of writer are you? What did you do when Thomas was born? And those flippant comments about having a rich man's family--a boy and a girl. Or the assumption that we know no grief. That our happiness simply exists because we have money and a house, and not because we fought damned hard through years of therapy, writing, arguing, crying, seeking, meditating, desolation to be happy. But that stuff doesn't phase me anymore. I sometimes say three children, other times two. I don't force it to be my stance, or political issue with every glib question in the grocery line. Once in a while, I go to coffee with new friends, and find myself recounting the story of my daughter's death, telling people who I was and how I survived. And they shift uncomfortably, but also stay open. And I decide to ignore their cues of discomfort and accept their words of reassurance to continue. That they want to know. I allow my vulnerability to be present. I learned that by writing about my own grief on this blog. I learned that when I grieve, I am not a monster. Rather I am a human in its fullest expression.

And though I am far from all the things I once did to remember her, I have grown closer to her now than I ever was. All those things distracted me from feeling the weight of what I didn't have, which was her in my everyday life, and all the ways children change each part of you. I see her everywhere now. It isn't painful. Lucia has become an integral part of our family story, and our family. She is in the lady bugs, and the lush garden, and the chicks who peck at the ground. She is the sigh we have when we see a beautiful baby, and the way we hold each other before bed. She is the kiss we give eyelids, knowing full well the color beneath them. She is the wind and the chimes and the full moon and the prayers and the stardust and atoms and the fireflies. She is everything. Because of her we are here. And here is beautiful.

So, where are you? Tell me Right Where You Are, and share your blog and name below.