Monday, December 17, 2012

I don't know. Or, I can't imagine.

I don't know what it feels like to lose a child to a senseless act of violence. I can't imagine being a parent right now to one of those twenty children, the same age as my Aoife, who now lie lifeless somewhere, waiting for their burial the week before Christmas.
But somehow I'm different, even just a little, from most of the other people I know who also can't imagine this. I do feel dizzy, and vaguely sad and confused. But I know this is not my pain to feel.
Because, once, I did walk back into a house and look at things that belonged to a person who used to be alive and wasn't anymore, and I wondered what I should do with those things.
I have unwrapped gifts that were for someone who wasn't alive to open them.
I have lain on a floor on a soft wool rug until the entire room smelled like wet wool, my tears never ending.
I have heard the wails that sounded like an animal coming from my own body. I wondered who could sound that way.
I could not look at my face in a mirror.
Mostly, I just know how in an instant, a world that seemed predictable and fair can suddenly be nothing like it was three minutes ago. How in the beat of a heart, your future can turn from one of joy and everyday rhythms to a bottomless well of grief.
Thinking of those parents whose children were slaughtered on Friday makes Charlotte's little death seem so quiet, so easy. There was nobody to blame. Just a quiet, unknown baby, slipping away.
But she was still my future, and I loved her very much. So there are some things I know.
And the greatest thing I learned from Charlotte I am reminded of again, and it is good to remember this. Any day could be the last. This fact, however, should not invoke fear and reservation, but rather inspire us to love openly, seek out joy, and dearly love the ones in our midst.
I don't pretend that I grieve for those children. Yes, indeed, my heart hurts and aches and pains at the thought of their lives lost. But I would not belittle the pain that their families, friends, and mostly their parents feel by acting as though what I feel is grief. I am sick at heart, I am lonesome for them and what they might have become. But I know how to breathe right now, and those mothers are now struggling to draw a breath. They are willing their hearts to beat, not quite knowing why. This is not me.
Me, I walk down the hall and lie next to each of my children while they sleep. I admit I linger a little bit with Aoife, kissing her soft cheek, watching the shadow of her long, long lashes on her cheek in the glow of the night light. Then, I return to my bed and I lie there and think of the cupboard of Christmas gifts that is in my room, at the ready, and I wonder for how many years those mothers will keep their children's unopened, unreceived gifts for.
 I imagine it might be forever.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Giving Thanks

It's never too late to give thanks. On the morning of Thanksgiving, we ended up at home. A day earlier I had been thinking our trip to my parents might be cancelled. Liam was feeling sick, and Maeve had thrown up in the night. Strangely, and fortunately, everyone rallied. By noontime on Wednesday they were climbing the walls, and when Thanksgiving morning dawned bright and clear, everyone was up and cheerful. This extra window of time at home (we would have left Wednesday afternoon, otherwise) allowed Greg to cross paths with his brother, who was coming to town to have dinner with his parents while we joined my sisters in New Hampshire. H took the kids over for a visit in the morning while I stayed home and cooked myself and Maeve a variety of dairy-free Thanksgiving alternatives so as not to trouble my mother.
Home alone, I had this clear, clear thought, all of the sudden that morning: I'm just so thankful that I survived losing Charlotte, so I could experience all of this. Suddenly I felt as if I had been saved, even though I knew that the person who had saved me was actually myself. For a flicker, I could remember how fast and how painfully I was sinking for a while, how deep the pit seemed to be that surrounded me as I wallowed in the well of my grief. I used to have visuals every single day of myself, down in a shaft with earthen walls, clamoring at the walls but only feeling the dirt pushing higher and higher under my fingernails as I tried, to no avail, to move upwards. I knew with such certainty then that I would be very, very sad for the rest of my life.
What I didn't know was how a person could also be very, very happy at the same time. I didn't know that joy could move in and sit right next to pain, that they could share the same bowl and drink from the same cup very peacefully. I never imagined that while the stark fact of Charlotte's loss would never seem less tragic and awful, that I would be able to carefully package up the details of my pain so that I only felt them when I wanted to. I didn't know how happy my new children would make me. In the beginning, I thought I only wanted Charlotte.
I still can't believe I survived losing her, but I'm very, very glad I did. What my four living children offer me now is indescribable. I never want this part of my life to end. I am truly, gloriously, happy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Writing has not been something I've made time for lately. My world spins quickly, and it seems that in taking the moments to be there, presently, with all that happens leaves little time for reflection. As the days darken, however, I am seeking to carve that time. I do appreciate being able to document this life as I live it.

A few nights ago, I dreamt of Samantha. She was a woman as if from a dream, who came to me after the birth of Charlotte, probably not more than a week after Charlotte came and went. Our hospital had, then, a wonderful program where one was provided with twenty hours of post-partum home doula care after discharge. I had elected this option before the birth, and was gently informed by my nurse that while I was sadly not going to have a baby to bring home, I was still entitled to my doula. She told me there was one they had in mind, a gentle, quiet woman who was a massage therapist and had once before worked with a family in Oregon whose baby had died. I signed the paper. A few days later, Sam called.
When she first came, all I wanted to hear about was Benjamin. He was the baby before, the other one who had died. I wanted to know about this other mother who had walked in my shoes. I needed some connection, even if it was a second-hand, trans-continental connection through a kind, sweet-faced doula named Sam. She held my hand. She hugged me for a long, long time. She told me the story of Benjamin, and then she listened to me. For five, four hour sessions, she rubbed the pain in my body, kneading the sad, bitter energy through my being, and heard me pour out my soul, my very life. She started on the other couch, her feet tucked up beneath her, her face earnest. She was thirty, four years older than I was. She cried a little. By the end, she was on the couch with me, holding me on her shoulder, stroking my hair. She held me like we had always known each other.
Sam told me that she thought Charlotte had chosen me as a mother, because she knew that I would be able to keep her, even when she couldn't stay. Those words were my life raft for some time.
Sam knew me at a time when I don't remember myself. But I do remember her, and how she held me when my body was about to break into a thousand pieces on the floor, held me with warm, strong arms, and spoke to me softly with a voice like hushed wind.
She told me that her favorite tree was a hazel tree. I had never seen one. She described it to me. Ten days ago, I was making a ropes course with Liam and came across a gangly tree, blooming yellow in early November. A hazel tree, right there in my own front yard. I wanted to call her, to run into her warm arms. To cry again.
And so she came to me in a dream. I saw her, across a lawn, and did run into her arms, and felt her strength as she hugged me close. I was so full of intense joy for having found her, yet when I felt her envelop me with her warmth I was returned to the saddest place I've ever been and I began to cry. Not just weep, or tear up with joy, but cry the mother's cry, the cry of the mother who has lost what she loves most. But I was safe.
I miss that Samantha, and this dream is my call to find her. Off I go.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My friend's baby died, people write to me, at least every few months. It is still happening all around us. They write to me grasping at straws, hoping I will possess the magical formula to make it go away. I do not have any such magic; I do not even have the words to give them to help their friend. We all suffer in isolated pods, each needing something different from the other.
The only thing we all need is that friend, who is the one who has taken the time to write to me, the friend who is trying to figure out what to do. The friend who will hopefully put her hand on that empty-armed mother's shoulder, and say, I am going to be your friend even while you are sad. I am going to sit with you even though you are crying, and I'm going to say your baby's name. This friend's tears will fall onto her pants, leaving wet spots, while she sits silently because she can't find words. This friend will come into the house and humbly put some food or some muffins on the counter, feeling embarrassed that all she could come up with was lasagne or cookies. But it's really all she can do, isn't it?

I am a mixed blend right now, of a mother who really wishes people would mention and ask about my first daughter, and the mother who cannot bear to take herself back to the place where pain surrounded her from all sides. I remain fiercely loyal to Charlotte as my daughter, yet when people bring her up, I find myself feeling closer to an awkward teenager trying to find words than the proud, devoted mother I feel like. Long ago I remember reconciling the fact that there was nothing left to say; the story had been told, the tears had been shed. These days I feel the absence of tears belie the truth of my loss, yet I can't sit well with the discomfort of others all the same. I am a stone-faced survivor, removed almost completely from the truth of the agony of the loss, trying to remember the love for my girl while I try even harder to divorce myself from the terrible pain of her death.

My sister gave birth to my first niece on the ninth of May. She was three days early, and I heaved a sigh of relief that Charlotte's day would remain sacredly hers. Little Eleanor June arrived with a beautiful bellow, and when I went to see her in the hospital, it was love at first sight. I wanted to swallow her whole, to drink in the sweet smell of vernix in her hair, to wrap myself around her tiny, frail, limp newborn body. I spent a lovely few hours with Eleanor and my sister and her dear, dear husband, and I was in heaven with them.

It was only when I was driving home that it flooded back to me, an image I had never actually seen. It was me, looking so much like my sister, slim and freckled with my dark hair tucked behind my ears, but in this image the baby laid limp across my chest, her eyes closed forever.

Was that really what it was like, I thought? Could that moment really have been real, that I was robbed of that beauty of the living baby curled in my arms? It made my stomach boil with a real, acidic nausea to imagine the hand I had actually been dealt. My daughter, born in the second week of May, to a young, healthy mother and devoted, true father, had been robbed of everything. She had, indeed, lain dead in my arms, and today she is not nine years old. She is nothing, and I have nothing left of her but a pregnancy and a day worth of memories.

The sadness stuck with me for quite a while that time.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Now my daughter would be nine, nine long years old.
Long years, long hair, long legs.
I had always envisioned her blonde; but now Maeve has dark, dark hair, so I can't be sure. She has slipped back into the illusion she was once before my younger children outgrew her.

The night of her ninth birthday, Greg said, should we make a nice dinner"
I said no, let's spend hundreds of dollars and order everything we want off the gourmet menu at the best Indian place in town.
So we did, we had two shopping bags full of the best things I've always wanted but been too cheap to order, and we laid it all out on the table with beautiful placemats and candles and ate most of it up.

Liam and Aoife joined us. The babies were in bed already. Halfway through the meal, Aoife regarded me with huge, haunted eyes.

Mimi, she carefully said, Did it make you really, really sad when you had to burn Charlotte's body?

Yes, I said, Yes it did.

Beside me, Liam burst into quiet, sad, tears. Please don't talk about this, he said. It makes me too sad.

I asked, Do you children want to hear the story of the day Charlotte was born? It occurred to me that they didn't really know the story. It seemed part of their family history they ought to know.

Aoife nodded, but Liam continued to cry. It makes me too sad, he said, it's too sad. He leaned into my shoulder and wept.

I told Aoife we could talk about it later, but then when the time came, the moment had passed.

It was the end of a long, cranky day. Nine years into it and what I really wanted was a day alone to count my blessings and beat the dirt for my one huge missing piece. This has been a year of incredible loss to those around me, invoking a feeling of near-guilt for my own grief over my one lost girl.

But she was my very own girl, and I wanted her very much. I am entitled, and I weep for her even surrounded by the eight loving arms I have since grown.

I am so lucky, but still remember.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I slowed down today as I drove by a building that used to be the MotherWear nursing wear store. I went in there about nine years ago to buy nursing bras. I remember the woman coming into the dressing room with me and measuring my round, pregnant body and recommending that I buy a D cup bra. I laughed at her, and bought Cs. They were all too small in the end.

As I drove by the store, my thoughts strayed to the history of a building: that I had walked, once, with a living baby girl in my womb, through the door of that building and carelessly walked around, shopping. I didn't know what would happen to me, or to my baby girl. I only wanted to buy a bra. I had been there. She had been there.

The light turned red, and back to green. As I left the store in my rear-view mirror it occurred to me that this mini-memory and little thought conversation I'd had with myself was a perfect example of how the brain hangs on to the tiniest memories in freeze-frame when a baby dies. I thought about how many hundreds of places I'd gone while pregnant with the other four children and how those memories have been sifted to the back of the file drawer, useless, and will never need to be resurrected.

But for Charlotte, what else do I have? It's all fair game.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Dream

I am about to enter a soft, green room. There is a large table in the center of it, perhaps fifteen feet wide by twenty feet long. The lighting is like daylight, bright, but indoors.
I am just approaching the wooden, heavily hinged door, which has a glass panel in it with a shade drawn down over the window. In the doorframe stands Heather, the sister, and she ushers us in. I know why I am here. Heather's sister, my friend, her baby has died.
As I am coming across the threshhold I see him, twelve weeks old, I know it is him. His name is Henry. I know I am here because he died, but somehow it hadn't occurred to me that I would see him, that he would actually be here. This is a funeral of sorts. It's going to be very small.
I am going to cry so much, I suddenly realize. This is very sad.
Henry is lying about two-thirds of the way down the big table, almost in front of the door as we enter. He is naked, with soft, dark hair, and he's curled into a beautiful sleeping position. He almost looks like one of the babies in an Anne Ged.des photograph, only he isn't in a basket or flowerpot, he's just beautifully curled around himself like a sleeping doll. He looks amazingly lifelike, but I know he is dead.
I try not to look at him, and I turn to the left and head towards my seat, the one that somehow I know is mine, about five seats down on the side of the table that faces the door. I am trying to look purposeful, as if I have somewhere I need to be. But as I'm walking down, my back to Heather and to Henry, I realize what I'm doing:
I'm avoiding him on purpose, because I don't want to know that this is real. I don't want to look at him, and realize how adorable he is, and how sweet he is, and to understand the magnitude of what my friend has lost. I don't want to see his sweet face and feel this unstoppable surge of agonizing grief for a little life lost. But I know that I must. I must.
So I turn back around and I head for him. Somebody else is already there, admiring him. I lean over and see him. He is so sweet, so beautiful. He really looks like he is sleeping. I look at him very closely. Very, very closely. I think I can actually see his hand trembling a little bit. It can't actually be so, can it? This sweet, beautiful little boy cannot be dead, can he? It seems much too impossibly sad to be the truth. I'm almost sure that I can see him move.
The woman who is looking at him picks him up, now, and she tries to move his position. She's trying to re-curl him in another way, and as she does so I can see that under his arm, where it has been curled around his little face, it is all reddish-purple and bruised. In my mind I know that this is because he actually is dead, and the blood is beginning to pool from the gravity. (does this really happen, I wonder? as I ponder this dream)
My heart sinks. It is really so......

And here, the dream ends, as all dreams do, abruptly and without resolution.

n.b. The baby in the dream, o best beloved, did look just like Charlotte.

n.b. 2 Henry is a real child, the son of the real friend, sister of Heather, but he is a lively, blond two year old. Incidentally, his mother, a friend from High School, reached out to me after reading Charlotte's obituary in the paper, and rekindled our friendship which had lain dormant for 10 years. I believe she is the only person who randomly sought me out to say she was sorry.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Leftovers

In my bedside table drawer, there is a little mostly-used package of kleenex that my mother brought me in the hospital. I was sitting in the bed, gloriously pregnant, about to deliver the end of myself as I once was. She handed me the kleenex.
"Hospital Kleenex is so scratchy," she said, "I thought you might appreciate this."
It's remarkable that the whole packet isn't empty, but it's not, and it's still there, next to my bed.

Behind that, there is a tiny little diaper. It's brand new, an infant diaper-doubler. When I came home from the hospital, swollen, bleeding, and broken hearted, I found it half-under my bed where someone had missed it when they'd come to pick up the pieces of my old life. It was stiff with the amniotic fluid that had soaked it just 36 hours prior, I could see streaks of blood and still smell that sweet smell.
It occurred to me then that in the fluid would be skin particles, urine, all sorts of Charlotte that had soaked into the piece of cotton. It was her DNA, and I envisioned a Jurassic-Park like scenario where my daughter was conjured out of this evidence of her being.
I tucked it into my drawer, along with the kleenex.

It will probably be there for my entire life.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

There's Always a First...

It's hard to imagine that this has never happened before, but it really hasn't. Perhaps it's because Liam is a boy, and many of his newer friends that we've had over to play have been boys, and perhaps boys are less observant or less likely to comment on such things. But today we've got a little girl over who Liam has been friends with for three years. She's an awesome girl, she's enthusiastic and has always been very tuned into my pregnancies and babies. She and Liam play hockey together on weekend mornings and today we brought her home afterwards so they could spend the afternoon together.
They were eating scrambled eggs and toast together for lunch, and this little girl was looking around the room and her eyes settled on the three little ceramic plates mounted over our sunroom windows.
"Liam, Aoife, and Charlotte. Charlotte. Why does it say Charlotte?"
It's funny, but I've never explained this to one of Liam's friends before. It seems either they already knew, or they didn't ask. So I thought, here goes.
"Before Liam was born we had another baby, a little girl named Charlotte, and she died."
I said it simply. But of course this astute, thoughtful girl isn't going to take this at face value. They're almost eight years old now.

So I explained it. Almost like I was telling her how to make chocolate cookies, or how to piece together a quilt.

Just a list of facts, ending in the death of my firstborn child.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I am blessed to have these four children. I say this to myself, over and over again. I know this.

I am so lucky to know this. There are great challenges to parenting all these children at once, but in a strange way I feel my burden is lifted by this peaceful knowledge that I am so lucky to have them.

Knowing that Charlotte died from such a random, quick accident makes me feel that each one of my living children was a near miss, an amazing gift plunked down before me that I should savor. What would it be like if I simply expected them to be there?

I am envious of friends and family who have a specific, clean, definite answer to the question, "How many children do you have?"

I don't have an answer to that. I have four children, but I've had five babies. The answer is never clear, I never know what to say, and however I answer I am not telling the truth. The truth is, I don't have four children. But the truth isn't that I have five children. I'm somewhere in the middle, with four underfoot and another taking up airspace and headspace and heartspace but without a body to go with all that.

Aoife made me a picture at school yesterday with two girls, their arms slung over each others' shoulders. There was a rainbow over them. The message said, Dear Mimi-- I'm sorry my sister died. This rainbow that you will see on my card is for you to be reminded of Charlotte. Love, Aoife.

This is my life. It's all the real stuff of life, and it's mine.

I'm blogging somewhere else now, too. This is brand new. I haven't written here very much lately for a very real reason. I'm really in a whirlwind of parenting four living children, but this space feels very much like space that has to somehow revolve around Charlotte. Much of my parenting does, but sometimes I just need a place to try on the shoes of the lady in the grocery store with the four children.
Amazing what time will do for you.
So if you're interested in some more writing, check out this new blog, too.

I'll still be here, too, for there will be days where I need the friend who knows. And you will.