Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years Eve 2013

One year ago, today, just a couple of hours before the new year, my water broke unexpectedly and prematurely with Zachary.  The gush and the instant shrinking of my swollen abdomen left me gasping for air, begging for logic and reason and instinct to kick in and tell me what the hell to do to help my baby boy.  There was so much blood.  Horror-stricken and believing he was already dead, we raced to the hospital, leaving C.T. asleep in his bed, our neighbor running to our house just ten seconds behind us.  I remember sobbing in the car as B and I contemplated the cruelty of losing another son and what we presumed would (now) be a double life sentence of parental grief.  I prayed for Zachary and for my sanity. 

An hour later, we saw Zachary on the ultrasound screen, full of life and responding incredibly well to having lost almost all of his fluid.  The gratitude I felt for his life in those first moments of knowing he was alive, after having lost B.W., is nearly indescribable.  But it was also immediately overshadowed by the fear of what was to come, and the near certainty that my third son would arrive prematurely.  It was just a question of how soon. 

While much of the central time zone was ringing in the new year, I was being pumped full of fluids, precautionary antibiotics and magnesium sulfate to stall my labor.  I received the first of two critical shots to speed Zachary's lung development.  Laying flat in a hospital bed, legs anchored by compression boots, catheterized and then relieving myself via bed pan, 24-hour monitoring of Zachary's heart rate and my contractions, was suddenly my new minute to minute existence. 

Looking back, I desperately wish I would have been stronger for Zachary, that night, and for the week I spent laying flat in the hospital before he was born.  I was so terrified for him, and I was in so much constant pain.  I often wonder if by sheer will power, or by some form of calming meditation, or by not shifting around so much in that miserable bed, I could have delayed his birth by another day.  Maybe then he would have been assigned a different NICU room where there was no exposure to the bacteria that senselessly ravaged his perfect little body and brain and eventually took his life.  The burning regret for any part I had in Zachary's demise, no matter how far fetched, nearly consumes me at times. 

If Zachary were here, if he would have lived as all expectations and prognoses suggested, we would be celebrating this day.  We would be giving thanks for the intervention that stymied the close call on New Years Eve.  As much as I try to focus on gratitude for the three weeks with Zachary that followed, my heart knows that this night last year, was actually and unfathomably, the beginning of the end for him.   


Tuesday, December 30, 2014


You are alive in my mind, Zachary.  I see your pulse, keeping pace in your tiny wrist.  I watch you find me with your innocent searching eyes.  I kiss your forehead and trace your eyebrows with my thumb.  Your fingers close tightly on mine.  I don't even try to resist kissing you over and over again.  Your eyes flutter and shut, as you drift off to sleep in the warmth and safety of my arms.       

The days and moments we shared together, my son, are always on my mind.  I still don't understand how it is that you are not alive.  How it is that two weeks was supposed to be enough.       

I think of you, of what you mean to me, and I wonder how anything will ever really matter to me again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

I remember Christmas 2013.  I remember dragging my tired, pregnant body up and down the stairs on Christmas Eve, placing gifts from Santa under the tree for C.T.  I remember allowing myself to dream, with B, that maybe just maybe, we would be able to delight another son with gifts from Santa in 2014 and beyond.  We were so ready and so in love with our unborn baby boy.     

I remember being cautious about Zachary, about assuming he would actually come to be part of, and stay part of, our lives.  I remember tempering every casual conversation about him with "if he survives" and "yes, we're excited but terrified", and feeling uncomfortable as people talked about our future with our unborn son as if it was all a certainty.  I sensed they were perplexed and disappointed in my inability to be fully optimistic - which made me wonder if they really knew us and what we'd already been through (with B.W.) at all.  I was injecting myself with blood thinners, right?  I was being seen by a high-risk specialist, right?  Those rudimentary questions were answered in the affirmative and with the wave of their hand, people thoughtlessly assured me Zachary was going to be fine.  I desperately hoped they were right.


It is Christmas Eve and I feel so utterly broken.  It feels so wrong to have added a third stocking to the mantle, but for another dead son.  A son who was in my arms, had cleared so many hurdles, only to be killed by layers of carelessness.  We began living life with Zachary, and still, somehow, he is dead.  I miss him terribly. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

The truth about giving this year

The donation center worker scans the pages, looking for record of my commitment. 

Ah, yes.  Here you are.  So, you have gifts for Hugo and Emanuel?  Wonderful.  Are they individually labeled with the names and family numbers? 

I have no problem handing over the sack of Christmas gifts on my left arm.  They are for Hugo, a (now eight year old) boy we've been systematically matched with almost every year since B.W. died.    

An audible groan escapes my body as I lift the bag of Emanuel's gifts up over the table.  Selecting them and wrapping them for this needy child (for the first time in memory of Zachary), has been sheer torture for me.  Deep down, I do not want Emanuel to have the gifts.  I resent that I've "adopted" another needy child because another of my sons has died.  I am bitter that Emanuel will receive the Christmas gifts I should be giving to my Zachary. 

The bag of gifts leaves my hand, slips right through my fingers, just like Zachary did.  On its way to making sure Emanuel is treated to new toys and books this Christmas.  I shove my empty hands into my coat pockets and walk out of the donation center, numbed by the bitterness I feel.    

Making donations in memory of one dead son is evidently all I am able to handle with grace. 


It is still too much for me that Zachary has died.  The reading on my loss barometer has been pushed beyond its limit.  It is stuck on maximum, vibrates there spastically, unable to register the whole of this new level of destruction. 

Was it too much to expect, to ask?  That another child of mine would simply live?   

Will giving in Zachary's memory ever feel anything but bitter?


Friday, December 12, 2014

What subtle suggestions feel like

Please do not tell me I should count my blessings this holiday season. 

If you want to know the truth, nothing in my life feels blessed.  Maybe it helps you to imagine I would be capable of counting my blessings amidst the massive tragedy of Zachary's death this year.  I wonder why you would choose the Christmas holiday, with all the painful splendor of the baby Jesus in the manger, for highlighting my many blessings,... when my own baby has just died.  I wonder if you even considered how disorienting it is to have my blessings dangled in my face at the same time that I'm seeking professional help to manage the PTSD that plagues my hours, as I battle headaches and anxiety brought on by my grief and the trauma of Zachary's suffering and death.  I wish I could return to the good old days when I might have reflected on my blessings, but that would mean Zachary was here with me this Christmas.  Instead, he is dead and my grief is inflamed, stressed and trampled by the unrelenting joy and spirit of Christmas, by the pressures to participate in it despite the carnage that has befallen my family. 

Please do not tell me I should be thankful for C.T.

You must know how much I love C.T.  What you don't see is the degree of effort and care I put into mothering and loving this developing person, our C.T., on a daily basis.  He is all I/we have.  But showing my gratitude for C.T., as I do each day, does not diminish my brokenness in Zachary's suffering and death.  The life of one son does not offset the death of another. It just doesn't work that way.  Maybe you feel you are being helpful to "encourage" me to see the light that not all has been lost.  I don't need any help to realize how fortunate I am that C.T. is still here.  But, telling me how thankful I should be about it is like imploring a double (leg) amputee to be thankful that at least she still has her arms.  It only serves to make me feel more isolated in the reality of my loss, my day to day reality and my future. 

Please don't tell me you miss me.   

The me whom you miss is gone forever.  No one misses her (and the life she had) more than I do.  When you guilt me with this, when you mention, for instance, your concern at not having seen me in some time, my insides boil with rage and frustration at your "needs" being held in higher regard than my tender, bereaved mother heart.  I miss Zachary every minute of every day - much more than you miss seeing me occasionally.  My fear is that your fleeting thoughts about missing me (and B and C.T.) are somehow worth more to you than my son's suffering and death, more than the grief of his loving mother.  Please allow me to take care of myself, even if I'm not able to see you as often as you expect or hope, even if our rare meetings are awkward and painful because I'm in a dark place.  Zachary left us only ten and 1/2 months ago.  If you miss me, please come alongside me in my grief instead of waiting for the old me, and for me to show up in familiar contexts.  I rarely have the strength to reach out on my own.  Offers of "if you ever need anything" almost always fall flat.  I am just starting to process what happened to my boy, just beginning to accept he has died.  It takes a tremendous amount of time and emotional energy, and I find I have almost nothing left to give, even to those who care deeply.  Like you, I desperately wish it were different.      


I know you care about me and I don't believe you intentionally hurt me.  I know that you have your own stuff going on.  I know that you'd like to take it all away for me, so that you could see me happy again.  But, I am so incredibly fragile because of what I've been through.  Like a burnt match ready to disintegrate at the slightest touch, your words and your opinions about my grief, no matter how subtle, gentle or well intentioned, can crumble me.  It makes me feel so helpless when you seem disappointed about how I'm doing or frustrated that I can't just focus on joy and gratitude again.  Right now, I am existing and doing what I can to cope.  I am caring for my family and executing the day to day stuff pretty well.  I think that's actually pretty stellar considering the circumstances.  I wonder if you would be coping any better or more acceptably if you wore my shoes.    

Please try to remember my beautiful baby boy, my third son.  His tender skin, his dark, spiky hair, his perfect fingers and toes.  Remember that I am his loving mother.  Remember that he became ill so suddenly and senselessly, that I witnessed him suffer more than I imagined possible, that I was forced to watch him leave us, forever, just as we were planning to bring him home.  Even if you can't tangibly imagine the trauma the four of us endured, please remember that it exists and that we must live with it every day.     

I need to continue to be gentle with myself, to allow myself to process and grieve Zachary's death and the compounded loss of my boys.  My responsibility is to care of myself, B and C.T.  Although subtle suggestions call it into question, I am not responsible for making sure that everyone is satisfied with how I'm handling Zachary's death. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blessings, caves and difficult topics

The concept and traditions of Thanksgiving rang hollow for us this year in Zachary's absence.  The gluttony, the familiar motions of the day and visits with family, the damned thankfulness, was simply too disorienting to absorb.  More than anything, the idea of family and togetherness, which for us feels unfairly scripted and utterly, horrifyingly incomplete without our beloved Zachary, might have totally extinguished the tiny flicker of existence we are clinging to.  
We opted to leave town instead, to take a road trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, a six+ hour drive from our home and to visit Indianapolis on the way home.  
We arrived at our small-town Kentucky hotel on Thursday afternoon, relieved to find more than one restaurant open for dinner.  We were seated immediately, adjacent to a table where a woman was offering her "blessings" on the holiday to anyone who came into contact with her.  The server, the clean-up crew, patrons who made eye contact with her while passing by her table - everyone was subjected to being blessed.  For one unfortunate restaurant worker, after a short, forced conversation about the holiday and the season, I overheard her inviting him to visit her place of worship and be healed.  His response was much more courteous than I would have managed.  As we finished our meal and stood from our seats to pay the bill, I braced for the holy-roller assault on us.  She eased in with a couple of pleasantries and began to bestow her blessings.  I smiled, turned my back and walked away, completely ignoring her, resisting the urge to tell her where to shove it.   
On Friday, we boarded one of three tour buses which unloaded us at a massive sink hole entrance to Mammoth Cave.  As we descended further into the earth, 280-something steps on this particular tour, even as I felt claustrophobic at times, I was comforted by the stillness, the dark, the damp hanging air in the cave.  It was strikingly familiar.  That inescapable, unrelenting heaviness, the suspension of perception about time, the feeling of being totally separate and apart from the happenings of the world.  In many ways, the cave experience perfectly suited my state of mind, my grieving heart.  I whispered Zachary's name a thousand times during our tour, my heart foolishly hoping to find him there. 
In response to questions about the stability of the limestone boulders and rocks all around us in the cave, the guide explained that with the exception of the changes made by water and carbonic acid flowing and dripping in spots, the tendency of cave structure is to remain unchanged over very long periods of time.  Without exposure to seasons and weather elements, naturally-formed cave structures are, by and large, protected - even from the occasional earthquake.  I wondered if our presence would elicit some exception to the rule.  If we would be the first tour group to be crushed or trapped by a falling boulder.  If the cloud of misfortune and tragedy that follows my family would wreak havoc on us that day.  It did not.   
We drove half-way home on Friday afternoon and spent the night in Indianapolis so that C.T. could visit the children's museum there on Saturday.  The museum was really pretty spectacular.  One of the large exhibits was dedicated to the power of children in history.  Unlike many history-based exhibits which struggle to hold the interest of today's children, this one highlighted stories of child suffering due to discrimination, hatred and fear (think Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White) in engaging and interactive ways.  There was even a life sized recreation of the classroom in which Ruby Bridges attended first grade with white students in New Orleans.  For a moment, I was puzzled that so few families were visiting the exhibit and these brilliantly depicted stories.


My confusion lasted about half a second.  Of course.  These stories are sad, gut wrenching and terror-filled in some cases.  They are difficult to explain and accept.  They take time and care and attention of the parent to translate to the level of understanding of their own child(ren).  Many children who are able to understand, at their own level, are so sheltered, distracted and over-stimulated by the orderliness of their own lives that they simply cannot absorb these stories.  And, let's be honest, most everyone who showed up at the museum that Saturday was there to "have fun"..., not to be depressed about the suffering of others.

It is striking how closely the repulsion and resistance to these difficult topics is mirrored in my existence as a bereaved mother.  So very few people actually care to learn about this grief, to imagine the suffering experienced by my Zachary, to accept that it has altered everything in my life and will live in me forevermore.