Breaking the Ice with Words and Grief

Dear Sebastian,

Forgive me. I know you need some attention. You’ve been persistently reminding me for more than a year, but somehow I haven’t managed to sit down and contemplate you properly.

Last summer, your days were rushed into the beginning of Family Camp. I thought of you all the time, but couldn’t grieve or cry thoroughly. In response, I’ve found grief leaping up at me, unanticipated, all year long.

I clearly remember the summer you died, the way crying would insist upon happening (at inconvenient times)  if I didn’t deliberately fill a certain allotment of mindful grieving. The Crying Quota is a lot smaller now, but I’ve clearly been sidelining it too often. It persists.

There have been those random mornings when I’d be having a nice quiet coffee alone and suddenly find myself spilling tears on the table. Times when my mind would suddenly conceive, for no reason, that instant when your tiny heart stopped beating and your perfect soul broke away. Moments when I feel the phantom pain of your head pressing against my side, uncushioned by fluid, as it did for those last weeks.

There were also many reminders of your cherished existence in my heart – like you’re tenderly poking me from your place in the universe. Conversations I’d overhear – with weird frequency – about ultrasounds, sage tea, and even the salmon. And that day at school when I opened up a storybook I was given years ago, and caught sight of the author’s inscription for the first time since we’d received it: “To the Stephens boys.” It knocked the wind out of me for a moment… but it also made me glad. Proof of your realness.

Some days, I deliberately drive past the hospital on the way home. Which might seem strange. It’s a place I am tied to for its witness of the joyous births of your siblings, as well as the only time I spent holding you. It makes me feel closer to my babies. But sometimes that memory, of arriving at the dark street in front of the ER in unearthly pain, pops up more jaggedly than I anticipate – almost as if it were recent.

And while I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but feel regret about that last morning. I wish I had kept you in my arms for longer – even half an hour longer. I don’t know why I wish this so hard, since it would change nothing, and it would all still be just as over as it is now… It was just too short. I know we usually want pain to be short, but in this case – I would give a lot to go back to that pain for a few minutes.

This grief is more than six years old now, but damned if I’ve figured out how to navigate it.

Another difficult time this summer was when our midwife died. We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years at least, and she had been working out of the province, but that didn’t make the news easier to accept. All our midwives have been excellent, but our primary midwife was a particularly amazing person and an expert in her profession. She was the one who was with us for the non-stress test where we last heard your peaceful heartbeat. She bravely broke the bad news to us the next day. She caught you and told us what a beautiful baby you were. She visited me for weeks postpartum, even though there was no baby to check on, just to talk and make sure we were managing. She vowed to help me deliver my next baby, who would be born healthy… and so she did. Having been through a lot of grief and pain herself, she was caring and empathetic and optimistic in a way that was inexpressibly reassuring. And she was one of a very small handful of people who met you in person. This summer, we grieved for her family and friends and colleagues, but also selfishly: it hurts to think that that handful is now even smaller.

In July, when Skye very gently nudged me about blogging (as she does when I haven’t written for a while), I was acutely aware that it had been more than a month since my last post, and that I blogged not a word about you on your days. The more days that passed after that, the more I couldn’t write – because it was your turn… But I needed to write you something real.

I tried breaking the ice some other way, nonchalantly. There were several attempts. I tried to make a post featuring one of your brother’s artistic masterpieces: an instructional page he created for your sister to teach her how to make fart noises with her armpit. The written steps are pithy and the diagrams utterly, utterly luminous.

But it wasn’t right. My blog even scolded me for this irreverence by refusing to upload photos. (Still not sure what that’s about… sigh.)

And now you won’t be put aside any longer. It’s the last weekend of summer before school starts. Life is about to go back to scrambly busy-ness. Here I am, still working on this post. And especially for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with the confluence of love and grief – because right now, they’re seemingly inextricable. I’ve been weepy so many times – missing my kids when I’m apart from them, saying goodbyes to people I love, listening to my favourite music, seeing beauty, feeling the endings of many things… It’s all harder because you’re so present in everything.

But when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad you’ve been so close to me all summer. You were there in the forested Appalachian hills on our trip to North Carolina, and in the joyous cacophony of the family we visited there – especially the smallest people. You were there at Family Camp, just as much in the boisterous play as in the brilliant silences. You were there on our trip to the Ottawa River, in the crashing whitewater as well as the tranquil ripples. You were there at OELC, in the gathered voices of more than a hundred people, singing this beautiful song written for a beloved little son.

Thanks for the reminders, sweetheart. I needed them. Your heart and my heart are always together, thank goodness. I miss you always and love you forever.

Mama

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More Beauty

As one of my dear Camp friends said to me today, I’m in the right place this week. Today, there was so much beauty – so easy to feel close to my Sebastian.

An hour-long silent Meeting on the hill (silent but for cicadas, wind in trees, and riotous birds), looking at this.

natural beauty

Circles holding hands.

Hair flying behind children on swings.

The sound of lake-splash.

A world so blue and green and white.

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And such good hugs.

***


 

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Five Years to Miss You

Dear Sebastian,

It’s now five years since your birth day; five years and about thirty-seven hours since your heart beat last.

There is something about this year that has made my baby memories extra-vivid. I have thought of you so much this spring. I feel your days coming the first time the weather gets hot. Despite seemingly constant over-busy-ness in the last two months, you’ve been right at the top of my heart most of the time. It has felt strange, being in our new house where you never lived… but I feel you anyway.

I thought about you especially on your big brother’s seventh birthday. I could viscerally remember bringing E home as a newborn: the sunshine, the tiny onesies, the smell of welcome-home fruit crumble, the swaddling blankets, the days of rapt, awestruck bliss.

I remember how I felt that week when Emi told me that a friend of hers had borne a son on the same day I had, but that hers had been stillborn. My heart dropped like a rock as I tried to fathom how any parent could withstand that pain, when I could barely let my own newborn out of my arms.

Then, two years and one month later, you were born still, and I became friends with that same bereaved mama, who offered beautiful, generous words of empathy that I’ve never forgotten. By that time, she had a second daughter, who is now five – like you. What a strange, sad, lovely, mysterious entwining of lives and deaths.

Normally, school ends and there is that sudden space in my life at the beginning of July – and I let myself ponder you as much as I want. This year, I haven’t had time to spend with you, but my systems knew what they were doing and went all weepy anyway. I didn’t know what to do with that, because five is a heavy milestone, and it was getting lost in the preparation for Family Camp.

Then yesterday, I arrived here at NeeKauNis, and I suddenly felt lighter, righter, like you were all around me. It was quiet and fragrant and humid and leafy. I saw you, in this bright face.

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And I saw you again in this expansive sky-smile, after a much-needed, stormy downpour.

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Today, the other families arrived, and our Camp is full. It is busy and noisy and full of life.

This week, I’m going to watch for you. Beauty has always been where I see you, and interacting with beauty is how I feel close to you.

I really wish there were some way I could cuddle you again. Part of me feels entitled to, after missing you for so long. But I’m glad you’re here with us.

I love you always.

***


 

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Be The Calm

It was a busy summer.

Just so you know, that’s the usage of the word busy where it actually means overwhelming-and-sometimes-stressful-enough-to-make-me-think-I-might-lose-my-marbles. And that’s despite summer vacation, and my school being closed for renovations.

We bought a house in June, right before end-of-school craziness; we beautified and sold our house in July; we packed in August, and moved on the last Saturday of the month. It was hard to tell how much the kids felt the upheaval – they had plenty of emotional outbursts, but that’s nothing new.

In truth, it was a pretty nice low-pressure timeline – we even had five days of overlap with both houses, so that we could properly clean out the old house. I said goodbye to it by scrubbing out its fridge and vacuuming its bare carpets with a thoroughness it hasn’t seen since we became parents. (Interestingly, vacuuming an empty house is a good way to find all those above-mentioned marbles one has lost.)

Five days later, in our new house, I suddenly got weepy for no reason I could pinpoint… other than, I suppose, a whole summer of emotional and physical craziness.

Now we are settled in. Ish. That is to say, we have unpacked enough to function quite well, but there are lots of boxes still to unpack, and certain things we haven’t yet located. (Like E’s raincoat. Mom Fail.)

The kids like it at the new house, but E especially still likes to mention, in tragic tones, that he wishes we could go back and live at the old house.

E has started in Grade 1 at his new school, with a much smaller class than in JK or SK, and seems to have had good days (overall) every day… but he still doesn’t really want to go each morning. He still looks sadly at me each day before he goes into the school.

AB is going to same day care provider as always, and we are now within walking distance of her house! But since the summer, AB has decided she doesn’t like going there. This morning she was sobbing and holding my hand as hard as she could when I left.

In an alternate reality, today would have been Sebastian’s first full day of Junior Kindergarten. We got a notice last winter, on lavender paper, inviting all parents of “children born in 2011” to register their kids for kindergarten. Yep, we’re those parents… but not.

That was the first time I realized that starting kindergarten is the first concrete missed milestone for Sebastian, and for us as his parents. We know he would have gotten teeth and crawled and said words and walked and all sorts of cool things by now, but we have only a vague idea of when. The event of starting school has an exact date. I know many beautiful JK munchkins, Sebastian’s would-be peers, who have visited their classrooms and begun big-kid school over the past week. I’m excited and proud for them and their parents, and I’m sending them extra-special vibes as they settle into this new phase. With a little lump in my throat.

Before school started, I was feeling so-so about going back to work. My emotions were all over the map; the house wasn’t all ready; I didn’t feel organized; and I was still dealing with the bitter taste left after last year, when I contended with difficult behaviour from my students with a frequency that exhausted me. Last year, I was not happy with the level of patience I was able to muster, with either my students or my own children. I was not really proud of the job I did.

But, ready or not, a new house is a fresh start, and a new school year is a fresh start. And many things have happened this summer, both locally and globally, that give me perspective on the things I struggle with.

So, regardless of how many boxes remain to be unpacked, I am starting over. I have given myself a new mantra, in which I misquote Gandhi (but in a way I think he’d endorse):

Be the calm you wish to see in the world.

My life will be disorganized for a bit longer, but the calmer I can be, the sooner things will fall into place.

My children will certainly have emotional outbursts, but the more I can model calm, the more likely they are to absorb it.

Certain of my students will forget the expectations, say rude things, fall off their chairs, interrupt, be mean to their peers, and/or goof off when they should be working, but the more I remind myself to maintain calm, the easier it is to remember that it’s not personal – those kids are simply displaying their needs – and that my reaction, the part I control, sets the tone more than anything.

I aim to Be the Calm, and at the end of this school year, to be proud of myself for it. I can feel already that my classroom atmosphere has more humour in it, and less stress.

Today, one of my new Grade 4 students blurted, after five French classes with me, “You’re my favourite teacher!” I know it’s only week two, and opinions change mercurially, but that has to mean something, right?

be-the-calm-sunset

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Four Years Remembering You In This House

Dear Sebastian,

Last week, it was four years since your death and birth. As always, we love you to the heavens and back, and miss you all the time.

We have bought a new house. We will be moving to it at the end of the summer, and we are all really excited about it. Your brother is counting the days. Your sister, when we talk about it, always adds, “But, we’re gonna be in this house for a little bit longer… right?” She is excited, but she loves her familiar house too; it’s the only home they’ve known.

I am looking forward to having a new place to be, a more functional and welcoming space, in a new neighbourhood close to many good friends… but I’m sad sometimes, thinking about leaving our home. It’s the first house Daddy and I bought; it’s a home we shared with people we loved even before having children; it’s the place we brought two of our babies home to, and watched them grow; it’s the place we expected to bring you home to, and the place that sheltered us when we mourned you the most.

Thinking about you gives me the biggest pangs about moving away. After four years, it’s hard to feel close to you, but sometimes, especially on hot and humid summer days, time folds back to that July, and I welcome the sorrow that keeps you near. Somehow, you seem to be here in these walls.

Our bedroom is where I slept curled around you. It’s where I sang lullabies to our two-year-old E that I knew I was singing to you too. It’s where he would touch my round belly, full of you, and say, “That’s my brother.”

Our living room is where I sat combing through the baby book for your name. Weeks later, it’s where I inverted myself on the edge of the couch, in hopes of getting you to turn head-down. I can still feel the ache, when I think of it, of your head pressing against that spot on my side, and how that bump felt under my hand, with – unbeknownst to us – no fluid to cushion you.

Our doorstep is where I knelt, paralyzed with pain, dilating in time-lapse, just minutes before you were born. It is also where our dear friends left beautiful meals for us in the days that followed, with compassion and thoughtfulness that humble me even now.

Our backyard is where our family gathered around us on your birth day, filling the sandbox with sand for E, installing our picnic umbrella (all the things we hadn’t got around to while expecting you), bringing food and so much love.

Our kitchen is where I gingerly filled my bra with cool cabbage leaves for the soreness, and steeped sage tea to dry up the milk I wished I could give you. It’s where I went about daily chores of cooking and dishes, thinking about how our life was suddenly unhooked from its plans. It’s the room that filled with flowers from people sending their sympathy.

And this home is the place where your lullaby coalesced in my head, where I tinkered out the harmonies on my piano, and where I carefully recorded each track so that it would sound as I imagined it.

As much as it hurts to think of all that, I never wish for the pain to be gone. It’s my link to you.

I guess that’s why it feels like you’re here, and why it also kind of feels like leaving you behind.

On Wednesday, your daddy and I marked the four years since your death quietly in our minds, and with some extra-long hugs. It was a mostly normal day – I did dishes, helped and played with your siblings, refilled my spice jars, bought groceries, folded laundry, practiced with my dance sisters. Daddy worked hard making our house and yard look nice for when we sell it.

I’m grateful for all those day-to-day things that make up our life: we are an undeniably fortunate family, in so many ways, not the least of which is our freedom to be normal and do all those things. But normalcy can be hard work when you’re yearning to just curl up and indulge in the luxury of grieving for a day.

A strange thing also happened. We had received a notice to pick up an unexpected package:

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A sample box of formula, addressed to me, with my full name.

I had no idea what to make of it, couldn’t even decide if it was oddly suitable on that day, or wildly inappropriate. After all, I do keep your baby self in my heart, and always will; but the dreams mentioned on the box didn’t work out at all.

That evening, I finally had the chance to sit and remember you, and look at your scrapbook. I got all caught up in examining the perfection of your little nose, captured in the few pictures we have. I wish – so often – that I could see your face in person again, even for a moment.

The next day, your birthday, we spent some time at your Grammie and Papa’s house with your Auntie Beth, and I thankfully got to do some writing, and we went to pick berries at the berry farm. Ever since your first anniversary, when we ended up at the berry farm almost by chance, it has felt like the best thing to do on your birthday. Not quite a celebration… but an appreciation.

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I’ve also realized that, along with writing and berry-picking, certain songs help me at this time of year. I decided to put my favourite healing song to images for you (and for me). I think this song helps because it’s about pain and beauty, and how they are both inevitable.

It felt really good to spend some time looking at these images of our breathtaking planet. It reminded me that I can never leave you behind, because you are actually everywhere.

***

P.S. Please stay tuned for photo credits for this video – coming soon.


 

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Sometimes it’s hard to find words.

Dear Sebastian,

I hope you enjoyed the music yesterday. I loved listening, and feeling so close to you.

The three women whose voices delivered our lullaby were singing with you in their hearts, thanks to the initiative of my dear friend C, who loves the song and felt that it should be shared in person.

I haven’t been to a traditional Sunday morning church service very many times in my life – it felt a little funny to gather with a congregation that is not Quaker, and not in silence.

But it was really nice to be there, sincerely welcomed by strangers with smiles, hearing about the people that the community is presently holding in the Light (they didn’t use those words exactly, but I knew what they meant), following along with the hymns, watching the music director’s exuberant piano-playing, listening to the reverend speak about love and what an important part it is of each of us.

And when our song was sung, the notes soared sublimely up to the vaulted ceiling, and it was lovely to be gazing at the candle flames, the flowers, the jewel-coloured windows, and the most beautiful organ pipes I’d ever seen. Of course, I was crying too.

It is hard to describe what was going on in my head and heart.

It was exciting to be announced as “the composer” of the piece – I almost felt like the genuine article… And it was incredible to be given the gift of finally hearing the song I made for your first birthday, live and real, for the first time ever, sung by people who care about your story.

Most of all, it meant the world to feel close to you.

The truth is, I missed you so much over the holidays this year. I thought of you often, and wore your necklace every day, but mostly – I’m so sorry – I tried not to think about you. Usually I welcome the connection I feel when I think of you, even though it’s sad for me. But this time, for some reason, the grief felt harder, chilling. When we put your special ornaments on the tree, I had a taste of the dark kind of sadness that reminds me of cold baby graves with teddy bears beside them, and devastating family tragedies that blacken December. I did my best to steer clear of those thoughts.

But in a big room filled with beauty and sunlight, listening to our music, I was okay. We were okay.

And somehow, the singers wanted to thank me for the song. I couldn’t remotely find the proper words to thank them.

Even though part of me would have liked for everyone who loves you to have heard the music yesterday, it was easier that only a few people present knew your story. C’s mom gave me a big, bolstering hug (which I really needed) when the song ended, but the general audience had no reason to wonder how I was taking the experience, thank goodness. Many of them told me afterward that they enjoyed the song, and that was all I wanted.

After the service (and lots of hugs, and a few more tears on my part), the three singers took the song to the hospital with them, to say goodbye to a dear friend who won’t be with them much longer. They had asked permission, which I gladly gave; that was when I fully realized that this lullaby has always been meant to be a comfort to both the listener and the singer. It’s just that, until now, the only singer had been me.

What a blessing, this experience.

I still can’t come up with all the words I need right now. I’ll just remind you that I love you and I miss you. As always, I am glad that you are part of my heart. I wish I could kiss your little cheeks.

***

To listen to the original lullaby, please click here.


 

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Things I’ve Learned About Being A Baby Loss Mama – Three Years Later

Pregnancy-and-Infant-Loss-Remembrance-Day
Photo from pregnancyandbaby.com.

It’s October 15th: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

On July 9th, 2011, as you know, our Sebastian was stillborn at 35.5 weeks’ gestation. I have learned things, since then, about mothering an invisible child. Although I don’t presume to speak for other babylost parents here, some will relate.

  • It gets easier. Functioning day-to-day, compartmentalizing to get things done, packing away anguish for later – all that gets easier, gradually. They’re habits formed of necessity.
  • It also gets harder. Since Sebastian died, every day that passes takes me further from him. It’s agonizing, feeling so distant, trying to really remember his face (since our photos didn’t truly capture him). The older my living children grow, the more his infant existence seems out-of-context, and the more difficult it is to mention Sebastian in conversation – even though I yearn to acknowledge him.
  • The pain is the same. Underneath the coping habits, when I unpack it, the sorrow is the same sorrow it was three years ago, the loss the same loss, the love the same love. That’s what people mean when they say you never “get over” losing a child: they’ll always be your child, and they’ll never not be gone. That truth just hurts – and it rears up unexpectedly.
  • The awkwardness still exists. I sadly confess, I am no better at answering that awful question, “How many children do you have?” People meet me with my toddler, and I still talk around it: “I also have a five-year-old at home.” I can’t make myself add “and a baby in my heart,” even though I always think it, and mourn.
  • The club exists.There is an immediate kinship between bereaved parents. I’ve felt it with many who have lost children of any age, whether through miscarriage, disease, accident, or suicide. It’s not a happy club… and yet there is comfort in it.
  • I always know how old he’d be. Right now, he’d be three-and-a-quarter. There’s always a pang when I see the children of my pregnancy buddies – kids “his” age. Thank goodness, they are beautiful and healthy. I wish Sebastian could play with them.
  • Different versions of my family exist in my mind. I relate to your family with two close sons. We envisioned, almost were, that family. I relate, too, to the family with two boys and a little girl: that’s the family we are in my heart.
  • Grieving is different for everyone. I mentioned that Sean and I had a heart-to-heart last Sebastian Day, arising from my loneliness in grief. It was an important talk, one we both needed, revealing that neither of us is alone – we just grieve very differently. We must remember each other’s grief, even if we can’t see it, so we can still support each other.
  • It’s tricky to grieve an unknown sibling. Sometimes, E mentions Sebastian casually, without sadness. But as he grows, he understands his own loss more – the unfairness of having a brother he never met. Sometimes, when he’s feeling fragile, he cries. He adores his sister, but does wish we could’ve kept that brother.
  • Your babies are your babies, no matter how small. Sebastian changed my life dramatically, but I’ll never forget my first loss: an appleseed-sized person whose heartbeat stopped on May 28th, 2008. That tiny life will always matter to me, as part of my family and my remembrance.
  • The same things hurt.When friends, even close ones, accidentally forget or negate Sebastian’s existence, I understand… but it still hurts. I know that, having birthed him, I have the unique inability not to count him as one of my children.
  • The same things heal. When someone mentions him – by name, especially – that acknowledgement is profoundly important to me. Bringing him up doesn’t “remind” me; he’s always in my thoughts anyway. It helps to know that Sean and I aren’t alone in grieving him. I recently discovered that my sister-in-law has a Sebastian tattoo, and really appreciated the reminder: he’s in many hearts besides ours.

If you are able, tonight at 7 pm, please consider lighting a candle in your window for this Remembrance Day Wave Of Light. You never know when that small flame will comfort someone in need.

***


 

 

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Three Years.

Dear Sebastian,

It’s been hard to write today. Not just because thinking of you can be hard. It’s also difficult to find the time, with your brother and sister around, and life being the overwhelming To-Do list that it is. I feel drained, and the words feel awkward under my fingers.

It’s been three years since your death and birth. When I let myself remember that time, it does not feel like three whole years ago. The memories are so clear and immediate. Part of me is still back there with you, I think.

In another way, I feel far from you, because I have no baby this year. On our first anniversary, your sister was growing in my womb. On our second, she was still definitely a baby. This year, she romps around full-tilt and talks nonstop. She’s not a baby.

Somehow, it made me feel closer to you to still have a baby in the house.

This brings home something I already know, but don’t like to think about: my other children are growing past you. Someday they will probably be even bigger than me, but you – at least in my mind – will still be a baby. It will get harder and harder to think of your babyness. I guess I should be keeping in mind that you are not a baby – you are a free soul. You have no age.

I’ve thought of you so much over the past many weeks, but I still didn’t feel ready for this. I don’t have time to grieve for you very often, even when I need to, and that makes me sad and guilty and off-balance inside.

(I can’t help but notice that I keep using the word “still.” I wonder if that’s just a coincidence.)

Yesterday morning at 9:30 I happened to have an appointment to donate blood. I thought about that very last time I felt you move, right around the same time of day, on that date, three years earlier, and it made a certain kind of sense to me to be giving blood.

It was my twentieth donation (took me a long time to get there, between travel, occasional low iron, tattoos, and pregnancies, but I still felt proud). While I donated, I wondered where my blood has gone from my other donations, whether the people who got it survived, and whether any of them were children.

When I got home, I was talking to your brother about blood types, and we looked at his baby records to check his. I had forgotten that he is O negative, like me – the universal donor.

I realized I don’t know what your blood type was. I know we have the records somewhere, but I couldn’t find them.

Daddy and I had a big talk about you yesterday, too. We talked about how we have very different ways of grieving, which is sometimes hard for us. We both think about you very, very often. We talked about what we remember about you, and the day you died and the day you were born. We both remember them in great detail.

We figured out that it’s both harder and easier for me, to have the privilege of being the only person who actually felt you alive. (Daddy felt you from the outside, but it’s not quite the same.) We both really really wish, just as profoundly as we did on your birth day, that we could have held you in our arms when your heart was still beating, and looked into your eyes, even for a few minutes.

I’m so sorry that when we think about your sweet self, it always has to be sad.

I still need to do the thinking, though, and the sadness too. Sometimes I worry that I spend so much time ignoring or pushing away or skirting the painful parts, I will forget how to connect with your memory.

Then, sometimes the ache is so deep and strong, I know you’re still right there in my heart, where you’re supposed to be. When it hurts the most, that’s when I feel closest to you.

I’m afraid that, on these two anniversary days this year, there is not a lot of time to think about you and honour you properly. But something special did happen for you, less than a month ago. Our dance troupe, for the student recital, did piece about some of life’s journeys. I was one of three dancers who did a solo, and it was all about you. All the women in the group knew about you, and danced for you too. We danced for all of us, and the painful things that tear us apart and bring us together. There were tears and there was so much love. I’m full of gratitude for that.

I want to post this while it is still your birthday, but I have more to say. I wish I had a whole day to sit under a tree and think about you, and write to you. With a pen.

For now, good night. Here is your lullaby. I sing it to you often, as I sing it to your sister and brother. Sometimes they sing along. They both especially like when we sing, “Your heart and my heart are always together.”

I love you so much and I miss you so much.

***


 

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Writer’s Flood Paralysis and the Blogging Shame Spiral (a.k.a. excuses)

apple blossoms
Nice apple-blossom photo = shameless attempt to pretty up this post.

What the Sam Hill… I haven’t posted since April 22nd??

Lots of bloggers complain about writer’s block and lack of inspiration. (Fortunately, lots of other bloggers offer solutions for both.) I can imagine getting blocked, if you’re a niche blogger. Some days you just might not have that kicky recipe or new fitness tip or fashionably retro decorating idea that you want to share with the world.

Dilovely, on the other hand, blogs about any damn fool thing she feels like, so there’s no chance of writer’s block. Instead, her ideas for stuff to write about pile up like laundry until she hardly knows where to begin. (She currently has no fewer than twenty-four draft posts already started, and that doesn’t count the extensive list entitled “Blog ideas” on her phone.)

For the purposes of this post, I’ve dubbed the phenomenon “Writer’s Flood”. I hereby admit that it often has a paralyzing effect on me. I might only have a few minutes to write on any given day, and with so many topics banging around in my head, pestering to be written about, I end up avoiding my Dashboard altogether instead of sitting down and just getting some words out – even though I know the latter would ALWAYS make me feel better.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve been known to do the same with laundry. (You know, just sometimes.)

That’s when you see ten-to-fifteen-day gaps, followed by flighty, materialistic posts with excuses in them. The longer the gap, the more self-reproach comes into play, the harder it is to jump back in.

If you find that the following Gripes actually seem a bit like excuses… Well… touché.

Gripes (have to come first because who wants to put the kvetching at the end?):

  • April was a month characterized by illness at our house (I know we’re not alone here). Sean and I both got knocked out by a crazy bug that made me sicker than I’ve been in… I honestly don’t know how long. Maybe ever.
    • Felt like strep throat but wasn’t.
    • Took my voice away for two full days.
    • Missed three days of school in a row (unprecedented, at least for sickness), because just as my voice was coming back, I got double pinkeye (mmm, sexy).
    • Copious amounts of congestion, plus coughing that I thought would at least leave me with chiseled abs, but didn’t.
    • Oh, and there was a really bad neck-kink in there that kept me from turning my head to the left for a couple days.
    • Meanwhile, Baby AB got an ear infection, and E got a localized rash we’re still trying to figure out.
    • Then we thought we were out of the woods and Sean suddenly backtracked with a sinus infection.
    • If what WHO says about global antimicrobial resistance is true, then we are in serious trouble, because between the four of us, our family has been on antibiotics no less than six times this past season. Or was it seven?
  • Remember when I was kinda freaking out because I have so much to do in a strict timeline, necessitating my becoming the Duchess of Organization? Well, becoming the D of O whilst blowing bucketfuls of crap out of your head through your nose (mmm, sexy) is actually really difficult. So I’m still trying to get on track there.
  • Likewise: working on that strong and bendy issue I mentioned. Sigh.
  • There is also a phenomenon, when you’re a teacher, where you’re really wanting to cover lots of material and be really efficient (as befits a Duchess of Organization), and certain students… it’s like they sense it. And are instinct-bound to thwart it. A bunch of those kids + spring fever = endless classroom management. That’s my job right now.
  • And even the spring fever is only quasi-exhiliarating, because it is now MAY and frankly, it’s still mostly dead chilly out.

Hypes (because I want you to know I do possess some fraction of a positive attitude):

  • Although there are no leaves on our trees yet, at least our grass is green, and we have daffodils.
  • Even better, my Hubbibi has found his inner gardener all of a sudden (he comes by it honestly – his mom is a wonder with plants) and our front yard and gardens have never looked so immaculate in seven years.
  • We got to see a very well-done community production of the musical Rent last weekend, and oh, it still ROCKS. (Yes, I was a Renthead once upon a time, and it’s possible I still qualify because ALL the lyrics were easily called up from my brain-files.)
  • Sean finally put up the bird feeder my parents gave us (a shamefully long time ago), and now we are wishing we’d had it up all this time. Seriously, we are SO POPULAR all of a sudden (among little feathery and furry things), and we had no idea how much of a pleasure it would be to watch the birdies. It is just a lovely, simple, peaceful thing to do. The kids love it too – AB gets all excited when she sees a goldfinch (calls it a “goldfish”), and the other day, E correctly identified a house finch (as Uncle Ben taught him). If you don’t have a bird feeder, y’all should totally get one.
  • Our kids, despite all the illness, are incredibly entertaining. E’s behaviour is gradually improving (knock wood), not that I could really say why… but it’s quite a relief to have more cooperation and fewer meltdowns. And AB is just hilarious. She’s a talker, like her brother, and still babyish enough that everything she says sounds cute. Even when she’s mad and/or aggravating and/or trying to use her imperiousness to boss us around, she’s an adorable munchkin. It’s her lot in life right now.
  • And… I’m gonna put this in, even though I hesitate, because it was a highlight for sure: Friday before last, I had an amazing conversation with someone I’d just met.

Let me explain.

I’d sort of already met her, via email only, thanks to my midwife… and it wasn’t really the conversation that was amazing, it was how it felt. This person happened to be supply teaching at my school that day, and she recognized me and introduced herself – kind of in code, because it would be odd to say, “Hi, I’m that other mom you sorta know who also had a stillborn baby at 35 weeks’ gestation.”

We chatted for the rest of the lunch period – 20 minutes or so – about our kids (all of them) but also lots of other things. I felt immediately connected to her. It wasn’t an intimate conversation, and yet it was. I can’t even describe how simultaneously calming and invigorating it was to talk face-to-face with someone who intrinsically understands what it is… to be this. A normal person carrying around an invisible child, all the time. There was a point in the conversation where we both had tears in our eyes, with absolutely no explanation or reassurance or apology needed.

I know can talk to people about Sebastian; I have friends and family members who would want me to call if I needed a shoulder to cry on. I appreciate this fact immensely. The thing is, I don’t often need an official shoulder. I rarely blog about Sebastian now, as you know. I don’t grieve deeply every day. But I do think about him every day, many times. I do miss him and acknowledge him and remember him – but mostly just to myself, because as supportive as my peeps usually are, bringing up a dead child in conversation is hard for everyone involved. If I were to get teary-eyed in the middle of a chat, people would probably sympathize, but it would still be awkward (if only for me). Sometimes I’d rather keep him inside, just for me, than bring him out and make things weird.

That’s the great thing about blogging, I guess. If I inadvertently get somber in the midst of a flippant post about procrastination, and you’re still reading and it’s suddenly awkward… tant pis. I’ll never know.

(If you are still reading, thank you.)

And that’s my story for now. Cheers to getting the words out already.

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Days of Saints and Souls

Dear Sebastian,

I haven’t written to you as much as I’ve wanted to lately. I didn’t write to you at Thanksgiving, even though I always wish for you at family gatherings. I didn’t write to you on October 15th – Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day – since it was one of those weeks I was barely keeping my head above water. But at such times, I feel that hollow of your absence more deeply, and I wish I could take more time just to think of you.

Today is the first day of November. It’s a day when a lot of people think about their lost loved ones, and celebrate their lives. Your Great-Gramma Sue was born on this date – and now she’s free soul like you. (You probably even hang out with her.)

November is also the time when, for the past two years, I have written a blog post for every day of the month, to challenge myself. This year, I’m going to try a different challenge. Even though life is busier than ever, I’m going to try to carve out a little bit of time every day to work on a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

It’s a story about you, a story to read to your brother and sister. Your big brother misses you. I know your sister will wish for you too, when she’s old enough to understand. I want them to have something that helps them think of you and remember that you’re still their brother.

I don’t know how far I’ll be able to get with this project in one month, but I’m hoping to build enough momentum that I can keep going.

So far, it’s in the planning stages, and it looks like this:

storyboard

It felt good today, to do something all about you, something that’s a little bit like celebrating.

I wish I could squeeze you, sweet boy. I’m sending you hugs from my heart.

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