Friday, June 21, 2013

Feel Awful & Humus

Just went to a falafel place for lunch with my daughter and the woman who works there asked if I have any other kids. I said yes I have a son but before I could finish she said "Oh good! That's so nice for her..." I cut her off as quickly as I could to clarify that I have a son but he died.  She was shocked, said sorry and started to talk about how her sister has 3 daughters but wanted a son and after 15 years finally had a son. I wasn't listening because I was pulling my phone out and was determined to show her Toren's photo. I finally showed her his photo and she stopped talking. I know she was shocked, I know I upset her, I never want to upset anyone about this. But it's upsetting, no way around it. I just had an overwhelming desire to "prove"...what? That he's a real person? That I'm really in pain? Not sure. I feel like I'm experimenting with telling my family's story. I don't think this will ever get any easier. I can see why people choose not to talk about their babies. The woman I spoke to was very kind. I do feel she was about to say something dicey when I said he was stillborn, who knows, but she started to say something then stopped and said, "I don't know what to say." It was actually a nice conversation, considering the subject matter. She said, "God will help you." I am not religious but I appreciated the sentiment behind it. I felt ok about the conversation. Good even. But suddenly I just needed to get out of there fast. 

Now we are at the library and I feel terrible. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

At the Playground

Exactly two swings at the playground, one for big kids, one for babies, perfect for the crazy number of two child families in our neighbourhood. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Indelible Imprints

Today we participated in Vancouver Draw Down at Mountain View Cemetery. It was being held in Celebration Hall where we had Toren's memorial service. A woman there saw us and said, "I know you from somewhere" so I reminded her that she helped us with the food at his service in January. After the art event, we took a walk through the cemetery.

The spirit of the event

Celebration Hall - Pete doing some wood burning

One of Pete's sketches

Taking a tour of Mountain View Cemetery
"Though Lost To Sight
To Memory Dear"
Baby Brenden :(

Military section
So many young men lost to the war

Young soldier

Beautiful day

Treats afterwards!

Big Sister

I've written before about our daughter's grief for her baby brother (A Sibling's Grief, at around 8 months in) but have been wanting to give an update.

I'm getting better at not being afraid of her sad moments. Before Toren, the standard response to her sadness was comfort, there there, it's ok. This was for things like scraped knees, hurt feelings, dropped ice cream. Now I realize, we are all entitled to our sad moments, not to have them dismissed or glossed over. It's not up to us adults to decide what's a big deal to kids and what's not. It's up to us as her parents to listen when she tells us what she is an expert in, namely, herself. I never want to do or say anything to her about her grief that people have said to me that has been totally unhelpful. I never want to try to distract her or to in any way be dismissive.

A few weeks ago, some Still Life Canada folks had a garage sale to raise money for the conference. At that time I couldn't bring myself to donate our tricycle. Toys, equipment, clothes - these things are not straightforward for me. He would be just at the age where he would be using the tricycle and riding beside his big sister on her bike. So I kept the tricycle, which is taking up valuable real estate in our jammed up storage closet. The other day I expressed regret for not donating it to the garage sale. She asked what I meant. I said, "I didn't want to let go of the tricycle because it made me sad because he would be using it, but now I feel more ready." She immediately flopped onto the floor so I lay beside her and without wanting to coach her, asked what was going on. She said, "When you said you were sad, it made me sad." I responded, "We can be sad together." It's so tempting to just try to make her feel better by saying we can donate the tricycle to another child or whatever, but when she is sad, that's right where she needs to be. After about a minute or so, she jumped up and danced away. She lives in the moment and doesn't feel doubt or guilt or anxiety or relief, like I do, when the moment has passed. She simply moves into the next moment.

Yesterday we were headed towards the library, she on her scooter, and we were talking about a little girl we know and I said that this girl is an only child. She said, "I'm an only child too!" I said that I didn't think she was really an only child because she has a baby brother, whereas this other little girl doesn't have any siblings, either living or dead. She was totally fine with this, just accepted it cheerfully. It may come up later, she may have more questions or comments, and that's fine. We stopped at one of our local fountains to throw fallen flowers into the water and she blurted out, "We can do this for Toren!"

Some friends from support group had their so-called "rainbow" baby a few months ago (I blogged about rainbow babies here - The Vital Importance of Grief - also, a picture of the locket I lost!). They have a daughter who is the same age as ours and so I was nervous about our daughter seeing her friend with a new baby brother. When I showed her his picture when he was first born, she made moo moo eyes and kissy noises at the screen and cooed, "He's so cute!" About 5 minutes later: "It's not fair! Where's our baby?!" It was an opportunity to have a conversation about the complicated lives of babyloss families, about how that family is very lucky to have him, but also very unlucky because before him, her friend's baby sister died. We are very happy for them, and sad for us, and sad for them. Just before we went to Hawaii we all got together for brunch and the two ballerina fairy princess puppy girls played and flittered around together as always, swooping in to say hi to new baby brother and then fluttering off again. It was a lovely joyful time. And yes, sad too. Our babies were very much missing that day, and every day.

I bought car stickers a while back and we finally got around to putting them up.

Afterwards, driving around, I could hear her singing a little song over and over. "...and Toren is my baby brother and..." I couldn't hear the rest as she was singing under her breath.

Kids express themselves through play. This morning was probably the most intense game she has asked me to play. The first thing she said when she woke up was, "Tooooorennnnnn!" Big smile on her face. I told her he would have loved to see her face every morning. She said, "Let's pretend he's here with us in bed! Good morning, Toren!" That was a tough one for me. I actually don't talk to him that often. I know lots of parents talk to their babies. The most I have been able to muster when looking at his photo is "Poor baby. What happened in there?" Then I can't go any further.

Sometimes I am given the messaging that because of her, I shouldn't really be grieving him. Sometimes it's overt, ("At least you have her.") other times it's more subtle. Children do not replace each other. We are luckier than many other families who do not even have one living child, but it's hard to feel "lucky", which fuels my guilt. I continue to feel bitterness towards the people who have abandoned her to avoid me for their own comfort, but also so grateful for the friends who continue to welcome her into their lives. Don't you wish I could just "focus on the positive"? Yeah, me too.

I've said it before - parenting two children is more than twice the work...

Thursday, June 13, 2013


I made an appointment to see a tattoo artist next week. My henna tattoo is starting to fade, especially after yesterday when I went swimming, and it's "re-traumatizing" me! Not really, but I do feel sad to see it fading and feel ready for something more permanent. I love the name of the studio: Birthmark. I was marked by his birth, permanently. The artist I spoke to is Filippino and Toren is one quarter Filippino so I like this addition to the story. One day I drove by the studio and noted the name, and then shortly after, a friend from the Still Life Canada team recommended that studio when I mentioned wanting a tattoo. Another one of those kooky signs.

After 17 months, I can anticipate a question here, and the answer is, I probably won't get one for my daughter. She marks me and changes me every day that she is alive. It has never occurred to me to get a tattoo for her and so I think this is the right way to go. I do have stretch marks from her and I love them. I know I'm supposed to hate them but I don't, I have always loved them. Some might be from him too but I don't know. I can't separate them, not on my body, not in my mind.

Tattoos seem to be a common part of belonging to the babyloss community. I have been inspired by some of the parents in my support network who have gotten tattoos in memory of their babies. Here is a beautiful video produced by the MISS Foundation at their conference last year:

A Part of Us from jimmycho on Vimeo.

Jewellery seems to be another common expression of love and grief for babies who have died. I love my MISS Foundation necklace with Toren's birthstone, and I also bought a memorial locket from Origami Owl which has become my favourite...except that it's missing. I'm sure it's not permanently lost, I just haven't found it yet! I got quite stressed about it one day and if they delivered to Canada, I would already have replaced it by now. Instead I impulse bought some jewellery from etsy. They are all hummingbird themed but I actually don't want to become crazy hummingbird collecting lady! It's just the mood I was in that day. The strangest piece I bought was a baby hummingbird skull ring. Yes you read that right.

These things, tattoos, jewellery, are so meaningful to people who have lost a baby, and yet so totally inadequate too. It gives me pleasure and makes me sad and feels pathetic and is so important. All those things. It gets confusing sometimes and then I am reminded by wise persons that we can hold multiple truths. This is a new concept to me and so I need regular reminding. The world promotes black and white thinking at every turn and it will take time, practice, patience, support to re-train my brain.

Looking forward to my appointment next week. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013


I'm not exactly sure when we started to associate hummingbirds with Toren. I know by the time I started going to support group several months after he was born, hummingbirds were part of his story, and I remember that others in group also shared different ways that hummingbirds were a part of their families' stories too. I have to admit, I don't know a ton about hummingbirds. I read somewhere that they are quite fragile in the sense that they are always on the verge of starvation because they require and expend so much energy. And they are the only bird that can fly backwards! (Someone will have to let me know if either of those things is not true.) At Still Life Canada's momentous first meeting last year, we were sitting in Scarlett's backyard and a hummingbird flew in to hover at the feeder and Amelia's mother said, "Oh yes, that's Amelia." They get hummingbirds at their place too and they live on the top floor of a highrise building. We chose the hummingbird as a symbol for SLC because we all seemed to feel a connection to these beautiful and unusual creatures. We felt the significance of how they appear still when in fact their wings are beating at top speeds. We liked the idea of there being movement, change, energy, life, despite the stillness of our babies. Similarly, when I met Marlon & Tobias' parents, I was surprised (and yet not really) to hear that hummingbirds are significant to them also. We spent a lovely afternoon on their patio recently watching the hummingbirds fly back and forth to the feeder, and in and out of our conversation, our thoughts, our day.

A few years ago, before we had Toren, Peter bought me a ring with a hummingbird designed by a First Nations artist. He said he wasn't specifically looking for a hummingbird, he just liked the ring. After Toren died, he expressed a desire to get a matching ring, not necessarily with a hummingbird, but by the same artist. We went back to the Bill Reid gallery and after spending a long time looking at all the different rings, one of the staff handed us a list with all the animals represented and what their meanings were in First Nations culture. Under hummingbird was written, "When hummingbird appears in times of sorrow, healing will soon follow." We knew in that moment which ring to get.

When I think of hummingbirds in relation to Toren, I think of Peter's family cottage in Ontario, near Kingston.  They have owned the cottage for 40 years. The hummingbirds there are very skittish. You hear them before you see them, and if you turn your head or move in any way to try to see them, they fly off. Sometimes, that's all you get. It's never enough.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Over The Rainbow

We have been hearing this song a lot in Hawai'i. It always makes me think of Toren, especially today, on my birthday.

I love this video because it shows Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole's ashes being scattered into the ocean.