Thursday, January 30, 2014

Real

A friend asked us what we call the day he was born. "His birthday." (Or sometimes in my mind, "His birth day.") It's a fair question. If you haven't had a baby die at the time of their birth, you can have no way of knowing what it's like. Even we have had to learn a new language. What I wanted to say was, 'If one of your kids dies, trust me, their birthday will still be their birthday. And you will mark it. Whether quietly in your heart or by baking a cake.' But you're not allowed to say that. Understandably, people don't like any allusions to the possible death of their children. I think it a lot. 'If your child dies...' But I never say it.

It has recently occurred to me that many people think that I am grieving the idea of a person rather than an actual, real person. That I am only grieving "lost hopes and dreams". He is not an idea, a hope, a dream or a ghost. He's my son, my child. The baby I carried and delivered, the child Pete witnessed me carrying and delivering. It's sickening that I would have to even assert that at all. When someone we care about dies, of course we grieve our hopes and expectations of those relationships. But we are also grieving the actual person. We miss their physical presence and their unique personality. Toren had a physical presence and a unique personality. Just because we didn't get to see them, doesn't mean he didn't. When our daughter was born, I remember her unique characteristics started to come out right away. It would have been the same with him. Even during pregnancy, we got to know things about him.

I have heard from other babyloss parents that friends and family don't think their child is a real person. I find that brutally sad. I'm not sure what the world thinks we're doing. I guess they think that maybe we're crazy or "drama queens" or perhaps attention-seeking. The worst kind of attention. At this point, three years into being his mother, I don't really care what people think of me. It doesn't matter. He's my son and that's it. I couldn't ignore that even if I thought it was a good idea.

I can take it. I can take the lack of understanding and the avoidance and the contempt. I still get angry about it, it still upsets me, but I can take it. What I can't really take is that some people are trying to delete his life, to erase any trace of his existence and say that his life had no value. That the memory of him, the spark he left with us, has no value. All because the thought of a baby dying makes them uncomfortable.

I don't know if I can keep taking that.

Dear Toren, our beloved baby, we will never forget you. It's not even a possibility. You are loved. You always were and you always will be.




Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You Were Loved

For children grieving a stillborn baby, this book is oddly appropriate. I don't think the authors intended it.



by Eve Bunting & Karen Barbour

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Family Portrait


This photo represents our family beautifully - Peter and I side by side, our daughter leaping joyfully alongside us, and Toren, also travelling alongside us yet invisible to most of the world. He remains under the surface, where we live. We know he is always there.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Family Time Inspired By Him

Toren's 2nd  birthday was an important time for our family. We received so many messages of love and support from our friends. Candles were lit, friends in Hawaii wrote his name in the sand and we knew that for some part of the day, he was remembered. So grateful for those friends.

Before his birthday, we went away for a few days to Whidbey Island and did some beach combing and treated ourselves to some yummy seafood. The guesthouse where we stayed was run by a friendly, cheerful woman who told us that she has 5 kids and 15 grandkids, and that her husband had died within the last year. Cue the compassion! She was explaining why the DVD player was broken because that was the sort of thing he took care of, and that she was on a "steep learning curve". No kidding. Grief is a steep, steep learning curve. Learning to live without someone you love takes work. Figuring out that the relationship is not over, that it continues in a different form, is a harsh lesson. I spent much of our time there thinking about him, wondering what he was like, about how difficult this past Christmas must have been for his family and how many people must miss him.

Pete said he wanted to be home on the day of Toren's birthday so we travelled back the day before and spent a lovely day doing things inspired by him. In the morning, we baked cupcakes and packed them up to take with us on our day out. We went swimming - nice to do on a weekday, when it's not so busy. The swimming was my idea. It seemed like a good day to float. The hot tub was nice too. We had lunch at one of our favourite restaurants and then headed to the infant area of the cemetery to lay some flowers. It was a sunny day, not mild but not raining, so we spent some time walking the paths and reading the stones carved with babies' names. Afterwards we went to our friends' place to take down the decorations from Toren's Christmas tree. By that time the sun had gone down and it was freezing cold so we did it really quickly, no time for emotion, let's just grab these things and go! It was kind of funny. I decided to make a soufflĂ© for dinner. I had made it only a couple of times before and it's a nice recipe. It's not that I think he would have liked it, I just wanted to do something "special", or at the very least, something different. The results were disastrous (possibly even hazardous!) and we ended up having leftover spaghetti. Pete's still annoyed that we wasted 6 eggs! Ah well. Our friends had left some treats under his tree and we left them some (frozen) cupcakes. Later they texted and said, "We want to eat the cupcakes with you!" so they came over for a visit in the evening and we had cupcakes and tea and talked about our babies. All in all a really nice day. The sadness is always there, but you can have that and have a lovely day too.

We're going to try to take a little trip every year and then spend time together as a family on or around the day he was born. I think ahead to when our daughter is older and has her own busy life. Toren's birthday will be another time during the year when we can reconnect and share our experience as a family, whether we actually get together or connect in other ways. I have read accounts from grown-up bereaved siblings, they fascinate me. I hope our daughter never says "We just did it for my mom." I want her to continue to attend to her own feelings about Toren, not just go along with mine. I'm the mother, she's the sister, it's going to be different. If she doesn't want to keep going to the cemetery, or doing the things we want to do, that's totally fine. We can still meet for lunch and spend time together as a family. Or talk on the phone or skype or whatever exists when I'm an old lady. I'll try to keep up with the technology.

Whidbey Island Photos









Dolphins

We took a trip to Vancouver Island this weekend and saw an amazing pod of dolphins swimming alongside our ferry on the way home. Everyone ran to the windows to have a look at these beautiful creatures. There was a huge number of them and they were doing jumps and flying through the air like bullets. For a short time, we were all united in our love and fascination for dolphins. I was only slightly totally alarmed by feeling the ferry tilt to one side! Pete got some good pictures but I don't know how well they show up here.





Monday, January 13, 2014

Daffodils

When you only meet someone because your babies both died, and that person becomes a dear friend and someone who is fun to be with, who understands you, who you trust and who you know trusts you, no effort whatsoever, how do you continue to think, "I wish I'd never met you"?

I've had the pleasure of meeting baby Anja's immediate family as well as some of her extended family. Impossible not to think of her every time I see any of them. She's just there, slotted in nicely between smart, smiley big sister and holy-cute baby brother. Yes I've seen her photo, her sweet little face and hands, but that's not it. I'm not a skilled enough writer to describe the magic of anyone's life force. She lived, and because she lived, she has had an impact on the people who love her and on the greater community. It's true of all of us. Although I didn't know her family before she was born, the fact that I can now love her and miss her is one of the wondrous things about life. I cherish it.

Somewhere, Anja and Toren are together. In my heart, and in the hearts of their families. Always.


Present

Present(v) to make (something) available to be used or considered; (obs) attentive; 
(adj) not past or future, existing or happening now; (n) a gift

This past weekend I was asked to present a brief introduction to Still Life Canada's research which came out of the conference last summer. I'm not part of the group doing the research but I was there from the beginning and could provide some background on how part of the conference became a research project. Afterwards we got to hear a bit about how the researchers are analyzing this incredibly rich data, "data" being people's words about their experience of babyloss. It is hard emotional work but well worth it. This is the foundation that will inform so much of Still Life Canada's work. Exciting seems too mild a word.

Doing this kind of work always leads to a period of swirling thoughts. I've been thinking a lot about  how difficult it is to be present with people in grief. Why is that? What I'm learning from those with the experience to teach it, is that in order to truly be with someone in grief, you have to be willing to tune in to your own pain and sadness. Who wants to do that?? No one! But the people who can do it are the ones who are not afraid. I don't know if it's because they are brave, or better informed, or what. They seem to understand that experiencing their own grief and sharing the grief of others is not a threat to their happiness. The two can co-exist. As Gibran tells us about sorrow and joy in one of my favourite poems, they are inseparable. When either sorrow or joy is with us, the other is never far away. It's both sobering and a reason to hope.

When Toren first died, I was so afraid of the anger. I thought I needed to avoid it or I would become an angry, bitter person forever. This is like putting a lid on a pressure cooker and walking away. After a few months, when the lid finally blew off and the stew was on the ceiling, I was forced to ask, "What went wrong?" I'm learning that anger is an emotion like all the others. It comes, it goes. It's true that it is not always expressed in ways I'm proud of. It's messy. I'm learning to accept that anger has its role in my life. No need to be afraid of it. We are supposed to be angry when something upsetting happens. I don't need to be afraid of being "stuck" in anger. When it comes, I can choose what to do about it (including nothing) and eventually, it passes. I feel immediate relief, and hard on its heels, gratitude. Yes, gratitude. It's nothing I'm doing, it just comes. I guess I'm not fighting it anymore. As much. Not a bad deal, all things considered.

I used to hate the word "healing". It's bandied about so much that I never took the time to figure out what it meant. It seemed to be part of that pervasive messaging to "get over it". Now I'm starting to understand what healing can mean for me, in my particular situation. That's another blog post. Still figuring a lot of it out. I'll just say, anger is very much connected to healing. This brings me to a difficult Rumi quote which I learned from Dr Jo at the conference:



Part of me thinks, "Oh great." Another part thinks, "Bring it."