You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out

I‘ve decided to act like a grownup for Christmas this year. I should have done this long before age 39, but you must understand that I didn’t realize I’ve been acting like a child until some time in the mid morning of today.

When you’re a kid, your parents make holidays- from scratch out of love, and special parent magic. When you leave the house, you transition through stages: holidays with friend’s families, holidays with just friends, one horrible New Years Eve spent alone, several happily solitary Thanksgivings. And you enjoy the freedom, thinking that one year, not long from now, you will begin your own family; you will start your own traditions. You will tap into the parent magic for yourself and start building holidays as a gift to your own children.  Your heart will be made of chocolate and your spouse will know just where (and how) to hang the stockings.

That is, unless you remain (mostly) single and (mostly) childless. If this happens,  you will one day get an email from your boss asking you to work more in December, you may briefly compare yourself to Lucy Eleanor Moderatz from While You Were Sleeping, and then start sobbing in the middle of some house you are cleaning in Bellevue…

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Can I Get Back to You?

If you’ve known me for more than a few years, you may have noticed (you imaginary readers, you) that I didn’t write anything on my daughter’s birth/deathday this year.

Here’s what I was doing instead of writing: hanging out with friends, going to church.

For several months now, I have been in this angry-at-religion mode. Not angry at my Christian friends, not angry with God, but angry at all of the trappings, all of the methods and all the ways people use to talk about those methods. It had become reactionary to the extreme. If I thought through the things that set me off, I could identify that they were either really not a big deal, or I could see how I disagreed with them (also not such a big deal). In some cases, identifying something that set me off would cause me to realize I actually agree with that thing. Nevertheless, I was struggling furiously with all of it…

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The Joy of Grief

It has become somewhat of a tradition to write a blog post on or near my daughter’s “day.” Grief is such a richly varied experience and I have found it to be a kind of beautiful gift. For this reason, there is always something to say beyond the obvious reality that it sucks to have your kid die.

I couldn’t say that I’m glad I lost her, but today and many many other days in the last 7 years I can say that while I lost more than I ever wanted to, I gained many things I didn’t even know I could.

The biggest gain is that I’ve seen God come through for me in a way that I only ever vaguely believed he would before. A week or so after Sarah died, when I realized that I could not grieve in a healthy way, I asked God to take all of it and give back only what is good. While I could recount many occasions in the last 2,555 days that I felt unpleasant emotions; screamed, cried, numbed up, felt sorry for myself, choked on the emptiness, laid in the cold mud of life without her, thought of who she would be now, felt anger at a passing pregnant woman… I have felt all of those emotions and more, but every one of them came at just the time I needed to feel it. Each one helped me heal a little more. Since asking him, God has been utterly faithful to carry all but what I was supposed to walk with in the current moment.

When people find out about Sarah they almost always say, “I don’t know how…” or, “I never could handle…” But of course they’re right and neither could I. Although it might seem weird that feeling pain has been a gift, it’s the way that I have been set free to grieve without guilt or shame, without wallowing or getting stuck too long. I haven’t made this happen, I have only accepted whatever piece came my way….

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My Favorite Ghost

My daughter Sarah is not alive anymore, but sometimes she lives so vividly in my thoughts it’s as though she is alive. But she’s not. It isn’t sad, but it is.

When I’m driving in the car she sits in the back seat and kicks her legs and laughs at something silly I said. Walking down a long hallway, she may skip beside me, she may hold my hand. And sometimes, when I’m sitting in a chair, she gets up into my lap and lays her head on my shoulder for me to pet her hair like I loved to have my mother pet my hair when I was little…

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The Most Awkward Holiday

Most holidays have their darker side. There are the happy celebrators and then the rest of the population with all of their varied and complex feelings. For anyone who has lost, anyone who grieves, each holiday has its own fresh pain.

And here we are at Mother’s Day. 

I can’t remember the first Mother’s Day after I lost my daughter, but on the second, I was working at Starbucks. Displayed for the customers,we had taped pictures of our kids for people to look at while they waited for their coffee. I should have called in sick, but I deluded myself into thinking it wouldn’t be weird…

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When You’re Gone

My strongest urge right now is to clam up. This rarely leads to anything good, and so I’m writing.

Today is my daughter Sarah’s sixth birthday. How does one celebrate (commemorate?) the birthday of a dead person? When people have children, they usually spend a decent amount of time planning birthday parties. What you do, you do for the kid. I assume you do what you think your kid will enjoy most. Birthday cake with trucks, cake shaped like a doll, colorful streamers, games, friends. If they are really young, you invite whoever will come and everyone sits and watches this dexterously inept human smear frosting from ear to ear, and from nose to toes.

But does a person who has stopped living continue to age? And what do you do on their birthday every year?

I have been asking those questions on this day for the last six years…

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Trauma Brilliance

Some of the best moments of marriage to my ex husband were the weeks following our daughter’s death.

I won’t say that they were the only good moments, because that would just not be true, but they were some of our best.

The day of Sarah’s birth and death, we were both some kind of mighty beings. After all, I pushed a human being out of my body with no drugs and after over 24hrs of not eating or sleeping and undergoing unbelievable amounts of physical pain. I actually had burst blood vessels in my eyes and when she was finally on the outside of me, they laid her gooey, curled up body onto my chest and I thought, “Huh. That’s a baby.”

I guess it was exhaustion induced ambivalence.

It didn’t take long, though before indifference turned to wonder. Drained and bleary wonder.

We were, I think, too tired to do anything that day but obey whatever was happening each moment…

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Untold Biographies

People don’t talk about the fact that babies die. I didn’t know it happened until it happened to me.

It’s treated, I think, much like bulimia, suicide or drug abuse. So many people have experienced those things in some way, but they don’t go around talking about their experience.

Why? Probably because it would be awkward and probably a huge downer to any conversation.

I used to work with a young woman who was actively and openly bulimic. If you know any recovering drug addicts, you know the kind of honesty this woman displayed, except that she wasn’t recovering. She was in it full time, but somehow managed to have no shame. I don’t think she was proud of her obsession, but she knew it for what it was and she didn’t pretend.

When my daughter died she was 19 hours old. The autopsy says she was 12 hours old and my theory is that had she not been under the hands of the paramedics at 4pm that day, she wouldn’t have lived until 9:30pm. They did everything they could do, but her lung infection was much more agile and had done too much damage before there was anyone fighting it off. Anyone besides herself, of course….

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Old Acquaintance

I‘m that lady who alternately weeps and cracks jokes. It looks like insanity, but it is actually exactly how to stay sane.

Today I met a 70yr old version of myself.

Every week, some of our students and one of our staff go next door to an assisted living home to lead a Bible study. Every week, whoever goes comes back with full hearts and good stories. Those people are amazing. Sometimes only of a few of them show up, sometimes more than 5. Sometimes several people leave in the middle. It’s not just a place for old people, it’s for anyone who needs assistance in living, so there are people as young as 18 and one lady who is 97 and many of them are noticeably “different.”

Today the 97yr old woman came (I’ll call her Beth), as well as two other women (I will call them Cindy and Lily). Cindy left early because her bipolar disorder was making it hard for her to sit with a group of people. She apologized profusely, but exited quickly. Lily was the old version of me and she spent part of the time cracking jokes, noticing random things (“Look out that window! There’s a plane that just flew over the peak!”), and the other part of the time, she wept openly….

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Once More With Feeling

I used to write poetry and now I write to-do lists. I used to go with the flow and now I keep a calendar.

It’s not that I have lost my soul to the daily grind. Just the opposite, actually. I have discovered a motivation that surpasses my melancholy or my desire to always be comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not so fundamentally different that my desk is now always tidy. I still wrestle with life and try to take time to think about the why’s behind action and existence. I still feel like I’m in a foggy dream for at least an hour after I get out of bed, and I still get ideas stuck in my head that poke at my guts until I give them words. My identity as a daydreamer is intact….

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