Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I must have been quite the sight

Sitting in our kitchen, crying, and playing with our dead son's hair.

The glass locket I ordered arrived today. I wasted no time pulling out the envelope labelled "Hair of Alex Gerard C."

It's amazing how utterly precious a few hairs have become to me. My house is filled with hair (dog, cat, man, boy, me)...but these hairs are special. These hairs came from the head of the baby boy I buried two short weeks ago. These are those precious hairs we, as mothers, debate having cut for the first time. These are the hairs that, had Alex lived, would have changed from dark brown to light blonde to perhaps strawberry red...and back again...just like his father and older brother. These are the hairs that were a part of my gift from God, gone back to God in the blink of an eye.

Truth be told, I had a hard time getting them out of the envelope. They were stuck in there and no matter how I shook the envelope, they didn't seem to want to come out. Finally, I used a pencil to fish them out...fearing I would shake the envelope the wrong way and the hairs would fall out and be lost forever. With each attempt to remove them from the envelope, I cried harder and harder. Then, I finally got a few out of the envelope and I had to attempt to organize a lock or two into something presentable in my new glass locket. As each strand fought being shaped into the locket, I cried harder.

The feel of it in my hands was an amazing tactile reminder of our beautiful boy. So soft and sweet and wonderful. I can still feel his soft cheek as I kissed him goodbye. I can still feel the weight of him as I rocked him in my arms. I can still feel the tiny fingers and toes as I caressed him gently before saying goodbye.


It's amazing how utterly precious a few hairs have become to me.

Falling apart

Well, I made it through exactly five minutes back at work before falling apart. The first kind friend I saw offered me the sympathetic head tilt and a hug and I lost it. Oh boy, this is going to be a fun day.

Monday, May 30, 2005

We had it all figured out

We planned it all.

The kids would be three years apart. Close enough to be friends, but far enough apart so as to not be in each others' shadows.

I waited a year after starting work so I could accumulate vacation time and be sure that I could use Family Medical Leave if necessary.

We waited the appropriate time after I stopped taking birth control pills so we would have a "healthy baby."

Steve begged a promotion at work so we could possibly afford daycare for two.

We told Sam all about Baby Alex. We even did the good parent thing and bought books about being a big brother.

I ate all the right things...did all the right things...saw the doctor when I was supposed to.

We had it all figured out.

We planned so well.

We were so naive.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Lessons learned in a cemetery

This may be grim humor for some. I apologize.

Lessons learned in a cemetery...

1. Do NOT take my overly-analytical husband with me to the cemetery for a peaceful trip to plant flowers for my dead son. My overly-analytical husband will bombard me with questions about cemetery operations and the logistics of burying a dead body. Is the coffin in concrete? Can you leave the plants that you plant or do you have to remove them? I finally told him to go find Dana (the cemetery sexton) and ask him.

2. Do not let my three-year-old son have a shovel (even hand-sized) anywhere near a cemetery. I seriously thought we were going to turn around and find he'd dug someone up.

3. Do visit my son's grave as much as I feel I want to. Who gives a hoot whether people think I'm obsessed. This is a time to grieve and it's up to me to decide what's right for me.

4. When planting flowers on a new gravesite, do expect the ground to be very difficult to dig up. My suggestion is to take a very big shovel and turn the earth a few times before planting. For reasons #1 & #2, do not take said overly-analytical husband, three-year-old son, and hand shovel.

5. Do take tissues. No matter what I feel like when I first arrive, leaving will make me cry every time.

6. White petunias are beautiful.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Marathon distractions

The week after Alex died I had the funeral to concentrate on. The week after the funeral, I had thank you's to send out. This past week, I've had Sam's birthday to concentrate on. Now I have nothing to distract me.

Alex was due to be born on June 9th. He's gone and I can't stop thinking about what should have been. I should be eagerly anticipating his birth. I should be big and pregnant and complaining about insomnia. I should be buying last minute baby items to make his homecoming perfect.

The thought of what actually is just makes me feel empty inside. Alex's birth has come and gone and I have no baby to bring home. I'm not pregnant and I have an extra 10 lbs to carry around now. I guess I can still complain about insomnia, but it's much different. I'm buying remembrance momentos and planning flowers for his grave instead of what outfit to dress him in for his first set of professional pictures.

Someone told me grief is like a marathon. I think they're right. I started out by distracting myself with the scenery along the way. Now all I see is the long desolate road ahead of me. It's going to be a very long summer.

My bucket

A new friend sent this to me and I thought I would share with you all.

Who Gets in Your Bucket?
By Doug Manning
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The best way I know to picture how we receive help from others in grief, is to imagine you are holding a bucket. The size and color doesn't matter. The bucket represents the feelings bottled up inside of you when you are in pain. If you have suffered a loss, hold the bucket and think through how you feel right now. If you are reading this to learn more about helping others, then imagine what would be in your bucket if a loved one had died very recently. What is in your bucket?

Fear. Will I survive? What will happen to me now? Who will care for me? Who will be with me when I need someone near? Most likely your bucket is almost full just from the fear. But there is also:

Pain. It is amazing how much physical pain there is in grief. Your chest hurts, and you can't breathe. Sometimes the pain is so intense your body refuses to even move. There is enough pain to fill the bucket all by itself.

Sorrow. There is devastating sadness; overwhelming sorrow. A gaping hole has been bitten out of your heart and it bleeds inside your very soul. You cry buckets of tears and then cry some more.

Loneliness. There is no lonely like that felt when you are in a room full of people and totally alone at the same time. Loneliness alone can fill any bucket ever made.

I could go on, but that's enough to get the idea across, and hopefully get you started thinking through your own list. What is in your bucket?

Now picture someone like me approaching you and your bucket. I also have a bucket. My bucket is full of explanations. I am armed and ready to explain why your loved one had to die, how they are now better off and how you should feel.

I am also well equipped with new ways to look at your loss. In politics they call that "spin doctoring," but most human beings seem to know this skill by instinct. I have almost a bucketful of comforting words and encouraging sayings. I can also quote vast amounts of scriptures. I seem to favor the ones that tell you not to grieve.

So we face each other armed with full buckets. The problem is, I don't want to get into your bucket. Yours is scary. If I get in there, you might start crying and I may not be able to make you stop. You might ask me something I could not answer. There is too much intimacy in your bucket. I want to stand at a safe distance and pour what is in my bucket into yours. I want the things in my bucket to wash over your pain like some magic salve to take away your pain and dry your tears. I have this vision of my words being like cool water to a dry tongue. Soothing and curing as it flows.

But your bucket is full. There is no room for anything that is in my bucket. Your needs are calling so loudly there is no way you could hear anything I say. Your pain is far too intense to be cooled by any verbal salve, no matter how profound.

The only way I can help you is to get into your bucket, to try to feel your pain, to accept your feelings as they are and make every effort to understand. I cannot really know how you feel. I cannot actually understand your pain or how your mind is working under the stress, but I can stand with you through the journey. I can allow you to feel what you feel and learn to be comfortable doing so. That is called, "Getting into your bucket."

I was speaking on guilt and anger in grief to a conference of grieving parents. I asked the group what they felt guilty about. I will never forget one mother who said, "All the way to the hospital, my son begged me to turn back. He did not want the transplant. He was afraid. I would not turn back, and he died."

I asked her how many times someone had told her that her son would have died anyway. She said, "Hundreds." When I asked her if that had helped her in any way she said, "No."
I asked her how many times she had been told that she was acting out of love and doing the right thing, she gave the same two responses. Many times and, no, it did not help."

I asked her how many times she had been told that God had taken her son for some reason, and she gave the same responses- "many" and "no help."

I asked how many times someone had told her that it had been four years since her son's death and that it was time to "Put that behind you and get on with your life." This time she responded with great anger that she had heard that from many wellmeaning people, including family members, and that it not only did not help, it added to her pain and made her angry.

What I was really asking her is, "How many people have tried to pour their buckets into yours?" I then said, "Would it help if I hugged you and said `that must really hurt'?"
She said, "That would help a great deal. That would really help."

Why would that help? Because I was offering to get into her bucket with her and to be in her pain, instead of trying salve over her pain with words and explanations.

If you are in pain, find someone who will get into your bucket. Most of the time these folks are found in grief groups or among friends who have been there. It is not normal procedure. It is hard to swallow our fears and climb into your bucket.

If you are reading this to find ways to help others in grief, then lay aside your explanations and your words of comfort. Forget all of the instructions and directions you think will help and learn to say, "That must really hurt." I think that is the most healing combination of words in the English language. They really mean, "May I feel along with you as you walk through your pain?" "May I get into your bucket?"
Healing happens in their buckets.

Birthday Rainbows

Yesterday was a good day.

We started by dressing Sam in his new Thomas the Tank Engine t-shirt.

Then we took Sam to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. It was an amazing, if not overwhelming, children's experience. While there, we bought Thomas the Tank Engine toys and a toothbrush.

Then we went to dinner at a restaurant with Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Matt. While at the table, we played with Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

Then we went home, opened Thomas the Tank Engine presents, ate Thomas the Tank Engine Cake, and watched a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD...but we finished with a Blue's Clues video before bed...lol.

Here are some pics of my birthday boys...









As we were walking out of the restaurant after dinner, we looked up and there was a beautiful rainbow. We talked about it with Sam and we all think that was Alex's way of wishing his big brother a Happy Birthday. Something about the smiles of the day and the luck of a rainbow on your birthday tells me we are right.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Happy 3rd Birthday Samuel Charles!

The past three years have been the best three years of our lives. From the moment you were born (actually from the moment we knew you were on your way), you have brought such joy and happiness to our lives that it's impossible to imagine what life was like without you.

There are no words to describe the wonder of hearing you laugh or tell us excitedly about all the different trains on Thomas the Tank Engine. There is no way to adequately capture the magic of seeing you dance or hearing you sing. There is nothing that compares to getting a "big hug" or a "spitty kiss" from you. We will never find something to match the thrill of watching you accomplish some task that you set your mind to.

Many of the "firsts" happen in the first three years and you would think life would become routine. Not with you, my amazing son. You have shown us that life is an amazing journey to be cherished. You have taught us the value of slowing down and enjoying the little things. Dandelions and rocks have never been as fascinating as when we look at them with you. Hours in the sandbox seem to take place in the blink of an eye. Watching you "play baseball" all over the back yard is better than any major league game we could buy tickets for. Thank you for every shared moment...they have been magical.

We are very sorry this year brought any sadness or disappointment to you. Please know that we would have prevented it if we could have. There is nothing we wouldn't do to protect you from being hurt or upset, if we only had the power.

We love you more than ever...and we will love you always.

The phantom bell

I figured out where the phantom bell was coming from!

For weeks now, Steve and I have been hearing a bell, three notes similar to a doorbell, ringing intermittently throughout the day and night. I just discovered it is due to a cat sleeping on the foot of Sam's bed and leaning against a musical crib piano toy that he has hanging there.

At least I can cross auditory hallucinations off my list of symptoms indicating that we've totally lost our minds.

Our old tree and me

When I was pregnant with Sam, I felt this amazing connection to the world. For some reason during that time, the big old tree in our front yard made me feel like I belonged to something bigger. I felt like I was home. It's hard to explain, but the idea that our house and that tree have been here for so long gave me a sense that my life fell into a pattern of life...something came before me and something would come after me.

While I was pregnant with Alex, my world became smaller. Instead of an amazing connection to the world, I was filled with an amazing connection to my family. I thought of all the things Steve would teach Alex and Sam together. I thought of all the things Sam would do with Alex. As Sam grew to accept Baby Alex as an inevitable part of our future, I thought of all the experiences we were going to share together...the four of us. I thought of raising my boys together as brothers and friends. It was as if I was growing my own tree...I had developed the roots while pregnant with Sam and was working on the branches and leaves during my pregnancy with Alex.

It's weird to think of now, because I still feel that connection to the old tree in the front yard. I can still feel the continuity of life running through this old house...I can still feel my roots firmly planted in this place.

But the connection to my family hopes and dreams is gone. It's like someone came along and chopped my tree down and left just a big ugly stump to look at. I just can't feel growth anymore...no branches...no leaves...none of those big walnuts the squirrels throw at us. So much is uncertain. What kind of family are we supposed to be now that one of us is missing forever? Are we supposed to be a family with only one child? Is Sam supposed to be without siblings? When I watch him on his swingset these days I see the empty swing next to him and wonder what we're supposed to do now that there is nothing but roots left.

I'm told something will grow in place of the connection I lost. I'm told the roots of my personal tree are strong enough to sprout different branches as time goes by. Our family won't stop living because of this sadness. We won't ever be the same, but we will rebuild hopes and dreams together...they'll just be different than they were before. There is no way to tell what those hopes and dreams will look like right now, because we first have to take time to acknowledge our loss and grief. I have to say that this is the part that sucks...and I wish it were over already.

I suppose during the time I'm waiting to heal I'm just going to have to remind myself that the old tree still stands in the front yard.

[Please pardon my very confused metaphors and attempts to write this out...I couldn't sleep and I'm afraid I'm not making much sense]

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Momentos for holding on

In the immediate wake of Alex's death, I felt as if there is nothing to acknowledge his existence. He didn't have a lot of belongings in the first place, so his existence seems to have been pared down to a couple of boxes...one of clothes and one of "momentos." The momentos are actually not yet in a box because I haven't found one that is appropriate for storing a dead baby's momentos in. I somehow don't feel like the Winnie the Pooh box is quite right. Anyway...his momentos are just in a pile on top of the wardrobe cabinet in my bedroom. I hope to have a box to store them all in soon.

So...I search the net. EBay has become a favorite destination for me lately. I've found so many wonderful keepsake items, I'm afraid I've become addicted to the search for them as some sort of weird way to hold on to Alex. The self-help book I'm reading warns about addictive behaviors...but it seems to only consider drugs, alcohol, and unhealthy relationships...not shopping. But there is a particular fear that grips me. Once I have all the keepsakes safely stored...what will I do with my time? I'm afraid that the end of my "constructive" shopping will result in my being reduced to a constantly sobbing mess. I will no longer have some purpose to distract me. How will I handle that?

This leads me to one of my bigger issues...

How do I return to my life? I will never be the same. How am I supposed to carry on as if I were the same person I used to be?

I saw one of my clients at the grocery store today. Yes, I ventured to the grocery store...in grubby clothes and without having done my hair or makeup (I'm sure I'm everyone's stereotypical grieving mother). Anyway, when I saw her I had this inexplicable urge to run like hell in the other direction. Instead, I smiled and said hello. Thankfully, she didn't stop to talk, just returned the smile and hello and kept going. I was gripped with a kind of fear I have never experienced before. I am never going to be able to go to work on Tuesday. At this rate, I'm never going to be able to return to work.

But even more concerning is the thought of how I will handle being alone. If all goes as planned, and we all return to our routine on Tuesday, I will be home alone in the afternoon until Steve and Sam get home. I haven't been alone since before we lost Alex. I remember coming home and sitting on the couch with my glass of water, talking to him about all the stuff we were going to do once he arrived. I don't know that I can face those memories and dreams all alone. So if you can't find me Tuesday, I'm probably hiding somewhere in order to avoid the sadness.

Unless you can think of something else I need to buy on eBay? (kidding, of course)

Maternity leave when your baby dies

You get six weeks off work to bond with your new baby. You get three days to say goodbye when your baby dies. What the hell is wrong with our society?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Insane laughter

I was all set to post something suitably serious and somber when Steve walked into the room to ask me a question about dinner (which I do believe he intends to cook). Now this, in and of itself, isn't all that funny. But the fact that he was quickly followed by a giggling Sam...who promptly pulled Daddy's pants clean off...

Now THAT is funny!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

It's like a wave washes over me and I'm right back at square one, crying and wondering why. I can feel it coming, and I know there's nothing I can do to stop it. So I lock myself in the bathroom and take a long shower and cry. Or I curl up in the bed and cry with my back to whoever may be lying beside me. Or I send Sam and Steve out to play baseball so I can come here, type out my feelings, and cry. I've become a master at not crying in front of anyone.

And I think I'm doing so well, being so sneaky...and then Sam looks at me with those beautiful blue eyes and asks out of nowhere, "Mommy, are you sad?" It's like he can sense the wave is coming too, despite my attempts to shelter him from it. It's like he knows that things will never be quite the same again. And I'm even more sad that he has to deal with that. I don't want to cheat my beautiful living son out of a happy childhood because I'm sad about my angel baby.

So I continue to fake it for now, crying only in my private moments, and trying to at least hold the wave back enough so that it only laps at Sam's toes...rather than swallowing him whole like it's doing to his mommy.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

There are so many things to say

I don't even know where to begin.

If I had broken my leg, people would understand and offer support. I lost a piece of my heart and people expect me to just get on with my life. But in actuality, I'm paralyzed. I simply cannot go grocery shopping when I feel like my insides have been shredded into a zillion pieces. I don't know how to plan my Sam's birthday party when I feel like something is missing from the celebration. I can't pretend to care about my clients' problems when they're so irrelevant. Everything seems pointless.

A month ago, my life and my family was beautiful. Now it's missing something. And I feel guilty that I'm dissatisfied. I KNOW I'm blessed to have what I have...an amazing husband and a beautiful son. What kind of wife and mother can I be that I'm not fulfilled by that? I watch my son play with bubbles and think how much fun he would have had showing Alex the bubbles. I watch him cry and think how much I would give to hear Alex cry. I cuddle him in the bed and think about how he promised to, "move over" when Alex came. This is completely insane.

They say that when you have a second child, your love for the first child does not diminish, but you find MORE love to share with the second. They say it's like having a piece of your heart taken out of your chest and giving it legs. They're right. And when that child dies, it's like a piece of your heart dies with him.

Like a broken leg, this is not a part-time injury. I can't pretend it doesn't affect every movement I make. I can't pretend it doesn't hurt like hell. It's never going to be exactly the same as it was...And it's going to take time to heal even a little bit. Unfortunately, unlike a broken leg, there is no visible cast to warn bystanders that I'm injured and hurting. There is no, "six weeks and the cast will come off" diagnosis. There is no prescription for painkillers and bedrest that will make this better.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Baby Alex - Our Angel in Heaven

To our dear friends...

This is the hardest thing I have ever had to write. And I sit here and type it with what I know is surely a broken heart, for it hurts too much not to be so.

Alex Gerard, our beautiful baby boy, was born sleeping into the world on May 11, 2005, at 11:38pm. He never took a breath, never cried, never was able to look in our eyes and see how much we loved him. But he was as much our son as if he had lived for years and years. We were able to hold him and kiss him and tell him everything we feel in our hearts before we had to say goodbye and let him return to heaven. He was beautiful to us.

Unfortunately, for many reasons, Samuel was never able to see his baby brother. That is something that will sadden us forever. We know that they share a brotherly love that defies all logic. Over the past months we have seen Sam move from a defiant refusal to accept a baby into our lives to a genuine love for “Baby Alex.” He would pat my belly and talk to Baby Alex. He would tell us all the things he wanted to do with Baby Alex. Now he just says, “I want Baby Alex to come back.” We are at a loss as to how to make him understand something that we don’t understand ourselves.

We have no answers as to why this happened to our family. We may never have any answers. We are relying on faith that we will someday find peace and see our angel again in heaven.

We love you all, and appreciate your love and support in return, but we are not equipped to do much more than cry right now. We wish we could tell you that we will make it through this. But we’re not even sure we will make it through today. We are taking it moment by moment right now and we can only ask that our friends and family understand that we not only lost our baby, but we lost a piece of our lives and our future. All those hopes and dreams we had are gone now and there is no way to ever get them back. We will simply be trying to survive for a very long time.

It may be presumptuous, but we request that no flowers be sent at this time. They are just too painful to look at. If you are so inclined to remember Alex, we would appreciate donations made to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital so that they can continue working to help children be healthy and happy. There is an online donation form at:
https://secure.apk.net/uhhs/donations.html
or you can send donations to:
Department of Development
University Hospitals of Cleveland
11100 Euclid Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44106-5062

We love you all. And we wish you peace, joy, love, and happiness with your families. Those of you with children, hug your little ones tight (no matter how old they may be) and know how incredibly blessed you are to have that little piece of heaven bless your life.

Love,
Stephen, Catherine/Kate aka samsmom527, and Samuel C

Friday, May 06, 2005

My first "real" Mother's Day

My amazing, gorgeous, wonderful son came home yesterday with a potted viola for me for Mother's Day. He presented it to me with the biggest smile on his face I have ever seen.

"Look what I made for you Mommy. I painted it and I put dirt in it with my hands," he proclaimed proudly. Then he gave me a "biiiiiig hug" and a kiss on both cheeks.

I cried. (And I'm crying now as I type this)

I must admit that I never got it until now. Up until that particular moment in time, Mother's Day was a complete mystery. I know I love my mom...and I hope she knows it too. But, like with most aspects of being a mommy, I didn't really GET IT. I went through the motions every year, not because I truly understood it, but because Hallmark dictated that I should.

Now I get it.

I love you Mommy!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Extra brownie points to...

My mom...for offering to come over and help me clean my house.

AND

My husband...for taking our insane boy with cabin fever to the grocery store so I could have a moment of peace.

Thanks to you both!