Monday, February 05, 2007

Dear Abby

Time for me to weigh in on the Dear Abby column...

My birthday will be nine months since losing Travis...almost a year and nine months after losing Alex. I have few precious pictures of both of them. After all this time, there are still days I look at the photos of my own children and all I see is dead. And quite honestly, it's a difficult thing NOT to see. They ARE dead. I really can't fault someone else for being a bit horrified by that. I'm their mother and I am horrified by it (if I'm quite honest about it, I am horrified by it A LOT of the time).

I think that just because I have dead children I do not have the right to tell the rest of the world to go to hell. I do not have the right to force my pain on other people. I mean, I COULD, but I don't think I have some special pass to do so. Forcing my pain on others only makes me bitter and angry...and that is not a tribute to my children that I want to create.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the imbalance this creates. While I'm so busy trying not to offend anyone's sensibilities, people all around me are moving forward and leaving me behind without a thought. There is no extra care given to me to lessen my pain...except by those who really matter. And that makes me sadder...and angrier. But when I feel ready to rant at those who lack sensitivity...those who really aren't worth my time and energy...I take a deep breath and ask myself who I really want to be. Do I want to be like them? Do I want to be the person who cries and yells and demands other people feel things that aren't genuine? I would much rather whisper and join hands with those who hear me than yell and not be able to tell the difference. Besides which, if "it" doesn't come from the heart...if it's not genuine love and kindness...then it's not going to make me feel any better anyway.

Even after all of this...I think every single person should be respectful of every single other person. Some will fall woefully short of the mark. But not me. I won't let this change me into something I do not like in others. I will not become one of them.

So I personally compromise...I have a pencil sketch of Alex and a photo of Travis' little half-finished feet in my office. They are less harsh to outsiders than some of the photos I have...and they still allow me to keep my boys close while at work.

I know it's not my responsibility to shelter other people from my horror. I feel it is, instead, my privilege to do so. I don't want other people to have to feel what I feel. I don't want others to know the fear and anger and sadness and revulsion that all comes from something that is supposed to be so simple and beautiful and miraculous. I don't. I WANT to keep them from feeling the horror. I WANT to protect them.

I will never deny my boys, or the love I have for them. But I don't need to make the world around me uncomfortable in order to honor their memories. It sounds like the subject of the Dear Abby letter is sad and grieving...and feeling just a bit lonely. This is her way of yelling to be heard. I wish, instead of condemning her for her pain, her coworkers would find some kindness and understanding to share with her. I also wish this woman would reflect on who she used to be and find some empathy for her coworkers. But like my wish for world peace, I'm doubtful any of this is going to happen.

But honestly, if you have to resort to writing to Dear Abby to answer such a simple question about human interaction, you've got bigger problems than seeing death personified in a picture in someone's cubicle. The picture may be inappropriate for the workplace...but so is the lack of simple human kindness for one another.


Laura said...

Oh Catherine, very, very good. You just said it perfectly.

Aurelia said...

My verification word is pimpm. Ahem

To serious issues, Catherine, I agree there should be more kindness, but what concerns me is that I also feel like once again, my children are being sent to the "back of the bus." Until society gives them a little more recognition, well, I may need to have a picture on the wall of my living room, or my office desk, or something. But that's me.
That said, if someone ever objected to seeing the sketch or the footprints on your desk, I would defend to the nth degree your right to have them there. If I as a grieving mother am expected to look at their pictures of their live babies, and chip in for their baby presents, they can show me some consideration.
But again, that's me...

Catherine said...

I guess my question is this...what kind of recognition could you possibly get that would satisfy you? And do you honestly think that having a picture up in your office is going to create whatever recognition you are seeking?

deadbabymama said...

DBP has a picture of deadbaby in his office, he put it there when he went back to work after she died. Now he has one of O, too. I don't think he is trying to shove it in anyone's face, it just seemed the natural thing to do when you have a kid, especially when you want to remember. If I had an office I'd probably do the same, just because I want to keep my kids close to me, not because I want to offend anyone! I don't think that it has anything to do with forcing pain on anyone, or protecting them, it has to do with the acknowledgement of these beings and that life isn't fair and that people suffer pain as well as joy - that's just the way life is. To deny that and expect everything to be presented as hunky dory all the time is dishonest.

The last part of the letter sounds more like the root of the problem. People don't like this woman, so they are focussing in on something she does that they can force her to change. I agree that they all need to show each other some kindness.

kate said...

Yes, i agree that we all need to compromise a bit -- that is simply part of living in society with other human beings. I think your displaying a drawing of Alex, and the picture of Travis's feet, or my displaying Nicolas' u/s pictures, are examples of this. Which is why i suggested such alternatives in my response to 'Dear Abby', not that it will do any good. I certainly agree that not all pictures of our babies are suitable for general viewing....but i think the real problem here is the writer of the letter and her attitude towards her coworker. All of which is nonexistent in 'dear abby's patronizing and stupid response.

Elizabeth said...

I have pictures of my dead son on my screen saver at work - along with pictures of my living son. I never thought about it making others uncomfortable.

My dead son and my living son are both my sons; are both a part of my family.

I'm pretty sure if you walked through that office, you might see pictures of deceased pets, grandparents, cousins, or friends in other cubicles. Why can't we have pictures of our dead babies?

My mom has a picture of my first son on her desk next to all other pictures of her grandkids.

MB said...

Very well said.

Aurelia said...

I don't know what kind of recognition I want Catherine. I just want something more than what I have now, which is nothing. For Matthew, I'm not even allowed to have a stillbirth certificate, we only have a grave and marker because we insisted.
Same with both my daughters, no record of their existence, a fight from hell just to get them buried in a slightly dignified way.
I just need something somewhere that says the death of my children happened, and I'm searching to find it. If this is her way of finding it, then I'll back her.
My way might be different. I don't really know yet. I'm still kind of lost on that.

Holley said...

I agree that the real problem is that the person who wrote the letter does not like the grieving mom. I think that Abby's response is bad advice and completely inappropriate.

She should have been suggesting what you are saying: a little kindness all around from everyone, to everyone else.


Brenda said...

I don't think you should feel like you have to protect others from your loss.
I have so many photos up of Zak. When I first put them up I made sure none of them were of him with any tubes in.
My mum said I should put up whatever I wanted to and if I wanted tube pics of him up them that's what I should do.
I have loads of tube pics up now. My mum and dad have many photos up. They have Zak's photos up right next to all the other grandchildren. My sister has them up everywhere and my niece sometimes carries a photo around of Zak with tubes in. She even took it to Kindy to show all her friends.

You do what YOU need to do. And if it means showing the world your photos then that's what you should do.

i read the 'Dear Abby' letter and i think the lady who sent it in must be a cold heartless women.

For anyone who is after a certificate for their beautiful bub here is a link you might like to check out :


Bon said...

living in my nice, dear Abby-less bubble, i hadn't noted that column. i agree that it sounds like people don't like Madge and that that's really the issue...but at the same time i also think the tone of the original letter implies a very strong "of course being reminded of something as viscerally awful as a dead baby is wrong" and that Abby backed that up in her response. which does push my buttons, i must admit.

i personally wouldn't have photos of a post-autopsy baby with her eyes sewn shut on my office desk. i find that claim a little suspect...simply because it's hard for me to imagine that being the photo a person would choose...unless Madge had no others. if she has no others, then in my mind, the office folk should step back a bit and say "whoa...that horrible photo is all she has? that must suck way worse than me being slightly disturbed at the sight of it."

but no, that's not how it usually works, i guess.

for myself, i only have pics of Finn's feet anywhere but in his little memory album. that's been my choice. but if other people make different choices, i feel it's less hardship for people to look at their dead babies than it is for the moms to grieve their dead babies.

has Dear Abby published any of the feedback?