Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eight Months, One Week and a Day

I have a bad memory.  That’s a given, and it’s been a fact of my life for a while, but especially of my post-Ella life.  I don’t necessarily like it, but I’m learning to deal with it.  And who knows?  Maybe my memory will improve as my peace increases, if it ever increases.  When it increases.  Maybe the bad memories and my bad memory will sort of meld and merge until they become just plain old memories, have-to-live-with-them-can’t-change-them memories.  Maybe. 

To say I have a bad memory is just a statement of fact, but to say that I’m also ridiculously scatterbrained is a ridiculous understatement.  If a squirrel and a Chihuahua had a love child that had been recently diagnosed with ADHD, that child would probably have a better attention span than I do.  My ability to focus is hampered not only by my inability to remember things but also by a certain level of apathy that settled in shortly after Ella died.  I’m trying to care more about the everyday things like decluttering the counters, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the rugs and the like, but it’s hard.  I’m less of a cleaning machine lately and more a pile mover/rearranger.  I may not be able to focus long enough to clean a whole room, but I can stack the crap out of a pile of junk mail.  In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s just hard to care about that stuff sometimes.  It’s hard not to give in to the apathy that’s crept in and settled in.  Why clean?  She’s not here.  Why bother?  She’s gone. 

But I have to care - or at the very least, try to care - because this life at home is the life I chose.  This life as a wife and mother is my choice, and my choice comes with duties and obligations that require my focus and attention.  Even if I fake it until I feel it, I have to care enough to at least get things done around the house and to properly take care of my family.  I have to care enough about the duties I’ve chosen so as to prevent this home from being just a house.  There may be piles of clutter, but doggone it to heck, those piles will be really neatly stacked! 

Of all of my duties as a wife, I always believed that the most important one was to help my husband get into Heaven.  I understand that Jesus already died on the cross for our sins.  That’s not what I mean by helping my husband get into Heaven.  I mean that I don’t want to be a hindrance, a near occasion of sin, or a stumbling block on his journey Home.  I don’t want to be the one that hands him the apple, so to speak.  [Some might believe that I’m helping him not necessarily to get to Heaven but to at least knock out some serious time earned in Purgatory!  Whatever works, I say.] 

The same can be said for my duty to my kids and for my obligation to guide them Home.  I wish I could be more confident in that department, but honestly I feel like I fail them more than lift them up.  I feel so immature in my own faith, especially after this past year when the difference between my faith in God and my trust in His will became abundantly clear.  I feel like I’m leading more by bad example than anything else – don’t do, say, or act like mom does, and you’ll be a shoo-in for swift entry through the pearly gates! 

I always believed that I should help my family on its journey toward Home, but I didn’t take that belief as seriously as I ought.  Home was way, way over there in the future sometime when we’re all old and gray and ready.  Home was a place I’d get to first to wait for my kids and their kids and their kids' kids.  That’s how it was supposed to go. 

But when your child dies, Heaven is no longer just a nice idea or something to be hoped for at some random moment in the distant future.  When your child’s absence occupies so many of your random thoughts, you can’t help but turn those thoughts to where she is.  When your child dies and you can’t remember things very well or focus on much of anything, you cling to the random things that do pop into your thoughts.  You hold onto them and focus on them, though there’s a fine line between focus and perseveration, I think.  When all you can do is focus on your baby who’s no longer with you, you cling to the random but persistent thoughts that won’t leave you be.  You think about random but persistent thoughts like eight months, one week and a day. 

Ella died when she was exactly eight months and one week old.  She died eight months, one week and a day ago.  Today marks the day that Ella has been in Heaven longer than she was here with me.  I always said that Ella was my child but God’s first.  She’s with Him forever, safe and whole in His arms, but it breaks my heart every single day that she is not here in my arms.  At the same time, who am I to begrudge her Heaven? 

Could I ever really begrudge her Heaven? 

I’ve been thinking about this day since shortly after Ella died.  I can’t explain why this day has occupied so many of my thoughts.  I can’t explain the fear I felt that I might let this day slip by without remembering it.  I actually got out of bed earlier this week to calculate exactly what date this day would fall on, and then I recalculated it that night and double checked my numbers the next morning.  I didn’t want to let it pass without some sort of what…remembrance?  acknowledgement?
 
Eight months, one week and a day.  I never thought she’d meet Jesus before I did.  I never thought she’d go Home first.  I knew Ella had a very sick heart, and I knew her life, however long it would be, would include more suffering than many people realize.  But I honestly never thought she wouldn’t pull through.  I never thought she wouldn’t be here today.  I never thought she wouldn’t be a main feature in all of my future.  And I certainly never thought I’d outlive her.
 
I want all of my family to go to Heaven.  I want them to live better lives than I have, to make better choices than I have, and to want eternal life with Jesus more than I have.  I want Heaven to be real to them now.  I want life in Heaven to be their goal, their final destination after their journeys are complete.  I want them to want it because they want to be with Jesus forever in Heaven.  I want them to want to see Ella again.  I don’t want it to take a tragedy to make Heaven real for them, and though I have the attention span of a gnat nowadays, I don’t ever want to lose my own focus on my journey Home. 

Eight months, one week and a day ago, my sweet little girl took up permanent, glorious residence in paradise.  For better or for worse, my Ella, my sweet little saint, is the reason why Heaven is really real for me, and for the rest of my days, I’ll be counting on her intercession to get me through this life until I can see her again in the next.
 

St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bad Memory

My 8yo does not like Granny Smith apples.  He says that they are too tart and sour.  My husband and I like them, though.  My husband eats them whole and unpeeled while I eat mine peeled, cored, and sliced – the better to dip them into the peanut butter jar!  I have a Granny Smith apple a day with lunch, so apples are always in the house.  But my kiddo much prefers the sweeter red delicious variety.  He asked me to buy some for his school lunches, and since I want to encourage healthy snack choices, I said I would get some.  He asked me to buy those red delicious apples several times over the course of a few weeks.  It only took me three trips to two different stores to finally remember to get them. 

I’ve never had a fantastic memory.  Even way back when – before marriage, before kids, before Ella – my memory was average at best, and then after kids came into the picture, I just started blaming my bad memory on them!  When I try to recall life events, I have to first remember where I lived when the event took place and then figure out the year and/or grade I was in to help connect the dots and fill in the blanks.  Maybe this is a problem all military brats deal with – having to catalog memories by which duty station or state you lived in at the time?  Anyway, for childhood memories, I can at least rely on my sister’s excellent memory to help me out.  My sister can very clearly and specifically remember events from when she was a toddler.  She even remembers when I was an infant, and she was only two and a half years old at the time!  I, on the other hand, can barely remember last week…or yesterday, if I’m going to be honest. 

I can’t remember to buy the apples my son asks for.  In the time it takes me to walk the 17 steps from the first floor of our home to the second, I forget why I’m making the trip.  As soon as I step away from the computer, I can’t remember to respond to emails or messages.  If I don’t write it down, type it as a note on my cell phone, or make a list and then make another list that I’ll actually read, then I just plain don’t remember anything anymore.  My memory has always been just slightly less than good.  On a scale of one to ten, my memory was meh.  But since Ella died, it’s gone from bad to wait….what was I talking about? 

My memory is shot to hell, yet I can remember every blasted detail of Ella’s last days and of the weeks that preceded and followed her death.  It’s a slightly cruel twist of fate that those memories are the ones in the forefront of my mind and in such bright and vivid Technicolor.  It’s unfair that all of the good memories of her short life are overshadowed by the overwhelmingly bad memories, the painful memories, the whyGodwhy? memories.  It’s just crap that so many tears follow so closely on the heels of such fleeting smiles when I do try to recall some good times.  It breaks my heart that, though I can’t quit staring at her pictures on the fridge, in the bedroom, on the computer, or on the visor in the car, I feel guilty for wondering if my trying to remember the good times does more harm than good, and if all of the reminders – the sweet, gorgeous, beautiful reminders – just amplify and intensify the pain that would be there anyway. 

My day-to-day memory is shot all to hell, but my Ella-centric memories are beyond intact.  I remember the specific names of the eight different things that were wrong with her heart, and I could point out or even sketch where they would be on a diagram of a heart.  I remember all of the medicines that Ella was on throughout the months of her care, and I even remember some of the dosages.  I remember the room numbers of all of the rooms Ella was in for the 5+ months she was hospitalized, and I remember the patient code I had to use to get into the PICU.  I remember the names of all of the doctors, nurses, therapists and support techs that took care of Ella.

I remember the not-so-calm before the storm, the time before it really hit the fan.  I remember when the decision was made to try intubating and sedating my Ella.  I remember trying to catch my breath while crying and telling a doctor to not leave Ella’s side while I quickly took a restroom break.  I remember the look on one particular nurse’s face when she and I made eye contact in the hall as she hurriedly grabbed something from (what I guess was) the crash cart, the strained, shocked look of holy shit - NOT this, not now, not her!  I remember looking into the doctor’s eyes when she said that the medical team was doing compressions and that though the doctor wasn’t crying, her eyes were moist and red-rimmed.  I remember the crowd of doctors and nurses in the hall because there was only so much space in Ella’s room.  I remember walking into her room and seeing that she was surrounded by so many doctors and nurses.  I remember hearing someone say loudly, “It’s the mom!  Mom’s here!” and sensing that they were making way for me while I focused on getting to Ella.  I remember the weight of her when I scooped her up into my arms, not waiting for anyone to clear lines or clean up.  I remember that in the middle of Last Rites during the Litany of Saints, the doctor who had placed his stethoscope on Ella’s chest looked up and shook his head.  I remember just kissing her sweet head over and over and over again and feeling her temperature slowly slowly slowly cool. 

I remember so much.  I remember it as though it were yesterday, as though I just left the hospital a moment ago, as though I just buried my sweet baby girl.  I remember every moment, but I can’t remember to buy a bag of damned freaking apples. 

Earlier this year I read a couple of posts by Catholic blogger Jennifer Fulwiler.  She wrote about witnessing her neighbor’s grisly and fatal motorcycle accident and about learning how to handle and process that incident.  In her piece Therapy and the Spiritual Life, Fulwiler explained why she chose to go to therapy.  She had been against the general idea of therapy for a long time but had gotten to a point in the post-trauma grieving process when something had to give.  I read the blog post with great interest because I could relate to the information she presented about how the brain actually changes due to trauma.  It just made sense that the brain would store traumatic memories differently and process them differently than it does the “normal”, non-traumatic memories.  The information that Ms. Fulwiler provided shed some much appreciated light on why my memories of everything involving Ella’s death have yet to make the leap from present tense to past.  I haven’t made the decision to transition from cheap therapy to professional therapy for a variety of reasons, but my eyes and my mind have certainly been opened to the benefits offered by the latter. 

I have a bad memory except with regard to the stranglehold my brain has on all of the bad memories.  But for as wretchedly painful as it is to relive the events of Ella’s death, I’m not sure that I’m ready to let them go.  I’m not sure I could let them go without feeling like I’m letting her go all over again.  I will be ready one day, I think.  I’ll be able to see pictures of her sweet face with a tear-free smile on my own.  I’ll be able to watch the video of her saying “mama” without desperately keening for her.  And instead of being resentful because of the short time I had with Ella, I’ll be able to be grateful for the time I did have with her here on earth - the eight months and seven days I had with the most awesome baby on the planet. 

One day I’ll be able to live with the bad memories because I’ll be able to make my peace with them.  I will truly be able to make peace with God’s will in all of this because His will is perfect though my understanding of it is not.  In the meantime, I’m hoping and praying for a peace that surpasses all understanding, but I have to admit…some days I’d settle for a resignation that numbs even a little bit of this heartache.


St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Falling Down

You can’t grow up the daughter of a US Marine and not be patriotic.  You can’t grow up the daughter of an immigrant and not love America.  At least I couldn’t.  I was proud to be a Marine brat and a first generation American, and I still am.  I’m the type of person who gets too choked up to finish singing all of the words to the national anthem, God Bless America and America the Beautiful; who loves and respects the flag and thinks it’s the most beautiful one in the all the world; who thinks this great nation of ours is most exceptional; and who is an unabashedly, proudly American.  God bless America indeed!

So you can imagine how amped I get every two years when the Olympics come around!  I get so jazzed watching our American athletes do their best while wearing their red, white and blue uniforms.  I love seeing how much they love representing the USA.  I love hearing the Star Spangled Banner play during the medal ceremonies and seeing the tears of joy and pride that stream down the athletes’ faces because the anthem is playing for them.  And I’ll admit it – I love the competition. I want to know who won the most medals, which country won the most gold medals, and where the US is in the medal count.  I want to know this:  are we winning?

The 2012 Olympics in London just wrapped up this past weekend.  The opening ceremony was lackluster, in my opinion, and the closing ceremony was just as “meh”, but the two weeks’ worth of competition in between was phenomenal.  World records were broken left and right.  Individual US athletes and teams gave repeat and three-peat gold medal performances.  Michael Phelps won his record breaking 22nd Olympic medal.  Not to be outdone by the veterans of the games, up-and-coming teenaged athletes showed their mettle in winning their own gold medals.  History was made not only by the presence of the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia but with the first athlete with disabilities to ever compete in the Games.  Like I said, phenomenal.

So it was with a bit of disappointment and embarrassment that I watched an American runner have what was basically a temper tantrum on the track in the middle of the 1500m final.  Apparently, Morgan Uceny was tripped, but instead of rising above the disappointment and pain by getting up to finish what she started, she dissolved into tears and banged her hands on the track repeatedly while all the other competitors raced to the finish line.  Sure, completing the rest of the race would not have guaranteed her a place on the medal stand by any means, but it would have guaranteed that, instead of being remembered for what she didn’t finish, she would be remembered for persevering in the face of misfortune, for giving it her all instead of giving up.

Perhaps I should be more understanding, more forgiving.  Perhaps I should try to put myself into her shoes before I “judge” her actions.  It’s hard, though, in light of double amputee Oscar Pistorius’ multiple races.  It’s hard to empathize with Uceny in light of Manteo Mitchell’s awesome performance during a relay race, a race he finished despite suffering a broken leg.  It’s hard to feel badly for her when I hear about Olympians like Bryshon Nellum who not only didn’t give up on his running dream four years ago after being shot several times in the legs but who earned a silver medal.

But still, perhaps I should be more understanding, more forgiving of her very public moment of weakness because after all, aren’t we all prone to weakness?  Don’t we all, as flawed human beings, have a tendency to fall flat on our faces every once in a while, sometimes in truly spectacular fashion?  Was Uceny’s main problem that she fell or that she fell for all the world to see?  Is my main issue with her that she embarrassed her fellow Americans with her emotional outburst or that she reminded me of all the times that I, too, have “shown my butt”?

The other day while listening to the radio, I heard something that really struck a chord with me.  I was driving when it heard it, so I had to repeat it aloud over and over again so that my 8yo could write it down for me.  I really didn’t want to forget it!  While talking about Liu Xiang’s unfortunate but poignant Olympic moment, the DJ said these words: 

“It’s not about how you fall but how you get back up that matters.”

I have fallen a lot during my life.  I have fallen for so many stupid reasons, for audiences large and small, and in so many ways – too many ways to recount here (not that I would!).  But I feel that the falls that have been the hardest to recover from, the falls that hurt the most, are the ones that only One Person could see.  The falls that hurt me the most are the ones that hurt my relationship with Him the most.  Those were also the falls from which I seemed to take my sweet time to get back up.  I am so grateful for the fact that, when I’ve fallen and I can’t get up by myself, I can grab the hand of the One Who waits for me.  I can limp over to the confessional where forgiveness and grace are mine for the asking.  In thinking about this, I’m left wondering which are worse, though – the falls we cause by tripping ourselves up or the falls we suffer when life deals us a crappy hand, when it feels less like a fall and more like a cosmic shove.

For me, no fall was bigger than the one I experienced when Ella died.  Nothing prior to that moment had broken my heart so irrevocably or had wounded my spirit so deeply.  One of the worst things about her death was the feeling that the One who had been my Help before – the One who had lifted me up every other time I had fallen – was so freaking far away.  I faltered, and my faith faltered.  I felt abandoned, ignored, and neglected by the One who is supposed to love me and care for me the most.  I felt as though every prayer uttered had fallen on deaf ears, as though every begged-for intention had bypassed Heaven to go straight out into the ether.  Prayer works…except for mine. 

To be so broken down and to feel so alone was more than I thought I’d ever recover from.  I mean, honestly!  How do you get back up when you’re busy shaking your fist and angrily yelling the f-word at the One to whom you’re praying?  If what you do when you get back up is what matters most but you can’t even get the heck back up, what then?  Where does that leave you? 

When Ella died, everything stopped.  Everything in my life froze, and I just didn’t give a flying fig.  I didn’t care if I ever left the house again.  I couldn’t be bothered to eat well, to take care of myself, to do anything but the bare minimum for my family.  Though I seemed to carry on a near non-stop running commentary going to God, I couldn’t say anything but the tersest of prayers before meals.  Going to church was really just going through the motions.  I cared, but at the same time, I didn’t care.  Maybe I couldn’t care?  When I said that everything froze, I mean that I froze.  My baby girl was gone, and an overwhelming sense of apathy took her place.

Slowly but surely I’m getting back up.  I still manage to get in my own way most of the time, but I am getting back up.  When we experience a major fall in real life, we don’t usually jump right back up on both feet; rather, we take a second to catch our breath.  We put hands on our knees, working out the kinks and stretching the legs and back as we slowly right ourselves to standing.  And so slowly I've gotten to my feet again, making my way forward with the easy, doable stuff like eating right and taking care of my health.  Though I am still quite the homebody, I leave the house not just for the must-do errands but for walks and for fun.  The physical things - the things I could see, do, and touch - were the easy things to do.  I wish I could say that there’s been such swift progress with the hard stuff, though. 

The emotional, mental and spiritual stuff doesn’t show on the outside but has left me feeling battered and bruised for much longer after my fall.  For as much as my faith faltered after Ella died and for as abandoned and as far away as I felt from God during those many weeks and months, there was no one I turned to more than my Father.  I talked incessantly to Him, laying every bit of anger, frustration, betrayal, and sorrow at His feet.  I was so angry with Him, but I just could not stop talking to Him.  I was so infuriated with Him that the anger seeped into my relationships with my husband and kids.  I was angry, and everyone knew it and everyone most certainly felt it.  I talked about this anger with a priest in the confessional, and I felt such a release and a lightness afterward.  But that anger still rears up its ugly head and is still something that I’m working on, praying about, and laying at God’s feet in the confessional.  I still cry.  I still ache.  I still yell and mutter and cry out to God.  Maybe I always will.  Maybe that's just the limp that lingers after such a hard fall.

We all fall down.  It probably feels like we fall down for the same reasons every single time – bad habits, habitual sins, boneheaded mistakes, human reactions to inhuman events.  Sometimes when I crawl back to the One upon Whose infinite mercy and love I rely, I can’t help but imagine that He looks at me with a Father’s love in His eyes while shaking His head, sighing, “Really, Bridget?  That again?”  I know I’m projecting my own flawed human way of looking at the type of forgiveness we give to those who repeatedly let us down – the slightly grudging kind given with an exasperated sigh rather than the kind accompanied by a hug, a kiss, and a feast of fatted calf.  I try to remember that when Jesus fell those three times on the way to Calvary, it was MY sins that shoved him down, my own falls and flaws that tripped him up.  If Jesus, with the weight of the cross and all of my sins, could get back up three times, then what is stopping me from getting back up again?

I have fallen in ways that were miles away from graceful, but it is by His Grace that I’ve been able to get back up again.  It is by His Grace that I’ve been able to lift my eyes clouded by tears, my heart heavy with grief and my soul aching for peace up to Him.  It is only by His Grace that I can stand today and put one foot in front of the other to continue the journey, the slow and oft times difficult race, toward Home where He and my sweet Ella await. 

We all fall down.  Thanks be to God for the Grace He gives that gets us back up on our feet.
 
St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, August 13, 2012

MABOP Monday

Sleeping Beauty + Bigfoot = Most Awesome Baby on the Planet


St. Ella, pray for us!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Right Intentions, Wrong Words?

The insanely, all-consuming grief that is caused by the death of a child is completely foreign territory for so many people, and thank God for that!  But I would guess that most everyone has dealt with grief in one form or another, whether it’s due to the death of a loved one, the death of a friend, the death of a marriage, or the like.  It is so hard to think of just the right words to say because what possible frickin words in the English language could help ease that sort of pain?  What words can assuage even a small bit of the heartache or the overwhelming, mind numbing sorrow?  There are none.  Not a single word.  I myself have fallen short so many times in properly expressing my own words of condolence to friends and family, so short that I’ve felt it “wise” to just remain quiet.  No – there are no words that can ease the pain, but thank you, Jesus, for the family and friends who understood this and spoke anyway!  I am so thankful for the notes and messages, the cards and emails, the texts and voicemails that we received after Ella died.  I will always hold those words in my heart.  Always.

Almost all comments made to a bereaved parent are said with the very best of intentions and with the hope of providing even a small bit of comfort at a time when giving comfort seems an impossibly lofty goal.  People mean well.  I know they do.  That said, sometimes what sounds good in your head may be like a dagger to the heart of a grief-stricken parent.  There are so many socially acceptable sympathy catch phrases used nowadays that I can only guess were coined by someone who has either never dealt with grief or who has a much thicker skin than I.  I heard a few of those phrases immediately after Ella died.  They were the types of things that people say when they aren't quite sure what to say, but are they the right things to say?  Are those phrases helpful, or are they hurtful?  I’m sure some would say that it’s the thought that counts.  And who am I to take anyone to task for offering sympathy or for inarticulately but sincerely expressing his condolences? 

This is such a sensitive subject, maybe even a slightly controversial one, but I think it is one that warrants clarification.  I’m going to try to be as honest as possible here, giving what were and, to a certain extent, still are my reactions to some of what was said or written to me after Ella died.  I would humbly ask that you bear in mind that sometimes honesty is a little more blunt and a little less PC.  I would hope that whoever reads this does so with an open mind and an open heart and without feeling as though he is being called to the carpet because that is not my intention at all.  I am not here to admonish anyone or to do any finger pointing.  I am not lashing out to cause people pain because of my own pain.  My purpose - my genuine desire - is to share how well-intentioned words can sometimes cause unintended pain.

And so we begin a countdown of sorts, a list of the sentiments and phrases that may sound good in the giving but that can be painful in the receiving...

6.  “Your little baby just earned her angel wings.”  “Your baby’s an angel now.”
 
For some reason, this particular sentiment bothers me.  I understand the thought behind it.  What’s not to like about angels?  They’re beautiful, float-y, eternally happy creatures, and they’ve got wings!  Wings, people!!  And just look at St. Michael the Archangel - he’s hardcore and totally awesome!  He kicked the devil’s butt something fierce.

Except…people are NOT angels.  As a Catholic, I believe that human beings were created by God in His image and likeness and were given bodies and souls.  Angels are pure spirits that cannot die.  I realize that not everyone believes the same thing, and I understand that there are parents out there who take great comfort in such statements as the bolded one above and in the idea that their much loved baby is now an angel.  Me?  Not so much.  Hearing Ella referred to as an angel is just not a comfort to me; rather, hearing it makes me want to whip out the Catechism to explain proper theology. 

My daughter, having been baptized in the Catholic Church and dying an innocent in a state of grace, is a saint.  My sweet Ella is the patron saint of awesome.

5.  “At least she’s not struggling/suffering anymore.”
 
No loving, sane, rational parent wants her child to suffer.  Most parents would offer to take their children’s places if they could, if it meant that their kids wouldn’t have to suffer.  I would have gladly taken on my daughter’s pain and suffering if I could have.  But knowing that Ella’s suffering is over is such small relief in light of the fact that her suffering ended only with her death. 

So I feel like the world’s biggest asshole for wanting her back here alive and in my arms because I know that for her, life meant struggle.  Life meant an uncertain future that involved certain pain.  Life meant surgery and scars, pokes, prods and needles, countless therapies and long recoveries.

But life meant LIFE.  Oh, how I miss that sweet, precious, irreplaceable, beautiful life!  Yes, her suffering has ended, but I can’t help but want her back.

4.  “I just can’t imagine what you’re going through.” “Oh, I couldn’t imagine!”
 
I wake up every morning with the certain knowledge that my sweet baby is not here.  I wake up knowing that I won’t get to hold her, feed her, hear her laugh, see her smile, play with her, bathe her, change her diaper, or watch her grow.  I wake up every day knowing this, and I go to bed every night knowing this.  I don’t have to imagine it, nor would I have ever wanted to imagine it.  I most certainly don’t want others to have to imagine what I now live and know!  When people say that they can’t imagine what I am going through, it only serves to underscore that I can’t imagine it either because I have to live it, think it and breathe it every day.  I don’t have to imagine what it would be like if my child died because I live that horrible truth. 

The very thought of the death of a child makes us whisper countless urgent prayers to God and a whole litany of saints.  It shoves us down on our knees to beg for safety, mercy, protection and life.  No one should have to imagine this type of heartache.  For whatever reason, some of us have to live it.  Please just take a moment to thank God if you don’t, and then go hug your kids and hold them tightly.

3.  “God needed her up in Heaven.”
 
Really?!  He needed her?  For what?!  He’s God!  He has EVERYTHING!  I needed her here in my arms, healed and healthy.  I needed her to be here so that I could watch her grow up, so that I could hug her and kiss her and love her, so that I could sing her silly songs and play goofy games just to make her smile.  I needed her to be here so that I could hear her squeal that squeal she did when she was happy, so that I could see her kick her legs when she was excited. 

I will never understand God’s will in all of this, but that’s a post for another day.  What I do believe is that God didn’t need her with Him.  He chose for her to go Home sooner than we ever thought or wanted.  His plan for her life was vastly different than ours, and we have to trust that plan.  But He didn’t “need” her with Him.

2.  “She’s in a better place now.”
 
This gem was said to me while I was sobbing over my sweet baby’s still and quiet body shortly after she passed away.  Too numb to say what I was thinking, which was along the lines of “ARE YOU F*&%ING KIDDING ME?!”, I just nodded and kept crying. 

Please please please - for the love of all that is right and holy in this world - do not say that phrase to someone who just lost a loved one.  Even though that “Better Place” only became really real to me the moment my daughter died and even though they contain so much truth, those words are just utter unwelcome bullshit when the grief is still so raw.  The best place in the world for Ella was in MY arms, and to say or imply otherwise, especially at the absolute worst moment in my life while she lay still warm but lifeless in my arms, was beyond excruciating.  It breaks my heart and makes me cry to even think of it so many months later.

1.  Saying nothing at all

Grief has led me to isolate myself and withdraw from so much of life - family and friends, people in general, places other than home, noise in general.  I crave silence and solitude.  Grieving is such an isolating and lonely thing to go through, but sometimes what makes it even lonelier is watching everyone else move on with their lives while I'm standing still but facing backward, trying to hold on to every single memory I have of my sweet girl.  I can’t help but dwell on her short, sweet life and her absence from mine.  She occupies so many of my thoughts at so many random times of the day and night.  For some people to say nothing at all to acknowledge her absence or to acknowledge my loss is a difficult thing to bear.  It is normal and expected, and it is the proper course of things as life does indeed go on.  I do not expect daily affirmations, but it is still so difficult.

There’s something about our culture, I think, that makes us wary or afraid to talk about death, as though talking about it would invite it to our own doorsteps.  We’re afraid to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, so we say nothing at all.  Heck, I‘m guilty of this exact thing.  I have been woefully negligent with regard to comforting the sorrowful, and even though my own situation has opened my eyes to my shortfalls with grieving friends, I still have so much trouble reaching out to them.  Instead of holding them, I just hold myself back.  The business of real life, my own sadness and the sense that anything I say will be totally inadequate all get in the way of just offering comfort.
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I’ve told you my honest reactions to what was said to me, and I’ve told you how I have failed my own friends during their times of grief.  So where does that leave the well-intentioned among us who want nothing more than to console those who are grieving?  What should we say?  Is there such a thing as a right or safe thing to say?  In my opinion, there is; I would be remiss if I left you only with a fear of saying the “wrong” thing. 

The most appreciated and most well-received sentiments that I’ve heard have included the following: 

How are you?

I’m praying for you.

I'm here for you anytime.

I am so sorry.

I’m thinking about you.

I miss her, too.

She will always be remembered.

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, please let it be this:  Never be afraid to offer comfort to the sorrowing as it is truly a spiritual work of mercy.  By that same token, though, please consider what impact your words might have, however well-intentioned they are.  Whisper a prayer to the Holy Spirit to guide you in your choice of words, and then think and feel before you speak. 


St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, August 6, 2012

MABOP Monday

My feisty little fighter, my strong little chick


St. Ella, pray for us!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Silly that Keeps Me Sane

I snort when I laugh.  I do.  I snort, and then I laugh harder because I snorted.  I laugh with gusto, and I do a loud and endearingly charming [read:  weird] noise when I try to catch my breath.  If I really get carried away, then I cry and look like I’m hyperventilating.  When I can’t stop laughing, I try to explain to people why I can’t stop, but it comes out like a high pitched, “weeee squeeee heebie jeebie heeeee” kind of noise.  Like I said, endearingly charming.  Heck, my laugh used to scare my younger son when he was a baby.  He would cry because it scared him!  I’m happy to say that he’s grown used to the noise.  He’s had to because I like to laugh and I laugh a lot.

Well, I used to laugh a lot.  Before Ella died, I was very quick to find the humor in situations.  If I didn’t find it, I’d try to create it.  Even when Ella was in the hospital for all those months, I tried to maintain a healthy sense of humor.  I told people that I either had to laugh and keep being the smartass I was born to be, or I would end up in the sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth while sucking my thumb and muttering nonsensically.  Find humor or go crazy - those were the only two options I could imagine for the situation I was in.

I’m finding my way back to the laughter and the humor, but it’s taking me a while.  That I’m doing that much this soon genuinely surprises me.  For the 4 or 5 or 6 months after she died, I felt as though I were betraying Ella by laughing or smiling or making smart aleck remarks.  Granted, there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to laugh about in my world, but on the rare occasion when there was, I held the laughter in.  If I allowed myself to smile, I only let it show for a few seconds.  It was as though finding humor in anything meant losing a bit of the sadness I was “supposed” to feel.  How dare I be happy?  How dare I enjoy anything anymore?  How dare I smile when my sweet baby girl was gone?  What the freaking heck was so funny anyhow?

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My husband and I have been married for almost fifteen years.  We met in college twenty years ago.  Though we had a slightly rocky, on again-off again start, we managed to un-ass ourselves long enough to realize that we were much better together than we were apart, and we’ve been together ever since.  We’ve never been the “look deeply into each other’s eyes” type couple.  That type of behavior would probably devolve into a staring contest anyway!  We’re goofballs more often than not, and one of the things we’ve always had together is laughter.  In fact, the priest who married us was worried that we’d be able to make it through our nuptial Mass with straight faces because of how badly we (well…I) lost it during the rehearsal.  Some women are overwhelmed by the type of emotion that causes them to cry tears of joy.  Me?  Not so much.  My husband cracked a joke during the practice vows, and that was the end of that serious moment.  Tears streamed down my face while I laughed so hard that I couldn’t breathe.  I was not only doubled over but also making that endearingly charming noise I mentioned before….ah, memories.

Because my husband is much quieter and more laid-back than I am, people tend to assume that he’s very serious.  Au contraire!  The man has a subtle, dry wit.  He’s not as willing as I am to make a complete butt of himself to get the laugh, but he totally comes up with zingers that just slay me.  Just the other day, we were watching the men’s Olympic badminton match between the USA and South Korea.  When the US did something good – I have no idea what...it’s badminton, for pete’s sake – I yelled out, “SUCKA!!”  My husband turned to me and deadpanned, “You’re what the Olympics are all about.”  He’s so awesome.  My husband and his humor were the reasons why Ella’s information board got started.

Ella spent over five months in the children’s hospital.  Though she wasn’t in the same room the entire time, her rooms all had one thing in common:  an information board.  Medical personnel could post info for patients and the patients’ families, such as doctors’ and nurses’ names, phone numbers, daily goals, etc., and patients could post notes, messages and the like.  Two patient sections that we took advantage of for our own amusement and sanity were the About Me and the Questions I Have sections.  And take advantage of them we did!

 
After about 2.5 weeks in the PICU during Ella’s first hospitalization, we were finally bold enough to write in her About Me and Questions I Have sections for the first time.  I can’t even remember if any staff members read what we wrote, but we did and it made us laugh.  We posted on the board every few days or so until Ella was discharged.  We made it our mission to post only Ella-worthy messages of snark, and I like to think that we succeeded.

When Ella was hospitalized a second time, we weren’t feeling very cheery or snarky.  To say that we were despondent, depressed and completely down in the freaking dumps would not do justice to how we felt.  The humor we expressed previously via Ella’s info board was rooted in the hope we felt – hope for a repaired heart, hope for healing, hope for a return home with our daughter, hope for a life back to as normal as life could be with a heart kid.  We had very little of that the second go around.  Until we were told that Ella could be listed for a heart transplant, we had nothing but a bleak outlook and an uncertain but certainly gloomy future.

It took a few days, but the snark did come back.  I posted this picture on Facebook during the first week of Ella’s second hospital stay, and my mom said that when she saw it, she knew we would be ok.  We obviously used humor to cope with the stress and uncertainty.  So she knew that once we found our way back to the humor, we’d be good to go.  We wrote on Ella’s info board fairly regularly for the first three months, and it was fun to share Ella’s witty messages on Facebook [it was all her, by the way; we just channeled her awesomeness].  As her health deteriorated, her messages became less frequent until they stopped altogether.  The last words posted on Ella’s information board were “Be awesome.”

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I think both my husband and I, whether intentionally or not, have always tried to encourage our boys to have good senses of humor, and do so even now.  We’ll see if that comes back to bite us in the butt down the road, but until then, we like to make each other laugh and we like to laugh together as a family.  I love to hear the belly laughs and the screams and squeals.  Whether I’m tickling my younger son or my husband is jumping out and scaring the poo out of my older son, the laughs are loud and enthusiastic.  I can’t help but join in when I hear those laughs!  I love to make my husband and my sons laugh, but I really love it when they make me laugh.  I especially love it when something so funny was said or done that it makes me laugh just to think of it.

Back when I had the time and inclination, I was a scrapbooker.  Eventually I hope to get back to that hobby again, but it’s too depressing right now.  That said, there are scrapping habits that I can’t seem to break – taking lots of pictures of both everyday life and of special events, buying (hoarding?) pretty papers and nifty paper crafting tools, and writing down the silly things that my boys say or do so that I can remember them and laugh at them later.  For instance, when my older son was a toddler, he called umbrellas “rainbrellas.”  I’m not sure I would have remembered that bit of cuteness if I hadn’t written it down.

I still write down things that make me smile and laugh.  Even in my current mental state, I’ve had the presence of mind to write down the silly things that my boys have said that cracked me up.  And even today – a day that actually started late last night when I cried myself to sleep and continued this morning when I woke up missing my sweet girl something fierce – my boys made me laugh because of their goofiness.  Just by being the silly, fun kids that they are - the types of kids who invent the new Olympic sport of water judo in the front yard - they reminded me to engage rather than withdraw.  They reminded me that it’s ok to laugh, to find joy even if it’s fleeting.  They reminded me that silly is allowed even if it follows quickly on the heels of sorrow.  They reminded me that I am so lucky.

I’m lucky because I get to have chats like this:

                   Me:    Nice outfit.  Very patriotic.
                   11yo: No.  I just did it for the US colors.

I’m lucky because I get to engage in conversations like this:

                   11yo (while looking at a car ad):  0% off?
                   Me:    No.  0% interest.
                   11yo: That means no one cares?

I’m lucky because I get to listen in on exchanges like this:

                   8yo:   Do you think dogs are smarter than cats?
                   11yo: Heck yeah!  Have you ever heard of police cats?!

I’m lucky because my 11yo says things like, “Who are you cheering for – the Japanese or Mars?” while watching the Olympics.  Because when watching a 53-year old compete on American Ninja Warrior, he exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, he has a 4-pack!”  Because when only half paying attention to a commercial for Whale Wars, he remarked, “Why does it have to be whale wars?  What did whales ever do to them?”

I’m lucky because my 8yo inherited my willingness to be ridiculously goofy just to get the laugh, to do crazy dances and make silly faces just to make someone smile, to find joy in making other people smile and laugh.

I’m lucky because the silly that I’ve been blessed with – the dry humor of my husband, the unintentionally funny remarks from my 11yo, the crazy antics of my 8yo – is the silly that has carried me through the darkness. 

I’m lucky because I know that the silliness is really a blessing and that when God built this family, He probably used a healthy dose of silly putty to keep it together through good and bad.

I’m lucky and I’m blessed because the silly that surrounds me, the silly that makes me equal parts nuts and amused, is the silly that keeps me sane. 


St. Ella, pray for us!