This post is a bit of a doozy and contains cursing

When Luke died in August, I was already in the throes of a classic mid-life crisis. I had just turned 35 in July and was questioning what to do with the rest of my life. This stemmed largely from turmoil I was grappling with at work. The previous fall, my department had undergone a reorganization. My responsibilities expanded and I took on new direct reports. To put it mildly, the reorganization was not implemented well by certain managers, and things got real ugly, political, and personal. The team who felt they’d had things “taken away” from them not only were nasty to our faces, but they tried to sabotage us behind the scenes. Pettiness, gossip, and the worst of human behavior ensued all around; I myself, pushed to the brink, was guilty of this too.

This was at a large nonprofit where I’d worked since 2006 and had envisioned myself always working, for a cause I believed in deeply, and still do. I’d started at an entry-level position and, through hard work, moved up to middleish management.

In the spring, I’d found out about a master’s degree program in environmental biology at a local college. It sounded intriguing but was completely different from my first career track, journalism. It seemed too daunting to go back to school and I didn’t know if I was cut out to be a scientist. But as things got increasingly contentious at work, and as I found myself everywhere confronted by signs of climate change, I started to think about the master’s degree more and more. In July I met with the program director, asked her a bunch of questions, and began to contemplate if and how I could make it work.

Then Luke died.

Mean girls gone wild

First of all, let me say that—in contrast to the response over at Zack’s workplace—many, many work people provided so much incredible, appreciated support. They called and wrote beautiful notes. They checked up on us. They subscribed to my blog. They raised over $1,000 in Luke’s memory. Some went to the charity of my choice, the Star Legacy Foundation for stillbirth awareness. Some went to a food delivery service. And some went to a getaway for two at a birding hotspot, since Zack and I are nature nerds. The secret Facebook group of moms at my workplace rose up and showered me with letters and love. I still have a card from one of them taped to my bathroom mirror, reminding me every day to carry faith over fear.

Then there was the other team, the one that felt they’d had stuff taken away from them and didn’t want to share the playground nicely. Led by one particular individiual who was the worst instigator, and without asking me my wishes, they started a competing fundraiser, collecting donations in Luke’s name for an organization I don’t support. The instigator, who hadn’t said a nice word to me in months and had never once even bothered to acknowledge my pregnancy when Luke was alive, apparently sent a sickingenly sweet, and blindingly obviously insincere, email asking for money and saying how bad she felt about what had happened. Multiple people later told me they couldn’t believe she sent it and that it came off incredibly fake.

I never heard once from any of these individuals in the weeks after Luke’s death, not on email, not on text, and certainly not via that most personal of touches, a card in the mail. So it was really curious when I found out later from several sources that these people apparently dominated a group session that HR had set up with a counselor from our employee assistance program to talk with people about how to support me upon my return. The room was filled with people who actually cared, but my sources told me these individuals turned it into a session all about them. Which was just so typical, but it was heartbreaking to see that even after the worst of tragedies, they couldn’t put their egos aside.

Then, just a few days before I was about to come back to work, a card arrived in the mail. It contained a thank you note from the organization they’d sent their money to, the one I don’t support. And there was a card that they’d all signed. Except instead of signing it with individual notes like “I’m so sorry for your loss; please let me know if there is ever anything I can do”—you know, the normal type of thing you put on a card—they all just squeezed their signatures into the space under the text on the righthand side of the card. Seriously, the signatures were all just packed in there, surrounded by a ton of blank space. I couldn’t have dreamt up anything more insincere, with less thought or time or effort put into it. Then I noticed a bracelet inscribed with the words “Forever family” wedged into the envelope. My only response was to laugh out loud because clearly someone was playing a practical joke on me; these people had never once treated me like I was good enough to be part of their exclusive family.

But wait—there’s more!

A few weeks before I was to return, my team members reached out to me about what had happened during my leave. All throughout the acrimonious summer, we’d been meeting with a consultant who was evaluating our department’s structure and functions. The reorganization would be tweaked somehow, we knew—strengthened, we hoped. Among the options on the table were taking the reorg further in the direction that had already been started and sharpening the department’s focus on strategy by eliminating fiefdoms. Also, eliminating the conflict of interest wherein the manager of the team that didn’t play nice was two reporting levels below her husband, a C-level executive. Uh huh.

Before Luke died, I had just been hoping they would make the decision before I was out on maternity leave. Well, they ended up making the announcement on the day we buried him. I never in a million years imagined they would undo the reorg, but that’s exactly what the C-level executive—the very same one implicated in the conflict of interest—decided to do. As part of the changes, a new reporting structure did finally eliminate the conflict of interest, but everything else felt like punishment raining down on the whistleblowers.

And so my poor teammates, the very same ones who’d been reaching out and taking care of me in the ensuing weeks, had been, unbeknownst to me, also trying to fight for me and for them, trying to get the decision overturned—and trying to figure out how and when to tell me I’d essentially been demoted, my responsibilities cut in half and my team of direct reports decimated. Right after my full-term baby died three weeks shy of his due date followingly a seemingly normal pregnancy. Yeah. And they were having to do this last part all on their own because no one from HR, and no one from any of the mangement teams, was helping them do it. It seemed that to those folks, I was an afterthought at best.

In fact, it took several weeks before I was able to get an in-person meeting with our new department head, who took all of half an hour to meet with me, arrived five minutes late, and basically told me, in so many words, that I should quit. He said he would be really pissed if he were me and he would leave, and that was about it. This person also hadn’t bothered to send a card or to even once utter the simple words, I am so sorry for your loss.

Here comes the cursing

For a while after I returned to work, I was afraid of running into members of Team Mean in the hallway, because I just didn’t know what I would do or say. For a time, shouting Get the fuck away from me! was one of my fantasies. Eventually I decided I would just ignore them. Because I had withdrawn from virtually all meetings at that point, I ended up encountering Team Mean only once, when I briefly and awkwardly had to walk alongside its most openly mean member. Her response upon seeing me was to laugh. I’m sure that it was nervous, guilty laughter, but still! What. The. Fuck. Somewhat miraculously, I managed to not murder her.

So, even though I’m still not sure whether I believe in signs, it was hard not to feel that the universe was sending me a giant one, something along the lines of Get the hell off the Titanic as soon as heavenly possible. Especially after I had the vision I described in a previous post, in which Luke seemed to be showing me the planet and saying it’s urgent for us to save it.

And so I did. 113 days after I delivered a lifeless, beautiful, delicate baby boy who uttered no cry and took no breath, I got the fuck out of Dodge. I envisioned my teammates clapping and cheering for me on the way out. Some of them are not far behind.

That was a dark, terrible time that passed in a haze. On top of the crippling grief of losing a son, I was blindsided by the secondary grief of losing a job that I’d naively allowed to become part of my identity. It was hard to make the decision to leave. To leap from a career I’ve been mostly successful at into unemployment, full-time schooling, and a profession where I don’t know if I can make it.

I’m only six weeks out from that decision. God willing, my first classes will start sometime this week, whenever the D.C. area can dig out from the blizzard. But I can honestly say, to my surprise, that I actually haven’t looked back. I don’t miss the place. I thought it would be hard to let go, but in reality I rarely think about that hotbed of dysfunction. I miss the people I love and respect. But that’s it. Now I’m simply focused on the path Luke showed me. I hope I can make him damn proud.

(Oh, and also—I returned that stupid fucking bracelet.)

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The forgotten soldier

I’ve wanted for some time to share Zack’s perspective on losing a child. He has endured some unusually bizarre and insensitive behavior from colleagues and friends, and I want to let the world know that it’s not OK to be an asshole like that, especially to a smart and kind and decent guy like my husband—a perpetual fixer who has found himself without any tools to repair or undo the most horrifying of tragedies.

Zack doesn’t think of himself as a writer, so I sat down with him and asked him some questions. Our interview follows. Caveat: Some readers may recognize elements of themselves in this post. If that’s you, as another baby loss mom recently wrote, it’s not too late to repair things.

But at some point, it will be.

How have your colleagues supported you after Luke’s death?

I went back to work just two weeks after taking the phone call, at my desk, that Luke had died. At that time everything was still so raw, and it was hard to talk about without bringing up all those emotions. I was just trying to make it through the day at that point. So right before I went back, I emailed my boss and asked him to put out the word that I didn’t want to talk about it.

I wouldn’t have ever guessed the consequences that this would eventually have.

On my first day back, I was extremely nervous—it was a feeling of blood pressure dropping, like getting really antsy your first day on a job. I didn’t know if anybody was going to say anything or if they would treat me differently or how they would look at me. I don’t know what I expected—just people being overly emotional or super concerned. And I couldn’t process my own emotions back then, let alone someone else’s.

But apparently my fears were unfounded. No one said anything. At all. Basically ever. It was like they went too far in the other direction. As time went on, it would have been nice for someone to at least acknowledge that something had happened, but only two guys bothered to do that even briefly, and they both had also lost a child. The office sent me a group card, so it seemed like they all figured they had checked off that box and didn’t need to do anything else to help a fellow human being in need and in pain. They were using my initial statement as a copout to get out of doing that hard work of being nice, caring people.

But they even got the card wrong: One signer addressed me as Mark.

Do you feel like Luke’s death is the elephant in the room?

Yeah. About two months after the loss, we went to dinner with a colleague and his wife, who was pregnant at the time. We endured several hours of conversation in which they did not once mention Luke. It really bothered me; even if I say I don’t really want to talk about it doesn’t mean you can’t say you’re sorry at least or express any kind of emotion about it or maybe ask what went wrong.

My coworkers also went beyond just ignoring the loss to having some really insensitive conversations within earshot. One colleague had a daughter just a few weeks before Luke was born and would talk openly about how she was keeping them up all night. And I would think, Good for you, because my kid’s not going to cry at all. And I would have to get up and go to my car for a few minutes just to get away from it. I can’t even begin to understand why not one person, especially the women in the office, would think that maybe it wasn’t OK to talk about these things so soon after our loss.

Around Thanksgiving, I sent a note to the office saying that in this time of thanksgiving, I wanted to express my gratitude for people abiding my initial wishes, and then I added that if anyone wanted to talk to me, I was open to that. I said, Please, no lookie-loos, and maybe that was my mistake. But still, no one came. I got only one response, a quick “Thanks.” I had thought maybe they were all just waiting for me to say something and if I sent this note out, somebody would say, Oh, thank you, I’ve been wanting to talk to you for so long but didn’t know what to say. Now nobody had any excuse for not saying anything, and yet still they kept silent.

After Christmas, two people asked me how our holidays had been. When I gave the honest answer that actually, it kind of sucked, they quickly changed the subject. I guess they really didn’t want to know. When we went to see Dr. Kliman, I left a note on my board that we had gone to see a placental pathologist at Yale. I wanted someone to ask me about it. When I got back to the office, two people did. One person said they hoped we got answers. The other person wanted to know how the drive was.

I’m disappointed, to say the least. It’s a subhuman response; they’re all just so wrapped up in themselves.

How have your friends outside of work responded to Luke’s death?

My close friendships have been forever altered. Friends I’ve known for a long time put up an initial attempt at support and then quickly disappeared. I know what they wanted—they expected me to reach out to them to start talking. But that’s just not the mode I was in.

I think for a lot of my friends, it’s because they’re introverts—at least, that’s what I’m blaming it on. But that doesn’t make me any less angry at them. Seeing a friend lose a child should force you of your comfort zone. We’re introverts too, but I think that if the situation had been reversed, we would have gone to visit no matter what the schedule looked like or what was going on. True friends just deserve that kind of support. For as Christian as all of my friends claim to be, none of them came to us in our time of need, and that bothers me more than anything.

Then there are the foot-in-mouthers. One friend’s initial paltry attempts at support included a lengthy email about how his son almost died shortly after birth—something about how he couldn’t have imagined not being able to take him home. Of course, he did take him home. I suppose it was an attempt at showing empathy and how he’d been in a dark place too. But that’s like telling an amputee you stubbed your toe. I’m sure an amputee would love to stub their toe again. Another friend asked us what name we were “planning” to use—as if Luke somehow wasn’t a real person just because he never took a breath. I’m sure the person didn’t mean it that way, but it’s just an example of people not thinking about what they’re saying. People don’t pay attention to the words they use when they say crap like that.

Still, saying the wrong thing is much better than not saying anything at all—it’s at least an attempt to show you care. When people don’t say anything, you feel like they don’t care about you at all.

I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve known these friends for so long, but at the same time, they’ve dropped several levels in my estimation. I’ll continue to see them, but it’s not like nothing happened. In fact, I can’t think of anyone I know without being reminded of their lack of support.

As one baby loss mom recently noted, it’s not that difficult. Google “what to say to someone that lost a child” and you’ll get 1.09 million responses. So there’s a lot of options there—including clues about what not to say.

A lot’s been written about the differences between how males and females grieve and the different types of support they need. What’s your perspective on male grief and how people respond (or don’t) to guys who are grieving?

I think people don’t think that I would feel long-term grief over Luke’s death because I’m a guy, or maybe they don’t want to find out and that’s why they didn’t say anything.

I read a book called Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back. It felt like the author just wanted to write a bunch of stories about dads who have lost kids. There were points where it would talk about the grieving process and how nobody supports dads, but all the dads had people around them who cared and so it just wasn’t relevant to my situation. I don’t even really remember the aspects of how they got helped being in the book that much. It was just a big warning that Hey Dad, you’re probably going to be alone in this; these other dudes were and you can talk to them. But that didn’t help since I’m not the writing type; I’m not going to reach out and share my experience with a stranger. It wasn’t very solution-oriented.

Therapy didn’t help much, either. It seemed like the grief counselor just wanted to talk about how I could support you. I wanted her to tell me, do this and this and this. I didn’t want to talk about how it made me feel. My son died. It sucks. What else can I say.

At this point, five months out from our loss, what do you want to see from people?

I would love just an acknowledgment that something happened. That’s what I’m most upset about in the end. If there were one person who said anything at this point, they would go up in my book above everyone else who didn’t say anything. If they say it and it actually sounds sincere and then they never bring it up again, even that’s fine. But at this point, I would also be happy to talk about it openly and often, and to answer questions about it. The rawness has gone away and it’s actually harder not to talk about Luke. In the end, I just want my son to be honored and remembered.

Ray of hope

I’ll write a more detailed post when I have some time, but our visit to Yale on Tuesday yielded unexpected hope and cleared away much confusion. Dr. Kliman clarified the diagnosis as massive perivillous fibrin deposition, not maternal floor infarction, related to inflammation (intervillositis) of the placenta’s intervillous space, caused by invading white blood cells from my immune system. In maternal floor infarction, the fibrin, or clotting material, is limited to the area of the placenta closest to the mother’s side. In my case, fibrin built up throughout the intervillous space, obliterating it.

For some reason not clearly understood by science, in cases like mine the placenta fails its job of keeping the baby “invisible” so that the mother’s immune system doesn’t attack it, as any mother’s would otherwise do. Dr. Kliman felt the condition was present from the beginning of the pregnancy and not one that developed toward the end, as I had previously written. He also doesn’t believe an autoimmune disorder was involved and thinks it was a response to Luke’s particular genetic makeup—which helps explain my prior uncomplicated, full-term pregnancy.

Dr. Kliman had hope for a subsequent pregnancy as Luke fared well and strong under the circumstances despite a small and failing placenta, as evidenced by his weight, his survival to 37 weeks, and the fact that he even tried to make some of his own red blood cells. We discussed treatment and monitoring methods and his research, and for the first time in a long time I felt I had met a medical professional who truly cares and is trying to make a difference.

0.01 percentile

In October, shortly after I found out the diagnosis of maternal floor infarction/massive perivillous fibrin deposition (basically, huge clots formed around the villi, the little fingerlike placental protusions that delivered nutrients to Luke, making them unable to function), I connected with the folks over at the Star Legacy Foundation, the only national U.S. organization dedicated to stillbirth awareness. They responded quickly and kindly and put me in touch with experts who answered a few questions; they also let me know about Dr. Harvey Kliman, a Yale University placental pathologist who consults on stillbirth cases.

We soon began working with the hospital to have slides from my placenta sent to Dr. Kliman’s office. On Dec. 22, I received Dr. Kliman’s report. (This is probably a post for another time, one in which I recount all the ways people suck, but the report was dated Dec. 2 and sent directly to my doctor, who never bothered to contact me; I only got the report after following up with Kliman’s office. My doctor has always been really nice and kind to me and that’s why I’m still with her, but I’m incredibly pissed about this. I had even taken the time to give her a heads up that the report would be coming.)

The gist of the report, and the finding that was new and shocking to us, is that my placenta was EXTREMELY small; Dr. Kliman even used all caps in his report, as shown below. It actually weighed less than the 0.01 percentile for his gestational age of 37 weeks. For those of you who have all but forgotten about your SAT scores, this means that 99.99 percent of placentas of the same gestational age, statistically speaking, are larger than mine was. Given this fact, it seems astonishing that Luke survived to 37 weeks, and indeed Dr. Kliman notes in his report that “the survival of this fetus to 37 weeks [was] remarkable.”

To me this seems to suggest that the placental clots must have formed rapidly, because there was no indication of this problem at Luke’s 32-week growth scan, and in fact at that time he measured large for his age. So some time between 32 weeks and 37 weeks something went very wrong. Unless the ultrasound technician royally screwed up—and there was a substitute working that day, a technician from a different office who wasn’t used to the machine—but I’m inclined to think that wasn’t the case, because at birth Luke weighed 5 pounds 6 ounces, which while small, to me doesn’t indicate that he’d had a super tiny, infintesimal placenta for very long. He was also quite the kicker and squirmer until the end.

Zack and I will be traveling to Yale on Tuesday to meet with Dr. Kliman, ask him all of our questions, and hear about his recommendations for a future pregnancy. Except that I don’t really have any concrete questions at this point, just a swirling hot mass of confusion and despair. I have a stack of printouts about MFI/MPFD that I made right after we received the diagnosis, but I haven’t been able to read through them because they are so technical and dire. It’s something I’ll have to bring myself to do in the next few days, but I’m not looking forward to it, as what little research I have done shows there’s not a lot of global consensus on how to treat these conditions—and everything depends on what the insurance companies will pay for anyway.

Speaking of which, Dr. Kliman in his report recommends for a future pregnancy a technique called estimated placental volume. It seems like a simple process in which the health care provider regularly measures the width, height, and thickness of the placenta. Because I’m now extremely cynical about everything, I’m not holding out much hope that I’d be able to persuade the doctors to do this, even the high-risk doctor I’d be seeing for regular ultrasounds. I’m sure it’s not approved by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and I’m sure that without ACOG sanctioning, insurance companies won’t pay for it, even though it seems like it would be simple enough to grab those measurements while they’re already in there poking around.

I’m not even sure that ACOG has published standards for what size the placenta should be; I know they haven’t for the umbilical cord. Similar to Dr. Kliman’s EPV technique (and I’m just assuming at this point that it’s not ACOG-approved), a dedicated and courageous umbilical cord researcher named Dr. Jason Collins came up with a technique and equipment for monitoring babies in utero so that moms could be alerted right away when their babies are in distress, but he never got the doctors and insurance companies on board, and he could never find the funding to mass-produce the equipment, so it’s not even available anymore.

Anyway, I digress. The only small upside to Dr. Kliman’s report is that he doesn’t seem to think it was villitis of unknown etiology, as another expert suggested, which is somewhat more dire because it can’t be treated (it seems not even with anti-clotting agents, though I’m not entirely sure) and can worsen with subsequent pregnancies. However, the MFI/MPFD diagnosis suggests I may have an autoimmune disease, which is odd since I’ve never had any other kind of symptoms—and Zoe was born on time, with no growth restrictions. So one of the next steps, I’m sure, is to figure out what the fuck is up with all of that.

(From the report:)

This placenta was EXTREMELY small, weighing less than the 0.01 %ile for gestational age. There are three major causes for such a small placenta: decreased maternal perfusion of placenta, chronic maternal immunologic rejection or an intrinsic genetic abnormality. In this case there was a combination of decreased maternal perfusion, immunologic rejection, and massive intervillous fibrin deposition (as a consequence of the first two issues). Not only was this placenta extremely small in weight, only about 10-20% of the villi were functional, making the survival of this fetus to 37 weeks remarkable. The pathologic progression of this process can be seen in the images, with the top image showing evidence of intervillositis with monocytes, macrophages and lymphocytes. This progressed to total trapping of the villi in the middle image, followed by death of the villi in the bottom image. There was no evidence of genetic abnormality seen, nor evidence of an intraamniotic fluid infection. This condition can recur.

It would be useful in subsequent pregnancies to follow the placental volume using the Estimated Placental Volume (EPV) technique (see http://klimanlabs.yale.edu/placenta/epv/index.aspx) and if this recurs to deliver by section as early as is prudent for the fetus.

Taking off my grief glasses

We went to see Star Wars the day after it opened. Although of course it was a momentous day for geekdom, for me the evening packed a hefty dose of sadness and wistfulness, as too many things do these days. Zack’s boss had bought out the theater way back in March, when we were blissfully, naively just a few months pregnant. At the time I was a little unsure whether I should go, since Luke would have been just 3 months old. But Zack talked me into it, and so all spring and all summer I’d been thinking that it would be the first time we would leave Luke with a babysitter. Well, of course it didn’t happen that way. And so it was hard for me to fully enjoy what should have been a night of pure entertainment.

There was a trigger in the movie as well (spoilers): When Han says to Leia, “We lost our son forever.” Yeah. Us too.

Another movie we matched recently, Mad Max, contained an even more devastating trigger. It’s graphic and I won’t describe it here, but suffice it to say that it involves an infant.

We first saw the movie in the theater back in May in Chicago, on our babymoon. I was about five months pregnant and I’m pretty sure that when the scene came on, I must have squeezed Zack’s hand. I remember thinking, Thank goodness that will never happen to me. As we watched the movie this time around, remembering my naivete back then made the trigger scene doubly devastating.

These days, the triggers seem to be more and more prolific, and now I’m wondering if they will crest and eventually diminish. I’m hoping so, because it’s hard to navigate this planet without being walloped by a big, unpleasant reminder of tragedy at every turn.

I’ve also been trying to train myself to not experience these moments as triggers, but to reassociate them with whatever they were linked to before Luke’s death. An episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, included a very brief reenactment of birth and a baby’s first cry. Of course I immediately thought how my baby never had that cry—but then I tried to remind myself that Zoe cried, and I cried, and Zack cried, and that live birth is completely normal and something that happens all the time, and the vast majority of people associate the scene with wonder and joy. I don’t think I really succeeded in reframing the moment, but I’m trying, at least.

My need to reframe also came into play a few weeks ago when I was in the office at Zoe’s day care picking up some paperwork, and a heavily pregnant teacher walked in. The assistant director said something like, “I wish you weren’t having this baby, like, right now.” It felt like a punch in the gut because I would have given anything to have my baby. (It also seemed insensitive that she said it in front of me; “I wish you weren’t having this baby” doesn’t seem like something you should say when a stillbirth mom is nearby.) But then I tried to remind myself that she wasn’t being serious (I think she said it because they’re down staff and had the holidays coming up) and people make jokes about pregnancy all the time, because most pregnancies turn out normal and result in live births. All the time, after all, is what makes normal normal.

Just yesterday, I saw that a Facebook friend had posted something about her dog’s death. I’m not one of those stillbirth moms who begrudge people who compare a baby’s death to a pet’s death; as an animal advocate and someone who still thinks every day of the dog she lost to cancer three years ago, I totally get it. For some people, pets are like children and their loss is devastating. That’s fine, and of course it was fine for this Facebook friend to post about her dog. But then I saw the number of likes and comments she received, and it was way more than what I received when I first posted about Luke’s death. Like maybe double. And that was a trigger for me to think about how many more people are remembering and honoring this dog than my son. But then I had to stop and remind myself that it’s just the nature of Facebook and how things play out in that fishbowl/popularity contest; it’s not a true reflection of human nature (which is why I try to stay away from it as much as possible).

Then there’s the pandas. One day after I delivered my dead baby, Mei Xiang, the giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., gave birth to twins. The Internet lost its mind, of course, and I wanted to vomit when I saw the front page of the Washington Post that day. One of the babies died shortly after birth. It seemed like people were sad about that for all of like two seconds and then it was just fawning and photos of pandas for days on end.

The whole thing pissed me off for a few reasons. 1) Mei Xiang got to have her baby. 2) The world cares more about her live baby than my dead baby. 3) No one remembers the dead panda baby.

Honestly, it still pisses me off to think about it. So I try to remember that the sole, simple reason people are acting so batshit crazy is that pandas are freakin’ adorable, and that’s all that it comes down to. It’s nothing personal; the world doesn’t even know about my dead baby. And Mei Xiang lost a baby, too, and her species is under siege in the wild, and I should make some room for compassion in my heart.

Sometimes, it’s good to have your grief glasses on, though; it can awaken your empathy and spark a deeper perspective. At Mass on Christmas Day, we sat near the front, close to the musicians. As the cantor approached the mic at the start of Mass, she raised her hands, announced, “Today is Christmas”—and started to cry. It was just a brief moment; she quickly composed herself and continued the announcement. But in that instant, I recognized her as a sister in grief. I don’t know who she lost—a spouse, child, parent, sibling—or how recently, but I know the loss was deeply felt. I also saw a few women wearing mourning veils, and several people sitting alone, and thought about who they would be missing at the table later that day. With my perspective of Christmas already irrevocably altered—and songs like “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger” bringing incalculable pain—their quiet suffering changed it again, like a kaleidoscope of sorrow.

***

I posted recently about a vision of Luke I experienced during an acupuncture session. Shortly after, I had a second vision in which Luke, Zack, Zoe, and I were sledding and playing in the snow in cloudy purple moonlight. Though I don’t know if the visions were “real” or not, I can say that they brought a lot of comfort.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was sitting with Zoe on a park bench at a local playground. She’d just woken up from a nap and was grumpy and just wanted to be held, so I wrapped her up a blanket and rocked her and sang to her. When I closed my eyes, I felt like he was there too. I can’t really describe it, but I felt his presence. It was the first “waking” moment I felt like I had both of my children with me. I hope there are more to come.