How to honor a loss anniversary, and other thoughts

A local loss mom friend and blogger over at Surviving the Loss of Baby Sidney is approaching the first anniversary of her son’s death and recently sent an email to family and friends with suggestions for how to mark the occasion, including the following:

First, I am asking people to do something kind for themselves or someone else on May 4th. This can range from smiling at someone in the street or allowing yourself to sleep in, to donating your time or money to an organization that you believe makes a positive difference. I need to know that at least a little bit of good came from Sidney being part of the world for the short time that he was here.

Second, if you would like to, please send us a stone from a place that is meaningful to you, with a slight description of where you found it, so that I can put it at his grave (Jews traditionally leave stones when they visit graves of loved ones. While the reason behind this seems somewhat unclear, my favorite explanation is to indicate that the loved one is remembered and thought of, with an object that lasts longer/is more permanent than flowers).

Finally, do not be afraid to let us know that you are thinking of us, and to say Sidney’s name. Hearing Sidney’s name does not upset me–what upsets me is that he is dead. Instead, knowing that others remember him makes me feel like I do not have to carry him around in my heart alone. Lighting a candle in his memory (or sending us candles, trees, buying us stars, making a dedication in his name etc–I hope I have included everyone/everything) or simply reaching out to tell us that you remember him, has meant so much and will continue to mean so much.

I love the idea of doing something good in his name on that day, and wanted to pass it along as a suggestion to my readers for honoring any lost children that you know. I wasn’t aware of the Jewish tradition of leaving stones, but my daughter loves rocks and always leaves one at Luke’s grave, so I will have her pick one out for Sidney, and we’ll plant some flowers next to Luke’s bench in our garden as well, so our boys can be together.

In other musings …

The other day I was wearing a hoodie (before April suddenly turned to July) and in the pocket I found a memorial necklace that someone must have given me at some point, only I have no memory of receiving it. I received a lot of jewelry after Luke’s death, and it’s hard to keep track of who gave what, but I still feel bad about blanking on this one.

After spending so much time obsessing about fetal movement during Wyatt’s pregnancy, I thought for sure I would be counting phantom kicks for weeks after he was born. Strangely enough, though, that already seems like a distant memory, and I can’t even remember what the movements felt like, or what it was like to be chained to my KickCounter app.

Wyatt has been sleeping for longer stretches, and last night he slept through the night, until just after 5 a.m. So that’s obviously great if he starts doing that consistently, but now I also need to decide whether to throw in a middle of the night pumping session, because, well—holy boobies, Batman.

I took Zoe to her 4-year checkup last week, and when the nurse practitioner asked Zoe to list who lives at home with her, she named myself, my husband, Wyatt, and Luke, which made my heart swell, but then when I said, “Well, Luke lives in heaven,” the nurse practitioner said, “Awww, is that a pet?” and I wanted to punch her, but Zoe kept talking, and the moment passed.

I suppose it’s marginally better than my encounter at Zoe’s third-year checkup, when, after I informed the doctor of Luke’s death, she said she wasn’t aware that losses could occur that late in pregnancy.

At Zoe’s birthday party, while I carried Wyatt in a sling, I struck up a conversation with the mom of one of Zoe’s classmates. She is a perfectly lovely and sweet person, but I don’t think she knows of my loss, and she mentioned that Zoe’s friend was born when her daughter was only 2, and it was difficult to have two children of that age, and it’s so much easier to have a baby around when they are 4, and more independent. And I wanted to tell her that Zoe should have been 2 when her first brother was born, because normally I don’t have a problem telling people about Luke, but I just couldn’t figure out a way to bring it into this otherwise innocuous small talk, and so I didn’t say anything, which made me feel sad and also guilty, like I wasn’t honoring Luke properly. It also reminded me of how much of a gulf will always remain with other moms who haven’t experienced a loss, and how conversations can still catch me off guard, and break my heart.

Recently I’ve attended a few services at our local Unitarian Universalist congregation. I suppose I’ve been searching for something different, as our current church didn’t provide any support when Luke died, and his death also further cemented my agnosticism, wherein it’s difficult to believe in a God who would allow children to die, but it’s also difficult not to believe that some kind of being was responsible for this amazing, incredible universe. Anyway, the UU church actually cares about things like climate change, and people’s suffering, and everyone is really friendly, and the pastor (is that what you call him?) this past weekend gave a sermon (is that what you call it?) addressing a racism controversy among the higher ups of the national organization. His openness was refreshing and something I’m not used to. So I like it there, but when it comes to spirtuality, basically I am still kind of wandering.

 

To the friend who stopped calling

To the friend who stopped calling,

We exchanged texts when my second son was born. You expressed your happiness for me. And then you went radio silent.

And your silence hurts.

My grief didn’t end the day Wyatt was born. Luke is still not here, and he never will be. I held him in my arms, but I will never get to see how his hair would grow out, or what color his eyes would be, never got to hear his voice, never got to do tummy time, never even got to dress him.

You listened to me in the days and weeks after Luke died. Expressed empathy when I detailed my countless anxieties. Shared advice for how to deal with the shitheads at my last job, and when I should quit.

And then I started to hear from you less and less. Perhaps I remind you of your worst fears, or maybe it’s a hard thing to keep up, providing support to someone who’s grieving, day after day, week after week. The thing is, it’s even harder to be the bereaved one. Every day that you wake up, you must confront the fact that your son is dead. There is no escaping it.

The last time I saw you, I was 28 weeks pregnant. We had our kids with us (well, you had all of your kids with you; I had only two of them), and it was hard to really talk. But I mentioned the anxiety I was experiencing over fetal movement. It was like talking into an abyss. There was no comprehension there. And in that moment I was reminded, once again, how much of a chasm now exists between myself and people who have never lost a child. Of how the relationships I had before Luke’s death are, in a sense, gone forever, irrevocably altered by the worst thing to ever happen to me.

I don’t know why I haven’t heard from you again. When you have a child after another child has died, it’s an emotionally tumultuous and confusing thing. You are grateful for your rainbow child. But you can’t help but think that he wouldn’t be there if your first son hadn’t died. Likewise, you can’t help but think that your rainbow is here only because your other child died. You feel guilty that one lived and the other didn’t, that perhaps if you had exercised the same level of care the first time around, Luke would have made it. And as your new baby boy grows and develops every day, it hits you viscerally, in a way it hasn’t up until now, what you have missed out on with Luke.

So no, my grief didn’t end the day Wyatt was born. In some ways, I need your friendship more than ever. But I guess this is time to accept the fact that we can’t go back again. We simply aren’t the same two people anymore, ever since that day, 20 long and short months ago.

Rise up

You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry-go-round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains

And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you [4x]

When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
Bring it to its feet
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you [4x]

All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
We will rise
We will rise
We’ll rise, oh oh
We’ll rise

I’ll rise up
Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousand times again
And we’ll rise up
High like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up
And we’ll do it a thousand times again
For you oh oh oh oh oh [3x]

—Andra Day

Vision

Some people are probably going to find this post a bit … out there. If you don’t believe in visions, heaven, the afterlife, etc., you might want to skip it.

I have heard of or read about many grieving people saying their loved ones visit them in dreams and it brings them great comfort. I haven’t experienced that—in fact for weeks, I don’t think I had any dreams at all—and so I’ve been kind of pissed off and bitter about it.

Separately, I’ve been going to acupuncture for a few months. It’s something I always wanted to try, and my grief counselor suggested it. At first I went twice a week and now I go every other week. I talk to the acupuncturist about what’s going on and what emotional state I would like to move toward, she selects points to put the needles in, and then I lie on the table for a really long time.

The first session walloped me. The needles allow energy to flow and, just like the acupuncturist warned might happen at first, that initial treatment seemed to dislodge a hell of a lot of negative emotions. I felt overwhelmingly sad and hopeless for several days. But the energy kept flowing, and eventually it lifted.

The best way I can describe the sessions is that they “dislodge” emotions that are stuck, and when I’m lying on the table I can often physically feel them move up and out. I usually feel lighter when I walk out the door or later the same day. It’s a bit insane and I don’t pretend to understand it, but it seems to be helping, so I keep doing it.

This session was a bit different from normal. Beforehand, we talked about some uncertainty I’ve been dealing with in my professional life, how some of the depression seems to have returned even though there’s been no clear trigger, and how I try to ignore those feelings and find things to distract me so they don’t overtake my life. She said that wasn’t healthy and suggested that instead of ignoring the feelings, I find some way to acknowledge them, through a saying or some other sort of ritual, and then move on. We talked for a bit and then she put the needles in and left.

Almost as soon as she closed the door, sadness overwhelmed me and I started crying. And then I started having a vision.

I could see a little boy of about 5 years old standing in a field surrounded by fog. He seemed far away at first. But eventually, in my vision, I was able to go up to this little boy. I couldn’t really see his face, but I hugged and kissed him. Then he said, “I love you, Mommy.” My heart burst, the tears flowed, and I whispered, “I love you, too.”

This part of the vision kind of faded in and out for a bit; it always returned to the little boy standing by himself, enshrouded in fog. But then, after a while, I was beside a stream in a gorge. He was at my side, but I couldn’t see him. Then I started seeing other streams, and some lakes. Some I recognized and some I didn’t. I can’t explain it, but I felt like he was showing these places to me.

Then we were hovering above the earth. I could clearly see the world turning below me, the cloud cover and the blue oceans. I had an impending sense of doom and devastation—and the strong feeling that he was telling me my future, my purpose, lies in helping to prevent the human race from destroying itself and all other species on the planet. He was urgent, and sad, and he wanted me to help.

We talked about God and heaven. I got a vague sense of who else is with him. He said, “You don’t have to be sad, Mom. I’m OK.”

Then he said, “God speaks to those he believes can make a difference. It’s up to them whether they choose to listen.” I thought about Syria, the refugee crisis, the Paris attacks, and the turmoil in the Middle East. He said, “That’s a battle for others to fight; that’s not your cause.”

Eventually, the vision faded. It’s hard to explain, but I don’t think I was controlling it; I felt like I was just receiving the thoughts and images. At one point early on in the vision, I did try to control it; I tried to visualize walking through a field of tall autumn grass with Luke, Zack, and Zoe. But those images kept being replaced by the little boy standing in the fog.

I’m overwhelmed by this and don’t yet know what to make of it; my first priority was to get it down on paper so that I would remember. I do know that the vision brings me a great deal of peace and a new way to connect with Luke, whether real or imagined. I’m not sure it makes a difference which.

Father Time

When I’m visiting Luke, wandering among the graves can be oddly comforting. After all, there’s no place where death is more normal than a cemetery.

graves overlooking hills

The cemetery where Luke is buried

Whole life histories are etched there on the stones. Marriages, births, military service, favorite sports teams, inside jokes (“Remember, I’m watching you like a hawk” reads an inscription on the back of one marker). And, of course, deaths.

There’s the woman who died at 101, outliving her husband by 50 years. The 23-year-old “loving wife and mother.” The couple who had four children from 1911 to 1915: a daughter who apparently never married, a son who served in World War II and the Korean War, a second son who served in World War II, and a third son who died at age 9.

One couple died on the same day in 1922. How did it happen, I wonder? House fire?

There are many children buried here. In the children’s section, along with Luke, there are eight other babies. Most apparently were stillbirths or died the day they were born. One lived 10 months. Another lived 9.

Children's graves

Children’s section at the cemetery, including Luke’s fresh grave and temporary marker

One baby boy is buried a row over from his parents. His dad died at age 51 (cancer? heart attack?). His mom is still alive, and now 57 years old. Does she have living children, I often wonder?

Elsewhere in the cemetery, there’s a fresh grave, a 6-year-old boy who died 11 days before Luke. In the photo on his temporary marker, he’s grinning and wearing a Oshkosh hoodie. There’s a 9-year-old (“finally free to be a boy”) and an 11-year-old (“We will never forget your infectious smile”).

Some graves date to the Civil War era, the stones blurred and darkened, the names difficult to make out, the flowers and decorations gone for decades.

Most of one row is occupied by a matriarch/patriarch born in the 1820s and surrounded by more than a dozen of their ancestors.

There are children in this section, too. The 1-year-old who died in 1862, the 5-month-old who died in 1892. The white cross marked simply, “Little Gussie.”

child's grave

We can’t outrun Father Time. He always catches up. And eventually, our loved ones will stop visiting, themselves entombed in the earth or scattered on the winds. But someday a grieving mom or dad, husband or wife, sister or brother may wander past our graves, read the inscriptions, and hold their breath in honor and awe of the life and love immortalized there.

Tomb of unborn children

The tomb of unborn children

Inscription inside the tomb of unborn children / Photo by Angela Moxley

Inscription inside the tomb of unborn children

Grave decorations

What it all boils down to: simple sentiment at graveside

Poem on back of marker

Poem on back of marker

Blessed Mother statue

Grotto featuring Blessed Mother statuary and stations of the cross

angel statue in cemetery

Angel statuary and cross in children’s section

Away but Never Gone

The moon’s on its way to its nightly shift
The frogs fill the creek below
The tall grass waves a farewell to the day
The wind moans sweet and low
The heron tucks his head in his wing
The fish in the lake float along
The sun sinks from sight
Away but never gone

The dawn brings the dew like a thousand jewels
A nest rustles high on a bough
A blue egg stays warm in the cool of the morn
Under a red breast of down
The clouds turn and stretch, the moon checks its wrist
gathers itself with a yawn
And winks to the sun
Away but never gone

And all o’er the world as it turns and it turns
the stars twinkle off and on
And we come and go
Away but never gone

-The Wailin’ Jennies