Don’t call us, we’ll call you

September 21, 2017

One year

Filed under: Books, Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 5:58 pm

I dreamed about Baby B last night. It was a long, winding story, like we spent a whole lifetime with him in just one night. (I guess that’s sometimes how it felt on those longest nights with him.)

Labor Day marked one year since he came to stay with us. My goal was to finish writing that part of our foster parenting story by the one-year mark. I had my glorious summer break in which to do it, but my grief, or my mind, or Neal said, Forget it; just do the dishes, the laundry, clean the house instead. And in a truly unprecedented turn, I did. The house was never cleaner (and may never be again).

I spent a couple of days trying to write, but I felt the last part of Job’s mourning: “Oh that my grief were throughly weighed . . . for now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up.” My missing him is not getting heavier, but my words are still swallowed up. How can I express how much I long to know that he’s okay? That he’s smiling and laughing and speaking. That his sweetest gaze is met every day with adoration. How can I express how much I just miss his face?

I’ve been reading a beautiful book of verse called Brown Girl Dreaming and it’s made me think in poetry again, something I haven’t done in probably 17 years now. This is what I wrote to remember my dream:

We are none of us whole

wringing our hands, crashing into each other

rushing through this cramped hospital room

trying to make this small child whole again. Or once.

We each lay a soft hand on his head in our turn

it will never be enough.

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January 23, 2017

Coping strategies, Day 60

5 November

I never thought that I would be a foster parent. I mean, going back a ways, I didn’t plan on being any type of parent. But even once I embraced the idea of parenthood and had a sensitivity toward foster children’s needs based on some of my nonprofit work, the narrative in my head was always that I was too emotionally fragile to be a foster parent myself. I would get too attached, and then with my depressive history, I would be thrown into an emotional tailspin when the children had to go away. Which they do. And they will, right up until you finally find that fourth floor, last door fit that was meant to be with your family. So I’ve been trying to face this question head-on:

What will I do when he has to go away?

What will I do that day? That week? That month? What will I do to memorialize him and his place in our life, but still keep moving forward? There is no such thing as closure still rings true to me, but what does that really mean in practice? How do I hold on to all the love and joy while simultaneously letting go of the one who produced them?

Of course, my first instinct is to do some research. What have other foster parents found helpful? Have there been any studies on that topic? But quite surprisingly, I ended up feeling resistant to that idea. Maybe it’s influenced by lack of time, but I also have this feeling of wanting to carve out this path for myself. I had tried to start that process back when I was writing my new life story, identifying at least two things I thought would be important: Create a place to remember each child and Escape. The first one will be easy, I think, if not totally defined at this point. I’m sure I’ll feel sentimental about practically everything, so it won’t be hard to fill something like a “loss box.”

But the second, it turns out, I’ve probably gotten worse at in the last 3 years. Even before we got the baby, I had given up “Dear Prudence” and no longer had a particular show to watch regularly (though thanks to Robin-Elise and her Netflix gift, I can binge watch with the best of ’em when I’m in a funk). We reduced our dining-out budget in order to save for a new home (did I mention we’re moving? minor detail…) so restaurant meals could not be a go-to. (I have, however, allowed myself the luxury of spending $3-5 during each of the baby’s visitations in exchange for using Panera or Barnes & Noble wifi.) In short, my strategies for “escape” are a bit non-existent at the moment (let’s be honest, I’ll probably escape into work because: workaholic), though I’m sure I’ll allow myself a meal out on the day we have to give him up.

I’m on the hunt for more coping strategies, but in the meantime, I’ve found quite a bit of comfort in a quote that my new friend Ali shared on Facebook:

grief(source, I think)

My grief will be proportionate to my love. So it’s going to be intense, and it’s going to well up in my eyes about 70 times a day, just like my love does now. What will I do when he goes away? Just keep right on loving him.

January 17, 2015

October – November: Grieve

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 1:59 pm

I’m temporarily skipping over August and September in my chronicle of my 2014 monthly themes. (If you’re keeping track at home — which is probably exactly no one since I barely am — here is January, February, March, April-May, and June-July).

You could probably guess from my posts here that my October and November monthly themes were utterly hijacked by this emergent one. I grieved and I studied my grief. Earlier this week, a former student shared this article on Facebook and it reminded me of so many of the things I’ve learned about grief. These are a few:

Tell people what’s going on with you. At worst, they’ll speak platitudes and tell you that your kid needs you to be happy and you’ll nod. At best, they’ll share their pain and some part of it will be just exactly how you feel right then.

Don’t equate letting go of the person’s “things” with letting go of the person. Do take a picture of said threadbare things and cry a little before turning them over to Neal for decluttering.

Take that final trip; make the extra visit. It will cost less than regret.

Go to the same sushi place that you used to go to; order the same eel roll, even though it was her favorite, because you always liked it too. (Just don’t wear mascara when you go to said sushi place.)

When you see family and friends, bring it up. Don’t let it be the elephant in the room, even though some mistaken impulse makes you think that’s a safer path for them and you.

Do contemplate the “stages of grief,” but don’t mistake them for actual “stages” that proceed in a linear fashion. While you’re at it, don’t assume anything in life proceeds in a linear fashion.

Even if you meant to do it months ago, do send a card or letter or pictures to the family. Maybe it will be just the right time, when they feel the outside world has stopped grieving with them.

Excise the word “closure.” It slips into the mind and out of the mouth sometimes, but it’s an illusion, and a bad one at that: “people understood that they didn’t really want to achieve closure after all. To do so would be to lose a piece of a sacred bond.” (from Patrick O’Malley’s “Getting Grief Right“)

Write in the middle of the night, as needed.

October 30, 2014

A study of grief

I feel a little bashful writing about Kaila again. When I wrote about our last day in the sunshine, I thought it was just my own small remembrance in my little corner of the internet. I think of this space as a place where I’m talking to myself, current and future, and about 30 or 40 others who know me well. What I didn’t realize is that by putting in a link to one of her memorials, my post was being shared on that post. (The workings of the interwebz are still a mystery to me).

Within a couple of days, I had a few hundred hits coming from the memorial post. I felt a little embarrassed, exposed. I didn’t want it to seem, especially to her family, that somehow I thought her death was about me and my pain. But as a few people reached out to me because of that post, I realized that other people were aching to read about her, talk about her, hear anything related to her in the same way I was. My post meant something to them; feeling exposed is okay in pursuit of the greater good of connection and catharsis. Also, the fact that the most action my blog has seen in several years was because of her made me proud to have had a friend that was so beloved.

***

When you have a history of serious depression and are faced with a tragic event, your husband is pretty much willing to do anything you want and your mother is biting her fingernails waiting to see if this will push you over the edge. Your irrepressibly joyful 4-year-old, on the other hand, will wake you up each morning with, “Are you still sad about Kaila? Can you play with me today?” I’m not immune to that tugging at the heartstrings, but the answer for a couple weeks was, No, not today.

It may be strange, or even pretentious, to say that I am deeply affected by death, but it’s hard to articulate it any other way. (I am highly sensitive, after all.) I remember feeling the same way around the death of each important person in my life: life must stop completely. Anything less would be a betrayal of all they meant to me. So I kind of closed up shop for a couple of weeks. I worked some, but took days off, came late, left early. I let some things slide in my online classroom, thinking I would just have to settle for sub-par reviews this semester (though as it turns out my students and supervisor have been amazingly supportive). One night I even hid in a vacant classroom at church during an activity I was supposed to be responsible for; I just couldn’t face real life responsibilities.

Four things filled those suddenly cleared-out days: thinking, crying, reading Daring Greatly, and watching Psych. During those first couple of days, I was convinced that I should stop fostering such deep relationships. I have put a lot of effort into cultivating close family and friend relationships and sometime in the middle of the night on September 25th, I decided that that was a terrible way to live. I should stop that immediately! Because the pain. Oh dear God, I could never live through this pain again! Of course, I instinctively reached out to several friends, probably strengthening those relationships — very counterproductive when you’ve decided that the safest thing is to cut all ties with other humans.

I don’t believe it was coincidental that I was reading Daring Greatly for my online book club at precisely this time. Though not a perfect book, it was the perfect read to remind me to lean into the vulnerability inherent to human relationships. Even if I successfully cut ties with ALL THE PEOPLE, I would still think about them, probably frequently and beyond all reason. (I know this because for years Neal has been telling me I need to just forget about an old friend. He’s very subtle: “She doesn’t want anything to do with you! She’s cut off all contact with you!” Still, every November I think anew about sending her a birthday card.) The book also helped me recognize and face head on some shame I was experiencing related to “survivor guilt.”

We had only barely started watching episodes of Psych (I never caught it in its original run), but it will always have a special place in my heart now (although it might have earned that just from Dule Hill’s tap dancing alone). I would wake up, open up a browser to log into work, and promptly start crying, at which time Neal would call it a Psych day and turn on episode after episode. It was strangely effective in increasing my productivity. I’m still trying to understand how my brain works — Neal has some theories — but I think it is almost always in at least two places at once. If one of those places was Kaila’s death, I was darn near paralyzed. But if one of those places was Shawn and Gus, I could manage to accomplish some of my work tasks.

***

Life went on like this, doing the bare minimum for survival and job maintenance, until two things happened: a beautiful dream and Kaila’s funeral. It wasn’t what you might call traditionally “beautiful;” there was all the strange randomness inherent to dreams: several layers of leotards that Kaila wanted me to try on (she gave me many clothes over the years, so that’s not as weird as it sounds), a microscope and spare set of glasses that she begged me to store for her in my sock drawer until she got back. As in real life, there was SO MUCH laughing as I tried to determine why exactly I needed to store her microscope in my dresser. I woke up from this dream, slowly, very slowly. It was cold and dark and 5:00 am, but I felt warm. Like I’d just been for a visit to North Carolina. Like I was soaking in the sun at Duke Gardens. I could hear her unrestrained laugh all over again.

I knew that I had to attend the funeral but when the day came, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I have a great respect for the power of that public farewells, but this was the hardest one I’ve ever attended, at least in part because it was preceded by a 3-hour drive to get there. I know plenty came even farther, but man, it’s just awful to drive that far for an event you wish in the worst way was not even happening. As I walked in the door of the church building where her service was held, we were greeted by a poster-sized picture of her, a truly stunning picture I had never seen before. In what felt like a very violent reaction, I turned around and buried my head in Neal’s shoulder. It took me a few minutes to reemerge and greet her family. The funeral was more or less a series of these sudden sobs and leaning on Neal, but it was incredibly important. I think I left at least some of the pain there. The next day I graded 45 papers with no Psych-crutch to get me through.

***

I’ve often thought what would happen to all my online accounts, social media, chat programs if I died. Should I make a list of all these applications along with my passwords so that in the event of my untimely death Neal can delete each one? (Please tell me I’m not the only one that ponders this at least quarterly . . . ) That’s been one of the distinct things about losing Kaila in comparison to all the elderly people I’ve said goodbye to: she’s always there. In my phonebook and “most recent texts” list. On gchat, Google+, and Facebook. When I log into Skype, and on this mysterious “People” page that my laptop created on its own apparently based on who I seem to have the most contact with. Her pictures and contact info still show up everywhere. My first instinct was to delete her from all my various contact points. I took her out of my phone, but felt a pang of guilt as if I was trying to erase her. I decided to leave things as they were, but have questioned that decision after a couple of times seeing her in my contacts list while at work and experiencing sudden waves of nausea. That instinct to cut all ties with people was wrong, and I think it’s just as wrong to bury all the things that remind me of Kaila even though that feels entirely logical at times. But how selective should I be in what things I keep around? How much control should I try to exert over how often I’m reminded of her? I hung the program from her service on our hallway tackboard, which in a 964-square foot house is one of the most frequented spots, and so far it is doing a beautiful job of reminding me of all the love, light, and happiness that was part of my relationship with Kaila.

***

I can’t only give Brene Brown credit for helping me through the turtle-hiding-in-its-shell phase. In my music-as-therapy efforts, I put on R.E.M.’s Reveal on the drive home from a client visit. I got to “I’ll Take the Rain” just as I pulled into our driveway and predictably broke down in tears. I seem to come back to this song periodically for its reminder: rain and shine, a package deal.

I used to think
As birds take wing
They sing through life so why can’t we?
You cling to this
You claim the best
If this is what you’re offering
I’ll take the rain
I’ll take the rain
I’ll take the rain.

***

I never did finish anything I wrote about my Grandpa or his death in 2011. I regret that now, both because he was a remarkable person that is so dear to me, and because I feel compelled to study my own grief to know how to get through what lies ahead (I think of this post as the real beginning of that study). The morning of Kaila’s funeral I found out my Grandma was quite ill; she was diagnosed with terminal cancer 6 days later. This cycle of grief is just beginning.

May 9, 2012

Flashback: My thoughts on April 2

This morning I had a conversation with two of my good friends, a conversation about new babies and first children and postpartum depression. And then quite by accident, I stumbled on this post that I never published. I wrote it on 2 April 2010 (hence the very creative title I picked) when Addison was just about 6 weeks old. I’m not exactly sure why I never published it but I suspect that there was some element of not being completely ready to discuss how I was feeling. I know I did blog about some of my experiences with PPD, but I also know there were some things that I wanted to say but I just could not bring myself to do it. Revisiting those times through conversation with a few friends over the last several months has been surprisingly healing. I’ve told them things without fear or shame (and often with laughter) that I remember feeling so horrible about at the time. I just want to hug them and tell them that we’re good people and good mothers and in the whole scheme of our lives these difficult feelings will be so fleeting and inconsequential and no reflection on whom we really are and what we are capable of. And while I’m telling them all that, I want to tell myself too.

For a little over a week now, Addison has been smiling directly at us, in response to us.  I think this actually started much earlier, but Neal says I was deceived by motherly-wishful thinking (the more I think about it, the more I believe that “motherly-wishful thinking” may be a sort of mental condition — anyone know if it’s in the DSM?).

This new turn of events has made getting her in the morning my favorite part of the day.  She will be rooting around, flailing her arms, making little frustrated squeaks, still partially asleep.  As I walk in the room and start speaking, she calms down a bit and starts to tentatively open her eyes.  By the time I’m in front of her swing looking at her, she has her eyes open and breaks into a smile.  She doesn’t stare at me for long because she still wants to make it clear that she is hungry, but she is very sweet and smiley in the first few moments of her day.

I have yet to get a picture of her wide eyed and smiling, simply because it is so adorable, I can’t pull myself away long enough to get the camera.

***

Speaking of beautiful moments, I used to have so many sacred thoughts and feelings about this baby girl while I was pregnant.  Impressions about her character and personality, about our pre-existing relationship, and my role as her mother.  So it’s been interesting that since she was born those have been fewer and farther between.  There is something so in-the-moment about being with a child.  When they need something, they need it now.  When they are unhappy, they want to be soothed now.  It doesn’t leave me with the kind of contemplative time to which I am so accustomed from years of bedrest and ill health.

Couple this lack of time with exhaustion and add in more mixed feelings than I could have foreseen, and this has been an interesting experiment thus far.  A lot of people talked to me about how hard the first while would be and about postpartum depression and baby blues, but I don’t remember people talking about the mixed feelings.  How you would never go back to life before her, but you will also grieve for the things that you must leave behind.

Why can we not acknowledge that we are losing things too?  Things we would want to grieve.

“Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.” [From this Joni Mitchell song I love.]

September 10, 2009

“I will weep a while longer”

I’m weeping even now as I post this, though I wrote it days ago.  It’s some of the stuff I’m working through (or some days, not being able to work through). It’s quite lengthy, probably depressing, and I still don’t know if I even want to post it or not.  Neal and I have been debating how to work through my grief, more praying (probably never a bad idea), maybe another round of therapy (some people don’t know this about me, but that would be round #4 in my adult life), more talking about it, less talking about it.  I guess I’ll try this and see what happens and go from there.

***

I remember my first few phone calls with my mom after my roommates and I were in a big car accident in the summer of 2003.  Despite surviving what could easily have been a fatal crash, I felt no real fear.  I told her, probably too matter-of-factly, look at it this way, no one is in two crazy car accidents in their lifetime.  Now I’ve gotten it out of the way, you don’t have to worry about that anymore.  Statistically speaking, I still think I have some sort of ground to stand on because it is very unlikely that a person would be involved in two cataclysmic accidents (particularly if they are a passenger in both, as I was, meaning it has nothing to do with their driving ability).  But the older I’ve gotten the more I understand how unhelpful my “insights” were.  Probably first and foremost because this happened less than 3 years later:

(So much for a universe where you could accurately compute probability)

(So much for a universe where you could accurately compute probability)

But also because she understood better than I just how uncertain this life is, and how having children intensifies that feeling with these beings that are both part of you and separate from you.  You can’t control them, or what happens to them, and the illusion we create that we do have control over this uncertain world vanishes, sometimes over long periods of time and sometimes in these earth-shattering, life-changing moments.

This is actually a post about miscarriage; I just didn’t know how to get it rolling.  A couple of months ago, I was sitting in Sacrament Meeting and I felt this intense spiritual prompting that I needed to talk about my miscarriage during a Relief Society lesson I was teaching that day.  It was both a dramatic and traumatic experience because I had never spoken publicly about it, and really not very much privately either (at least in comparison to just how much I’ve thought about it).  I sobbed through the rest of Sacrament Meeting, and surprisingly (that’s a joke in case anyone doesn’t know that I cry pretty much every. single. day.) I still had tears left in Relief Society.  I’m honestly not sure what people heard me say because I felt like I was completely unintelligible through all the weeping.

Afterward a sister asked me about how recent the miscarriage was, thinking that it was in May (this was June).  And it struck me how out of proportion my grief must seem since it was quite a few months earlier.  I thought that some sisters who didn’t ask probably thought it happened yesterday with the way I could barely speak about it.  Since then I’ve been wondering about my grief, wondering if part of its length is just how little I’ve talked about it.  All I know for sure is that it is raw; some days I feel like it is still happening.  I’ve read a lot about other people’s experiences with miscarriage and I’ve talked to people I know, and I can’t help feeling some difference there.  I mean, most of them felt so eager to try to have another baby while for months I felt completely guilty to even consider it (of course, I also felt an opposite pull based on the fact that my body is sometimes not-so-slowly breaking down and the window for bearing children seems brief).  I’m ultimately unsure if I wanted to feel like my suffering was like theirs in order to make some sense out of it, or if I wanted it to be uniquely mine.

I remember reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl when I was 18 or 19 and beginning to wrap my mind around the fact that suffering is relative.   Thank goodness he understood this better than I do because can you imagine a therapist who survived the Holocaust not being willing to accept the truly subjective nature of the human experience—I have been in many therapy sessions in my life and thank heaven none of them included the phrase, “You think that’s bad, I remember the first day in the concentration camp . . . .”  Of course, the ultimately mind-bending part of this concept for me is that even our own suffering is relative.  It’s not just that we can’t understand other people’s subjective experience, but that from one minute to the next we can’t really accurately interpret our own.

I’ve had this internal monologue with myself at least once a day for many months now: you’ve suffered much worse than this.  This is nothing compared to, say, the whole of 1999 and 2000. And at face value, I agree; at that point I was completely lost mentally and emotionally, and physically I couldn’t really get out of bed most days.   But that’s where this whole relativity issue comes in because on many days I feel like the sorrow now is both so acute and so unending that I could never possibly have felt worse.  So am I really suffering more now than I ever have before, or do I just feel this now and so it feels worse even though it isn’t?  And here’s that uncertainty again because I’ll really never know.  It’s entirely possible that even though my life was demonstrably worse back then, my capacity for feeling has grown to such an extent that both joy and sorrow are deeper now.

I suspect that most mothers would agree that our capacity for feeling actually does grow, at least that seems to be what many are trying to articulate when they first have a child and feel internal changes taking place.  Of course, that comes back to part of the rub: to the world I am not a mother.  This doesn’t really bother me because it is the only rational way to view my current situation, but it does underscore why I think it’s so difficult to communicate what I’ve been feeling and experiencing for many months.  The way I’ve sometimes articulated it is that I feel like I’m walking around a totally different person than I was a year ago, but no one can see it.

It’s not as if I have a grand answer about how the world should act differently but I just know that I am often left feeling that there is no place for dealing with miscarriage, particularly early miscarriage.  The further along you are the more people acknowledge that you have, in fact, lost a baby.  I don’t begrudge people the things they say to try to be helpful because I know it is an impossible situation to be really helpful in, but it is hard to endure the implications that there was barely the seed of a baby, not really a baby at all, almost like a wish that never materialized.  Because, at the risk of being too graphic, you are physically passing real things out of your system, and at least for me, it was truly and deeply distressing.  And then came the real surprise that those days were the easy days compared to what came after: the trying in vain to figure out how to say goodbye to someone that you just absolutely were not ready to say goodbye to.  Someone that was real to you, but didn’t exist for anyone else.  Someone that you miss everyday, but no one else will ever remember, save God himself.

It’s been many months now and I’m moving on with life (I can’t adequately express how guilty I feel when I say that.  Even though I know that’s how life works—it moves, whether we move with it or not—it still feels like a betrayal to the ones that we have to let go of, even if temporarily, in order to move forward).  I’m trying not to lie in bed watching TV and movies or surfing the internet all day long everyday (maybe someday I will try to go a full day without escaping to one of these things, although truthfully that day seems a very long way off).  I’m trying not to stay awake all night thinking and grieving (tonight is clearly not a good example of that effort).  But I guess I wanted to capture something of how I’ve felt before time passes and I forget how intense and painful it all is/was.

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