Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hopelessness Won't Last

There are too many months, even years of grieving and living that have become like an ocean. 
I would like to describe and explore the depths 
and each crashing wave; 
what it has felt like to touch the wet sand between my toes. 

But time and breadth have kept me from sharing my heart at all. 
The longer I wait 
the more difficult it has become to express myself. 
Today I cry out and break the silence again. 

Still here, 
determined to understand my own self 
as I embrace this life that I realized, somewhere along the way, 
I am living! 
I am thriving. 
This world of mine is full. It is chaotic, always teetering on madness. It is vibrant. It is even fun. 
And everyday Walker is in my mind and heart reminding me of who I am. 
He is in my imagination 
making the chaos louder, 
changing the dynamics as I long for him.



Today I was thinking of a couple who I just heard are in the early weeks of grieving the death of their first baby. I went to open a simple little book about grief that spoke to me often the first few years after Walker died, and this fell out.

I caught my breath, and my eyes swelled with tears as I reached for my keyboard. I have been quiet for too long. I am overwhelmed to realize (after almost 6 years) that I am not hopeless. I looked at this little note every day for years after he died. And now it is a tucked away message greeting me today with bitter sweet truth. 


The new photo in the header of the blog is one of the ways that Walker is here in our new house (we moved to Bellingham almost two years ago!). 

I have been longing to write; now and then, I do. But it often feels too private to share. 

Today, full of hope, I begin to share again.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful

This is the first year since Walker died that I don't hate the holidays and feel mostly resentful and bitter that I have to endure this thankful, merry, happy time of year. My heart feels especially fragile on days full of family and tradition, making my longing for Walker fierce. But this is the first year where I want to participate in the holidays. Olive and George came running in to our bedroom this morning to snuggle. They were full of excitement and proclaiming, "Happy Thanksgiving!" They were eager to tell us what they are thankful for. It filled me with joy and pride even as I longed to have Walker somehow squeezed into our bed also.

All day today I will be imagining Walker with us. There will be an undeniable void like there is every day of our lives... one four year old boy missing from the Thanksgiving table. In my mind I will pull up another chair to the kid table and pick out what I would try to convince him to wear to the party. I imagine him with curly thick golden brown hair, a stout little body, full of energy and inquisitive. I wonder if he would laugh easily. Would he be witty or silly or shy? 

I am thankful for my children. All of them. 

Today as I miss my son I am so filled with gratitude for who I have filling my house with noise, snuggles, craziness, the clicking of unstable high heels prancing down the hall, and silly preschool jokes. But I am also filled with longing and acutely aware that our family will never be complete. 

I am grateful for Walker too:
I am thankful to be Walker's mom, thankful he is mine.  
I am grateful that my living children talk about Walker and know he is a cherished part of our family. 
I am grateful for the photos we have of Walker.
I am thankful for the short time we had with him and for the love and memories I will always have. 
I am grateful that I have ways to honor him, ways to live out my life as his mama. 

Here are a few ways that I've been able to honor Walker by sharing my story lately:  Participating in the Return To Zero book! A piece of my writing has been chosen to be published in the RTZ book this Spring. I was just telling someone recently that I haven't been writing on my blog much; that I've felt more private about my grief lately. And a few days later I found out that one of my most intimate pieces of writing will be published! Kind of terrifying but very exciting. I am grateful for the Return To Zero book project. http://shewritespress.com/congratulations-three-minus-one-contributors/ 

Tyler and I were recently interviewed by the Huffington Post Live. It is great that stillbirth is getting some much needed increased public attention lately. Here is the interview: 


Monday, June 10, 2013

Home


This is Walker's house. He never lived here, but he would have. We imagined his childhood here as we've continued to do for the last four years. He's become an almost-four-year-old, in my imagination, in this house. We moved here a few weeks after his death. But we chose this house for him while I was happily pregnant. We made him a room and called it "Walker's room" for months, even after George had moved in. 

Packing up our things, I've thought much about all the living we have done in this place. The grieving, the eating, and the drinking. The surviving. The anger. The fears. The darkness which was our emotional reality for so long in a home filled with light and color. The tiny glimpses of hope that began to emerge. This place is where we hid from the world. It has been our sanctuary. For years it was the only place I felt understood. I hardly left this property for months. This is where I began to function and where we learned to live again. This is where we learned to laugh. This is where the world grew from a cozy sunken-in dark hole into something expansive that holds possibility and even joy. This is where we've wondered about him and told stories. This is where I dug in the dirt and nurtured plants and imagined it was a tiny manifestation of nurturing him and watching him grow. This is where our friends gathered and where Walker's name was spoken. This is where we've holed-up on the 4th of July and sheltered ourselves from the fireworks and celebrating. This is where we've gathered our friends and family to mark his birthdays. This place is where I painted, and wrote, and gardened all as a way to skirt around insanity and breath and know myself again. Even though he is dead, he is here. This home is where Olive learned that Walker was cremated, and it is where George learned to say his brother's name. 

I know a lot more has also happened in this house: Olive learned to read, rode her bike to the first day of kindergarten, lost her first teeth, and started packing her own lunches. George came home with us from the hospital when he was born and brought us new joy. He learned to walk, to talk, to growl like a tiger, and hug like a bear. 

We are moving in a week. We've lived here since August 2009. Right now my life is full, and chaotic, and teetering on unmanageable as we prepare to leave this house and this city that we love. It breaks my heart to leave this home, and all the ways it represents Walker. It makes my grief feel fresh and fierce. 



A few photos at our house over the past few years...

Waiting in Walker's Garden for George to be induced


The day we brought George home!



Making a cake just because...  after Olive gave herself a haircut

 Fire pit in the back yard

Walker's Garden on his 3rd birthday last year.


Sand box/mud bath

Geo insisting on riding his bike to preschool in the rain

Friday, April 12, 2013

Story Telling

For so long I had to share him. My entire existence revolved around him; Every thought I had, every word spoken to me, every person I encountered was framed in the context of Walker's death, my grief, my dead son. Somewhere along the way I began to exist again, still as Walker's grieving mother, but multifaceted. Though recreated and changed in almost every way by my love for Walker and my grief, I cautiously came to a place where I'm not sure that my grief defines every part of me. I began to live again; I began to take risks again; Even to hope. My broken heart and my experience as Walker's grieving mom was the whole story for a long time. Now I want to share him and to include him in my life in as many ways as I can, though it is never enough, but I don't have to share him to exist. (Though I do have to share him in order to truly be friends with someone). I am reminded again this week how important story telling is. But I find that now I tell stories when I have someone listening; A curious friend or even a stranger with a deep need or heavy obligation. I love to tell Walker's story and mine, but it isn't all I have to say. Even admitting that in some way feels like betraying him. I feel an overwhelming relief and heavy sadness in this new reality.

I had the chance to meet two new friends from Vancouver this week whose babies each died last year. My heart is breaking for them now as I wonder about Scarlet and Toren and what this past year has been like for their moms and dads. It felt so good to share stories about our babies over lunch; listening, crying, talking, laughing with friends.

I also had a chance to share Walker with a group of OB residence and Fetal and Maternal Health fellows at UW Medical Center this week. It was an honor to share my love and pain with physicians who will encounter grief and death in their careers. Through story telling, some of those doctors will remember my son and provide more compassionate care to bereaved parents when they need it most.

Nice Day

Some days I feel almost normal. Those are often the days when I get caught off guard and the wave of grief crashes into me, and all I can do is bob along with the current.

The simplest things will break my heart. Like if I'm having a nice day, the sun is out, I'm feeling good; listening to music in my car. I had done my hair and gotten some exercise that morning. The window was down and I could feel the sun and wind. I pulled up to the local drive-through coffee shop and the barista was making my cappuccino. I was being oddly friendly. But on this day I felt like a normal nice person: A mom with a few days off; looking forward to a night out with friends and a weekend alone with my husband. She was chatting with me and asked what I was doing for the weekend. Before I could stop myself, I told her that we had the weekend without our kids. Every weekend I'm without one of my kids. I make a point of not referring to Olive and George as "the kids" or "my kids." My kids are Olive, Walker, and George. Waiting for my coffee I was filled with anxiety and regret. Who did I think I was... mentioning my kids to a stranger? I faked a smile, feeling frantic. She inquired further about the weekend, and I explained that our kids were with grandparents, that we were going out with friends and that I missed them already. Not necessary! Why was I talking to her? Please don't ask how many children I have. Please don't ask how old they are. I held my breath, feeling sick inside, as she told me to enjoy my weekend and handed me my coffee. I sped away turning up my music and bursting into tears. I cried all the way to work. Filled with anxiety and then overcome with relief and guilt and sadness. Relief that it didn't come up. The truth usually leads to either A; a horribly awkward and sad instance where she pities me and looks like I've smacked her across the face. Or B; an even worse outcome where I am filled with anger and guilt for not wanting to burden a stranger with my reality, and don't mention my middle child. Guilt and sadness because I was feeling good that morning, but who was I kidding? For an instant I'd forgotten the depth of my loneliness and the weight of my awkward, clumsy heart. The voice in my head whispered, "Who do you think you are, having a nice day?" And I was out to sea again. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Born In Silence Video Project


Here's the GAPPS gapps.org video that we were involved in! I am proud to be a part of this. Though in a few minutes, it just scratches the surface of the experience of having a stillborn baby.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Worse Than Dying

I didn't feel compelled to share this story about a conversation I recently had with Olive. Until Friday.

It was the first few weeks of Kindergarten. She was crying and angry. Trying again to understand why she never got to see her brother. Why we left her out. She had been storming around and just really pissed off at us all week.

I was trying to console her, to explain myself, "We never thought that could happen, Sweetie. We never imagined our baby would die. We were such a mess that we didn't know what to do. We were in shock and didn't call anyone. It is just the worst and saddest thing."

"No, it's not the worst, Mom." she corrected me with authority.

I paused feeling cautious and defensive of what my almost-six-year-old had said. "What- well, it is just about the most awful thing that can happen, Olive, having your baby die." I kew things could always get worse. But I also knew grieving the death of one's own child is one of the most unbearable things a person can endure.

Olive went on, "NO. Dying isn't as bad as killing. Dying isn't the worst thing that can happen." I was dumbfounded and she continued. "Walker died in your tummy mama. If you left your baby somewhere and a bad guy came and killed him, that would be worse."

"Yes honey, that would be worse." I was shocked by her insight and tears flooded my eyes again.

So much worse, I thought.

Many times I felt bitterly betrayed by my own body. I would have done anything to have had even a few days with Walker alive in my arms. My job as a mother is to protect and nurture my children, but my baby died inside my own womb. I couldn't protect him, but so often I've wondered if Walker felt safe and warm and protected until his very last moment. Could he hear his mommy's heart beating until the last instant of his life?

As my heart has broken again this week, I have been haunted by Olive's words, "Dying isn't as bad as killing. If you left your baby somewhere and a bad guy came and killed him, that would be worse."

Many parents in Connecticut are just embarking on a journey of grief, likely still in utter shock, trying to begin to process the deaths of their children. Worse than death. I can't stop thinking of their agony and the years of pain ahead.

Precious children of Sandy Hook, I think of you and sob and try to remember your names,
Charlotte
Daniel
Olivia
Josephine
Ana
Dylan
Madeleine
Catherine
Chase
Jesse
James
Grace
Emilie
Jack
Noah
Caroline
Jessica
Avielle
Benjamin
Allison
And the grownups also, who are each someone's baby,
Dawn
Anne Marie
Lauren
Mary
Victoria
Rachel


"Grief teaches the steadiest minds to waver." - Sophocles


"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
Whispers the oe'r fraught heart and bids it break." - Shakespeare

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Childhood

The grief washes over me in unexpected moments. This life is flooded with demands. I stay occupied, too busy to think, multitasking every waking moment. But my broken heart demands acknowledgment, to be nurtured and comforted. My grief, neglected long enough, like a tantrum by my living son, erupts in full force. I can feel the throbbing in my chest and core; grief demands I sit still.

I have the afternoon home with a sleeping toddler and a sick kindergartener. Nap time offers a surprising moment that I promptly fill: emptying and re-organizing our storage space. The very last box is way under the stairs. I am brave to reach for it, imagining huge spiders or mice living there as I sneeze from the thick coat of dust that's settled over three years living in this house. I pull open the lid and peak with my flashlight to get a glimpse inside. My baby dolls are staring up at me just how I remember them. The tattered yellow baby blanket was my own as a baby, and the Cabbage Patch dolls were my constant companions as a little girl (though I also had real friends). My childhood fills my mind in the same instant my longing for Walker overtakes me. I mothered those dolls and loved them, obsessive about being a mom someday. I would play outside, ride bikes, imagine myself as a business woman, or president of the United States, but always with a plethora of babies in tow. All those years of practicing and cherishing the idea of being a real mommy blessed with many children, and I never imagined I could be the mother to a dead baby. My imaginary motherhood from when I was little and Walker's imaginary childhood from him growing up in my mind collide in an instant.

Like a tantrum of grief and sorrow I am flooded with longing for him. I throw myself on the couch and lay still, except for my sobbing. I am desperate to raise and nurture all my babies. One of them will wake soon and my busyness will sustain me.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fireworks For You

My Baby Wally,
Three years ago tonight I was in labor; full of fear and sadness. Ignorant to the depth of grief ahead of me. In utter shock we waited, still clinging to hope; unwilling to admit you would not be living when we finally saw you. We waited in agony, speaking in whispers, interrupted by the sound of fireworks all through the evening and into the night. The sound of them haunts me again tonight as people everywhere celebrate this day that my world stopped; this day that you died, and we waited to hold you. Tonight I try to imagine the fireworks are for you. I long to hold you everyday. Now I make you a cake and listen to the fireworks. I love you Walker. There is a void in our family where you should be and a place in my heart that will always be yours. Love, Mama

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Never Leave Me

Tonight I was tucking Olive in and reading her a bedtime story. It was about stars and always having an extra one in your pocket that you can pull out when you're having a shitty day. The story ended with a reminder that the stars are there every night, all the time, even when we can't see them.

Before I left her room I snuggled my cheek to Olive's and whispered that I love her. She whispered back, "You'll always be in my heart." I smiled and my heart melted, but before I could reply Olive continued, "Yes! And you'll never leave me."

"Right," I said, wishing I was being truthful, knowing full well what it's like for a mother and child to be apart.

But Olive has more wisdom and bravery than most people. "Mom, even when I die or when you die we'll always be in each other's hearts." Sometimes I think that little girl can read my thoughts.

There was more. "But we might not think about each other when we're dead," said Olive, "Because I don't know if you can think when you are dead."

"Oh. Well, you might be able to," I assured her. "We don't know what it's like to be dead." We only know what it's like for our baby to be dead.

I left her room with tears rolling down my cheeks, but that sweet conversation with Olive was a little gift for me. Like she was giving me a little star tonight. It reminded me that she knows Walker is in our hearts forever. I am proud that she sees what it is like to love someone and hold them close, even when they are dead.

Every night before I go to bed I kiss Olive and George goodnight after they are sleeping. I try giving them "extra" kisses. (As if that's possible!)


I think about Walker; I linger by his siblings' beds, and I imagine kissing him too. I think of him and say in my head, "Oh Wally, if only you were here with us. I miss you SO much my little boy." And I wonder if he hears me, and if he thinks of us.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

When I Miss You

Dear Walker,
I feel my entire being brimming with adoration and longing and wonder. Then my whole body aches by my broken heart. But I miss you with every breath I take. I love you sweet boy.

July is almost here, taking me further from you and closer to you all at once, and I feel like I'm drowning inside.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Sometimes I think the jaded-bitch side of me has the loudest voice. It's not that I am always jaded (or a bitch). I am usually well in-tune to making other people comfortable enough and I have many happy and nice things on my mind too. But my grief often leaves me quiet.

"How was your Mother's Day?" I'm asked today. "It was O.K." I say nicely with a smile and an awkward inflection in my voice; oh so sweetly compared to the answer in my head: Mother's day was like a big hoax. A phony day. There is a void so deep and wide that it is hard to see beyond it. Being told "Happy Mother's Day" was kind of like being whispered, "F*ck you" quietly in my ear over and over and over throughout the day.

It was a beautiful miserable day.

I saw many of the wonderful beautiful strong women in my life. I spent the day with my husband, who I adore beyond words or any amount of devotion that you might imagine. I spent the day with Olive and George.

It really "should have" been a happy one. So sets in the guilt and shame of being such a cold-hearted-mother. After all I "have" two beautiful (living) healthy children (as I am often reminded, and no shit, thank you very much).  And I have a wonderful mom of my own. She is generous and beautiful and fun and smart. She is inspiring and capable beyond explanation. My 3 grandmothers are each strong women who make me proud to be their granddaughter; and, until Sunday, I can't remember when I saw them all at once... perhaps my eldest sister's wedding in 1996? My mother-in-law is full of passion and curiosity and she pursues each day with courage and humor. She is fiercely committed to children (especially mine) and is the kind of woman who makes everyone she meets feel significant. (You couldn't dream of a better mother-in-law). I haven't even mentioned my sisters, who I adore and cherish, and they were there too. To top it off, I got to hug each of these women all on Mother's Day. Perhaps it was the epic gathering of the day that heightened the paradox for me. Perfect women. All together. Perfect husband. The men cooked and cleaned. Sunny day. Breathtaking view of the San Juans. Good friends. Good life. My babies; except for One.

I listened to the waves crashing steady. Constant. I remember the waves before. I mingle with strangers and family. I long for Walker.

I never imagined it would be like this. I never considered my life without one of them. I miss him with every breath I take.

"Happy Mother's Day"

It was as close as it could be to perfect.

But one of my babies is dead. I am not lucky enough to see him grow and thrive. I'm not saying "f*ck you." I'm just saying a day like Mother's Day is really hard for some moms. Even when you are as blessed as me.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Stillborn Still Loved Guild

I've been meaning to post about some what I've been doing lately... A small group of parents (of stillborn babies) has started a new guild for Seattle Children's Hospital. This is all brand new. But it is my hope that this guild will be a way to cultivate my role as Walker's mom and to work toward change as a way to honor him and love him. I came to a point where it seemed "doing something," some work in Walker's name, would feel good. Right about that time I became acquainted with an incredible organization called GAPPS and the Seattle Children's Hospital Guild Association. Here is our support letter if you are interested. 









January 18, 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

Every year close to 3 million babies are stillborn worldwide. Our babies: Adam, Isaiah, Walker and Harry inspired this letter. Surviving the deaths of our babies is an experience that brought us together searching for answers and determined to honor them. Somewhere along our journeys of grief each of us has been inspired to work for change in the midst of heartache and the love we have for our children.

Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association has formed hundreds of guilds as a way for people with a shared experience to work together to create community, to effect change and to raise money for the hospital. We want to introduce you to the Stillborn Still Loved Guild. Our mission is to honor the lives of stillborn babies through advocacy, awareness and support.

Stillborn Still Loved is a “special interest guild” focusing on stillbirth. We are proud to be supporting the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), the leading stillbirth research initiative in the world. The mission of GAPPS is to lead a collaborative, global effort to increase awareness and accelerate innovative research and interventions that will improve maternal, newborn and child health outcomes and to decrease fetal mortality (www.gapps.org).

The Stillborn Still Loved Guild will work to support GAPPS through raising money, awareness and collaboration. GAPPS is doing great work by leading a global movement to change the reality of stillbirth in our world. We are proud to honor our babies by supporting this important work. Our guild will sponsor fundraisers and events to raise awareness and provide community for families of stillborn babies. We are eager to change the way stillbirth is viewed in society and to cherish our babies while positively influencing the future.  It is our hope that this new guild can be a helpful way for families to work together out of love for their babies.

If you feel compelled to honor the lives of stillborn babies through advocacy, awareness and support please consider joining Stillborn Still Loved and getting involved. We are recruiting members to donate and participate in this work with us.

To become a member of our guild fill out the enclosed envelope and send it with your $25 dues (Or email me with your address and I will mail you a dues envelope). Please consider donating generously in support of this mission. Stillborn Still Loved is a nonprofit affiliated with the Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association. Guild dues benefit the work and research of GAPPS.

If you become a member of Stillborn Still Loved Guild you will receive the Seattle Children’s Guild Association newsletter and you will be added to our guild mailing list and invited to guild meetings and events. Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Stillborn Still Loved Founding Members

Ashley Kimberley  
Walker’s Mom,                     
Stillborn Still Loved, President    

Abbie Smith
Isaiah’s Mom,
Stillborn Still Loved, Secretary

Ralph Morton      
Harry’s Dad,                 
Stillborn Still Loved, Vice President         

Keli Hansen
Adam’s Mom,
Stillborn Still Loved, Treasurer

More details about Stillborn Still Loved:
 WHAT WE VALUE:
·       Our children, their lives and their place in our lives
·       Each other, our individual talents, interests and experiences
·       Stillbirth research and prevention
·       Stillbirth education and awareness
·       Support for grieving families
·       Creating community for grieving families to alleviate the loneliness of having a stillborn baby

EXAMPLES OF GUILD PROJECTS/GOALS:
·       Educating the public about the reality of stillbirth and grief
·       Networking in order to better support families
·       Creating a stillbirth resource website
·       Cultivating community so that families are not alone in their grief 
·       Educating the medical community on how to care for grieving families
·       Fostering change in the way people view fetal health, stillbirth and grief
·       Raising money for GAPPS
·       Hosting events to raise money and awareness and to build community

WHAT TO DO TO HELP:
·       Become a member by returning the envelope enclosed (on envelope write dues payment supports GAPPS research) and membership dues  
·       Get involved with our guild mission
·       Donate money to our guild to support our work and the work of GAPPS

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Family Tradition






Walker My Baby,
This year was our third Christmas without you. It is hard to believe that much time has gone by. You would be two and a half. Of course I imagined on Christmas what you would be doing and how we would have celebrated with you here. Our little ritual for you has become letting flowers go in the water the way we did at your memorial service with those bright orange gerbera daisies. It is something we've done many times on special occasions as a way to include you. On Christmas day Daddy, Olive, George and I each let a flower go in the bay for you. Olive called it our little memorial service with just the four of us, because we are your family. It is heart wrenching every time I let go of that flower into those same waters where we let your ashes go. This was never the family tradition I imagined for us. Though it is sacred to us. We are your family and you are our boy.

Love, love, love, Mom