The Weight of Wonder

I haven’t written in a while. I guess it’s partly because what they say is true. With time, grief becomes easier to carry. It becomes more like a familiar companion than a tormentor. And I guess when things are easier there’s less to be fired up about so I haven’t been as inspired to write. But tonight the moon is so bright that it doesn’t really seem like nighttime and I’m here, awake, wondering.

What would he look like?

Now that winter is at a safe distance and vitamin D levels are on the rise it feels a little more possible to make plans. Last summer we were in survival mode but this summer can be something different. I think I can imagine making it through an entire wedding or social event without being crushed by the loneliness of being surrounded by so many happy people.

But what would he sound like? What would make him laugh?

I’m less anxious about going to malls and parks and dodging the minefield of strollers and Baby Bjorns. I don’t think I’m likely to weep at the sound of a newborn’s cry anymore. I’m slightly less upset by pregnancy announcements and the sight of a pregnant woman doesn’t bother me much anymore.

But what would he feel like to hold now?

It’s true that I don’t cry as often anymore and that life’s routines are basically the same as they were a year ago (a fact which is difficult to consider. Time = black hole). It’s so easy to get caught up in those routines and before you know it the date on the calendar shocks you. I miss Odin every day but I feel like I’m doing alright.

But what would he call me?

Now What

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s been a year. A whole year since Odin was here with us. The countdown to the one-year mark allowed me to digest time in a way that made it more manageable. Four months, eight months, nine months, eleven. Getting to that place at the end of what all the grief blogs and infant loss websites say is the hardest time seems like an achievement. I’m here, I’m (mostly) participating in the world, I am still employed, I don’t have a drinking problem. But now it feels like what lies ahead is so much less manageable. A whole lifetime. 

At what point will counting the months feel less sacred and necessary? Will I still be counting at fourty-two months? Ninety-three? I’m scared to stop counting because it’s something else to let go of and there’s so little to hang on to. Also, part of me also feels responsible for keeping track because if I don’t do it, who will? I’m like Desmond on Lost, pushing the button every 108 minutes to avoid a system failure. It kind of makes Desmond crazy, but I think it keeps me sane (for now at least). Keeping track of time is a thing I can control and so much feels out of my control these days.

What I’ve realized this morning is that parents of toddlers often answer the question of how old their kid is in months (and there are many memes about this). I’ve decided that I’ll grant myself another year (at least) of counting months to the point where Odin would be two years old. It’s my way of taking the whole lifetime of missing one step at a time.

And, just because I thought this article was perfect, I’m sharing it here. How To Love Someone Who Is Grieving Their Child written by Emily Long. (She often writes for Still Standing Magazine and Still Mothers.)

April 20th, 2017: a Summary

Yesterday was a really good day. I am pretty tired today, though, and emotionally drained so this is going to be a very lazy entry. Mostly I’m just going to copy and paste from my Instagram account. (If you hover over the picture or select it you can read its caption.)

From April 19th:

Odin’s birthday is tomorrow. Our Special Odin Day has started a day early thanks to some very kind and thoughtful friends. 💙 Trying to let the love outweigh the pain.

From April 20th:

Special Odin Day! Thank you, dear friends, for all of your messages of love and support and for saying Odin’s name and keeping us in your heart today. We are trying, despite the weather, to make this day memorable. More to come… 💙

Odin Cafe, Toronto ON

Special Odin Day continues. 💞 (Nathan got his wedding ring done, too.)

It was good to feel a little physical pain today. Jazzed up my Odin tattoo and @nzarnke took a big leap! We’re home now and settling in for the evening. Taking time to read all of your loving messages (and open the mail! 🤗) Today has been special for us so far. A very memorable Odin Day. More to come…

Today has been a good day. For better or worse, depending on how you feel about social media, sharing each part has made us feel very loved and supported. We lit a candle at 5:36pm (the time Odin was born) and had a good cry together. Because despite our brave faces, today is hard. Lots of our days are hard even if you can’t see it. But I’m not ready to give in to the heartbreak right now because this is our Special Odin Day! So I’m powering through and sharing again… I’ve been fussing and arranging the “things” from today because it’s keeping me occupied. It’s also keeping me focused on Odin and our love for him. We’re feeling so grateful for our friends and family today.

These are a few more pictures from the day that I didn’t Instagram. 🤗

And these beautiful poems friends shared with us:

Heaven by Patrick Phillips

It will be the past
and we’ll live there together.

Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.
We’ll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.
And it will last forever.

Boo, Forever by Richard Brautigan

Spinning like a ghost
on the bottom of a
top,
I’m haunted by all
the space that I
will live without
you.

Affirmations

I’ve had a few people ask me what we have planned for Odin’s birthday (which is coming up so quick). The last two weeks were kind of rough (which is relative, I know). But this week I’m feeling pretty good and have come up with a bunch of things I think I’d like to try doing for Odin’s birthday. It’s such an important day with so many heavy feelings and I’ve been really struggling to figure out what to do on that day. The easiest thing (and my plan in the deep dark bubble of last week) was to give in to how sad it is that he’s not here and just stay home in bed crying, looking at his pictures, cuddling Kornflake (the bear we got from the hospital). I know that sounds awful, but it’s honestly the easiest and safest thing to do.

But, somehow, the darkness lifted a bit and I got the energy and inspiration to come up with some things I’d like to do. Things that I hope I can keep up the nerve and energy for next week. Life has become a constant and never-ending battle between the sadness of losing our baby and the love and joy of being his mother. The feelings are honestly the hardest thing to explain and they’re going on in my head and my heart at absolutely every moment. It is super exhausting but at times it can also be empowering. No matter how you slice it, though, it is more than anyone should have to deal with.

There is an artist in Montreal named Sarah Mangle and she has this incredible Affirmations Colouring Book that I’ve found very comforting. Sarah posted a picture on her Instagram account of one of her drawings with words that resonate with me like no other sentiment has: “There are many ways I think of you.” It’s a simple idea, for sure, and I’ve read so many inspirational and sad infant loss quotes that it would make your head spin. But this is a phrase that I think sums it all up. I’m so grateful for her artwork and, specifically, for writing this one simple line that is my whole heart.

My plan next Thursday is to share on social media (Instagram anyway) our Special Odin Day. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to accomplish any of it so don’t hold me to this. But if he were here with us you can bet I’d be spamming you so hard with cute cake-eating pics, funny faces and outfits. The alternative is not at all what I want, but it’s what I’ve got. And the love is the same. There are many ways I think of him.

Posted with permission. Artwork by Sarah Mangle.

The Old Normal

As Odin’s first birthday approaches, I have been trying really hard not to look at last year’s calendar. I’ve been having flashbacks and they are intense and vivid enough without having specific dates to reference. But I caved. I looked. And now I know each of the important dates from last year; the things that happened in our Last Normal Days. I was feeling strong, and wanted to remember the mundane details of Before. (The alpaca festival I went to the day after our anatomy scan before we knew anything was wrong, dinner with a (now) former friend, a dentist appointment, getting Odin’s diagnosis on my mother’s birthday.) I think I’m okay with knowing the specifics because having the days of this month pass without recognizing their weight or remembering something unexpectedly might be worse. Might.

Last year at this time winter was finally melting away like it does every year. I remember wearing some of the more spring-weather-appropriate maternity clothes that had been passed down to me and finally ditching my winter coat. We kept saying that we wanted to go to High Park to see if the cherry blossoms were blooming yet. (They weren’t. Twenty-sixteen was a bad year for them and they didn’t fully blossom that spring like they usually do. The symbolism of this is not lost on me.) We had really great tickets to the Blue Jays Home Opener at the Skydome. And on that same day we had our 20-week anatomy scan and we were going to find out if our little boo boo was a boy or a girl. We were happy.

I think that the start of spring might always be difficult for me now. Considering how nature’s symbol of new life and promise is the mark of the darkest, saddest, time in our lives. I imagine that at the start of spring I will always be reminded, just a little more intensely, of what should have been.

To make matters heavier, there is a woman who sits near me at work who is living the life I had last year. She’s just a regular woman in her second-trimester of pregnancy, making plans and battling fatigue. Her anatomy scan appointment is three days later than mine was last year. I know this because I can hear everything she says. I hear her talking about finding out if her baby is a boy or a girl. I hear her talking about maternity pants. And I die a little bit with each detail.

I know I always sound sad. And that’s because on some level I always am sad and I’m settling in to that reality. For better or worse I’ve been treating this space as a place where I can be honest about how I’m feeling — even if no one reads it. It doesn’t mean I can’t/don’t/won’t also experience joy and happiness, it just means that unless Odin can be alive again I will always be heartbroken and I will always miss him. I am glad it’s spring, though. I’ve missed feeling connected to nature during the long, grey, lifeless cold of winter. I’m trying to look forward to those unexpected moments where a cool breeze or a family of geese reminds me of my little guy. I am ready for those moments with an open heart.

Eleven Months & Harry Potter

These have been eleven of the shortest longest months of my life. Some minutes like hours, some days like moments. All mixed up in this mess of grief. Each day taking me further away from the too brief time I had with my baby boy. These anniversaries won’t pass unnoticed, either, which seems like One of Those Infant Loss Things. My mind may forget the date, but my heart will not. It always aches a little more on the 20th.

I’m dreading One Year. No matter what reassurances people try to offer, “Odin will never be forgotten”, One Year feels too much like an ending or closure I’m not ready for. I’m fighting at the passing of time with everything in me right now because although it’s been nearly a year, the pain of his absence is still there. It’s always there, just beneath the surface. And the weight of that pain and its permanence is so lonely. So I don’t want all of the Firsts to be done because they are still recognized as Hard. After that I’m not sure what happens. People move on. I want time to quit being so cruel.

They say Time Heals All Wounds and I’ve called BS on that one before. My wound will not heal and I wouldn’t want it to. Instead it is my job to tend to it; keep the bleeding at bay; be sure that infection doesn’t spread. I keep it well-bandaged so people don’t notice and stare. Most people don’t even know I’m injured and most who do seem comfortable that I manage the wound privately. I guess they’re not good with blood or are worried they’ll make the pain worse (not possible).

I know that there will be times when I can think of Odin with more love than sadness and I have definitely had some of those moments of strength and peace. They are few and far between, though, and there is always a steep come-down from those days. Maybe that will change as time goes on. That’s what They say anyway.

I’m currently reading the Harry Potter series (for the first time! In my thirties!) and there have been a few times (and I’ve just finished book three, The Prisoner of Azkaban) that I have been moved to tears. (If you haven’t read the books, there are spoilers ahead.) This is the most recent moment in a scene where Dumbledore is speaking to Harry about his father:

“You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him.”

*crying*

There is a tiny little strange part of me that likes to think of Odin as Harry. Harry’s parents, Lily and James, died to save Harry’s life and that’s what we would have done, too, to save Odin. It’s sort of like we’re living the story in reverse. Harry is living without his parents and misses them, dearly, and his grief runs throughout the plot of the books. (This isn’t a new idea, it’s been written about a lot.) I’m inspired by the parts of the book where Harry is able to think of his parents with love and not sadness and I appreciate that struggle. I could probably write a whole blog post about Harry Potter but it would be derivative. Mostly I wanted to share that Dumbledore quote because I loved it and am trying to believe in those words for Harry and for Odin.

Anger management

Being angry is easy. I find it so much easier than any of the other feelings. For a lot of my adult life anger was my default in frustrating and unfair situations (and when I dropped things), so it’s surprising to me that losing Odin hasn’t really made me angry. It’s made me a lot of things I never expected but I don’t feel angry about losing him. I’m sad and tired and feel a lot of despair over how little control I have over what happens in this life but anger doesn’t rank on my list of emotions about losing him. (Maybe it’s because I don’t have anyone to be angry at?) I’m still very very good at getting angry at people, though. So good at it that I recently (re-)deleted the hot garbage fire that is Facebook because it was making me lose my mind more and more with every scroll. I had a good discussion with my therapist yesterday morning about things that are “depleting” versus things that are “nourishing” in my everyday routine. It really reassured me that I made the right decision pulling the plug on my relationship with that particular social media outlet. I currently feel like my metaphorical tank is empty and what I need is to refill on things that are nourishing. This probably sounds like I’m on a high horse; judging people who use Facebook but that’s not the case. This was just the best choice for me right now and it’s my hope that other users find it nourishing, or at least find that it has a neutral impact on their mood/outlook.

There is a period of adjustment after deleting Facebook, though. It takes a few days not to have your finger click that app from your phone’s home screen and it takes some doing to figure out what to look at during downtime from your work web-browser. Last night I decided to check Twitter from my phone (jury’s still out on this platform for me) before bed. Usually it’s a relatively neutral experience for me and I’ll scroll for a few minutes checking celebrity news and other fluff. But last night I saw these tweets from someone I know personally, who knows about our loss:

#1 “I’m sorry but being pregnant is garbage. Total garbage!”

#2 “My stupid body is falling apart. I can’t sit, I can’t walk, I can’t even sleep. This baby owes me big time. (mad face emoji)”

Being angry is easy.

I made the mistake of engaging this person by saying “perspective is everything”. And of course I wanted to let it go but I stayed awake for hours thinking about all the things I wanted to say and all the ways I wanted to teach her how awful she was. Again, I’m on my high horse, right? Well, maybe. But I would love to get off of this damn horse and go back to not knowing all of the horrible things that can happen in a pregnancy. The only reason I’m riding this horse is because life put me up here. There are so many times when I think about how my perspective was different a year ago down on the ground with the other people who think that getting/staying pregnant and having a healthy/living baby is just a given. I only have one non-loss friend who still talks to me about my experience with pregnancy (grateful to her) and with her I still talk about how being pregnant is challenging. Because of course it is! It is not fun for most women! You feel like crap. Your body is a mess because it is growing a human inside of it! I whined a lot when I was pregnant and that still haunts me today because I would give anything to feel horrible again if it meant that Odin could live even just a little bit longer. It’s hard to feel crappy all the time and that is the truth. But this tweeter knows me. She knows what happened to us. She admitted to considering that what she said would be upsetting — if not to me, then to someone else out there in the Twittersphere. And she said it anyway.

It’s not like I think this person should be fabricating an experience that she’s not having or adding support to the myth that pregnancy is always a beautiful time in a woman’s life and that all pregnant women feel an immediate bond with their unborn babies and love them in a poetic and magical way. (Society has some pretty messed up expectations of pregnancy and motherhood. Maybe more on that later.) What bugs me most about these tweets is that she’s actually not being honest. She’s being flippant. Clearly she’s having a hard time right now and that is okay. It’s okay to want and ask for support and understanding. And, although 140 characters isn’t really the best place to have an honest conversation, maybe she could speak her truth and seek reassurance and kindness from people in a way that isn’t completely insensitive and disrespectful to so so so many women. Women who’ve miscarried; women who are going through fertility treatments; women who are childless and will never have children after years of trying to conceive; women whose babies have died before taking a single breath. She obviously doesn’t understand how lucky she is and she likely never will. Being angry is easy.

 

“This is Us”/Me

I recently read a short article about the TV show This is Us. I haven’t watched a full episode yet but I am definitely going to watch all of it. In case you haven’t heard, the buzz about this show has a lot to do with the stillbirth of a triplet in one of the early episodes (it might be the pilot). And, apparently, the plot doesn’t get “easier” (I’ve been trying to avoid too many spoilers). Without appreciating or even considering the truth of the show at all, the article I’m talking about basically begs the question: Why does anyone willingly watch this show that is so devastating and heartbreaking? And I’ve got big problems with that.

This is Us doesn’t sound like something you think I should watch, right? Seems like it would be super triggering? Maybe. But I’m saving it because I know that it will be hard and a difficult-to-explain part of me wants to have it stored, like canned goods, for future use. Like in the middle of winter when you want a fresh juicy peach, you’ll reach for the canned kind because it’s the best you can do. Sometimes I want to re-access my grief from the early days; to feel that deep devastating connection to my loss. I can get the canned version by watching something I can relate to; that reminds me that what I’ve been through is real. Last year I watched episodes of shows that I had never seen before and knew nothing about, just to watch the one where the baby dies (ex: Outlander). This is not masochism, this is a battle against loneliness. This isn’t choosing to be sad, it’s an effort to connect and be part of the community of other people in grief. (Our community doesn’t get a whole lot of airplay.)

I’m glad to hear that This is Us difficult to watch. Because it’s difficult to live. Some of the headlines for episode reviews are, “‘This is Us’ Stars Warn That Tonight’s Episode Will ‘Sit With You For Days‘” and “‘This is Us’ Funeral Will Wreck You“. Bravo! Well done! Bad things happen. People get sick and they suffer. Beloved partners pass away unexpectedly in the night. Babies die. Everyone will lose someone they love someday. Not thinking or talking about it doesn’t make it any less true and the act of considering these dark possibilities and acknowledging their existence is not self-destructive. In fact, I think that recognizing the fragility of life has the potential to make us kinder, more forgiving, and more fulfilled humans (working on it). I totally understand the use of entertainment as an escape from reality, and I make good use of that escape (a lot). But life can be devastating and the fact that death and grief are so rarely talked about makes the experience of losing someone incredibly isolating. People don’t know what to say or do for people in grief (myself included) because talking about grief is not part of our socialization (in North America anyway). It’s all hidden away and suffered through privately. This is why I think that it’s important that a show like This is Us is bringing loss into the popular culture. I hope that programs like this will help us grow a greater capacity for empathy and inspire us to think about living our best lives.

Some people might read my blog and think “oh wow, this is very sad. I wonder if she’s alright” or “I admire this project but I can’t read this stuff, it’s too sad” or “She should really try to be more positive”. I was actually feeling guilty last week that my blog is a downer and was trying to think of something uplifting or inspiring to write about. But omg, I’m here and I’m writing and that needs to be enough for me (working on it). It’s not my job to reassure anyone that I’m okay because, real talk: None of this is okay. My son should be here but he’s not and that will never change. I will never stop missing him and I plan on blathering on and on for as long as it feels right, for better or worse, without worrying if I sound “too negative” or “too sad” or “too” anything, really. For sure I’m most inspired to write when I’m feeling sad or fired up, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not trying to feel joy and be happy. I try everyday! For Odin. And I’m grateful for a show like This is Us shining a light in the darkness of how difficult that is.

Ten months

Ten months ago today I gave birth for the first time. After 36 hours of induction and subsequent labour, I got to hold Odin in my arms. It was the best and worst day of my life. I met my son but knew that he wouldn’t come home with us.

I’m sort of ashamed to admit that I hadn’t been paying attention to the date and I didn’t realize that today is the 20th. It wasn’t until a kind friend sent a message saying that she was thinking of us today that I looked at the calendar and understood why I had been having a tough day. It’s incredible what you can know and not know.

For the last ten months I’ve been grieving my baby who died. His sweet little face and tiny body; his eyes that never opened; his mouth that never fed. Our little boy who was too sick to stay here with us. I’ve been longing for that baby and in my mind I’ve kept him frozen in time — on April 20th, 2016. Until very recently, thinking of Odin as anything other than a little baby isn’t something I’ve been capable of. For some reason, though, over the last few weeks I’ve been triggered by my wandering imagination. When I see a toddler scamping around in a snowsuit, but don’t catch a glimpse of his face, I fight tears. When I hear a little kid laughing, my mind drifts to a reality where Odin is still here with us. When I see parents pushing a stroller I can’t stay focused on the conversation I’m having. It feels a bit like that sensation right before you pass out. Things get tunnel-y. Voices fade. Things go dark.

Today I saw this drawing on the Compassionate Friends Instagram account and I lost it. I don’t usually find images like this upsetting but this one made me realize for the first time that Odin would certainly have been taller than me. A completely new thought and new grief. Maybe I had been subconsciously protecting myself from speculating about what I could never know because it’s incredibly painful. I didn’t realize how painful until today when this new idea washed over me. It’s like losing him over and over again with each new imagining of what he could have been like. And right now that’s imagining Odin as a teenager, wrapping his arm around my shoulder as we walk down the street. He’d say something clever, lovingly and sweetly conning me into a bit of extra cash to buy a new video game.

screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-6-47-55-pm

Rationally, I know that grief is not linear so I’ll ride this wave like I’ve ridden the others. I’ll tread water and swim and swim because my life depends on it. To give in to the darkness of grief would dishonour my little guy and the last thing I would want to do is disappoint him. It’s like they say, the price of great love is grief. And my love for Odin is the greatest.

Scent, ritual, memory

In the earliest days of raw, unimaginable, soul-destroying, suffocating grief I would take out my baby’s little knitted outfit (the only thing he would ever wear) and unfold, refold, unfold, refold. The blue blanket, the white blanket, the blue sweater, the blue hat, and the white booties that were heartbreakingly tiny, but still too big for Odin. I would do this over and over again which I could tell by the worried look in my husband’s eyes made it seem like I was coming unraveled. And truly I was. But it was the only way at the time that I knew how to mother my dead son. Unfold, refold, unfold, refold. After I felt like I had performed the ritual enough times I would hold the clothes up to my face and inhale the soft scent that still lingered (it’s gone now). I’ve heard people say that there is nothing sweeter than the smell of a baby’s head. I don’t know if I agree or disagree with that but the scent on Odin’s clothes was not that smell — the smell of powder, tearless shampoo, warmth. His clothes smelled of something clinical, clean, and cold. I loved it so much and couldn’t get enough. The fact that I couldn’t make it stay is a heartbreak on its own. I’ll probably never know what it actually was but I will never forget it. It’s the smell of my baby and I miss it.