Monday, February 28, 2011

Thanks for the Reminder

As an expectant mom, most women will sign up for free coupons and samples from any and every reputable website. I was no different with either child. I logged into BabyCenter to read Eleanor's weekly progress and loved telling my husband what size she was (poppy seed, blueberry, orange, banana, etc). I signed up on websites for diapers, clothing, name it. So, when Eleanor died, my first thought was not to unsubscribe to these emails. (And we all know how ridiculously difficult it is to actually unsubscribe!) I didn't even check my email for months.

The other day I got an email with the subject line, "Your Eleven Month Old." Remember that she was due March 16, 2010, but born early on Janaury 8, 2010. I've been receiving them monthly but either immediately deleted or ignored them. But for some reason I paused this time. I couldn't bring myself to open the email and scroll to the bottom. I would surely see all the wonderful milestones she would be meeting, and reading about teething, walking, eating, etc. as I looked for that obscure 'unsubscribe' button hidden in a massive paragraph someplace. What did I do? I didn't open the email to read it. I hit delete. In two weeks I will undoubtedly receive another email, subject line, "Your One Year Old!"

I don't know why I can't just open the email, quickly scroll down, and be done with it all. It's not like I don't know that I should have an eleven month old daughter at home, playing with her brother. It's not like each anniversary doesn't affect me: the 8th (birth), 14th (death), 16th (March original due date), and 23rd (memorial service) of every month. And it's certainly not like a day goes by where I don't think of her and what could...and should...have been. I don't need a reminder at all.

But I don't think I will delete my monthly emails. As the world continues on and the pain lessens, I think it will be nice to follow her as she grows in cyberspace. Maybe one day I will look forward to seeing, "Your Ten Year Old" as I smile and cry, thinking about who she may have been. I still won't read the email, but I will take that moment in my busy day to stop and bask in the loving memory of my daughter.   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Letter to Eleanor

I've mentioned being in grief therapy after the death of Eleanor. It has helped, but the healing is still a very long, hard, slow process. After my miscarriage in November, my therapist suggested I write a letter. It could be to "Baby K" or Eleanor. But she talked about how cathartic it could be to get all these feelings organized and out. The below letter is the result. I read it to Ellie on her first birthday, January 8, 2011, at the spot where we spread her ashes.

If you are a parent who has lost a child, I HIGHLY encourage you to do this. I plan to write one every year and read it to her aloud each January 8th...followed by one heck of a birthday party!


I have waited almost a year to write to you, although I speak to you often in my heart and in my head. Seeing your name on this page—writing to you—already has me in tears. I miss you so much.

When I was a girl, especially during my teenage years, my mother would say, “You’ll never understand until you have your own children” and “You’ll know when you have your own daughter.”  These statements were usually in response to some hormone driven comment on my part and I probably rolled my eyes in the standard teenage response. I didn’t truly understand what she meant until your brother was two weeks old. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him and wanted to protect him instantaneously, that is primal and instinctual, but I don’t think I was IN love with him at first. I had NO idea what I was doing! But after two weeks of colicky cries and sleep deprivation something clicked. While listening to a song from a Putumayo Kids Presents: Dreamland - World Lullabies, he suddenly stopped crying when, “Arriba del Cielo” played (track 5, a cute song about tamales in the sky). I looked at him and cried the tears of joy for the first time in his life and only the second time in MY life (the first being when your father told me he loved me). After that moment, all the fears and doubts and panic went out the window. For one moment I felt I knew what my purpose was, something I struggled with for as long as I can remember. I felt feminine and peaceful and wise. My purpose was the most basic and natural one there is: to be a loving mother.  

I want to be honest with you. I was a nervous wreck when we found out your gender. High school was hell for me. I wasn’t popular or thin or pretty. I was smart enough, but not brilliant. Boys weren’t interested in me. I always felt on the outside of the crowd. I feared for you, especially in today’s climate of cyber bullying and the romanticizing of teenage sex and love. I wanted to protect you and to tell you that, “it will get better”.  But beyond that feeling of protection, I wanted to experience life with you; through your eyes. I wanted to watch you take your first steps. I wanted to hear you laugh and call me, “mommy.” I wanted to watch you play with your big brother. I wanted to tearfully take you to your first day of school. I wanted to help you pick out a prom dress (a tasteful, long, all-the-way-up-to-your-ears black dress circa 1880, but a prom dress none the less). I wanted to take you to college and watch you grow and learn. I wanted to see you dance and shine at your wedding. I wanted to hold your baby in my arms and sing the same lullaby I sang to you as a child. I couldn’t’ wait to tell you how proud I was of the amazing woman, mother, and wife you were sure to be. I wanted so much for you. I wanted you.

I’m sorry, Ellie. I’m so sorry. I feel like I failed you. I’m sure if given the chance I would have made plenty of mistakes, ones you would have hopefully forgiven. But I didn’t even get the chance to ask for your forgiveness for any of it. The guilt I have for not enjoying my pregnancy with you as well as the guilt for not spending every second with you when you were here consumes me.  You aren’t here to forgive me and I can’t forgive myself. 

I hope you know how much I love you. I hope you felt it when I touched you or when I sang to you. The same lullaby I heard when I fell in love with your brother is the same one I still use to calm him or put him to sleep. It is the same song I sang to you each time I saw you. I loved you from the instant I saw that positive pregnancy test. But I fell in love with you when I held you for the first and last time while singing that lullaby in the NICU. All of the babies crying and nurses talking and machines beeping faded and it was just me and you. I told you how proud I was of you and how much I loved you. I told you that it was okay for you to go and that I didn’t want you to be in pain anymore. I have to believe you heard me…that you knew what I was saying. Did you?

I have been walking around in a fog since you left. I think about you constantly and wish we had more time together. You are with me all the time and not a day goes by where I don’t think about you and wish the outcome could have been different. I would give anything for it to have been. I would have taken your place, given you my beating heart if I could have saved you. The universe is cruel and unfair and I don’t understand any of it. I miss you terribly, Ellie. I had such dreams for you and now all I have are dreams of you. The pain is indescribable, but I need it to feel closer to you. It is the only thing that makes sense.

I wish I had something poetic and deep to say to you to adequately express how much I love you. I don’t think childless women or men will ever truly understand the bond a mother has with her child. You are forever a part of me. When you left, you took that part with you. Maybe that is what motherhood is really about; nurturing, loving, supporting, giving a part of yourself to your child so they can continue on their journey. If it is, you must know that you left a piece of you with me too and it gives me hope and purpose again. I will always love you, Ellie. The moment I don’t say or think it daily, will be the moment we are together again…wherever that may be.

Yours Forever,

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Love and Taxes

I thought once I made it past the one year anniversaries, remembering Eleanor would be less painful. January was bumpy as we: shakily survived the holidays; welcomed a new year without our daughter; memorialized her first birthday on the 8th; remembered her death day on the 14th; and re-read all the speeches given during her January 23rd memorial service. Not to mention a mental breakdown resulting in me seeking extra grief counseling this month, a meeting with the local Compassionate Friends, and the inception of this blog. All of that is a recipe for an emotional whirlwind! WHEW!

Once February began, I thought I could start to heal a little. But as I was gathering all of our tax information it hit me...I had two children to 'claim' in 2010. Dreading the thought of talking to my accountant about this, I decided to read about dependents in the taxation world to prepare myself. According to the Cornell University Law School web site, Internal Revenue Code 26 U.S.C. § 152 defines a dependent as:

(c) Qualifying child
For purposes of this section—
(1) In general
The term “qualifying child” means, with respect to any taxpayer for any taxable year, an individual—
(A) who bears a relationship to the taxpayer described in paragraph (2),
(B) who has the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer for more than one-half of such taxable year,
(C) who meets the age requirements of paragraph (3),
(D) who has not provided over one-half of such individual’s own support for the calendar year in which the taxable year of the taxpayer begins, and
(E) who has not filed a joint return (other than only for a claim of refund) with the individual’s spouse under section 6013 for the taxable year beginning in the calendar year in which the taxable year of the taxpayer begins.

Notice B? Was my daughter not legally a dependent because she only lived six days? She never physically came home with us.

I'm sure my accountant knows what to do and will handle this with sensitivity. But I feel like I've been punched in the gut. When people ask how many children I have, I never hesitate to answer two. If they ask further I give them the abridged version, "My son is 2.5 and my daughter passed last year". I let them decide if they want to ask more questions, but I am never afraid to talk about Eleanor and actually love mentioning her name. (I know not every bereaved parent feels the same way.) I do have two children and it is very simple to define. But does the federal government see it that way?

Let me clarify something in case anyone wonders. This isn't about the money. I could care less if we get a deduction or refund. This is about validation. Eleanor was here. Alive. Six minutes, six hours, six days, it doesn't matter. She WAS. I spend most days hiding my pain. I listen to insensitive comments about "getting over" her death. My heart soars when caring friends mention her name or let me ramble on about her. And it breaks again when some family members ignore her existence. I need people to acknowledge Eleanor (and many, many do).  

There is another realization with all of this. Next year, I will only have one child to 'claim' again.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Words. Silence. Rants. (In no particular order)

“Words can sting like anything, but silence breaks the heart.” (Phyllis McGinley)

I had experienced the death of several family members prior to that of my daughter and regularly attended funerals with my maternal grandmother as elderly church members passed away. My maternal grandfather, who I was very close to, died when I was 8. I remember crying and asking God, "Why?"...a question I would ask repeatedly, to any and every one, for years until eventually giving up the idea of it all. The coffin was so big. It was just sitting in the front of the room all alone.When no one was looking, I touched his face and it was so cold. I stared at the make-up and imagined what he would think knowing he had lipstick on. I wondered where he was; was my grandfather still in there? Family and friends surrounded my grandmother, with her quiet strength. I listened to the many condolences she was receiving and watched as she blankly responded, "Thank you." An age well before the technology craze, people came to visit, called, and sent cards for a few weeks after, but as quick as it began, it was over. We didn't talk much about it, or at least I don't remember talking about it later. I just know things were different and that I was sad. I often wonder how my grandmother felt.

Elizabeth McCracken writes in An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, that " grief was still fresh, grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving..." This is so true. I've expressed it in a much less articulate manner by saying, "the time to walk on eggshells is over." (Of course this is more for the other person's behalf when they unknowingly say something insensitive. My passive-aggressive way of telling them it is ok that they said something harsh. Needless to say the point has never hit home with the offender.) But that doesn't give anyone the right to determine how one should grief or when that process is 'over'.

I wish I could say people haven't said hurtful things to me these last 13 months. As a member of the infant loss community, I have unfortunately read similar accounts of insensitive comments to the newly (or not so newly) bereaved parent. The Compassionate Friends has fliers one can forward to family members on what NOT to say*. I suspect readers of this blog will be bereaved parents or my loving friends, all of which would never say the following. It is sad, but I write the following things from personal experience; the majority were told to me from my family. (Can I reiterate how LIBERATING it is to type this and be truthful without fearing repercussions? Gotta love the anonymity of the Internet!)

1) "God has a plan" or "God needed another angel."
2) "At least you have a living child."
3) "You can always have more children."
4) "It's time to buck up"; "It's time to move on" and/or "Aren't you over this by now?"
5) "She was only six days old. It would have been worse if she were older."
6) After my miscarriage (10 months after my daughter's death), "Lots of women have miscarriages. Why would you put yourself through trying to get pregnant again?" / "Women have been having miscarriages since the beginning of time."
7) Telling stories of the horrible deaths of other children ("they were spread out all over the median" in a car wreck), followed by the showing of the newest pictures of grandchildren.
8) Telling stories of crack heads having babies only to "throw them against the wall" to which they survive only to be adopted by a wonderful family. "She how adaptable children are (said with a smile)?" This from a PhD psychologist.
9) "Give yourself six months to a year and it will be better."
10) "You are so strong. I don't know how I would survive if one of my children died." 
11) "You have so much to be thankful for, why are you still upset?"

Don't get me wrong, I had support. My husband and best friend were and continue to be my rocks. I have met strangers that share similar stories who have become great friends. Lots of family have helped us immensely. There has been support. But those I expected to provide the most support were either emotionally unavailable as always or just didn't care. It hurt the most from my father, grandmother (paternal), and sister. Called, "a bitch trying to be the center of attention" a week before spreading Ellie's ashes. Told "Not everything is about Ellie and I think you like to use her to hurt people" after crying when my father put my two-year old son on a huge zero-turn lawn mower. My sister did not attend her niece's funeral for the opportunity to make $600 after visiting us in the hospital for 30 minutes and not asking once about Ellie or me. My father said once, "I think it would've been worse if she were older and died in an accident of some sort, like drowning in a pool" in response to my cries of asking why and how this had happened. Emotionally distant my therapist says. Cruel. Insensitive. Selfish. Uncaring. That is what I say. That is when they TALKED to me, never taking the initiative.

And then let's not forget the silence. Like the beginning quote states, it "breaks the heart." No calls or emails or cards. I tried pleading, anger, tears, distance, providing resources from professionals. I tried being assertive, "I need you. I am broken. Please, love me. I need to talk about my daughter." They are shocked after one year that I still grieve so often, usually externally. But still, silence. They have moved on while I am stuck. 

Believe me I understand that it is hard to know what to say in the face of injustice and tragedies. Looking back I have said insensitive things or stayed away in an attempt to shield the grieving from my ignorance. People usually say things out of the best intentions. I have to believe people aren't intentionally cruel. And I truly believe what I wrote earlier, "the time to walk on egg shells in over." People should talk about babies and pregnancies and life...and death for that matter. But please don't forget Eleanor. Please. Just because it has been a little over a year since her death doesn't mean my daughter didn't exist; that she doesn't deserve to be mentioned or memorialized.

Not one family member sent a card or called or sent a gift in memory of Eleanor for Christmas OR her birthday/death day. NOT ONE. Thankfully my amazing friends more than compensated and I am continually amazed at their compassion. The silence is so much more painful than the hurtful words.

(*NOTE: Forwarding a list of what NOT to say to bereaved parents to offending family members may not be received as anticipated and in fact may piss off those that have pissed you off therefore perpetuating the vicious cycle of pissed off-ness.)