Monday, March 28, 2011

The Tale of Miss Emily and Mr. Daleshire

I feel like my life is slowly morphing into a Victorian novel. BBC worthy even!

The tale starts with a young women on the outskirts of everything. Her name would undoubtedly be something like Miss Emily. Miss Emily has different ideologies, political views, philosophies, interests, etc. as the other young women in her social circle. But she plays the part of the good girl and does as her parents and society expects: good grades in high school, college, and graduate school followed by getting a job. Along the way she meets a handsome older man who is somewhat of an outsider himself. Not the typical Alpha-male type but an artistic, educated, funny man, secure in his masculinity and confident in his abilities. We will call him Mr. Daleshire. Mr. Daleshire and Miss Emily court within the traditions of their day and fall deeply in love. Shortly after professing their unyielding love for one another, Miss Emily travels 2,000 miles away to volunteer for one year. But their love stays true over the days and miles and Mr. Daleshire proposes to Miss Emily while she is away. They marry a year later. Bliss.

The next few years are full of laughter, love, and adventure for the Daleshires. They travel the world. Buy a house. Get a dog! All the wonderful things young couples do when they are in love. However, despite this deep love and respect for one another, they feel something is missing. A child. So, they excitedly begin trying to have a baby after two years of blissful marriage. Months upon months pass; their spirits being broken along the way. But then, fifteen months later, they find themselves expecting a baby! Excitement and fear! The pregnancy and baby boy are perfect. Life couldn't get any better.

Mr. Daleshire, being the hardworking, honest, and intelligent man that he is, begins to look for more career opportunities to supplement his growing family. So, the Daleshires pack up, leaving dear friends and family to travel to a new place. This place isn't ideal for either person. Upon arriving, Miss Emily is in tears and vows to leave within three years. But Miss Emily also finds employment in the new place, they purchase a house and begin to talk about expanding their family again. Discouraged by the length of time it previously took to get pregnant, they are shocked after just four months to learn they are expecting their second child. The pregnancy progresses wonderfully; a girl! The Daleshires cannot wait to complete their family. Their visions of two children playing in the yard is coming to fruition.

Then disaster hits at 30 weeks pregnant. The baby girl is very sick with an imperfect heart. Chaos ensues after the news is broken. Hospitalization. Doctors. Prognosis. C-section. Diagnosis. NICU. Death. Within 10 days of finding out, the beautiful baby girl has passed away. The Daleshire's world is turned upside down and their hearts are broken. Relationships with family members deteriorate or all together end. Friendships are made and lost. They fight harder and love deeper than ever before and somehow survive.

As time passes, they slowly begin to regain strength. Although they are in love with their son, they grieve for their daughter and yearn for another chance. Ten months after the death of their daughter, they become pregnant again. Joy. Pure joy for the first time in such a long time and they tell all their friends and family. Then it is over too. Just six short days and Miss Emily miscarries. Pain. Pain again.

Making it through the holidays and one year anniversary of the birth and death of their daughter, the Daleshires lean on one another and their friends and family. With reflection and memory they look back over the past twelve months of heartache and decide, just one more time, to try for another baby. Visions of two children playing still dance in their heads and they try to make it a reality again. Miss Emily doesn't have problems getting pregnant like the previous two times. Is this a sign that it is meant to be? She is cautious this time--guarded--as is Mr. Daleshire. They choose not to share their news with family and friends and await their first appointment with a doctor. To their surprise, they are expecting twins! Shock. Shock and hope. They shout it from the rooftop!

One month goes by. Miss Emily is nine weeks pregnant and is sick with nausea...but thrilled about it. Mr. Daleshire is supportive and caring as always. Their young son is excited to welcome his siblings. The news of twins has brought new life and joy to grandparents who have had to repeatedly watch their grandchildren die and children suffer. Coworkers and friends share in the joy. Excited to see the babies, the couple goes back to the doctor. Tragedy, yet again. One of the baby's hearts has stopped beating. More pain. How can this keep happening?

The Daleshires have lost one daughter at six days old, one baby at 4.5 weeks pregnant, and one twin at 9 weeks pregnant. They now hold their breath for the surviving twin. What will the next doctor's appointment show? How will this story end?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Special Days: Ellie's Original Due Date

A little over a year has passed since my daughter died. There are reminders everywhere and plenty of dates with special meanings. Today was the estimated due date of my Ellie. She should be a happy one year old.

This time last year, my husband and I headed to the coast while our son stayed with his grandmother. We were looking for the perfect place to spread her ashes. Here is our thought process in case you are wondering: We believe that when someone dies, the body remains; like a shell. Although we do not ascribe to any religion, we knew our daughter wasn't 'in there' once she died. I will let theologians and philosophers debate on where she 'is'. But I know she is in my heart, and that is enough. So there was no question that we would have our daughter cremated. I took her to every room with me from the day we came home on January 15 up until this day last year. I couldn't stand the thought of her remains being stuck in a bag inside an urn forever. I wanted them to go back to where we all begin: nature. What better place than water? It is everywhere, in everything and is always connected. Rain in its many forms, streams, rivers, etc. travel around the world again and again. No matter where we spread Ellie's ashes, whenever it rained or we saw running water, we knew she would be there. The ocean seemed like the perfect place to start.

We found the perfect spot on March 15 and returned the next day. We picked up six pink Gerber daisies, to represent her six days of life,  to throw in the ocean with her ashes. My husband and I sat on the beach for a long time that morning, holding one another and crying. But we were both oddly at peace with what was about to happen. We had decided we wouldn't save any of the ashes; she would be complete in the water. When the time came, my husband bravely led me to the water and asked me to open my hands. I trembled and closed my eyes. When I felt the ashes I began to wail loudly and almost fell to my knees. We looked at one another and told whoever was listening, "We love you, Eleanor." And then we lowered our hands and watched as her ashes were gently carried away. My husband looked down and saw a few stunningly white shells in the clear blue water and picked them up. He said we were giving the ocean our daughter (our life) in the form of ashes and in turn, the ocean was giving her life to us in the form of shells. What a beautiful thought. We collected them and placed them in the now empty urn. We walked back to the beach and picked up the six pink daisies and threw them in. Amazingly, they stayed together and we walked along the beach with them until they were out of site. We then sat on the beach a while longer, exhausted and drained, and promised to return on Ellie's first birthday.

We visited the same spot and threw six pink Gerber daisies into the water on her first birthday, January 8, 2011, with a few loving family members. We also collected another shell to add to her urn, which is proudly displayed in our living room. It was our son's first visit to the ocean and as a two and half year old, his excitement helped ease the mood. He still doesn't understand what has happened, but he knows his sister's name. And he knows we were throwing flowers in the water for, "Ellie to play with."

Some people have expressed concern over memorializing too many days when thinking about Ellie. They said it could prolong my grief and hinder the healing process. Maybe they are right, but I'm not going to forget these special days. I have a much different outlook this March 16, than I did last year. I have grieved like I never thought possible. I have loved deeper than before. I have grown and changed in unimaginable ways. But I will remember these days forever. And I will forever remember my daughter. Ellie remains the same to me; my sweet, beautiful daughter happily playing in the water with her pink daisies...awaiting our next visit. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Bereaved Mother in History

One thing I have been avoiding since Ellie died is cemeteries (even though she was cremated). I have been to a lot and have visited them as part of my job. I know there are children in them, and babies—in a much higher frequency than today. I couldn't avoid it a few months ago and broke down at the site of a child's grave. Well, I was reading a report at work today and some small, historic, family cemeteries were found. This is very typical of the time period, but here is what got me.

- Ms. Elizabeth Barnard had her first child in 1873 at the age of 17. He died at 20 years old (before she died).
- Next child, she was 20; a girl. The girl died at 26 along with her only child, a 2 year old (before Elizabeth died).
- Next child, she was 22; a boy that died at 7.
- Next child, she was 28; a boy that died at 4.
- Next child, she was 32, a boy that died at 8.
- Her husband died 14 years before her. So she suffered the loss of three children alone.
- She was just 52 when she died. She lost all five children, at least one grandchild and a husband before her death.

Her third child's grave site is the largest monument in the cemetery and has his age down to the day. Typically the largest is reserved for the patriarch, but not this time. It makes me think of how poor Ms. Elizabeth handled her grief in the 1800s. I doubt there was much support in the way there is now. As annoying as the self-help revolution has been, I think it has allowed people to publicly grieve…or at least people are less likely to be attacked for it now.

I've read historical accounts of women loosing children and they are in as much pain as I am today. I thought they would be ‘used’ to it since it was such an unfortunate, frequent occurrence. When Eleanor died, someone said, “Imagine how women felt a hundred years ago. They probably lost many children, if not their own lives during childbirth!” But I don’t think it was easier because it was more common then. In fact, I think it was probably harder on the mother. Everyone probably knew someone who had lost an infant or young child. Society would mourn, but would quickly move on because infant and child death happened…a lot. Stiff upper lip, right? But I cannot believe the bereaved mother would move on so quickly. Sure, people tended to keep their emotions more private then. But in my research of women’s writings in historical times, they suffered the same pain, grief, anger, guilt, and sadness that we bereaved mothers do today. They just suffered in silence.

Although it may have been taboo to continue to talk about a child that has passed back then (as it still is today in some circles), I think I will light a candle for Ms. Elizabeth Barnard and her children and grandchild tonight. I will remember them.