Monday, December 17, 2012

No words…

My daughter died. I am a surviving parent. There is no score card for “who has it worse off” when it comes to losing a child. But I both sympathize and empathize with the families from Newtown, CT.

Like the rest of the country, and most of the world, I spent Friday in disbelief, followed by disgust, and remain in great sorrow after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Saturday morning I awoke thinking about how those families were coping…coping. As if that is possible after the loss of a child, let alone a loss as horrific as what transpired. I woke up several times the night Ellie died, hysterical. I am not sure how much sleep I got, but it was either medically or alcohol induced. That morning I was on autopilot. In between the tears and shock, I went through the motions of going to the hospital to have her body released, calling funeral homes, cleaning our room at the Ronald McDonald House, and waiting. In between sobbing and staring in silence, I would look around. Partly because I just couldn’t believe what had happened. Was I dreaming? Where was I? I remember turning to my husband at one point as we waited for Ellie to be cremated (because neither of us wanted to drive the hour home without her) and asking him, “How can people go on with their lives when ours is crashing?” We drove through a busy shopping area in the state capital and I watched as cars passed; the drivers laughing or having conversations. Did they know? Did they know I was barely functioning? How I longed to be as oblivious.

The parents and families of those killed Friday don’t have the luxury of grieving out of the public eye. Whereas I could talk about it or not (after all, we rarely know what another person is going through or has experienced just by looking at them), these people are being bombarded by media outlets. Reporters are camping out. Even the crazies from the Westboro Baptist Church are showing up. Then there is his name. You know it. I sincerely feel for his family...what a burden. They have their own grief of loosing a son/brother/grandson/nephew and mother/ex-wife/daughter/sister in addition to the reality that their family member inflicted so much pain. But he is getting 10 times the coverage that the victims are getting. Try to figure out what made him tick, but it all boils down to a sick individual (either certifiably or just plain sick).

On top of the media and coverage of the shooter, these families are being thrown into the forefront of a political and religious storm. Not to say that some won’t get involved later…it helped me to find a cause or two to channel my grief. But gun rights activists, proponents for stricter gun laws, mental health advocates, and people who believe this needed, or was caused by, divine intervention are swarming upon the survivors. Some even think the President faked being upset for political show. I think I'll scream if another person says this could have been prevented if God was allowed in schools. It’s disgusting. On Facebook, I watched as some people I consider real friends didn’t even wait 24 hours before spewing hate, blame, defensiveness, and judgment.  Pray for the families. Think of them. Condemn the act. But don't you dare blame anything or anyone but that murderer.

These families have it hard enough. Can you imagine? If you regularly read my blog, then you are probably a bereaved parent, so you can imagine the pain these families are experiencing (I speak about the courageous teachers who gave their lives too).  What these families need is support…something I yearned for and what prompted me to start this blog. The media attention will hopefully help these families get the support they need through groups such as The Compassionate Friends.

I want to conclude by listing the names of those killed Friday. In my experience, the support, acceptance, and patience has faded, and did pretty soon after Ellie died. People move on and that is natural. But my heart, like the parents in Newton, will never heal. They will never be the same and will need compassion for some time. I will light a candle for the below individuals and hope you will join me. Let us not forget the victims and offer support and love to the surviving families.

Charlotte Bacon (2/22/06), 6 years old, female
Daniel Barden (9/25/05), 7 years old, male
Rachel Davino (7/17/83), Staff member, 29 years old, female
Olivia Engel (7/18/06), 6 years old, female
Josephine Gay (12/11/05), 7 years old, female
Ana M. Marquez-Greene (4/4/06), 6 years old, female
Dylan Hockley (3/8/06), 6 years old, male
Dawn Hochsprung (6/28/65), Principal, 47 years old, female
Madeleine F. Hsu (7/10/06), 6 years old, female
Catherine V. Hubbard (6/8/06), 6 years old, female
Chase Kowalski (10/31/05), 7 years old, male
Nancy Lanza, 52 years old, female (mother of shooter Adam Lanza)
Jesse Lewis (6/30/06), 6 years old, male
James Mattioli (03/22/06), 6 years old, male
Grace McDonnell (11/4/05), 7 years old, female
Anne Marie Murphy (7/25/60), Staff member, 52 years old, female
Emilie Parker (05/12/06), 6 years old, female
Jack Pinto (05/05/06), 6 years old, male
Noah Pozner (11/20/06), 6 years old, male
Caroline Previdi (9/07/06), 6 years old, female
Jessica Rekos (5/10/06), 6 years old, female
Avielle Richman (11/17/06) 6 years old, female
Lauren Rousseau (June 1982), Staff member, 30 years old, female
Mary Sherlach (2/11/56), Staff member, 56 years old, female
Victoria Soto (11/04/85), Staff member, 27 years old, female
Benjamin Wheeler (09/12/06), 6 years old, male
Allison N. Wyatt (07/03/06), 6 years old, female

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bah Humbug!

I just CANNOT get into the holidays this year. Halloween is our favorite holiday, much to the chagrin of our neighbors. We normally decorate the hell out of our house, pun intended, and have an adult costume party. Halloween came and went and we only managed to get a spider on the roof, string up a few orange lights, and set the little Halloween tree on the table. Disgraceful!

Thanksgiving is usually fueled by my husband's obsession with the perfect turkey recipe. It helps to sort of get me in the mood since I make all the sides and I am amused at his primitive need to play with meat. My 4.5 year old is old enough now to talk about what he is thankful for and to make a beautiful pipecleaner centerpiece. His excitement and sweet answers to what he is thankful for ("I'm thankful that you grew me, mommy." And "My mommy and daddy, the President, those scientists that make the big robots, the police and firemen that save you, Ironman and Captain America.")  melted my heart this year.

As with most families, Thanksgiving weekend is followed by dragging out the Christmas tree and decorating the house. Although we are not religious, we still celebrate Christmas. (I think of the tree as a way to honor my ancestry since Germans brought the tradition to this country!) I bought a few supplies to make ornaments with the kids. I could put their pictures in the little plastic balls and helped them stuff tinsel inside and put stickers on the outside. But I had only a small plastic butterfly to put in Ellie's. Her stocking hangs empty next to her siblings, never to be filled or opened. I know that I will watch the children open their gifts in their Christmas PJs and laugh at their excitement. And I know I will have to excuse myself for a few minutes to hide my tears for what will never be.

This is the third holiday season since Ellie's death and the first year we are traveling to see family. The fear that they will not mention her, or worse, make me feel awful for mentioning her or tearing up, makes my stomach hurt. While the grandparents get to see all their living children and grandchildren, I will be expected to be thankful for what I have (which of course I am) and to not "bring the mood down". So, like almost every other day in the year, I will have to stay quiet because conflict on top of grief is no winter wonderland.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Should she stay, or should she go?

I have mentioned that my profession requires me to study the past. I have come across historic cemeteries with many children buried within. I have written about former Presidents that have lost children. And I have written about the sad history of Mother's Day.
I love to study the past; to learn from it. It is important for us to remember past events when working in the present because it helps provide context. Hopefully it allows both sides to take history into consideration, especially during conflict, so they can move into the future together. But does that past have to stay in the past?

Without getting into a huge political debate, when groups around the world have been historically subjugated and then receive "equality" or "freedom," is it beneficial to continually bring up past wrongs for generations? Should we all just accept that some atrocity happened and then move on? Part of me feels that would be practical. After all, we can't change the past...although I have spent many sleepless nights wishing I could. But part of me thinks it is important to remind people, because we all know how short public memory is. People need to know something bad has happened or that the wrong team was backed.

When it comes to my own tormented past, I can't seem to move on. How can I learn a lesson from what has happened? I always considered myself a decent person and have made compassion, service, giving, and stewardship the foundation of my life. So what was it that the universe wanted?

Everything does happen for a reason (for better or worse), but I can't accept a mythical or magical explanation. Before January 2010, I wasn't naive about death. The scientist in me knows that we are at the mercy of natural selection and randomness. The historian in me knows more mothers and babies survive childbirth now more than ever before. Ellie's heart defect was an anomaly and we were lucky to have six days with her due to medical science.

I've been thinking about "moving on" a lot lately after two conversations.

1. I spent a week in Oklahoma camping with a Tribal Nation. One evening while reflecting on our time there, I spoke with an elder. I asked him about their beliefs on death, and specifically infant death. He told me that historically the family washed and then painted the body in red and then burnt it. This was followed by four days of grieving...the entire village grieved. And then, they "moved on." He said, "Why would they want to keep that child here?" By continuing to grieve publicly, by just saying the child's name, it was being prevented from beginning the next journey.

2. I spoke with a coworker who experienced two back-to-back stillbirths. I'm guessing it was about five years ago. She has an older daughter and a young son, born after his siblings died. While I was on the verge on crying listening to her story and talking about my own, she seemed at peace. I was talking about some of the charity events and outreach efforts I have participated in, and she stated that she used to be into all of that, but recently stopped.  

Am I holding on too tightly to the past? Am I keeping Eleanor here instead of somehow letting her go? Is it possible to "move on"? Some days I am barely treading water, while other days are happy and productive. I can't imagine NOT mentioning Ellie or including her in special events and holidays. But am I focusing too much on the past and ignoring my future (i.e. my two beautiful surviving children)?

January 8 marks Ellie's third birthday and my thoughts have been consumed with every moment of her short life for weeks now. Not a night goes by where I am not thinking about her before drifting off. I break down during my morning shower several times a week. I have been snapping at my husband and son more than I care to lately. I find myself secretly begging people to mention her or provide the opportunity for me to talk about her.

This tug-of-war between grieving the past and living for the future is exhausting. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I think you can't grieve AND live your life. But the pain literally consumes me and I obsessively think about the what-ifs and I-should-haves. The guilt, either real or perceived, comes back. I get angry at the doctors and flight team. I can't turn it off.

Embarrassingly, I will end this post by quoting the most recent a non-raspy voice..."There can be no despair without hope."  And I do hope. I hope I make sure my children don't live in the shadow of Ellie. I hope I can have Ellie in my heart always and accept that she is gone. I hope I can cope with the pain and grief and learn to not fight it. I really do hope.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I should have written that down...

Wow. For someone who normally posts at least once a month, I can't believe I went five months without writing here. Man, do I need this!

Late at night, when my mind has the real freedom to wonder the most, my thoughts almost always return to Ellie. I think about my pregnancy and the day we learned something was wrong. I think about all the doctors. And I think about holding my baby girl for the first and last time that January evening. Cognitive therapist would tell me to use various coping mechanisms such as counting, taking a warm bath, lighting a candle with my favorite scent, etc. Sometimes they work. Except this time of year.

I have lots of things I want to share; that I NEED to get out. But as soon as I have a thought, it is quickly replaced by an intense emotional response. I start to cry or curl up in a ball. The shower has become my metaphorical couch where I just let the tears roll. That tingle returns in the back of my throat and my head spins. Has this really happened? And then the thought is gone. I'm sure trauma affects the brain. I find it difficult to remember things or focus and don't think it can all be blamed on depression. Am I alone here? Is this 'normal'? I can rememebr every detail, smell, and sound from those last few hours of Ellie's struggle. But I can't remember what I needed to post two nights ago!

It's funny. I forgot where I was going with this post. I just know I missed writing about her and to you, and for me...and just for the blogosphere. I have to remember that I need an outlet. Free from judgment. Anonymous.