Archive | Grief RSS feed for this section

Trying to Understand

18 Dec

The first time I remember watching the news with tears pouring down my face was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. Then it was Columbine. Then it was 9/11. Now it is Sandy Hook.

After 9/11, I became a social worker. As a social worker, I trained myself to compartmentalize other people’s grief. I learned early on that I cannot take on their pain because life will hand me enough of my own. I help when I can. Sometimes that only means praying for them and letting them know they’re not alone.

Since then, I have watched tragedy after tragedy unfold on my television screen – soldiers’ funerals, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, mass murders. And not because I don’t care, simply because I have to, I have been able to distance myself from all of them. Until Friday. It hit me immediately. Viscerally.

As I watched the news with tears pouring down my face, my stomach in knots, my skin clammy and cold, fighting the urge to throw up, my almost-6 year old son sat in a kindergarten classroom a mile away from my house. I fought the urge to go get him. When it was finally time to pick him up I stood waiting with the other parents, all of us clearly desperate to hold our children. All of us scooping them up, hugging them tight, saying “I love you” over and over. His teacher hugged each of her students good-bye. She doesn’t normally do that.

****

My social worker’s heart tells me to stop thinking about it. Stop watching the news. Stop staring at little faces. Because I have to life my own life. But I can’t. I feel guilty. I feel like the least I can do is bear some of this pain along with the rest of the nation.

So I imagine the horror.

I imagine how many terrible mornings I’ve had with my son – when he refused to get his shoes on or finish his breakfast and what it would mean if I sent him to school and we were both frustrated and angry and something like this happened.

I imagine getting the call from the school district, telling me there has been a shooting at a school and rushing, panicked and insane with fear, to find my children.

I imagine being inside that school, what I would do to protect the children in my care.

I imagine what those poor babies went through. Because 6 and 7 is old enough to know what was happening.

I imagine sitting in a room, watching other parents weak with relief, file out with their children, knowing that with each reunion it is that much more unlikely I would have my own.

I imagine what it would mean if it was my son.

This isn’t healthy. I know that. But it is filling my head. Any time my mind isn’t otherwise occupied, it goes there. I am crying all the time. I cry when I see the flags at half-mast. I cry when my son says I love you. I cry at each Facebook post. I cry as I check on my sleeping children. I cry when I have to discipline my kids.  I cry when I drop my son off at school and I cry when I return home to research home schooling.

It’s not about me, but I am, as Jonniker said, flailing. It is too close to home. I am too helpless. I don’t know how to be thankful for my life and celebrate Christmas without feeling guilty.

I don’t know how to turn it off. I am terrified.

So I’m vowing to pay homage to those children and their families by being a better parent. By saying “yes” more. By not letting myself become annoyed at the little things they do that do not matter in the long run. It’s all I can do, I suppose.

****

Since my brother died, I never asked myself “why.” It seems counter-productive. If God has a reason, I’ll never know it. And it seemed clear “why” it happened – he and his friend made a really bad choice.

So as I struggle to deal with what happened at Sandy Hook, I don’t ask why. Even though I can’t imagine what purpose this could serve, I have to believe there is some purpose – God’s purpose – even though that makes me feel disgusted and angry and I am unable to imagine anything in this world is worth the lives of 20 babies.

A client of mine, a writer, posted an article about Sandy Hook on his site yesterday. It said, in part, this:

… consider the possibility that man is to God as a dog is to man, and a dog is to man as a flea is to a dog; i.e., the man, the dog, and the flea, who are merely tagging along for the ride, have neither the faintest idea as to why their masters do what they do nor the means to ever understand why.

The question then becomes:  Is God indifferent to us, as the dog is to the flea, or does He allow us to suffer for reasons we do not understand?  When someone takes his dog to the veterinarian, the dog has no idea why his master allows pain to be inflicted on him.  In the same way, perhaps God doesn’t always give us what we want, but what He knows we need.

…  If there is a God, surely He operates in a completely different dimension than we do, thus He alone knows His purpose.

… A Supreme Power would, by definition, transcend secular knowledge, just as man transcends a dog’s capacity to understand human reasoning.

This is the only comfort I can find. That there is a reason, far beyond our understanding. And because of that, those 20 babies are dancing in heaven right now, happy, comforted, souls alive.

Defense Mechanisms

22 Mar

There is this show that plays over and over again on Discovery Health called Trauma: Life in the ER. The show features doctors and nurses from some of the biggest trauma centers around the country as they treat severely injured patients. The show does not shy away from anything – burn victims, bullet wounds, people dying on the table, organ transplants … car accident victims whose bodies have been broken and battered and bruised and brought to the brink of death. They show it all and block out nothing.

I can’t get enough of the show. I watch it whenever I can. I don’t know why.

Some days I think I watch to convince myself that if it did happen again to someone I love that there is a chance they might be saved. That what no one could do for my brother might be done for someone else. That someday someone I love is going to have an accident or get sick. And it is possible that they will be okay.

Some days I think I watch because I want to know what happened to him. And I want to imagine that he was rolled into a hospital on a stretcher instead of loaded into the back of a coroner’s van in a body bag. Maybe he would have been in pain and bleeding and badly injured, but he would have been alive.

But most days I think I watch to stare my biggest fear – losing someone else I love to a tragic accident – in the face. To dare the world to do it to me again. I think my mind believes that if I can be prepared – that if I can look at broken bones and blood and brain matter that it won’t be so overwhelming if it happens again.

And this is what it all comes down to. Me trying to be prepared for it to happen again. The root of all my anxiety and fear comes from the unpredictability and the inherently uncontrollable nature of life – that no amount of love or hope can keep those we love safe.

Even now, six years later, my mind spends hours trying to barricade me from the pain.

So I don’t allow myself to remember much about my brother. I don’t talk about his death. I spend hours in my own mind, planning exactly what I will do and say if I should receive a call that something happened to Hubs or my other brother or my parents or someone else I love. I research the diseases that my children have ever shown even the mildest symptom of. I stare at my children every night before I go to sleep. I can’t go to sleep myself until I’m sure they are breathing and safe.

I know none of this helps, or even makes sense. It probably makes it worse. There is nothing I can do now that will prepare me if someone else I love dies suddenly. Nothing will make it easier. But when I received that phone call at 3:19 am on March 24th, any sense of safety and peace I had was shattered. I haven’t been able to put it back together again and my mind tries desperately to hang on to something, anything, that gives me back some of the control I lost that day. But I know I’ll ever get that safety and peace back.

Today marks six years since I’ve spoken to my brother. Saturday marks six years since he died. These six years have been exhausting. I’ll never live a day in which I don’t panic about something – a day in which I don’t have that ice-in-my-veins terror take over if I have multiple missed phone calls or if I hear about an accident in the vicinity of where someone I love travels or if my phone rings after 10 pm.

I am tired of hurting and tired of worrying. And it’s only been six years.

Only six years. Today it feels like forever. As though I’ve lived ten lifetimes without him. But when I think about all the years I have left ahead of me that don’t include him, I realize I have a long, lonely way to go.

A Picture Speaks

24 Jan

I was taken with a Nikon camera, at sunrise, against the backdrop of one of nature’s greatest miracles. I was snapped by a young man who had no idea that in six short days, the picture he was taking would be a beacon of hope to a whole family.

I was presented to them in a manila envelope on the worst day of their lives. They have copied me into 8x10s, into 5×7, into wallet-sized pictures to carry around with them all the time. I’ve been given as gifts, ensconsed in frames and hung on walls. I sit over fireplace mantles and in the center of living rooms.

He is their son, their brother, their father, their friend. He is standing in the far left of the frame, with his back to the camera. His figure is all blackness and shadow, so dark that you can’t see the color of his shirt or his hat. But the outline of his ears, the tilt of his head, and the breadth of his shoulders leave no doubt this is Nathan. His silhouette is outlined against the expanse of the Grand Canyon. It lies before him, with all its depth and peaks and valleys highlighted by the rising sun. The sun blazes, a white-hot ball radiating orange and yellow across the sky.

They picture him on that blinding ridge, a place where he can look out over everything and everyone he ever cared for, laying comforting hands on their souls when they need it most. I provide them with a visual, and they can imagine that he looked down from that place and saw that the love and peace and fun that surrounded him in life comforted all of them, even in his death.

They look at me to remind themselves that if such a thing as heaven exists, it looks like that. And he is there.

This post was inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge:

Do objects have a memory? Does a rocking chair hold the essence of the snuggles it has witnessed? Does a pottery mug remember the comforting warmth it offered a struggling soul?

The dictionary defines personification as “the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.”

This week, tell a piece of your story from the point of view of an object who bore witness.

400 words or less.

Crash

6 Dec

This is going to be heavy – sorry in advance. But this post is inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge and this is what came out of it.

Today we’re trying a little something different. Are you ready? Your word is below. Take the next ten minutes to write about the first single memory that word calls up. Focus on the emotions and the experience, spend ten minutes really exploring that memory. Then wrap it up, publish, and come back to link up.

RemembeRED, Write on Edge, Memoir writing prompt

The notes of my cell phone ring out and jolt me awake.

“Hello?” I answer groggily, wondering who the hell is calling me at 3:21 am on a Thursday night – or Friday morning, I suppose.

“Kristina?”

“Yes?”

“This is Officer Rick Batelle from the St. Louis County Police Department. I’m sorry to have to tell you this over the phone, but no one is home at your parent’s house and I’m over at the neighbors. We got your number from you brother Kyle. I’m so sorry, but your brother Nathan was killed in a car accident tonight.”

Crash.

**********

Forty minutes later I exit the highway, headed to my parents’ house. I’m only about 1.5 miles away, but the road is blocked by a police car, with its silent flashing lights spinning color across the darkness. I cry out – an unintelligible sound that I didn’t consciously make.

The road is blocked because my brother is down that road – only a half a mile from home – but he’ll never make it. I have to go around. I have to go around the barricade that is there because my brother is dead.

Crash.

**********

Twenty minutes later I am in the kitchen of my parents’ neighbors’ house. I hear my husband’s truck pull up outside. I run out the front door. He is stepping out of his truck, and his whole body is sagging. Streaks of tears run down his face and I run. I run. He lifts me in a hug, each of us clinging desperately to the other.

Crash.

**********

Two hours later I’m still in my parents’ neighbors’ kitchen, surrounded by my husband, my aunt and my uncle, and Ron and Cindy – the neighbors who have watched me and my brothers grow up. We’re waiting for my parents, who are away on vacation and unreachable by phone, to find out that their son is gone.

My phone rings. It’s my dad.

“Daddy???” I haven’t called him that in a long time.

“Kristina???” His voice is wrenching, choking on his grief and shock. We seem to have a need to just hear each other’s voice, our names, to assure each other that we’re there.

Crash.

**********

Six hours later I want to see where it happened. We drive the half a mile to the crash site, where a cross has already been erected. Where debris still litters the ground. I see the pole that couldn’t withstand the impact of the speeding car. It is lying on the ground. Covered in something scarlet.

My knees buckle and I am caught by my cousin.

Crash.

**********

Ten minutes, one hour, two hours, five hours, twelve hours. As more neighbors, my cousins, friends, more family, and finally, my parents arrive at my parents’ house, it is a new rip in the wound, fresh pain to bear witness to.

Crash.

Crash.

Crash.

Crash.

Crash.

Quiet

6 Nov

Yesterday I caught about ten minutes of MTV’s True Life. It was about people who have an addiction to texting. I stopped watching because this chick was pissing me off. She had a baby and was a student and she texted constantly, at home, in class (and her grades are suffering because of it), in the car, at dinner, everywhere. And her boyfriend was begging her to just stop and live her life and she maintained that it was her only form of social interaction and I just … NO. For one thing, WHO ARE YOU TEXTING AND WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?? I don’t have enough friends to text that much!

Anyway, it got me thinking about how constantly plugged in we are in today’s society. I see families out to dinner who aren’t talking to each other, but they’re all texting. Women in my subdivision walk and talk on the phone. Next time you’re stopped at a traffic light, try to count how many people are on their phones as they drive by. It’s one of my favorite games. Usually, the average is about 3 out of 5.  I’m not excluding myself here. I love to text. I get email, Facebook, and Twitter on my phone and I use it a lot. Too much, really.

I’ve talked before about how grief is my constant companion. One of the (many) fallouts from that is that I never let my mind go still. Ever. If I have a moment to sit down, I read, or check Facebook or Twitter, or find something mindless on TV. If I’m in the car, I have to have music on. If nothing is on that I like, I call someone. If I’m doing some boring task at work that is mind-numbing, I need music or news in the background.

I suppose it’s a defense mechanism – my brain knows that if I stop, the grief might silently slip in and catch me off guard. So I don’t give it a chance. The shower is the one place where I’m defenseless (Kelly at Temerity Jane swears she reads in the shower, but I’m still trying to figure that out), so I usually compose novels in my head that I’ll never write.

It’s exhausting. The same way it sometimes seems exhausting to have the constant pull to check Facebook or Twitter. My mind is never quiet. I never just think.

It makes me wonder what we’re all missing. Before the age of smart phones or TV, what did people do? Read, go to bed early, talk to their families, I guess. But don’t you think they also had time to just be still? To think? To decide where they stood on issues, to come up with new ideas, to just learn about themselves? And sure technology helps us do all those things too, and some may argue that we are able to do those things better than if the technology wasn’t available to us, but I’m not so sure.

I know for me, it sometimes feels like I’m on sensory overload, filled to the brim with other people’s ideas or the media’s perception of something, or just too mentally stimulated to make sense of how my personality and my experiences shape my views of the world.

I’m just wondering what might come out if I stopped everything that was coming in.

What I’ll Tell My Kids

9 Sep

To throw my voice into the pool with millions of others, I cannot believe it has been 10 years. It doesn’t feel that long, but when I think about all the things that have changed in my life since then, not to mention in the world, it seems like a lifetime. And when I try to look forward 10 years and imagine what might happen, I get scared. 10 years ago today we had no idea that everything was about to change. I wonder what September 9, 2021 is going to be like.

**********

I was a freshman in college. I didn’t have class until 11 on Tuesdays, so I was still in bed. My roommate was there and watching TV, but she was somehow watching the one channel that wasn’t covering what was going on in NYC. I think it was the Cartoon Channel. (I love her.) My alarm was set to some radio station and as it went off, I heard something about a bomb going off in the World Trade Center. I remember thinking “Why are they talking about that? Didn’t that happen in like 1993?” I hit snooze and went back to sleep.

Next thing I know our neighbor was crashing through our door asking us if we had heard what happened. We turned on the news. The first image I saw was of the second plane crashing into the South Tower. I don’t think I stopped saying “Ohmigod” for a solid 10 minutes. I tried to call my parents and couldn’t get through. My stomach sank and I remember being on the verge of tears. We had no idea if more attacks were coming, if everyone we loved was safe, and no way to find out. We just sat, stunned, in front of CNN, watching the planes slam into the towers over and over. Watching the towers fall. Watching a hole in the ground in Pennsylvania smolder. Watching the Pentagon burn.

I remember every second of the first minutes after I found out. I remember the terror. I remember the heartbreak. I remember the guilt that I was 1,000 miles away and still safe, and the relief that I didn’t personally know anyone in New York City, Pennsylvania, or the Pentagon that day. I remember the desperate desire to help but not being able to do a goddamn thing.

I eventually got through to my mom. I went to class, stopping with everyone else to watch the TVs in the hallways. My math teacher excused us. I went back to my dorm room and watched CNN. I watched nothing but CNN for weeks.

**********

I think a lot about the projects that I had to do in school, when we were required to ask our parents about where they were when JFK was shot, or when Elvis died, or what it was like to live through Vietnam. 9/11 is what my children will ask me about. And I often wonder what I will say. There are images and sounds from the news footage that I will never ever forget. The bright blue sky contrasting so starkly with the fireball as the second plane struck. The sick feeling as I watched people jumping out of windows and tumbling through the air. The incessant beeping you heard as the dust from the fallen buildings settled. (I found out later that beeping was coming from the suits of the firefighters, which only sounded if the person inside stopped moving.) The screaming. The stunned and soot-covered people staggering out of the dust and debris that had once been two beautiful towers. The desperation and hope in the voices and on the faces of those people posting pictures of their loved ones and asking if anyone had seen them. The defeat on the faces of the doctors and nurses who were waiting in hospitals and triage centers for the injured that never came, because they couldn’t be helped. The radio personalities, reporters, and newscasters who couldn’t keep it together on-air.

But I also remember the humanity we saw after September 11. I remember the bravery of the rescue teams who worked tirelessly in the recovery effort. I remember the survival stories, the stories of bravery onboard those planes, and the feeling that we were all in it together. The way you could smile at a stranger and know that you were both thinking “I understand.” The American flags EVERYWHERE. I remember one particular commercial, I don’t remember what it was for, but it opened with a shot of a row of houses. The voice-over said something like “If you were hoping to change America, you did.” and the shot cut to the same row of houses, but now each was flying an American flag.

And, in spite of how things played out in the end and my opinion of him now, I remember finding comfort in President Bush’s promise that we will rise out of this, that we will find the people responsible, that we are America, and we will be okay.

I think I’ll tell my kids all of that. It’s important they know what the experience was like. But I think I will also tell them this:

A piece of America died that day along with the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives. We realized that America is not infallible. We are not immune to the horror that people in other countries experience everyday. We are not untouchable or invincible. When you’re raised in the US, you are raised with a sense of security that war will never march down your street. 9/11 proved that wrong and for those of us who were old enough to understand that day, tanks rolling down city streets and fighter jets roaring overhead didn’t seem like such an impossibility anymore. I don’t think that feeling has ever stopped for me. Every time I see a low-flying plane, I get nervous. As the war rages on in the Middle East, I don’t believe that it will never again reach our shores.

I hope I’m wrong. Because we are America and for all of our faults and imperfections, this is a great place to live. Maybe the best. I hope that we never know pain and terror like we did 10 years ago. I hope that the solidarity and bravery and strength we all felt that day doesn’t get permanently lost amidst the Kardashians of the world. I hope that it is a reminder to our politicians that, Democrat or Republican, what matters is the integrity and safety of our country – not their career ambitions. I hope that we can find a way to honor the memories of those that died on 9/11 and everyone who has died in the war since that does not include more war or fighting over politics.

**********

 I spend every September 11 thanking God for my life and the people in it, and for the fact that I live in the United States.

Thank you to our troops. Thank you to our firefighters and police officers and emergency personnel. Thank you for those who have sacrificed and those whose lives have been lost.

Help me understand

22 Aug

This post has been knocking around in my head for years. And every time I try to write it, I get stuck because I don’t want to make judgments about something I don’t understand and I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But it won’t go away and I suppose the only way to get rid of it is to get it out.

I know you’re never supposed to start a blog post or a blog comment with the words “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way….” but that’s how I have to start this one. I hope no one takes this the wrong way. This is not a criticism of anyone. It is not me trying to pigeon-hole or judge people unfairly. I am not trying to make a blanket statement about everyone in this situation. This is me, honestly and wholeheartedly, trying to understand something I haven’t experienced. I hope that I manage to write it in a way that conveys that and not in a way that upsets anyone.

**********

Shortly after my brother died, I was having a conversation with someone who is a rather large part of  my life. This person was going on and on about their brother and how he drives them crazy and they can’t stand him sometimes and the brother is just so annoying.

I wanted to lash out and scream at this person. I wanted to make them understand what they had right in front of them, and that I would give anything to be annoyed by my brother. But I didn’t say anything because I understand that people get annoyed by their family members and just because my brother died doesn’t mean that everyone else in the world has to automatically love and appreciate their siblings no matter what.

I tell you this story because I want to make it clear that I understand what it’s like to have something or someone unfairly ripped from my life and then have to go on and watch other people take that very thing for granted. I understand the anger that is, at times, all but impossible to ignore, and directed at people who don’t really have any control over my own loss. I understand that when things happen that aren’t right, that go against everything we hope and dream for as humans, it is a struggle not to lash out at every single person around you that doesn’t understand what you’ve lost.

**********

My pregnancy with Tessa was a very lonely time for me. My two closest friends were dealing with some awful and heartbreaking infertility issues and I didn’t feel like it was fair to call them up and complain and/or be excited about my pregnancy. I only talked about it if they asked or if I had something pretty generic to tell them. I felt like I was walking on eggshells because I didn’t want to inadvertently upset them.

This is not to say that they made me feel that way. They did not. Not once. I had some very open and honest conversations about it with both of them. I explained that I was scared of offering too much information and, in turn, upsetting them. They assured me  (because they are awesome and wonderful people) that, while yes, it hurt, and some days it would be hard to hear about, that they loved me, loved my baby, and wanted to hear all about it. But I could hear in the undercurrent of their words that it hurt more than they could let on. And of course it did – I totally understood. 

What I struggled with was convincing myself that the fact that it hurt them was not a reflection on me and it wasn’t my fault. (Again- they did NOT make me feel that way – I was over-thinking the whole thing).  It was just the nature of the situation and I would have given anything for these two amazing women that I love like crazy not to have been dealing with it.

But I still held back. And it sucked. Pregnancy is definitely a time when you need to be surrounded by friends, complaining about how much your back hurts or how often you  have to pee. Not to mention, these are girls I share everything with and I wasn’t able to do that. It was a pressure I, admittedly, put on myself, but it was there all the same. I missed them, to be just plain honest about it. 

I tell you this story because I want to make it clear that these women taught me so much about strength and courage and what it is like to struggle with infertility (NOT saying that I understand it, because I haven’t been through it, just that they helped me understand a little more). They showed me what bravery and determination is. The kind of bravery and determination I don’ t think I possess. They taught me that when you’re struggling with infertility, it does feel like the world is shoving into your face everything you don’t have – and that is a truly awful way to feel. Every mom-centered TV show or magazine, every unfit mother pregnant with her sixth kid who doesn’t care for the first five, every baby shower and baby announcement is a kick in the gut.

They handled it with grace and courage and I am so proud and thankful to call them my friends. Now they both have perfect little babies and our conversations are primarily centered around sleep (or lack thereof), poop, and our annoying wonderful husbands.

The rest of this post is in no way, shape, or form about them. I just wanted to make it clear that I’m not totally ignorant about this topic.

**********

I’ve been reading blogs for three years now. Some of the first blogs I discovered were infertility blogs. I was awed by the courage of these amazing women who were facing such heartbreaking struggle and loss. I was stunned by how many times they found the strength to try again. Countless times I cried in front of my computer screen for the babies they wanted so desperately. It was unfair.

But something I didn’t understand (and this is where I take a deep breath) is the undercurrent of vitriol in some of their words. Not the anger – I get the anger. But the hate that they very clearly expressed toward pregnant/parenting people shocked me.

I’ll never forget reading a blog in which the person admitted that when someone (it was a sister-in-law or friend or cousin or something) announced their pregnancy, that they could barely keep themselves from punching them in the face and that they wouldn’t be sad if this person lost the baby because then they would understand what it felt like.

I don’t understand that. At all. How can you so blatantly hate someone, simply because they have something you want?

I just don’t think that every baby or pregnancy centered thing out there, whether it be on the internet, TV, with friends and family or whatever, is some kind of personal attack and that all the “fertiles” are trying to make the “infertiles” feel like less than a woman, or somehow inadequate. I can certainly understand how it might initially feel that way – anger and grief make us super-sensitive, obviously, and I’m not faulting anyone for having those feelings (I feel the same way when people complain about their siblings) but to wish bad things upon that person? I don’t get that. I would never hope that someone else would lose their brother so they could understand my pain. It’s the exact opposite, in fact – I hope that I am forever lonely in my grief, so that no one else has to experience a loss like mine.

It just seems like that kind of vitriol is an effort to make the people with children feel badly that we haven’t struggled with infertility and that we should keep quiet about our pregnancies/babies in order not to make someone else feel badly. I don’t think that’s fair. It can’t be personal every time because not everyone in the world can know that someone is struggling with infertility. It’s one thing if we know someone is struggling with infertility. Then we do have a responsibility to tread lightly and put ourselves in that woman’s shoes. But there are a lot of moms out there  and there are going to be a lot of mom-centered internet campaigns and books and magazines and blogs and so on.

And just to be clear, I absolutely do not think that the particularly hateful blogs I read are indicative of the  infertility blogging community as a whole – not at all, not even close. But I also don’t know how pervasive it is. Do people hate me when I talk about my kids? Should I make an effort to minimize how much I talk about them?

So this is where I need your help, Internet.

Am I missing something here? It is impossible for me to understand, not having been through it?

Is it singular to just those few blogs I read? Is it because their blogs are their “safe” place to let out all of their feelings, good, bad, or ugly? (And for the record, lest you say, “If you don’t like it, don’t read it.” I did stop reading the ones that I found particularly hate-filled.) Should I not judge what may simply someone’s brutally honest account of struggling with infertility?

If you are someone who has struggled with infertility and you have felt this way, will you tell me about it? Is it just so all-consuming that everything does feel like a personal attack? Do you really think that when people talk about their children or their pregnancies that they are doing it purposefully, to hurt your feelings? And moreover, if that is a pervasive feeling among those who struggle with infertility, how can I, as someone who hasn’t dealt with it, help and be more sensitive?

Am I complete asshole for even questioning these woman’s reactions to such an emotionally-charged topic?

To my nephew

11 Aug

As I watch you hurl rocks into a river or play t-ball, it stops my breath. The turn of your foot, the cock of your arm, the strength and power and decisiveness with which you thrw and run and swing the bat is like stepping back in time 17 years and laying eyes on my brother. You look exactly like him. I can pretend I’m seeing him again. For an instant I let myself believe that I am watching him move and breathe and live.

It takes only a moment for the illusion to fade and for the pain and longing to rush back with an intensity that still shocks me, five years later. It is unbearable knowing that you will never stare into his face and see your eyes mirrored back to you, never stand side by side and throw rocks or baseballs and realize that your grace and agility come from him.

Your hair is blonde and your smile is your mom’s. You are more cautious than he was, stopping to think of the danger before you plow ahead. But your eyes are his deep, dark brown. Your skinny body with defined muscles is just as wiry as his was. You love animals and you coo over babies and you are kind to everyone you meet.  

You are a glimpse through a window we thought was slammed shut five years ago. You allow us, for a moment, to catch a glimpse of him, to see more of him than can be captured in a photograph or revisited in our memories. I look at you and I wonder how you can be so much like him, when you have no memories of him to call your own.

I hope that our memories are enough for you. I hope that through our eyes, you can see that you are your daddy’s boy.

Happy Birthday

27 Jul

Today, you would have been 26.

Today, you should be 26.

I miss you every second of every day.

I hope you got the birthday card Nolan sent to heaven with an angel.

Today, I will try to laugh, as I know you would want me to do.

Happy Birthday, my sweet, angel brother. I love you so much.

Background Noise

16 Jun

I grew up in St. Louis.

I played volleyball in grade school.

I’ve known my husband my whole life.

I am, generally, a democrat.

I have a small birthmark on the right side of my chin.

These are all facts about me. Some more important than others, but they are things that are always there. I might not think about them every day and they might not be obvious to anyone else, but they’re there. And they’re harmless. These things are simply part of what makes me the person I am.

My brother was killed in a car accident when he was 20.

Grief is the same as those other things. It also makes me who I am. But it’s not harmless. 

I don’t know if it’s because I lost my brother when he was too young, or if it’s because I lost him violently and tragically – maybe it’s the same for anyone who has lost someone close to them- but my grief hums in the background of my life, simultaneously silent and ear-splittingly loud.

No one else can hear it, but I can. It’s always there. It clouds every interaction I have and every decision I make. I can say with complete honesty that I think about my brother, and the fact that he’s gone, at least every five minutes of every day. And when I’m not actively, consciously thinking about it? It’s still there. A nagging, chanting voice.

It is a constant, painful, and shitty companion.

***************************************************************************************************************

Last weekend was my 10 year high school reunion. The weirdness of that is material for another post. But one of the people I saw there is a friend of mine I have known since grade school. She lost her twin brother in an accident very similar to the one that took my brother.

She had a baby recently and in the middle of a discussion we were having about diapers and breastfeeding and going back to work she looked at me, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes, and said,

“God Kristina I miss him. I want him here. I never expected that having a baby would make me miss him so fucking much.”

I stopped breathing for a second. It sneaks up on you, this fucking pain. Because as unprepared as she was for it to hurt when she had a baby, I was equally unprepared for her to put into words something I’ve been feeling since the day my son was born and everyday since.

And for the reminder of it to practically bring me to my knees in the middle of a bar.

***************************************************************************************************************

I expect the holidays to suck. I expect it to hurt when I watch his son and my son swimming and playing at the place we spent every Memorial Day weekend. When his son looks at me and says something with an expression on his face that is so like his father that it tightens my chest and knots my stomach, it doesn’t surprise me.

I know there will be days when I miss him so much I don’t want to get out of bed. I know that having to explain to my children why and how he died will not be easy. I anticipate the day when his son wants to know more about his dad and I have to find a way to put into words what was my brother’s light and kindness and love.

***************************************************************************************************************

It’s the surprise that is so unfair. I don’t anticipate that a song on the radio will make me cry. I can’t plan for a days-long tailspin after I hear about a car accident that didn’t even involve anyone I know. My husband can’t understand why I snapped at him on the same day I overheard someone bitching and moaning about their brother when I would give anything to fight with mine.

I never knew that having my kids, while it is the greatest joy of my life, is also the worst pain. Not only does it just totally suck that they will never know my brother, but because now that I know what it’s like to love a child of my own, I can also imagine what it would be like to lose them. And looking into the faces of my parents, seeing it first-hand, etched there permanently like the markings on a tombstone, adds a fire and a screaming pitch to the background noise of my grief that is almost too much to bear. My imagination gets away from me and I am forced to consider the unthinkable.

You can never move on. You can never get away. The wound is cut freshly open every time something brings the grief to the surface. Your mind is never silent. Never still. The background noise is always there. You can never, ever heal.

I’d much rather have some annoying elevator muzak.