Monthly Archives: November 2013

Different

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This week began the “holiday season”…Thanksgiving and the rush of Christmas consumerism. I have heard from many that (and I quote) “holidays are hard when you’ve lost someone”. That, right there, is the biggest understatement I have ever heard. Throughout the week, as we prepared for the day, I felt really very removed from the process. I shopped for turkey and sweet potatoes. I thought about how to honor our son and his life. I thought about my deep gratitude for that life and for being chosen to be his mom. I worked, though somewhat halfheartedly. In all honesty, I kind of checked out mentally. I guess I needed to.

The holidays have always been my favorite time of year. I love the preparation, the decorating, the hunt for the perfect gift, the food, the festivities…and the people. I love all of it. Sean says I am kind of obnoxious in my enjoyment. I always told him that the holidays are a time of magic…when the best parts of our nature come out (ok, sometimes the worst part comes out on Black Friday, but I choose to ignore that!). People are in a generous mood…they want to give…it makes me smile every time I see a bell ringer or a donation box for the local shelters, etc. It reminds me of all the good in humanity. I think we all need that reinforcement after a long year of life. I sure do.

This year, however, I feel a little like an observer in my own life. A visitor, who is looking at all the comings and goings and understands the expectation but doesn’t have the heart for it. I have absolutely no interest in the hustle and bustle. Not a bit. I have seen that good in so many ways over the last few months…that pure, unselfish giving. It has been beautiful. But now, I am tired. Exhausted really. I am having a very hard time holding on to the good or searching it out. The forced merriment of the holiday season seems completely at odds with how I am feeling. I have moments of joy, moments of happiness. I like those moments. But, I do not have it in me to celebrate. I just don’t. I don’t want to decorate. I don’t want to bake. I don’t want to shop. I don’t want to be thankful. I want to stay home and wrap myself up in a cozy blanket with Sean and look at pictures of my son and be sad…or happy…or angry…or whatever I am feeling at that moment. But I don’t want to go out and be overwhelmed by the gaiety of it all…it feels harsh and pushes against my tender heart.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. It was also 2 months to the day that we had to let Bennie go. We went to our family. We cooked. We had moments of happiness and laughter. We had moments of sadness and tears. We visited Bennie after dinner. We lit candles on his grave. We each wrote something we are thankful for and put the notes in a box and shared our thanks giving with him. Sean and I stood there, in the cold, and it was like the day had just happened. It was that deep, soul shaking, wailing kind of grief that sat with us as we talked to our son. I looked around and thought to myself, “It is so hard to be thankful when you are standing in a graveyard.” Because, in reality, I am SO extraordinarily grateful. So grateful to have been chosen to be Benton’s mom. So grateful for every single minute we got to spend with him. So grateful that I got to learn how much I could really love someone and how pure and good life can be. And I suppose, because of all of those things, it makes it harder to be without the one who taught them to me.

So, these holidays are going to be hard. Harder than I expected. I think I’ll go through the motions because they are familiar. I will participate as much or as little as I can. I will hang a few ornaments on our ficus tree and be OK with that. I will let the love of our family and friends surround us and understand that it will not be enough. I hope they will too. This is a private journey…I know many are on it with us in one way or another. I hope they can find their way through while we work on ours. I will allow myself to be an observer and not engage in the things that overwhelm my senses. Maybe one day, in a year, or two, or ten, I will want to do it all again…but if I don’t, that’s OK too. I think the loss of Bennie has taught me that the change that we so desperately didn’t want came anyway…we couldn’t stop it…and we can’t hold on to it too hard either. Because that change shifted every single thing about our lives. And we have to figure out what we want this “new” life to be. It might not include the things we once loved or that once fulfilled us. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be beautiful. It will just be different.

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Memory and thanks

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Today I woke up and wished, more than anything, that I could touch Bennie’s face. Very specific. Very focused. Not his feet. Not his hands. But, particularly, his little round cheeks. I am not sure why. Maybe I was dreaming of him. I don’t remember. I just know that I wanted that more than anything. It was a very poignant kind of wish…knowing I couldn’t do it, but wanting it nonetheless. These moments, I think, are printed on my memory and sometimes they just want a physical outlet. I think part of it was spending time yesterday holding and snuggling my cute little niece, who is 4 months old. Yesterday was the benefit that our friends and neighbors put together for us. I was completely freaked out about it beforehand…and a little during. My way of coping was to grab onto Hazel, because she is so sweet and cozy and comforting to me…and she is also really really cute, so when people came to talk to me I had something (someone) to distract them with. I didn’t really realize I was doing that until part way through the day. But, it worked, so that was good. It was, overall, an amazing day. Overwhelming. Full of love. Full of heartfelt and beautiful gestures. Like a big hug from your grandpa…but with your weird uncle lurking in the living room. I mean this in the nicest possible way. Because, even that weird uncle has a perfectly beautiful heart and is well meaning, despite his awkwardness. I got to talk to so many people. I got many hugs. I heard a story that was so similar to ours that my heart swelled to breaking but then felt at peace because, even in this crowd, there was someone who understood. It was, I think, the only 15 minutes of the day that I really could breathe without thinking. When we got home, we were both exhausted. But so very, very grateful. This is a gratitude that goes above and beyond something that can be explained in words. This is a gratitude of the soul. What a gift it is to know these people. What a gift it is to be held up by them when we fall into our grief and push our way back to life, a little at a time. IN this week of thanks giving, we have much to give thanks for…but it is a challenge, sometimes, to focus on the good. Even when literally presented with the good in a school full of people there to support you…sometimes, it’s hard.

After making my way through the day, I came home still wishing…still needing to find an outlet. So, I got the shadowbox that has been sitting in the entryway out. And I found the things we and the hospital staff had gathered…bracelets and hats and booties and baptism certificates and foot and handprints in clay and such. And I put them together there, in that shadowbox, those physical things that had touched Bennie. I found the locks of hair we cut before we had to leave him and placed them in a locket around my neck. I found the box I had purchased to hold the ashes we kept and placed them in it. In these ways, I found a way to “touch” him. It’s not the same. It’s not as good. It’s not as soft or as sweet. But, it did help. Some. While I did all of these things and thought about the day yesterday, I thought about Bennie and how I remember him. I thought about the memory of his physical body…the weight, the smell, the touch. That was what I needed today. In this week of thanks, I am working on being thankful for those memories. They are good. They are strong. They are full of a lot of joy, really. But sometimes, oh sometimes…I really wish I could hold him.

Grace

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This week, we’ve been working toward a benefit that our many friends are putting on for us to help defray medical costs. Now, without meaning to sound ungrateful, I don’t want a benefit. I don’t want it. I want a baby. In my arms. In my home. In my life. The only reason this benefit is happening is because I don’t have that baby. It sucks. Period. End of story.

However, having said all of that, this support is an amazing thing…from the very first week after Bennie’s birth, we’ve had an enormous outpouring of love and the question, “What can I do?”. Many have done things, big and small, already. So many that I cannot begin to explain the feelings of gratitude. This benefit is the culmination of the big…silent auction and bakesale and free will lunch and inflatable obstacle course and t-shirts and bracelets…really big. It is amazing. It is beautiful. It is the very best of people, the heart of our hometown, the embrace of people from many counties in one day. It is completely and totally overwhelming.

Having been on the other side of benefits, I always have understood the reasons…the need to help, the need to find purpose in a difficult situation, the need to provide practical support, the need to meet a goal. I have organized. I have asked for donations. I have baked. I have sold. I have served. I have set up and cleaned up and gone home, feeling content. Feeling like I had been a small part of a larger good. And it does feel good, to come together as a community, to rally around that person or those people…it is one of the very basic parts of our humanity…to help each other. It is the very best parts of us that come forward in those moments to uplift those who need it.

Being on the receiving side of a benefit is a whole different animal in many ways. It is still purpose filled (we have LOTS of medical bills, and practically, we have to pay them). It is uplifting to see the effort and the generosity and the enormous hearts and willing bodies. It is something that, from a spiritual point of view, makes you understand and realize the idea of “spirit”…this freely given emotional embrace that wraps around you when you least expect it and makes you feel like you will get through it…whatever it might be. That even if you don’t feel “strong” enough, you are somehow. Because of the energy around you. The love, in a broader sense…the love that is bigger than you individually or as a couple or as a family. It makes you acknowledge that…and soak it all in.

I think the hard part is grace. The hard part, in our very Midwestern frame of mind, is to get past and let go of our own pride and say, “Yes, I need your help. I do.” And then, to accept it, knowing full well you can never repay in kind. No matter how long you live or how hard you try. And that each and every person that is offering that help would never expect you to. Grace…(in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. It seems that, throughout this journey so far, I have spent a lot of time fighting against grace…because, it seemed to me that I had done nothing to deserve it. Sometimes, it feels like perhaps grace had left me…that the bestowal of blessings was lost when we lost Bennie. But, of course, that was a basic reaction to grief…that somehow, your life is over and nothing good will come of it because you have lost that person. It is what is easiest to embrace in those deep, dark, soul searching moments of loss. It is much harder, and takes much longer (for the rest of our lives, maybe), to embrace the idea that in fact, those moments of loss in fact are our most grace filled. It is when we are the closest to life, those minutes of last breath. I listened to a story today about a man in Great Britain who learned he had a fatal diagnosis…and in the last 6 weeks of life asked a friend to document his experience of what he called the “death zone”. He said that in those last days he felt the most alive, the most connected that he ever had…that he finally understood that the miracle of breath coming into the bodies of his daughters at birth was the same as the miracle of breath leaving his father’s body as he died. I never could figure out how to explain that, but it is so true. It just happens that our moments of grace with Bennie were very close together. And therefore, compounded…without the space that one usually have in a life to adjust to the idea. So, some of the struggle of this week is that…to remember the grace of his life and his death and to understand that this outpouring of love and support from our community is a piece of that grace in our daily life. It’s tricky. And brings up a lot of memories/moments that are beautiful but painful. But, I am doing my best to accept the blessings, even if my little stoic Scandinavian heart wants to resist. I’m working on it. And, I hope on that day, I will be able to be there, really be there…full of Bennie’s grace. I think I can borrow some. He won’t mind.
GRACE!

Birth(days)

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Yesterday was my birthday. I have always loved birthdays, mine and everyone elses. I think it is so important to celebrate another year of life. To embrace the joy that you came into the world. To embrace the love of the people around you and tell them how much you love them in return. To take some time to stop and reflect on the year you have had and look forward to the next one. I have always said, when asked why I love birthdays, that I strongly believe that it is always better than the alternative. I said this in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Until this year. I didn’t say that this year. But I felt it more than ever.

This year, birthdays are hard. We found out we were not going to get to keep Bennie with us the day of Sean’s birthday. A devastating day that had started with such hope (he finally was able to get the scan we’d been waiting for to tell us what was “wrong” and how we could fix it). The day of my birthday, we celebrated my niece’s baptism. This was a blessed event, full of all the things it should be. Family tradition (she wore the baptism dress created by my great-grandmother and worn by my grandmother, my mother, and my sister and I), welcome into a church family, pictures, cake. It was a beautiful service full of music and joy and loving people. It was followed up with dinner in the church basement and cake at their home. They also had a birthday cake. My other niece, who is 3, shouted “Happy Birthday!” many times to me over the course of the day. And, I wanted so much to celebrate with them. And I did, as much as I was able. I squeezed her tight and smiled as she cooed and kicked and looked around the church with searching eyes, taking in all the people. My heart filled with so much love when she wore Bennie’s baptism hat and posed for pictures. I laughed when I saw the bright striped tights she was wearing underneath that beautiful old dress. I helped cut the cakes and serve the coffee. But oh, it was hard. Harder than I thought it might be. Because all of these things I had wished for our son. Benton had his own baptism, when he was 18 days old. It was performed by the hospital chaplain. What I really remember most about that day was how extraordinarily present Benton was…he was alert, awake, looking at everyone and soaking it all in. He was, despite all the tubes and noise and struggle, the calmest, most perfect baby full of peace and joy…for hours and hours. Many family members were able to join us. The room was full of such love, like I had never felt before. A lovely nurse came and took some beautiful photos for us. It was amazing, in so many ways, the feeling in that space. I can close my eyes and remember it, like an embrace around me. We welcomed him into the kingdom of God, knowing full well he would be joining it so much sooner than any of us wanted. It was heartwarming and breathtaking in it’s beauty. And heartbreaking and breathtaking in light of our coming loss. And all of that came roaring back yesterday, in a place so far removed from that sterile hospital room, yet so close it made my head spin.

I know there will be many more of these moments as the years go by. I want to make sure I embrace them, because feelings those things brings me closer to Bennie, even if they hurt. I want to make sure I embrace them because seeing our niece, so close in age to our son, will help me remember him. I want to embrace them, even if they are hard, so that I don’t become embittered by loss but instead hold on to the miracle of life. Bennie’s life was such a miracle in so many ways. We could have lost him and came close to losing him so many times in the month he was with us. I understand that and praise God everyday for the hours and even the minutes we were given with him. His birth, 31 hours of labor, pain, and unexpected surgery, was without question the happiest day of my life. Seeing him, lifted up, crying with life, was something I will hold in my heart forever. So, even though my birthday was different this year than it has been, I need to remember that birth, no matter the outcome, is such an amazing gift. And we should celebrate it, even if its hard. Even if how we think about it changes.

So, we celebrated as best we could. And we visited Bennie in the cemetery and cried. And we went out for supper and we used the birthday money to buy someone’s supper in honor of our son. And then, I ran to the car and cried some more. Which, weirdly, felt cleansing and good after the tension of the day. I worked hard to embrace it all, to live in the moment when really all I wanted to do was curl up. Because birth(days) are a miracle, every one of them. Every…single…one.

Therapeutic days…and nights

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So, today I had my first formal therapy session. I wasn’t so sure about it, not because I don’t understand the value of therapy but because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it through the rest of the day if I had to go and talk about things right away in the morning. I woke up in slow motion after a night of restless sleep and made myself go do some errands before I went to the clinic. I got there and, as expected, my therapist was lovely and a good listener and within minutes of getting in there, the tears had started and pretty much didn’t stop for the next hour. It was exhausting. It was healing. It was hard. It was good. I’m going again next week.

Then, I went to the restroom and looked at my red rimmed eyes and thought, “Hmm…I am not so very sure I am presentable enough to go to work.” But, to work I went. And when I got there the ladies had cake and cards and gifts for me for my birthday this weekend…and we sat and we talked about every and anything…and I realized that I am very lucky to work where I do because those ladies are also good listeners…and they make me smile. So, even though I don’t always want to go to work these days, I am glad I get to go to work where I do when I have to.

After work, it was raining and cold and gray and I was feeling a little restless…Sean is gone overnight and so I was not in a hurry to go home…I dropped off some donations at the local animal shelter, I ordered some photos to be printed, I stopped for gas at a funny truckstop, I got the mail…and pretty soon I was home and I have spent the evening in the quiet…no TV, no radio…just me and the cats and my book (which I actually have read for about 30 minutes at a time…progress!). I have, up until now, rather dreaded the quiet nighttime. It is often a hard time of the day because work is over and tasks are complete and my brain drifts more pointedly toward my grief. Sometimes, it is welcome and my mind fills with memories and thoughts of Bennie that bring a smile to my face and peace to my heart. Other times, it is rough and my mind fill with memories and thoughts of Bennie that bring tears to my eyes. Often, it is in between those two. I realized a few days ago that I needed to do something about his room…to make it a good space, full of the hope that was intended for it rather than the kind of lingering sadness and piles of stuff I don’t want to deal with that it has become. So, I took the frames from his walls that we intended to fill with pictures of baseball players and family shots…and I filled them with pictures of him. His red hair and the dimples in his knuckles and his chubby cheeks when he was laying on his belly and his bright eyes and funny curly toes. I put the many prayer shawls and devotional books we’ve gotten and a candle there. I put a photo of him being baptized on the table. I put his stuffed animals in his crib. And every morning since, I have sat in the rocker I recovered to rock him to sleep. And I wrap myself in one of those hand-knit shawls and I read my devotional and I thank God for another day and I ask for his help through it. Sometimes, I sit for a while and just look at those pictures and that room that was supposed to be so full of life. I and realize, little by little, that it still is. Just in a different form than I expected. The calm and joy of this room allows me to grieve in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. It allows me to embrace all the things that I had hoped for and understand that while I have to let those dreams go, perhaps there are others that can help me keep Bennie’s spirit alive. It’s a good place to cry. It’s a good place to smile. There is still a closet full of stuff that I don’t know what to do with. There is still a crib and a changing table and a dresser that sit empty. But, I think, there is also a glimmer of goodness. A glimmer of hope.

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Reaquaintance

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These past few weeks I have been working my way back to “normal”life…meaning work and social gatherings and daily tasks. One thing I guess I did not anticipate is that, in many ways, it seems like I am having to get reaquainted with my own life.  Things that used to get me worked up or worried seem unimportant now.  Other things that did NOT bother me before now do.  It often feels like I am meeting people for the first time all over again because they are so worried they will say the wrong thing or that I am going to be hyper-sensitive that our conversations feel stilted and awkward.  Or, they have not heard the news and are congratulatory and then I have to say, well Bennie actually passed away…and then they are traumatized and I do not have the capacity to handle that and so I have to walk away or shrug it off and then we both end up feeling like shit. Anyhow, everything that used to make sense doesn’t. So, I end up having no idea what to feel about it. Unsettled. Off kilter. Like a stranger in my own life. I am less patient and more quickly frustrated. I am not discontent but not quite content. It scrambles my brain, really. And I don’t like it. Mostly because I had gotten pretty comfortable in my little ordinary life. I liked it. And now, even though I understand that discomfort can help you grow, I don’t want to make a whole new life. I want my old one back. And I can’t have it. Because with Bennie, I had a vision of what my nice comfortable life would be…how it would grow. And without him, I don’t have that. Just a lot of confusion. Some days, that’s really hard. Today is one of those days.

Brave

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Today is Veterans Day. All over the news and all over social media, people are posting beautiful sentiments about sacrifice and freedom and bravery. I echo those sentiments. I have studied the history, I have looked at the helmets and uniforms and read the stories. I have nephews in active service. I have often found myself thinking about how young these men and women were and are. How, at 18 or 20 they enlist, for a variety of reasons, and how many of them do not come home. This year, I have been thinking a lot about their families…those mothers and fathers who support their children knowing full well that they may lose them. I wonder how many of those young men and women go and are faced with things they never wanted to see and become brave because of circumstance…that it is thrust upon them and they must react. I wonder this about their parents as well. I will never know the answer, but I can guess. There is a pride in service, a family connection, a way toward a better future…many reasons they go. For those who do come home, there is a shift in their worldview, a shift in their mind and in their heart. It is often hard and society is not always kind. They are not allowed space or support to return to “normal” life. For those who do not come home, their families face many of the same challenges. Death is often harder on the living. It’s a reality that we don’t like to face. It’s a bravery we don’t often feel.

As we’ve been making our way, day by day, through our journey of loss I often think about this idea of “bravery”. Giving yourself for a cause greater than your own individual life is something I would struggle with. I am amazed and humbled by those who do it. I am not sure I could. Giving your child for this same cause is an overwhelming idea to me. Those parents, they are brave in the true sense of the word…”possessing or displaying courage”. I feel, most days, that bravery is illusive. I am mostly full of fear…fear that I am not strong enough, fear that I am not going to find happiness and that if I do I will never get over the guilt that I feel for laughing, fear that I have lost my passion and may never find it again, fear that I have lost my joy, fear that I will not find my way out of this grief. But, I know these are all irrational. It doesn’t matter. I feel them anyway. I am stumbling to find my bravery. It’s a tricky road, full of rocks and hard edges. I wonder, on days like today, if this grief that feels so much like fear is really actually my own way of pushing back against the pull of bravery. I don’t want to be brave. I’d rather be quiet and careful. It’s easier. It’s more comforting. It is nothing like what those who have served and their families face. But, maybe it’s not completely foreign, because really, we must all find our purpose…we must all find our life. Even if we are afraid.

I read something today that finally, after so many days of aimless sadness, sunk in. It said, “Think with purpose. Act with mission. You will survive this.” OK. I will. I just need to find my brave.

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