Posts from October 2009.

Numbers

WeighIn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna was 9 pounds 0.6 ounces when she was born. 18.5 inches long. She was in the 90th percentile for weight, 25th for height. She has one sister, one brother, six grandparents, four godparents, seven uncles, five aunts and four cousins. She got 1 ml of propranolol every six hours. She spent 80 beautiful days with us. She was 11.5 weeks old when we lost her. Today, she would have been 171 days old … almost six months. She has two parents who will never, ever forget her.

There are a lot of numbers that I know about Anna. But ultimately, the number that I can’t get away from is three.

“How many children do you have?”

Several people who had also lost children told me this would be a difficult question to answer throughout my life. So I thought about it in advance. How would I answer? I told myself I would always answer “three: two on earth, one in heaven.” I coached Henry to always answer that he has two sisters, one on earth, one in heaven. And for Nora, one brother on earth, one sister in heaven. I even practice with Henry: “Henry, do you have a big sister?” “Yes. Nora!” “Do you have a little sister?” “Yes. Anna!”

But like most things related to loss of this magnitude, it is not always that easy. Here’s the part I didn’t anticipate: If someone is asking me how many children I have, he or she probably doesn’t know me that well. Probably, we have just met. Likely, I’m at work. So … do I go from small talk right into the depth of my most agonizing pain?

It is like going straight from the handshake, not letting go and pulling that person off the bridge with me. It doesn’t seem fair. But not talking about Anna – lying and saying two – that is not fair to Anna. And it feels so wrong.

Let me give you an example of how this goes. I was at a work function a few weeks ago. The event was the culmination of a relationship I had been working on before I went out on maternity leave. The guests of honor were Mickey Mantle’s two surviving sons, David and Danny. I worked most closely with their lawyer but had been on calls with the Mantles a few times.

I walked over and introduced myself to David. I said, “It was so nice to return from my leave and see that this event worked out so well.” David, “Maternity leave?” Me, “Yes.” David, “Well that’s just wonderful. A boy or a girl?” Me, “A girl.” “You must not be getting much sleep these days.” Me, “Well, uh, it’s kind of a sad story. We lost her.” And you can imagine how it went from there.

So … how to answer the question. How to honor Anna, be true to myself, but not jump off the bridge with complete strangers. I guess figuring it out has to do with the last part. Not jumping off the bridge. There is an immediate, biological and permanent, permanent  bond that forms between mother and baby — that formed between Anna and me. Death does not erase it. I don’t expect that I will ever be “over” losing my precious girl. But I am trying to absorb her life and her loss into who I am. Trying find strength from it. Some days I can, some I can’t. But I am trying. I am trying not to let her memories, her life pull me into a morass of pain but to lift me up. So …

“Three. Two on earth. One in heaven.”

And I’ll try to shake your hand … and just walk across the bridge.

Gaps


Sweet Anna's final resting place

Sweet Anna's final resting place

Henry signs balloon as Nora looks on

Henry signs balloon as Nora looks on

We released the balloons with messages for Anna Maxine

We released the balloons with messages for Anna Maxine

A sad and happy day

A sad and happy day

Kids in the hole

Kids in the hole

The tree crew -- Dad, Luke, Steve, Gabe, Grant, Bryan & Chris

The tree crew -- Dad, Luke, Steve, Gabe, Grant, Bryan & Chris

Colorado Blue Spruce

Colorado Blue Spruce

Those we have held in our arms for a little while we hold in our hearts forever.

Those we have held in our arms for a little while we hold in our hearts forever.

There are holes in every language, when there is no single term that applies – sometimes for novel things: what is the sound a cell phone makes when a call is received? And the word “ringtone” is invented. But there are other things that have never been named. When language fails us in this way, it is called a lexical gap. Sometimes the lack of a word says more about our society than its presence. For instance, there is a word to describe a child who has lost her parents: orphan. The word for a remaining spouse is widow or widower. But there is no single word in English to describe a parent who has lost a child. A lexical gap.

My friend, Betty, is a counselor. In the course of her work she hears a lot of devastating things. Beautiful girls who cut themselves. Young boys in abusive homes. And so she can’t just pull up a chair at Starbucks and start talking about her day – not because she can’t bear the retelling but because we can’t bear hearing it. She protects us from a little bit of the horror of the world.

In the same way, people who have experienced devastating grief – I can only speak about losing a child – have to protect those around us. And that is probably the root of this particular lexical gap.

During Anna’s short life, she connected meaningfully with many people. In particular, our close group of friends who we see regularly. When we lost her, we were all – we are all – united in mourning. We all lost Anna.

But a parent’s grief is uniquely devastating. And while Steve and I cope and adapt and endure, the suffering is steady. It is too much to reveal to the world. Not because I cannot bear the sharing but because others don’t deserve to be exposed to that kind of pain. When I write and reread this, it sounds like I’m standing on a precipice. I’m not. I don’t mean to imply that this grief is completely debilitating.

It’s just that I can imagine that it could take over if I wasn’t forced to protect others. If I didn’t have to act normal sometimes – and therefore start to become normal – for Nora, for Henry, for my job … maybe I would never get there. By protecting others, I am, in a way, also protecting myself.

And so, this lexical gap in our language and this physical gap in our lives coincide. There is no word for a parent who has lost a child. There are no words to describe our grief. There is just … a gap.

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Last Saturday, on October 10 at 10 a.m., we held Anna’s committal ceremony at Village Lutheran Church. Her body was cremated in August but it wasn’t until now that the mason could open the column where her remains would be placed and the brass plaque with her name was completed and delivered. It was a small and informal ceremony – we sang camp songs because I’m sure Anna would have loved camp – and then went back to our house, where we planted dozens of bulbs. More exciting, we planted a beautiful, eight-foot Colorado Blue Spruce. It looks like a Christmas tree in the corner of our yard. It is amazing. And the feat to plant it was Herculean.

Let me just say, Steve, Grant, Chris, Brian, Luke and Gabe, she really did look smaller on the lot among all of her tall friends. And although it gave me some pause when it took three men and a forklift to place it in our car, I thought, how heavy can it really be? So when Steve and I got it out of the van on our own, I was pretty sure the five of you would be able to carry it up the stairs and across the lawn without too much trouble. And, yes, I am sorry I didn’t think about covering the root ball with a tarp for the 12 straight hours of rain that preceded the big event – adding, conservatively, 100 pounds or so. I would also be remiss if I didn’t issue an open apology to VLC for bending the wheel of the dolly that was rated for 600 pounds. (Don’t worry, Steve already fixed it.)

But did I mention that the tree is beautiful? And that I love it? Because it is. And I do.

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