Thursday, January 29, 2015

At times it feels like life started for me on July 19th, 2011.  And, in some ways, it did.  There have been many, many pivotal times that came before that date - but none that so fully changed the entire makeup of my being like that one day and all of the days that have come since.  The memories of my life before that date often feel like the memories of a stranger - as if I'd read them in a book or seen them in a movie.  I know that they exist, but I have a hard time reconciling the truth of the fact that they actually belong to me.  I know that on the surface, there is so little difference between the old me and the new me but the fact is that every little piece of me has been permanently changed.  And so oddly, only the memories that have existed over the past 3 and a half years feel like they are really mine.  They are the only memories I "own".  I have spent countless hours of my time trying to analyze what this is all about and why this is how I feel, but I don't come up with much that makes sense.  Only that that other person, the one I was, is someone I hardly know now and so her memories are just that - hers.  To me they are like stories told by an old friend - and what is most troubling about it for me is that Max's chapter belongs to her (and not me). 

Mo's favorite things

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mo's teachers had all of the kids tell them all about themselves. The answers to the questions they asked were posted on the walls of the classroom as a surprise for the parents who visited the school last night for Back to School night. This was just too awesome not to share:

Mo's First Week of Preschool

Friday, January 9, 2015

This week was monumental at our house - but I mostly think that every time Mo passes a new milestone it is monumental.  Maybe that is just how all parents feel (I think they do).  Maybe it also has to do with him passing milestones that I remember dreaming about for Max, that he never got to (I think it is that too).  Mo started preschool this week.  He went every day until 1 pm.  It is the school we planned on sending Max to. It's connected to the synagogue where we spent high holidays. We did two and a half sessions of Mommy and Me there last year and Mo loves the children and the teachers.  I have known that he has been ready for preschool for some time now but we had to wait for an opening.  He LOVES being around other kids and he needed more stimulating play than he was getting here.  I am so happy for him.  SO SO happy that he is here - at this new place in life, such a happy and good boy.

I often say he saved my life.  He saved Ted's too.  We marvel at how much happiness he has brought us and when I say we were in a dark place before he came along - I am not saying we were disappointed, or depressed, or sad.  I am saying that we literally didn't know how we were going to get through the next day.  It was that bad.  Mo's spirit has lit up our lives in a way that I did not think was possible three years ago.  There are actually moments of time when I feel blissfully happy....and I do my best to bask in those moments and be present.  I cannot believe how full my life is - how much I love these children.  These week was full of those moments:

Myla Eight Months

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Late again - and maybe you should just count on that because I've only got about 7-8 weeks left in this pregnancy and our house is in escrow and Mo started preschool yesterday (more on that later).  The truth is that it feels so good to be SO busy.  I never ever thought life could be like this again.

As I am sure you can guess, little Myla keeps me VERY busy (and tired).  She is always wanting to switch up whatever she is doing.  She likes sitting on the floor with toys, being in her stand up activity center, swinging in her swing (yes, it's an infant swing and yes, she's a little old for it, but she still likes it), eating (especially butternut squash, bananas and cheerios), chewing on everything, looking at videos and pictures of herself and carefully watching every move that her big brother makes.  We are CRAZY about her.  She has the best smile and I could chew on those thighs all day every day.

Here is the recap (her 8 month birthday was on January 1st!):

One small shred of truth

Monday, December 22, 2014

A woman in one of my grief groups tells us the story of a man, with whom she had been quite good friends for a long time before her daughter died.  After her daughter's death, every time she saw this friend or heard from him, he kept pushing the same message: "Get over it".  As is common in these situations, the two grew apart.  She found she had no room left for him in this new life she was living - the life without her daughter, and he grew bored of hearing that she was "still" in pain.  There could never be common ground......UNTIL.....his son died - and he fell into the abyss.  After that, she heard from him daily - usually multiple times per day.  He relied (and still relies) on her, the way that so many of us tend to rely on the people who started on this road before us.  And while she knew how important her support was to him, and how much he needed (really NEEDED) her, she couldn't help but feel a little bitter.  His words had so often hurt her before he lost his own child.  He had spoke of her daughter with such little care, as though her life hadn't mattered at all, which cut this bereaved mother to her core.  In his new place of grief, it was all about him.  HE was the one in pain, HE was the one who had just lost a child, HE continued not to mention her child - probably because he was in too much pain to think about her.  Of COURSE she would be there for him - because he was not the same man he was - he too was now changed forever and he FINALLY understood that there was no getting over it - only through.  What a terrible way for him to have learned.  Really - the absolute worst.

I have not had this exact experience - though it resonates with me so much.  I remember that years ago (when I was a teenager) an older mentor of mine lost his sister to cancer and I didn't say a thing.  I hadn't said a thing and I was VERY aware of the fact that I hadn't.  "I didn't know what to say" - so I kept quiet.  I think I even avoided him for a period, which still makes me feel sick to think about.  A few years later, my grandfather died - and I knew.  I didn't know what it was like to lose a sibling exactly, because that is unique and frankly, a much more shocking and awful kind of loss in the fact that she was a young woman, with her whole life ahead of her - but I knew what it meant to know that I would never see this person who I loved so much ever again in my life - and it was more pain than I'd ever felt.  I wasn't sure if it was too late to do so, but I did approach this friend/mentor and I apologized for my selfishness.  TWO YEARS AFTER THE FACT.  I told him that I only now understood a tiny fraction of the pain he must have felt.  I am willing to bet my life that I was not the only one who hadn't said anything.  I knew that I had acted selfishly and I was so so sorry that his adored sister had died too young.  It is somewhat ironic that I now understand the isolation of having lost someone too young (and therefore, too scary) to mention.  I have always wished that I had behaved differently.  The shame is just so much more illuminated now.

After losing Max, I drifted from many, many friends.  They didn't know how to sit with me, they wouldn't comfort me, they didn't say anything, they stopped talking to me, they told me in many various ways to "get over it", or they wondered why I hadn't reached out to them (and were insulted?) and so they just let the drifting happen - instead of reaching out to me in my time of need.  Three plus years later - this fact of drifting from so many does not make me sad or hurt much at all.  In a weird way, I even get it and feel like we are all probably better off.  I was and am scary and people don't know what to say.  That is true. But, that doesn't mean that I have to put myself out for those people who I scare.  It also doesn't mean that it is too late for someone to say, "I am sorry I wasn't there for you....."  Today, I choose to surround myself with the people who were and are there for me.  They are the people with whom I am most comfortable ...and frankly, I am tired of worrying about whether everyone else is comfortable with the awful fact that my beautiful son died.  I would rather concentrate on how my relationships make me feel. I want to try and be in mutually supportive and loving relationships moving forward and so I don't waste my time with the other kinds.  And, if I really think back on most of those old relationships, they were challenging before Max died, the fractures were just highlighted by his death.  In the meantime, there are some amongst the group that drifted away that have faced their own personal crises in these past years and have either reached out to me personally or more generally to our shared community for support....and in some ways, I feel a little bitter, like the woman in my grief group.  Only none of these individuals has lost a child.  They have faced other disappointments and perhaps griefs of their own - nothing catastrophic but griefs none the less. And, I really don't know how to respond - Is it my obligation to reach out to or answer the call from everyone in pain, regardless of how they treated me in my most desperate and vulnerable moments?  Really, am I responsible for being the leaning post to those who have hurt me?  Since I've been through hell, should I be the bigger person and reach out to all who are struggling because I know what it means to struggle?  I just don't think I am there yet and it causes me some guilt and angst.

A woman in another grief group recently asked the question, "With the holidays approaching, should I let my family and friends know that I want them to mention my son? To visit his grave? To tell me that they are thinking of him in their cards? Or, should I just let them slowly drift away?"  I think that is what it all boils down to when it comes to relationships.  The truth is, we know that those who ignore the elephant in the room, which is our personal struggle, can never be someone we will feel close to.  From my experience, the ones who would respond to our cry for help are usually the ones who would think to do this on their own, without our having to tell them to do it for us.  I've been told (many many times in various ways), that it was my fault that so many drifted, said nothing, did nothing, told me to move on - because I was too scary.  I'm ok with that.  I will take full responsibility.  But, I wonder - should we blame ourselves or everyone else when we don't say out-loud exactly what we need (which I actually thought, perhaps erroneously, is what I had done - by writing this blog)?  I really think that there is nobody to blame.  In times of crisis, your true friends will step forward on their own - without your having to tell them to do so - despite how scary you are, or uncomfortable your story makes them.  They will step forward because they love you and want you to feel loved and supported.  They will step forward because they WANT to, because to not step forward would hurt them as much as it hurts you.  It won't be a question for those friends.  You won't have to ask them.  They will just be there.  They won't take it personally that you haven't called them or returned their calls.  They will just keep trying because they know you cannot be held responsible at a time when you can barely get through the slow moving unbearable moments of this new life of yours.  At first it will hurt that not everyone you thought you were close to is making an effort.  You will feel betrayed or abandoned or crazy even, that you thought you were close to people who you most obviously were not.  In time, however, you will know where your truest relationships lie - and that will actually feel good.  I've never known depths of friendship and love like I know today.  A small shred of the truth and security that inevitably comes out of the most devastating and horrifying of life's possible experiences.

My bursting heart

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I didn't think I could love him anymore - and then last night:

I was feeding him a sandwich for dinner. I gave him a bite and he accidentally bit my thumb, hard.  I pulled it away quickly but I didn't yelp or say "ouch" - I didn't really make a peep.  But, he knew he bit me and he looked so upset.  He'd been so enjoying turkey and avocado sandwich but now he looked guilty - as if he wasn't sure whether he should chew the bite and swallow it or if he should just spit it out.  His little eyes filled with tears and his lower lip began to quiver.  I tried to reassure him that he hadn't hurt me.  "Mommy is ok!  You didn't hurt me!  It's ok, baby.  You can eat your dinner.", but he was so upset.  He slowly chewed the little bite and as soon as he had enough down, he asked for my hand.  I gave it to him and he kissed my thumb - twice.  I gave him a giant hug and kiss and told him how much I loved him.

Where this boy found such love and empathy, I don't know, but my heart just melted....and at the same time, I felt awful and sad.  I didn't think I could love him anymore and somehow, this love goes deeper and deeper every day.  He's my special boy....the one who saved my life.  I'm eternally grateful.

This is Halloween

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I am not sure how this perfect storm came to be - this perfect storm that left Mosie SO in love with Halloween.  Oddly enough, I think it started in speech therapy - the therapist has some pirate toys that Mo likes playing with and she always sings the "Yo ho" song from Pirates of the Caribbean while they play with them.  So, the first obsession was with the song.  I searched youtube for videos that featured the song and the one that Mo kept asking for again and again and again was this one:

100 times a day, Mo asked me for "Punkins!  Peas, Mommy! Yo Hos, Peas!" (Peas = please)

After Maxie's Benefit, I had about 20 leftover Halloween sticker books (many featuring pumpkins) that Mo still gets into every single day.  I taught him what all of the other characters were too - pumpkins, bats, skeletons, owls, ghosts, spiders, witches.  He was only mildly interested in the non-pumpkins until I took him to Boney Island!  Boney Island is a neighborhood Halloween super tricked out house that my cousins volunteer at every year (because they are neighbors).  It lasts for something like 2 weeks.  It is super packed and kid friendly (not scary) and features many, MANY skeletons, spiders, pumpkins, bats, owls, ghosts and witches.  There is also a 3 story tree house, which my cousin Laurie took him up in (I couldn't go up since I was 5 months pregnant and carrying Myla the whole time we were there). His eyes were basically popping out of his head the whole evening, which was the night before Halloween.

Ironically, we did nothing for actual Halloween.  We stayed at my mothers house, which is up in the hills and doesn't get any trick or treaters.  Ted was out of town and I didn't have the strength to go out a second night with both kids alone, so we stayed home and watched about 1,000 singing pumpkin videos.  Now, you should know, the pumpkins sing all sorts of songs - Ghostbusters, Thriller, The Monster Mash.  Whenever Mo hears one of these songs, his eyes open wide and he declares "Punkins!".  But the one song that finally stuck is "This is Halloween":

It plays in the soundtrack of my mind all day long.  It lulls me to sleep at night and also keeps me awake if I get up to soothe Myla or use the bathroom.  We tried to excite him about Thanksgiving - but it just didn't happen.  Now it's the middle of December, we don't celebrate Christmas, and I just don't think we are going to find any Hanukkah related material that is going to be as cool or stick quite as intensely as Halloween has.  When Mo wakes up in the morning or from naps, the first words out of his mouth are still usually either "Punkins!", "Halloween stickers!" or "This is Halloween Mommy, PEAS!".  Mo's birthday is in July - wondering already if it's gonna be a Halloween themed party. After losing Max, I was ready to kiss this holiday goodbye forever.  I guess things really do evolve - this kid REALLY brought back Halloween for us....

Mo in his homemade Punkin Pirate hat

Myla's Adoption

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Yesterday we took Myla down to the Children's courthouse in Monterey Park and legally adopted her as our daughter - to love and raise as if she were our own birth child - forever.  It was such a special experience.  I cannot begin to describe how moved we were by this quick appearance before a judge, where all we really did was sign a few papers, raise our hands, take an oath and pose for a few photos.  As soon as we sat down, I got teary eyed.  At times it felt like this day would never come and the amount of joy that this little girl has brought into our lives over five short months is impossible for me to express.  She is perfect in every way - a ray of sunshine.  I can't imagine loving her any more than I do - even though my love for her grows in every way, every single day.  When the judge recounted what this responsibility means, Ted and I looked at each other and we each knew what the other one was thinking - what a weird and tangled road we've traveled - full of the lowest lows and the highest highs.  Yesterday was one of those highs - a blessing of the highest form.

* Photos courtesy of one very proud and excited grandma.

Myla Seven Months Old

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Excuses, excuses - we have been pretty sick over here.  Mo was the worst but Teddy, Myla and I have got the stuffy nose, sore throats, and nasty coughs too.  I think the worst is now over.  But, that is one of the reasons why I am 4 days late with Myla's seven month post.

She is officially more of a baby than an infant these days.  She is affectionately called "Myna" in these parts because that is what her big brother calls her.  She is still pretty easy by day but has yet to sleep through the night.  She likes being passed around at parties (which is awesome for her pregnant mommy).  She loves being played with and especially being pulled up to stand for minutes at a time.  She is sitting up with very few topples.  She is a big girl and wears a size 4 diaper and size 9-12 months clothing (12 month pants are the only things that can contain those awesome thighs).  We adore her!  And, most importantly, she is legally OURS on December 10th (our court date!).  We can't wait!

Here she is!  MYNA!  I mean, MYLA!

Coping in Secret

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All of the time people are telling me about someone else they know who has lost a child and is coping really well with the loss.  Sometimes the context of these conversations feels a little accusatory, like, "why aren't YOU coping as well as our friend so and so?" - sometimes they are just told as a way to make a connection, like, "My friend so and so also lost her child and she has also figured out a way to move on and be happy" - sometimes the awful grief competition is introduced with the statement, like, "So and so lost her husband, then her mother, then she had multiple surgeries, and then she lost her son - and she is soldiering on - doing great!  She is such an inspiration to us - it's amazing she hasn't fallen apart" (unspoken subtext: "Like you did.  She has lost SO MUCH more than you but she is keeping it together").

I usually nod, ask a few questions and leave it at that.  Even without knowing "so and so", I feel pretty confident that he/she isn't coping as well as whoever I am talking to thinks he/she is.

I want to propose something - perhaps these people aren't coping as well as you think they are.  Perhaps their lives are incredibly complex and the only place that they can really grieve is with a grief group/therapist/significant other/alone.  I mean, it just may be something worth considering.  I know you are the one that knows them really well and of course, I don't know them at all - but I'd just like to put it out there.  Consider it food for thought.

A lot of grieving parents are not showing YOU the full picture - for a variety of reasons.  A lot of grieving parents sense that people don't want to hear about how awful losing their child really is, they aren't comfortable expressing emotion, they don't want to "burden" you with their loss, they are of a generation/gender that was taught to keep a stiff upper lip or sweep it under the rug, or they may feel like it's important to "fake it till you make it".  I am not saying that there aren't parents out there that are coping well - I am simply saying that you may not be privy to the complexity of the loss or the toll it's taken on your friend.

I tend to take these stories with a grain of salt.  My experience tells me that these people are not as well adjusted as you are giving them credit for....losing a child is's as simple as that.  If they are actually coping well today, the chances are that they have been to hell and back to get to this point.

The fact is that I don't let everyone in myself - fewer and fewer, in fact, as time goes on.  AND - the ones that I do let in - don't get let in for very long.  There actually isn't one person on the earth who gets let in on it all - not even Ted.  It is just way too heavy to actually share in its entirety.  There are plenty of people in my life - people who don't read my blog, or who I keep things light and superficial with - who probably think I am one of those people who are coping so well.  In many ways, I AM one of those people.  Truly.  My grief has finally made space for other things.  I am super functional, very happy most of the time, especially when I am surrounded by friends and family.  But, I would NEVER want someone using me as an example of "coping well" to another bereaved parent.  It is too simplistic and untrue.  It took me a LONG time to get here and I still have a LONG way to go.  My grief defines who I am in many ways - even if there are also many other pieces of my life that define me as well.

I remember one of the "happiness pushers" early on our loss kept telling me that she wanted me to talk to her friend who had lost a child.  "She lost her son when he choked on a grape right in front of her and she is fine now".  This person sounded like the last person on the earth I wanted to talk to after losing Max.  I couldn't wrap my brain around someone being fine with losing their child and I didn't ever want to be that person myself.  The happiness pusher thought that I was making too much of Max dying and that perhaps if I could just talk to someone who had lost a child and was well-adjusted, I'd be fine too.  I thought about this mother many times over the first two years of my loss - how had she done it?  Finally, and I am not sure why exactly, I did reach out to this mother, we made an appointment to talk on the phone and we spoke for several hours.  As you can imagine, the mother is not "fine".  She has incorporated the loss into her life.  She has much joy from her two surviving children.  She is busy and surrounded by people and her life does not any longer revolve around grief - which it did - for a long, long time.  Her early experiences reflect much of the same stuff I've been going through - anger, denial, spiritual searching, despondency, defensiveness.  But, there was still a gaping hole in her heart.  She still went through periods of hell.  She was frankly more than a bit insulted and pissed off that anyone had assumed she was "just fine" with the death of her son.  She was actually happy to be talking to me because it had been so long since she felt like she could have an honest conversation about the havoc her sons death had wreaked on her life.  Everyone expected more from her now - now that it has been such a long time since he died.  Her son. (Honestly, how does anyone expect anyone to get over that?  It's just unrealistic and unfair).

I guess all I am saying is that people are fighting battles that they are not necessarily sharing with you.  I made a decision to more open than most because that is who I am.  I have always been vocal (voted most talkative in more than one of my growing up scenarios), I have always been outspoken.  I have never been one to shy away from telling it like I see it.  This hasn't always made me popular or well-liked but it has always been who I am.  This is why you are hearing how I really feel about grief....and you are part of a small group of people in my life who do.  The only ones who ARE really hearing it are the ones who are seeking it out - by asking me how I am doing, checking in on my Facebook page, or by reading my blog.  Most everyone else likely thinks I am coping well and I don't go out of my way to tell them otherwise.  Contrary to what you might think - I also think I am coping well as can be expected. 

I saw this post on Facebook yesterday and it made me think - how can we ever know the demons someone else is fighting unless we ask?  Unless we are told?  Maybe we should stop making assumptions about how someone else feels or copes - because the fact is that we can almost never really know.  Anyway, just a thought.....

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