Compassion

Friday, September 30, 2011

To show you how little I actually know about Judaism, I really thought that on Rosh Hashana the Torah gets scrolled back and we start reading from the beginning.  I figured the portion yesterday would be, "And G-d created light" or something.  Instead, it seems (unless our rabbi had it all wrong) that the portion was the one in which Abraham is asked to sacrifice Isaac, his son.  Most people know that at the end of that story, G-d shows "compassion" and saves Isaac at the last minute and then Abraham instead sacrifices a ram (if you ask me, the most compassionate move would have been to never ask him to do it in the first place.  What kind of a crazy test is that?)  Anyway, SUPER HEAVY.  It must be nice to be as worthy as Abraham.  Our rabbi gave a lovely sermon about compassion and how important it is for all of us in the new year.  He stressed that we never know what someone else is going through when we encounter them and that we need to show compassion for whatever it is that they might have happening.  He gave an example of the car that is speeding through the streets and cuts you off while driving.  Maybe it is a father who is rushing to get medicine for his sick child.  I was thinking about all of the speeding and rushing and careless driving my whole family was doing on July 19th, trying to get to Maxie at the Emergency Room and then following the ambulance from St. Joseph's in Burbank to Tarzana.  I thought about how much I HATE when people I don't know tell me to smile.  I've been getting that a little more than usual lately.  It is SO irksome.  They think that they are making a connection or maybe even flirting but, frankly, it isn't compassionate.  You don't know what is happening with me!  You don't know why it is nearly impossible for me to smile!  When Ted was in the hospital the week after Max's funeral, his attending doctor seems more consumed with getting me to smile (knowing that I had just lost my child) than in making Ted better.  It was INFURIATING.  Weeks later I told the therapist (the one I am no longer seeing) how much it bothered me and she asked me if I knew whether he (the doctor) had lost a child or a sibling.  In fact, he DID tell me that his brother had died and how sad his mother had been.  The therapist said that he probably spent his whole life after that trying to make his mother smile, to distract her from her pain.  This was a continuation of his life long practice.  It DID make sense.  Maybe I needed to be more compassionate.  It was really too much to expect of me at that time.

There were lots of children in services yesterday.  Right after the Mourners Kaddish, they brought all of the children in from the children's service so that they could hear the shofar being blown.  They came flooding into the chapel, one after the other.  Whenever I see little kids (especially little boys) all I can think is about how Max will never be a child.  I will never take him to see The Lion King, we will never ride on "It's a Small World", I will never see him off to his first day of school, I will never hear his sweet voice saying any words. I want to be more compassionate but I am finding it hard to muster up compassion like I used to (not that anyone would ever had said it was my strongest quality, but certainly I would empathize with your boyfriend troubles, your work troubles, how sad you were after your cat died).  I probably won't show you the compassion now you are longing for when you come to me with things that I once would have agreed were very, very sad.  My idea of what counts as very, very sad has changed in the last few months.  Still, I know it is all relative.  Your child probably didn't die so what you think is really sad might be different than what I think is really sad.  Perhaps knowing what I think is really sad will give you a moment of pause before you tell me about the things in your life that you think are sad.  Maybe you will remember, "Oh ya, my children and family are alive and healthy and well.  I will email Sally instead of Abby to express sorrow about my dead turtle".  I will try and do my part too.  I am not going to let myself off the hook entirely.  I will try to remember that your child didn't die and so you can't possibly know how sad I am and that maybe the saddest thing that ever happened to you was that your pet turtle died.  I will try not to envy you about that either. At some level, I recognize that we are not in a tragedy contest.  I will remember that we are all just human beings, doing our best and that there are lots of struggles that we will all encounter, big and small, and that showing compassion is better than getting frustrated.  Rabbi Marx stressed that the world would be a better place if we all showed a little more compassion.  I have a whole year to work on this.  Or maybe even a whole lifetime - how ever long that may last.  Be compassionate with me and I will do my best to be compassionate with you.

Shana Tova?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shana Tova!  (Happy New Year).  Today is Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year, symbolized by the sweetness of apples dipped in honey.  Wishes for a beautiful and sweet new year.  All week, friends and colleagues have been sending out mass emails wishing me (and everyone) a SHANA TOVA!  Every time I open one of those emails, my skin crawls.  A colleague of mine told me a few months before Max died that the year between Max's first birthday and his second would be the best year of our lives, at least that had been his experience with his two boys.  It was just a wonderful time of watching your baby turn into a child.  He said it was awesome.  Oh, I KNEW it was going to be awesome.  I couldn't wait.  Could anything really be better than what I had already experienced?  Instead of this being the best year of my life, this is the worst...and so MUCH worse than I could have ever imagined.  In a million years, I could have never imagined that life could be this cruel to me....and I knew that eventually my parents would die and that I would be unimaginably sad, I knew that I would lose friends - that some would die before me (I already have lost friends), I knew that I could lose Ted or that it was possible that I could get sick and even die before "my time".  Everyone of these things would rip me to shreds.  Please!  I can't live with any more tragedy....it would be the end of me.  But, this?  This is SO MUCH worse than I could EVER have imagined.  This year I will not be dipping any apples into honey.  I feel like dipping cardboard into cigarette ashes and taking a big bite....that would better capture my mood.

We are going to synagogue today.  I have to say there is something completely repelling about going to a house of worship to praise g-d and ring in the new year!  ICK.  I thought about boycotting.  Thing is, I get to say the Mourner's Kaddish (a prayer of mourning) for Maxie.  That does resonate with me.  Somehow I think that is what services will be for me going forward....a long ICK full of old prayers that used to melodically roll off my tongue, but which I will now just sit through so that I can say the Mourners Kaddish for my son.  The whole ritual reduced to one prayer of remembrance and love for my beloved.  Look, I know it is too late.  You've probably already put your cards in the mail, I am likely on some list you have of "Jews" who should hear "Shana Tova" from you.  But, I want to be clear - this Shana (year) is not looking so Tova (good).  For the most part, it is a nightmare.  I'm thinking that perhaps there will be moments of "so-so" or even hours of "not horrific".  One friend actually wrote to me and said, "I know it would be obscene to wish you a Happy New Year".  Instead, she wished me a year of maybe better sleep.  True - to wish us a "Shana Tova" is somewhat obscene.

Look, a lot can happen in a year - in this past year, Max was born and died.  I won't rule out something good, or even joyful.  I know that even my prayers can't help us to avoid potential tragedy but THERE JUST CANNOT BE ANYTHING MORE.....THERE JUST CANNOT BE.  Maybe a new baby will be born this year.  Maybe we can start to remember how to be happy again.  But, our backdrop is NOT "Tova"...not to get all Obama on your ass, but I think "Hope" is the better adjective.  Fact is that it is the first year without Maxie, our first year of grieving, starting with his upcoming birthday which so conveniently falls on Erev Yom Kippur.  It is just too soon to think about a Shana Tova.  Much too soon for all that.  This Rosh Hashana doesn't mark the beginning of a new year for us.  It marks the beginning of our very deeply felt grief.  Grief that in one shape or another will last for the rest of our lives.

Time

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Before you have a baby, you don't really realize the impact that the change will have on your life.  Intellectually, you know that you will not have much free time after the baby comes but it is hard to make sense of what that actually means.  When I was about 7 months pregnant, I remember going to have my make up done at Sephora because I knew that it would probably be my last personal indulgence, at least for a while.  I remember walking through the mall and thinking to myself, "I should take my time because I probably won't have the opportunity to just dawdle around in a shopping mall for years."  My last month or so of pregnancy, I had those kinds of thoughts a lot.  I knew it was coming but I had no idea really what it would mean.  As I have explained, I didn't mind giving up social engagements.  Mostly, I just wanted to make sure my friendships stayed intact, so I would make plans every so often just so people didn't think I had disappeared entirely.  But I felt no pressing need to have a girls getaway weekend or get out to concerts or restaurants.  Until about 5 years ago, my favorite restaurant was Islands so it isn't like I am some wild foodie or anything.  I did have trouble figuring out how to exercise and do other personal things, like get a manicure.

In April or May, I convinced my work to let me participate in the "Israel Ride" (www.israelride.org).  This is something that I have wanted to do since I started working for JNF almost 5 years ago.  It is a bike ride from Jerusalem to Eilat for which participants raise money to support one of our very important partners, The Arava Institute - a graduate program in environmental studies where Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and others from around the world study together with the understanding that the environment knows no borders.  The program focuses on the environment but also helps in creating a common language and dialogue between Arabs and Israelis.  Super cool.  I knew that by sending me, my organization would benefit as I would be connecting with so many people on the ride who probably didn't know much about our work outside of this one program.  I also knew that this would be an exciting challenge for me - to get in shape, to see Israel in a whole new way (from my bicycle seat), to meet new people, and to have a weeklong glimpse at independence.  The idea of leaving Max for a week was heartbreaking.  I knew it would take enormous strength and faith to go away and just trust that he would be fine.  Everyone who I expressed concerns to said the same thing, "You know he will be ok, right?  You will be a wreck, but he will be fine."  I really believed that to be true.  Part of what made me want to do this was just the challenge of working through my own separation anxiety.  Of course, the challenge of finding the time to train was toughest of all.  A colleague of mine signed up to do the ride.  He called me to tell me he was up to (who remembers?) how many miles a day and had lost 15 pounds.  How far was I riding?, he wanted to know.  Well, I was getting up in the morning and nursing Max and then getting him ready for daycare and then taking him there and then rushing off to work and then getting off work just in time to pick him up and then bringing him home and going through our evening routine and by the time Ted got home, I was HUNGRY and then I would get tired and we'd go to sleep. So, I was up to 0 miles.  Pretty awesome, right?  In the 5 weeks or so before Max died, I had actually figured out how to get an hour or so in about 3-4 days a week.  The morning of Max's "incident", I started answering emails and doing some work early while Ted was taking care of the morning routine.  I got Max to daycare at 8 am and then was on my bike by about 8:10 and rode for about an hour, I came home and showered quickly and sat down to work, I had a meeting scheduled in Beverly Hills at 11:30. My cell phone was in my purse on vibrate.  I almost missed the call.  I happened to glance at my purse and saw the phone lighting up on top.  My advice is that if you are a parent and your phone is on vibrate, put your phone in your pocket, put it on the table in front of you or put it in your lap.  You don't ever want to miss an emergency phone call - I'm sure this will never happen to you but emergencies happen and you don't want to miss it.  When I would ride, the phone was in a little pouch under my seat.  I would have never known it was ringing if I had been on the ride when the call came in.  All of the scenarios make me sick and yet, none of it really matters, since he is gone.  At least I was with him as long as was humanly possible.  Still, he is gone.

Last night was bad.  I hardly slept.  I tossed and turned all night, waking up every hour on the hour.  I also have a conference call this morning at 8 am.  It was originally scheduled for 7 am but another West Coast colleague and I said, "no way".  It takes most of the night for me to fall asleep.  Sometimes (rarely) I am actually able to sleep in.  I've got to take the sleep where I can get it these days because it is HARD for me to come by.  Anyway, I was up all night thinking about Max.  I was thinking about the fact that I am not a mommy anymore.  I can sit in the Sephora store all weekend long if I want.  I can go out to concerts, meet my friends for drinks and long dinners, Ted and I could plan a last minute weekend getaway and not have to think twice about it.  BUT - I don't want to do ANY of those things.  I don't DO any of those things.  I don't want my time back.  Time is my enemy.  I want my MAX back.  I miss HIM....and I was thinking about this - I miss my nose against his cheek and my cheek against the top of his head.  I miss the physical body of Max that Ted and I MADE.  When my grandpa died, I missed him SO much.  I thought about him all day long and I missed being with him and laughing with him and all of his stories and the love for me that he had that I could feel in my soul. I missed hugs from him I guess but I didn't feel the urge to cuddle him or squish my face against his....I mean, that would be weird.   As hard as that was, this is 100 times worse.  It just is.  So, with endless time on my hands, and a feeling all day long that I just want the day to end, I sit up all night long making my days even longer, creating even more time.  I went from not being able to imagine giving up my time, to looking for teeny tiny windows of time, to having way more time than I want.  It has only been a little over 2 months.  The LONGEST 2 months of my life.

Uncle Paul

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My brother Paul is about five and a half years younger than me.  I remember him as a baby and he was just about the cutest thing you ever saw.  He grew into such a curious little boy.  My girlfriends remember him coming to our soccer games and searching for bugs on the sidelines.  He loved bugs.  Once, when he was about 5 or 6 and I was 10 or 11 he found a CRAZY bug in my mom's old boyfriend's apartment garage..  It looked like this:


He lovingly named it "Abby Bug" and fed it daily "Gaines Burgers".  Paul also loved frogs.  My grandmother used to tell a story of strolling Paul through the condominium complex next to her building that had little pools with lily pads and fish and tadpoles and frogs.  She said, on this particular day, Paul leaped out of his stroller and ran off someplace, she couldn't even see him.  Then he came back to the stroller with a gigantic toad in his hands.  He still has an eye for frogs.  He denies this next story, but I promise you it happened - One night in Costa Rica, we were out at the old beach disco (Mar Y Sombre - recuerdes?).  Entonces, the road home is windy and straight uphill.  As we are climbing the hill in our cab, it is pouring rain and out of nowhere Paul yells, "STOP!"  The taxi driver screeches to a halt, my friend and I who were with him in the cab and the driver all look at Paul and Paul looks at us and says, "I thought I saw a frog". It's possible I have embellished the story somewhat but it is pretty close to the truth.  He knows lots about animals and bugs and is ridiculously smart.  Kid seriously got like a 1460 or something on his SATs.  When I was living in NY, I went to see the Darwin exhibit at the Natural History Museum and all I could think the whole time was, "Paul's brain works like this."  Paul loves kids.  He was also on the family bandwagon in worshipping our cousin Nathan.  He always was looking for the perfect presents for Nate and the two of them used to crack each other up.  As I recall, Paul bought Nathan his first drum set and now Natie is a drummer in his own band.  Well, Paul was PSYCHED to be an uncle.  He had BIG PLANS for what he and Max would do together in all of the years that were supposed to come.  Paul wanted to buy Max a microscope and teach him about science.  He wanted to get him science kits and play all sorts of games with him.  He was going to babysit and take care of him.  I actually lied when I said that only grandmothers had ever babysat for Max.  I forgot that one time my mom had to run out and left Max with her best friend Jackie and Uncle Paul.  It was during the reflux period and Max was super fussy.  I guess it was nearly impossible to get him down for his nap.  It breaks my heart that Paul didn't get a chance to babysit the easy Max, that he never got to teach him about frogs and pollywogs, that they never had the chance to sit and look through a microscope together.  I actually only have one photo of Max and Paul - a group photo from Passover of Paul, me, Max, Ted and Mandy.  It is framed on our bookshelf but I don't have the electronic version.  Breaks my heart that I don't have lots and lots of pictures of Max with his Uncle Paul.  And here is the understatement of the year -  Life just isn't fair.

Stronger than me

Monday, September 26, 2011

In the last two months, I have "met" so many amazing women who have lost children.  I have actually spoken to men and women who have lost children of all ages, but I have spent the most time trying to connect to and size up the women who have lost babies. What I can say about every single one of the women that I have spoken to are that they are stronger than me.  Many of them went back to work full time almost immediately because they were looking for a distraction (I don't want to be distracted from my grieving).  Many of them got pregnant right away (I am incredibly jealous...if you can even be jealous of someone who has been through what we have been through).  All of them have accepted that their child is gone and never coming back (while I am FIGHTING this every step of the way).

I am reading about life after death and near death experiences and reincarnation.  The other morning I was in the living room real early on the internet when Ted called to me, "What are you doing?", he asked.  "I am on the Dianetics website!", I called back to him.  "Get off the computer and come back into bed", he said.  I came into the room and he gave me a look and I said, "Listen, don't worry, I am not going to become a Scientologist.  I wouldn't want to humiliate you like that BUT - they DO believe in reincarnation...so, there's that."  OK, I have now come to understand that MANY world religions believe in reincarnation, like the Buddhists.  They are a respectable group, right?  I mean, half the Jews I know strive to be more Bu than Jew.  I also found out that the Kabbalists believe in reincarnation.  Dr Dwight, my OBGYN delivered Madonna's first baby Lourdes, and I went to elementary school with Guy Oseary, so here is something else we could have in common (She and I....best friends forever?)  Of course, becoming a Kabbalist might make my dad cringe a little, but I think even he could admit that at least we'd still be on the same holiday schedule.  I spoke to a psychic over the weekend and I am not going to tell you what she said here.  I don't want ANYONE to spoil the comfort that she gave me with her reading.  All I can say is HOLY SHIT!  This woman knew details of recent conversations that I have had with my family and friends and even details of stuff that has been happening in my head.  It was REAL specific too....not just like, "You are so incredibly sad and your baby loves you".  No.  (If you are skeptical, do me a favor - KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!)  If everything she said is true, I might as well stop mourning because Maxie is near me and he is well and we will be reunited again.  Of course, I cannot stop mourning.  I feel like it's my job.  I feel like a slacker when I do my actual job.  I am doing my best to create balance but I am aware that I am in the very early stages of this process.

Ok, but back to these women!  Were they on the search like I am?  Did they feel the desperate need to dig up all of the information that the world has to offer?  There were a couple who had more tragedy after this.  MORE TRAGEDY AFTER SIDS?  The thought is completely paralyzing.  Yet, they are still standing...everyone of them with new children and gigantic hearts.  I have a friend who recently asked me how I keep going.  Huh?  I am not sure what the choice is.  Like, why haven't I killed myself yet?  Believe me, there are many nights that I go to sleep and hope that I stop breathing but I don't see killing myself as an option.  Was she trying to say that if she was me, she would kill herself?  I am probably reading too much into it...as I OFTEN do these days.  I am not going to kill myself for the same reason I am not going to become a Scientologist.  It isn't really the answer.  How do I keep going?  I am not sure how one would define that.  I wake up in the morning because I have no choice.  I try to keep sleeping but I am not programmed for a fall hibernation.  I sit down and write this blog because it is what I have to do to keep myself sane and to honor Maxie's memory.  I eat because I get hungry.  I answer work emails and work on cleaning up files in our database because it distracts me and because again, I don't really think I have a choice.  Sometimes I go for  a walk because I think that eventually I want to have a healthy pregnancy.  Then, my husband comes home and we sit together until it is time to go to sleep and do it all over again.  Not really living...more like surviving.  Sometimes I have visions of doing so much more!   I imagine changing the world in Max's memory!  Growing from this experience and treating every second on earth like it is my very last, thereby ensuring myself the sweetest existence that ever was...filled with only things that make my heart pound with delight!  Pouring myself into my job and staying late at organizational functions just so I can be sure that no stone is left unturned...opening my heart with empathy to mean donors who yell at me, knowing that their lives are empty and that they take it out on me because they can!  Calling every person who ever touched my life to let them know what they have given me.  Yet, I ignore most phone calls from most people, I wear the same sweatpants every day, and I hardly leave my house.  I would love to be that person that I just described.  I think I ALWAYS wanted to be her.  But, now more than ever, it is clear to me that even SHE is stronger than ME.

Maxie's Cousins

This little boy of mine. He is in every thought I have.  He in every breath that I take.  I am consumed with the essence of who he was all day long.  Tiny little tush.  Sweet pursed lips.  Perfect smiling dimple on the right cheek.  Ears that stuck out a little, in the most adorable way.  The most expressive face.  My soulmate.  This boy loved his Mommy and his Daddy.  He loved his grandmas and grandpas.  And he LOVED his cousins, Mandy and Sadie.  It probably helped that they were both obsessed with him. So here are a few stories about cousins Mandy and Sadie - important cheerleaders in Maxie's fan club!  They were the BEST big cousins a little boy could ask for.

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I did not want anyone but family to know.  I knew that someone told Mandy, who I think was 4 at the time, and I was worried that she might let the cat out of the bag at my dad and stepmother's Passover Seder, where several couples that are their friends join each year.  I was not ready to share the news with my parents friends, or my friends for that matter.  As soon as I walked in the door, Mandy came over to me, grabbed my hand and said, "You have to sit next to me."  Then, she looked right at my stomach.  All through dinner, she would smile at me and then look at my stomach and then back at my face and then smile again.  It must have been the HARDEST secret to keep.  During a break in the seder, she said that there was something she needed to show me in her room.  She grabbed my hand and pulled me into her room and then told me to sit on her bed while she went in closed the door.  Then, she confronted me, "There is a baby in there!" she said while pointing at my belly and I said "Yes, there is, but it is a secret".  "Is it a boy or a girl?", she asked.  I said "We don't know yet but we think it might be a boy".  "I want a girl" she said.  "How big is the baby?", she asked.  "It is very very small", I said, "but he or she will grow a little bigger every week until eventually he or she will be as big as a basketball."  "WHY would you DO that to yourself?", she asked with a look of shock on her face.  I laughed and then so did she.  I said, "Uncle Teddy and I really want a baby and we really want to be parents."  Before going back to the table, I reminded her that this was our secret and not to let anyone know.  She stared at my stomach through the rest of the evening, as if she was waiting to see the basketball growing right there in front of her eyes.  She was GOOD at keeping a secret.  I was surely impressed!!  She was like that through the whole pregnancy - asking questions, shadowing me whenever I was around, talking about her cousin, hoping for a girl.  When Max finally came, she was thrilled to have a little boy cousin and was singularly focused on his every move (even when he wasn't moving, she wanted to watch him sleep).  I remember the evening of Max's bris, Mandy wanted to be in the room and watch me get him ready.  She was fascinated with watching me nurse him but panicked when I told her I was getting ready to change a diaper.  The adoration stopped there!  She was not interested in dirty diapers.  She continued to be a wonderful big cousin to Max, loving him unconditionally and hanging on his every squeak.




Cousin Sadie lives in Connecticut and she is younger.  She just turned 3.  Her first visit with Max was in Costa Rica.  She was immediately smitten with him.  We rented a car and the way the car seats were set up in the back, I was in the middle, squished between Sadie and Max.  Sadie wanted a clear line of vision to her "Cuzzin".  "Where's Maxie?  I can't see Maxie.  Where's my Cuzzin?"  I was either leaning forward or trying to sit as far back into the seat as possible so she could see him.  Sadie and Beth stayed in the downstairs part of our house and Teddy, Maxie and I stayed upstairs.  Sadie would come darting in our front door every morning, after naps and other reconvening times with only one thought "Where's Maxie?"  If he was napping, she'd say, "Oh, Maxie sleepin?".  If he was in his bouncy seat, she'd say "Maxie in his bouncy seat?"  Maxie had a little monkey (well, he actually had 4 of them) "angel dear" brand "loveys" - they are little soft blankets with stuffed animal heads.  Sadie had a friend at her daycare with a doggie version who called it his "woof woof".  Sadie always made sure that Maxie had his woof woof.  If Maxie cried, she would try to console him by patting his arm and saying, "Don't cry Maxie.  Iss okay Maxie".  Sadie LOVES her cousin Maxie and doesn't know that he is gone.  The thought of us visiting without Maxie is too much.




How can these little girls make sense of this unfairness?  How can it be that they will never see their favorite cousin again?  Just two more innocent victims of this terrible crime that nature committed against my little boy.  They too will miss his sweet little face, his long beautiful eyelashes, his cute little tummy.  They will never get to play with him or dress him up or read to him or show him off.  My heart is so broken for them and for all of us.  Of course, it's most broken for Maxie.  The little boy with the two most adoring cousins in the world.  I am so sad that he will never have the chance to love them back with as much passion as they loved him.

Papa's photo shoot

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My dad, Papa Chuck, has always been really into photography.  I seem to remember him even having a darkroom in our home when we were little (or at least converting the bathroom into one from time to time). He takes great photos of landscapes, nature and people but he has always had an especially great eye for taking photos of children.  In his office, he has classic photos of my brother, Mandy (my niece) and I as babies.  Big closeups of our faces.  He really captured our expressions and the essence of our personalities.  I used to try and get Maxie over to see his grandparents as often as I could.  Timing out visits to my dad's house were tough because of naps.  I would try to put Max in the car just as a nap was starting and then drive slower than usual to get to his house (from Burbank to Woodland Hills).  Ted came sometimes but not all of the time.  The visit that produced Papa's photo shoot was really special.  When we first got to my dad's, the sun was not out at all, so we just hung out in the living room and watched the Justin Beiber movie with Mandy.  Awesome!  Then, the sun came out.  Ted and Mandy decided to swim with Maxie.  They had a great time.  I won't lie, you've seen some of these before:








Maxie's Tribute Pages

Saturday, September 24, 2011

As many of you know, I am a professional fundraiser.  I ask people for money for a living.  That being said, I am ALWAYS uncomfortable asking my friends for money.  So many people have contributed to Maxie's forest either through the original site or through Beth's marathon page.  Colleagues, friends, relatives, even strangers have made a donation.  For those of you who haven't made a donation yet, if you can find it in your hearts (because I KNOW you can find $18 in your pocket), it would mean so much to us to have you support Beth's efforts as the sole representative of "Team Maxie" running the NYC marathon on November 6th.  For our close friends, look at it this way - you don't know what to say and that feels bad, and you will never ever have the opportunity to buy Maxie a birthday, Hanukkah or Bar-Mitzvah present.  This actually goes a long, long way and we notice it and for reasons that are hard to explain, it means SO MUCH to us.  So, thank you in advance.  If you lost the address, here it is: support.jnf.org/goto/teammaxie.  Thank you AGAIN to all of you who have already made a donation!  That is over 500 individual gifts!  Sometimes we feel so defeated and this is the one thing that feels important and hopeful and pulls us together as a family over and over again.  Please look at Maxie's beautiful face and then ask yourself if you can really NOT plant at least one $18 tree in his memory.
I keep waking up with this broken heart.  It hurts so bad.  I feel sick to my stomach all day long and the emptiness inside me grows and grows.  I MISS MY LITTLE BOY!  He was just a baby. He should be here with me now, not buried in the ground.  His picture has been in my mind all morning.  A smirky little smile on his face.  Just about to start crawling.  I think my sadness might kill me, sometimes I hope it will.  It hurts so bad to have to be here without him.


Why is my baby gone?


Got Caught Smiling

Friday, September 23, 2011

Here are some updates about previous postings and life in general.  My mom's arm seems to be healing and she is mostly now just in a sling, without her brace.  It seems like she probably has an issue with her shoulder as well though and so after the arm heals, they will need to concentrate on that.  We are relieved that things seem to be moving along.  I have stopped seeing the therapist who worked in an office across the street from the ER where Maxie was taken after his "incident".  Not only was being so close to St. Joe's more than I could really handle but she seemed like she was just responding to my sadness with generic platitudes and she also had a really annoying habit of pulling out her palm pilot and then tapping away on the screen with the stylus (so 1998) while I was speaking.  Thanks but no thanks.  In the meantime, I called "Our House" which at least 20 people told me was going to be my grief group salvation and they very kindly informed me that they do not have groups for people with babies who have passed away (Again, I am not really ready for a group setting but figured I would call for information anyway).  They did, however, put me in touch with a wonderful Social Worker who does hospice care for Kaiser and comes to our house once a week in the evening to meet with us.  We love her.  She is kind of a hippy and she has a sweet voice and she says wise things and has interesting theories on death and dying and she affirms our feelings and even tells me that I am very functional, despite the fact I hardly leave the house or get out of bed.  She reminds us that in the grand scheme of things, "it has only been 9 seconds" since Max died and asks us to be kind to ourselves.

I went to my Board Meeting on Wednesday and somebody must have told the receptionist (thank you) that Max died because she gave me a very somber look as I walked in and just said, "It is very nice to see you".  Then I walked into the conference room and some of the board members approached me with hugs or pats on the back to say they were glad to see me as well.  I did NOT hold it together well at first and shook like a leaf and cried but I managed to find my breath and then calmed down.  I even found some of the discussion interesting.  Of course, I was really thinking how sad it is that Max is gone through the whole meeting but other topics seeped into my brain as well....(like how important it is for JNF leadership to attend our National Conference each year because how can they represent an organization without understanding its essence?  Everyone who comes back has an amazing time, so why would you not go?  Very nice pitch Alyse. It still astounds me that anyone would need to "pitch" this to anyone.)  Ted sent me a text half way through the meeting that said, "Halfway done!  You are so brave!"  Have I mentioned how much I love my husband?  I am brave?  He has been back at work full time since the week after Max's funeral.  He is the brave one.  The grief therapist also called me after the meeting to ask how it went.  I told her about Ted's text, to which she responded in a her very breathy voice, "Oooohhhhh!  That gave me a chill up my spine".  He is so special.  After the meeting, my colleague Carly called me to ask if I wanted her company because she could see how shook up I was at the beginning of the meeting.  She also told me that her mother has been reading my blog and actually was at Mt. Sinai earlier in the week, left some stones on Maxie's grave and was told that we CAN put up to 2 pinwheels on Max's grave.  That was so nice of her to ask and I am going to search for the perfect pinwheels and hopefully, they won't be confiscated by the mean lady behind the front desk or any of her pinwheel confiscating soldiers.  In the meantime,  my friend Kate brought a succulent plant called a pinwheel over here the other day when she came over to roast the most DELICIOUS chicken dinner.  I plan on bringing that up to Max too.

I am seeing the acupuncturist that Suzy brought me to all of those weeks ago.  She is helping me with anxiety and fertility.  I don't have any reason to think that I have an issue with fertility, by the way, but I figure that a little extra help is a good thing.  Plus, she still gives me messages from Max, like, "I am tasting yams.  Max's favorite food?  You should go home and make Max some yams and then eat them".  I read somewhere that yams may increase ones chances for twins so it sounded like a good way to kill two birds with one stone.  I also like to go there because I can cry and she holds my hand and looks deep into my eyes and says, "This is so unfair.  No mother should have to go through this.  I am so sorry."  Speaking of which, it was so nice to hear from so many people a couple of days ago, who used Bianca's words and very heartfeltly told me that Max was a wonderful baby and that it is so unfair that I have to live on this earth without him.  Thank you.

I have to mention a few people who have appeared in my life from out of the blue who have been of great comfort.  A woman I went to high school with, who I really never knew in high school AT ALL, has written me two of the kindest emails that I have ever received.  She is reading this blog and knows how much we love Costa Rica and asked if she could have a friend visit the Cartago Basilica to place coins representing Maxie and my hearts into the pool there...not in a religious way but as a symbol of our two hearts being forever connected in a beautiful place that is so special to so many people in a country that we love.  I think it is beautiful and the basilica is basically the first place I ever visited in Costa Rica on my very first trip there.  Another friend who I studied abroad with in Israel but who I didn't really keep in good touch with has become my fertility advisor and trusted confidant.  I think she has been comfortable confiding in me too, which I appreciate.  So, two things about this fabulous woman.  She never says, "I can't imagine how you feel...", which I believe (and my grief counselor has confirmed) is a way to say I refuse to imagine...because it is too hard and I want to keep you at arm's length and these kind of things happen to YOU but would never happen to ME.  She always says to me, "I can only imagine" or "I would imagine...".  Seems like semantics, but makes a great deal of a difference to someone like me, on the receiving end of those words.  "I can only imagine how much agony you must be in" goes a lot further than "I can't imagine what you must be feeling".  She also spent like 2 hours hiding pictures of her and her baby on Facebook, just in case I might look at her page.  I told her that was incredibly unnecessary (because, of COURSE it is completely unnecessary....especially considering how much I am not looking at people's postings and pages) BUT, come on!  It is so incredibly sensitive that it has brought tears to my eyes over and over just thinking about it.

I have an appointment with a psychic on October 5th and I am recording the session.  She has lots of good reviews.  I am DESPERATE to connect with my child.  In the meantime, Marla has a good friend who befriended a well known psychic while making a reality television show about  her work.  Natalie (Marla's friend) contacted her friend the psychic and told her my story and she is giving me a free reading.  Amazing!  I know what some of you are thinking (this chick has LOST IT! Coo-Coo!) but I also know what others of you are thinking because so many of you wrote me to recommend psychics you've seen!  Don't worry, I won't "out" you.

I had coffee again on Monday morning with the mommy down the street who lost her daughter to SIDS.  She is amazing for sharing with me so openly and for rebuilding her life and for being such a good mommy to her subsequent children and for honoring her first born with such love and honesty.  She also GAVE ME HER JOURNAL to read.  Can you believe that?  It is the most trusting, loving, supportive thing I could ever imagine.  I came home and read the whole thing in one sitting.  It is as if she wrote my thoughts, three and a half years before me.  So much love for her daughter, so much agony in missing her, such anger at being so misunderstood.  I just love her for trusting me with her most personal thoughts.  Talk about affirming!

My sister in law, Beth, is in town visiting us until Sunday.  She is hard at work training and fundraising for Team Maxie (support.jnf.org/goto/teammaxie).  If you can afford $18 for one tree or if you want to give more, please go to the link and make a donation.  I promise that you will feel good about supporting Beth's hard work.  She is even Twittering, something that neither of us know anything about.  She's like, "Maybe we should follow some synagogues?" and I am like, "Why are we following them?  Don't we want them to follow us?" and she is like, "I think that they follow us when we follow them?"  We don't know.  One really awesome thing about Beth being here is that she is also sad like us about Maxie.  She and I can talk about what it feels like when people just don't say anything or how awesome it can feel when people say the absolute right thing.  We can even talk about other stuff and it doesn't feel like someone desperately trying to distract me because we both know that just under the surface of our conversation is the deep, penetrating sadness that Max is gone.  I dropped Beth off in downtown La Crescenta yesterday while I visited the acupuncturist.  She got a soy latte while I had needles stuck in my head, hands, ankles, and face.  I picked her up after the appointment and we went to Whole Foods to buy lunch and pick up food for dinner.  There are millions of babies at Whole Foods.  A couple looked like they came straight to Whole Foods from the delivery room.  Regardless, I was walking and talking to Beth as we approached the salad bar area and I ran into the acupuncturist's sister, who works as the receptionist.  I had literally left their office 15 minutes previous.  I don't think I have EVER smiled in their office.  I very rarely smile these days.  But, Beth was telling me something that was making me smile, maybe even chuckle when I came face to face with the sister.  She looked at me with the most surprised expression, like she was looking at a ghost.  I know it was because she had never seen me smile.  I got caught!  I nearly wanted to explain to her that I am still so desperately sad and that my smile should in NO WAY be seen as a sign that I am recovering.  Instead, I just introduced her to Beth and moved quickly to the deli counter.

Anyway, I KNOW there are some of you who are going to write me to tell me how "upbeat" I sound.  PLEASE don't.  Really.  It's not that I don't want my occasional upbeatness to go unnoticed but it will just confirm my sad thought that so many people really only want to have anything to do with me when I am upbeat.  It drives me crazy.  You can recognize it and then put it away because please make no mistake, I cried at least 20 times throughout the day and I woke up at 3:30 am after a BAD dream and haven't been able to go back to sleep.  Still, I recognize that there have been many beautiful people supporting me lately and that has felt like an enormous blessing.  So, thank you.

Maxie's Birthday Party

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Max's birthday is coming up.  The anniversary of the very best day of our lives, when our little boy came into this world.  This was a day we were really looking forward to: the chance to celebrate Max, to make him the center of attention, to give him his first bites of birthday cake, to shower presents on him.  Instead we are planning a memorial. Ted and I have started to talk about the details of the day.  We have to do it at the end of the day on Yom Kippur (the 8th) because the 7th, which is Max's birthday is a Friday and Erev Yom Kippur.  So, we will combine Max's memorial with breaking the fast.  Double downer day.  I am sure it is not appropriate to say how much I dislike Yom Kippur.  But, there, I said it.  Flash backs of my childhood synagogue where nobody brushed their teeth in the morning and so with each "Al Chait" was a new burst of bad breath (the very religious take fasting to a whole new level).   Anyway, the idea of confessing my sins this year makes me crazy.  Did I sin?  Or, did G-d, the almighty, enact a terrible sin against me?  Was it MY sin, some terrible sin I don't even remember, that caused Max to die?  Was it my Lashon Ha Rah (gossip)? Or my vanity (trying to lose baby weight)? Or my overprotectiveness (thereby not trusting that G-d would ensure everything would be ok)?  Which TERRIBLE sin of mine was it EXACTLY that caused my only child to be killed?  I am sick that instead of picking out a cake decorated with monkeys and rainforest, I am deciding which poems we should read around the tree that we are planting in his memory in our front yard.  What should I pray for this year?  Or, is the point for me to go to services and surrender to G-d's will and just nod my head in the trust that Max's life ended for a reason I cannot understand.  If G-d is so great, can he/she forgive me for being so incredibly ANGRY?  If not, I guess I am going to hell.  I will be in good practice when I get there because I am currently living in the earthly version of it.  I am beyond bitter.

Moses Basket

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Today is the 21st of the month, so is today the two month marker since Maxie's death?  Or, is tomorrow, Thursday (the day of the week that he died) the marker?  Both days suck!  Look at my peaceful angel.  The first time I caught him in this position, my love for him quadrupled.  Please!  Is this not the cutest thing ever?  His chubby little cheeks.  The peaceful look on his face.  His bony little elbows.  I want to eat him up.  Max slept in this little basket when he was little.  It was so cute.  We carried him around in it.  We were still staying with my mother for the first week after Max was born (our kitchen was being renovated) and I remember bringing Max in his basket downstairs and putting him on the dining room table while we ate dinner.  The basket sat at the foot of our bed too.  

Now I wonder if it was a "Safe" basket.  No that it matters for Max.  I mean, he managed to stay alive while sleeping in the basket.  But, is the material in it breathable?  Is the mattress in it too soft?   Would the sides be considered bumpers?  It never occurred to me then but I am plagued by these thoughts now.  WHAT DID I DO WRONG?  Is it my fault that my favorite person on earth is gone?  I just want to die thinking about it.  Could the off-gassing from his crib mattress have built up over time and poisoned him?  Aren't all of my friends kids sleeping on similar mattresses?  Last night Ted and I met with our grief counselor and she was telling us about how if you were able to get a peek into everyone's lives around you, you would see tragedy and grief.  Ted and I both told her that 9 weeks ago, you wouldn't have seen either in our lives.  We were both living in our own happy ending.  Now, I am drowning in my own grief.  I am not sure how many times I have heard that god only gives us what we can handle.  Yuck, by the way.  And - I cannot handle this.  My grief is bigger than me.  

I am going to a meeting of the Executive Committee of my Board of Directors today.  It is one hour, I can probably handle that.  The meeting takes place in our presidents law firm's conference room.  I am afraid the receptionist is going to ask me how my baby is.  Should I call ahead and tell her my baby is dead?  The grief counselor suggested acting like I am on the phone and waving to the receptionist as I walked in.  Sounded like a good idea until I realized I have to face her again when I get my parking validated.  Maybe I should just pay for my own parking?  What if I start crying in the meeting?  What if they are uncomfortable with me being there?  My own closest friends are uncomfortable around me.  Nobody knows what to say.  How about, "Max was the most wonderful baby and it is so unfair that you have to live on this earth without him!" (Thanks Bianca, I love when you say that.  Makes me feel validated).  Anyway, it is ONE hour.  I should be able to handle that.  Baby steps (no pun intended). 

My little monkey.  Relaxing in his Moses Basket.  I love everything about you Maxie.
Everything!  I hope you wait for me.  I can't wait to see you again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Yesterday marks two months since our nightmare began.  Tomorrow marks two months since the last time we spent with Maxie.  Yesterday Ted came home from work in an obvious foul mood.  He changed out of his jeans and went into the living room and put on his Giants football game.  He was getting angry at the TV.  He turned to me and said, "I have a lot of anger!  You know how you are sad?  I am angry!"  Teddy, I get it!  I am angry too...but you are right, I am more sad.  Makes sense that the Daddy would be ANGRY!

I don't want to forget one detail of Max's life.  I am so scared I will forget something.  I will obviously not forget the big things, but I want to try and remember all of the little things too.  Today I want to tell you about our flight home from the East Coast in June.  Our flight wasn't until 5 or 6 so we spent the day doing stuff.  Max got in his first nap while I packed up.  Ted went over to his parents to do some work on their house (I can't remember what).  Somehow we all lost track of time and even though we had all day to get to the airport, we ended up driving there in a mad rush and arriving only 30 minutes before our flight.  I strapped Max to me in his Bjorn and Ted and I started running.  We tried to check in at the curb but they told us we were too late.  Then we ran into the building and somehow we split up.  I think Ted ran off with luggage and I was inside with the baby.  Bonnie came in and we were speaking to some of the airline representatives mulling about, who told us we were too late.  She pleaded with someone who finally said that they would make an exception and asked me to come with them to the counter.  That person was walking WAY too quick for me.  I had Max strapped to me, carrying the stroller and a small wheelie bag.  Max was bouncing over the place while I tried to keep up with this guy.  When we finally got there, they berated me for getting there late and kept saying if my husband didn't get to the counter by the time they were finished typing, we should forget about it.  I was frantically trying to text Ted.  Finally he made it.  We pushed our way through security and got on the plane.  Because we were so late, our seats were not together, but Ted charmed a few passengers into switching and we sat down.  Max was an ANGEL through the whole thing, despite having missed his second nap.  As soon as we sat down though, he melted.  Not really crying, more like whining.  I bounced him.  I pulled his face up to mine, kissed him on his cheeks and sang in his ear.  I rubbed his little back. I pulled out toys.  He was a little frantic.  I lifted him in the air.  Suddenly, a smile.  I brought him back down to my lap - more whining.  Lifted him in the air, a little smile.  I turned around and looked through the cracks in the seat to see an older man, with crooked teeth making funny faces at Max.  I let Max look at him over the seat, he was delighted.  Of course, I couldn't depend on that guy for the whole flight but he helped take the edge off a very stressful situation and he made my boy happy.  Max fussed for most of the flight until I strapped him back into the Bjorn and threw a very light blanket over him.  We went to the back of the plane where I could swing from side to side.  He feel asleep at last, with his little cheek pressed against my chest while I rubbed his back and sang to him.  I would give anything to be at the back of that plane with my little boy.

Maxie, I dream about you every night.  I think about you all day long.  You are still our most favorite person, whether you are here with us or not.  Mommy is so sad.  Daddy is so angry.  We love you with all of our hearts.  We miss you like crazy.

Falling in Love

Monday, September 19, 2011

My friends always told me that what I would feel about my baby would be similar to how it feels to fall in love.  I guess when you haven't had anything else to compare it to, that is the best comparison.  But, I felt that falling in love with Max was so different than falling in romantic love, even though there were similarities: butterflies in my stomach, wanting to be with him all of the time, lots of eye contact and smiling.  My love for Max was immediate and each day, I actually felt my love grow deeper.  I never had to worry about Max not loving me back because he showed me all of the time how much he loved me.  There was no stage where you are wondering who is going to say it first, or if anyone would say it at all.  You are just in love.  This is going to sound weird, but while I was falling in love with Max, I was falling in love with myself too.  I loved the person I was becoming and so overjoyed to find out how much more there was to me than that which I already knew.  I also fell more deeply in love with Ted, seeing what a wonderful father and husband he innately is.  The entire experience was blissful.

I sometimes thought about how nature (or god, if that is your belief) must have made all of the developmental stages so that parents would have new things to fall in love with every week.  Obviously, the developmental stages exist so that the baby develops into a child and then a teenager and then an adult but perhaps there is a part of the course of the development that exists purely so that parents have something new to marvel at all of the time.  First smiles, first eye contact, first laughs, rolling over, pushing up, first teeth...every new thing fills your heart with adoration and joy.  It is the most wonderful love that exists I think.  This love is totally pure and selfless - the very best thing that ever happened to me.

I have mentioned that leaving Max at daycare broke my heart every day...especially Mondays.  I preferred to be home with him sleeping in his room than out with friends enjoying a new restaurant or at a party.  I have mentioned that I felt I had known Max my entire life.  I don't know if these are universal feelings.  Many friends have told me that a break from the kids is necessary and good.  Perhaps if I had  many children I would have agreed.  Every bath I missed was like a slap in the face.  I am not romanticizing my love for Max.  I would get physically tired (the worst was the first week of Hanukkah when Max's acid reflux was in full swing and there was literally a 48-72 hour period that I did not sleep), but I never felt emotionally tired from Max.  It probably helps that he was a VERY easy baby.  But, again, I like to think we had a unique bond.  We were really in love and being together made us very happy.

The other night I had a dream that Max was a twin and the other baby was the "not quite as awesome" version.  He was cute, but not quite as cute as Max.  He was funny, but not quite as funny as Max.  He was happy, but not quite as happy as Max.  Max died and I was left with only the not as quite version.  I kept thinking "I need to love this baby as much as Max" but I couldn't.  I loved him for sure, just not quite as much as Max.  Everyone tells me that when you have more than one child, you worry at first that you won't love your second or third as much as the ones that came before but that you always do.  I admit that I wonder if I will love the next baby quite as much.  I am afraid that I will love the next babies with my guard up, like how I dated after I first had my heart broken - without emotionally investing the way I did with Max.  Sad.

There was something else I wanted to mention and that is how I feel like I misled so many of you when you were here for shiva.  You think I am still "Abby".  I am so sorry that I misled you into thinking that is who I am now.  You see, I was in shock.  I was thinking then that I am strong, that I would be able to handle this.  I was thinking, "Ted and I are in love and we are strong and we will get through this."  I was even able to make jokes and smile.  I asked you about your work and your children and laughed about the mispronounciation of the "Name Tag" beer from Trader Joe's (which Darren mispronounced as Nah - meh Taag, and which we then convinced Kate was a Thai beer.....oh, the laughs we shared).  You haven't seen me since then and so you are confused when that Abby doesn't greet you when you finally do see me again.  You are wondering why I am more sad now that the day of my baby's funeral.  I am not a grief expert and I cannot explain it to you but all I can say is I am not sure where that Abby went.  Sometimes I see glimpses: like last night when Ted and I laughed and laughed about the woman at the Emmys with the pashmina wrapped around her head.....sometimes we are mean.  I wonder if those glimpses mean that I am hiding in there somewhere and that I might be coming back.  More than often, I think, does a mother living without her child even deserve to laugh?  It's easy for you to say YES but then I feel let off the hook.  I don't want to be let off the hook.  If you have ever grieved over a broken heart, you have a very small idea of what my heart feels like.  It is like breaking up with yourself, knowing that you will never see yourself again, and that the thing you MOST loved on the whole earth is gone forever.  No words do this feeling justice.  I am in agony.  I am in a pit of despair.  I may never make it out all of the way and if I do, I will be covered with dirt and grime.  I am sorry to those of you who loved "Abby".  Perhaps you will learn to love the new person that emerges with time.  Know that you are not alone and I am going to have to learn to love that person to.  I see a long road ahead.

My New Genre

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yesterday after I posted about not being able to find my genre, I think I managed to do just that.  Bereavement and perhaps a twist of revenge.  Of course, I hate not having anyone to be angry at - nobody to whom I can dedicate my life of revenge.  I long to be like Inigo Montoya, from the Princess Bride, and dedicate the rest of my life towards finding the 6 fingered man who killed my father.  My name is Abigail Leviss, you killed my son...prepare to die!

Last night we watched "Hereafter" with Matt Damon about this reluctant psychic who can communicate with the dead (speaking of which, if you have ever had a really wonderful experience with a Medium or psychic, please let me know. I know I sound crazy.  Have you noticed yet that I actually AM crazy?) Anyway, the movie is about all of these sad people who have experienced loss.  Finally, a movie with characters I can relate to.  If you saw it, I feel like the little boy in the movie - searching for answers.  Even better, we went to the actual movie theater yesterday and saw "The Debt".  I think I would have loved it even if Max hadn't died.  It is about 3 Israeli Mossad agents who go to Berlin to hunt down a Mengele-like character.  The movie takes place in Israel, Germany and Ukraine.  It is about people who are compelled to seek revenge because their feelings of loss run so deep.  There is a line in the movie about surviving the Holocaust - something about how terrible it is to be a survivor.  Finding my new genre reminds me of a quote that Suzy told me she heard from Anderson Cooper.  His brother committed suicide and he says that the reason he became a journalist is because he wanted his outsides to match his insides.  My environment very rarely matches my insides these days.  This is why I hardly leave my house.  Outside, people are going to baseball games, and enjoying the sunshine, and strolling their babies through the neighborhood.  Inside, it is dark and quiet and there are blown up photos of Max and I have control.  Outside is chaos.  Inside it a different kind of chaos.

"The Debt" makes me think of my first job after coming home from Israel, at the Shoah Foundation.  I worked in the cataloguing department, on the night shift.  (Shout out to my Shoah Foundation Night Shift Peeps!).  What a weird but wonderful, life altering job!  We worked from 5 pm to 1:30 am, Sunday - Thursday night.  There were a limited number of computers that had the cataloguing software on them so there was a day shift too.  I had heard survivors speak before.  I had read Anne Frank's diary.  I had seen many documentaries about the Holocaust.  Before this job though, I had never heard such detailed, uncensored accounts of the loss.  I had never personalized the tragedy.   During my first months there, I had nightmares every night, I sat in my apartment and tried to figure out where I would hide people if I needed to, I felt the urge to try and "save" every homeless person I passed on the street, I went to parties and cried.  For a long time during and after my time at the Foundation, I felt like only people who had worked there, in my department, could understand me.  As a cataloguer, I watched the testimonies of Holocaust survivors every night, tracking important historical and personal information.  Many of us learned this odd skill set by practicing on a testimony given by a guy named Peter Hirsch.  Peter Hirsch's story, like so many other survivor's, was about losing everything and then rebuilding his whole life: moving to a new country, falling in love, starting his own family.  I cried my eyes out every time I watched it.  I am crying now just thinking about his sweet face and the beautiful way he expressed his love for his wife and children.  How he recovered from his loss, the loss of his parents and his WHOLE family, with such grace and determination, was the most inspirational thing I could imagine.  I always wondered if he knew about the 80 cataloguers and other Shoah staff who sat in trailers on the Universal backlot, night after night, watching his testimony and crying our eyes out: just another day at the office.  I left the Foundation for a while and then came back to translate Hebrew Pre-Interview Questionnaires (PIQs) a couple of days a week.  During that time, I sat next to a survivor, who was translating from like 7 languages.  He told me his story, which he said was top secret, which he told me not to tell anyone, which I have since learned he told all of the young ladies.  Anyway, I love his story.  He too had lost everyone and after the war, he went to Israel, where he joined the Mossad and was sent back to Europe as a Nazi hunter.  He told me that he had to keep a pill of cyanide under his tongue in case he was ever caught, so that he would just kill himself rather than giving away secrets while being tortured.  The stories were wild, filled with adventure and revenge.  By the time I met him, he was living in an apartment in the San Fernando valley, with his American wife and breeding some kind of small puff-ball dog.  I loved that his life ended so regular.  I remember thinking, how could he stand every day with this wife who hadn't experienced what he had experienced, breeding these silly little dogs?  Like, why weren't they at least breeding some kind of fierce dog?  I think it was probably these soft and regular things that gave him comfort.  He had made his peace to a certain extent.

What is the sum up?  I don't know.  Why do I tell you all of this?  I don't know.  I don't get to be Inigo Montoya.  I don't get to dedicate my life to revenge, running around with a cyanide pill under my tongue, looking for the ones that took my son.  I have to rebuild my life, eventually, like Peter Hirsch.  I have to figure out a way to reconcile the fact that my environment on the outside will not match the environment of my insides for a long time.  I hope to find calm in my home, in the valley, with my family and my dogs.  Until then, I will TRY to distract myself as much as possible with my new genre: Loss, with a touch of Revenge.

No Good Distractions

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Last night Ted and I watched a TERRIBLE romantic comedy that we had netflixed.  I don't even want to tell you which one because that is how embarrassing it was.  I knew this movie was going to suck too.  The thing is, I am not sure what genres are safe to me at this point.  It would be nice if TV or the movies were a good distraction.  Ted suggested that we see a movie today about the end of the world, to which I answered, "YES!  Let's only see movies about the end of the world from now on".  But then I realized that if I saw a movie about the end of the world, in this case "Contagion", I would be awake all night thinking - what if Ted and I have another baby and then this baby catches some disease and dies?  TV isn't really safe either.  We are big fans of True Blood, but this season a little devilish baby was introduced to the show.  I thought the baby was so cute when Max was alive.  I couldn't look at him after Max died.  Even Curb your Enthusiasm sent me into a panic during an episode where a mother had to throw her baby out a window.  One would think that a romantic comedy would be safe, but all I could think throughout the whole movie was - once these two get together and have their happy ending, I am pretty sure their baby won't die.

This reminds me of Facebook.  A place where anyone could get lost for hours.  I can't even log in for more than a couple of minutes.  Sometimes people still send me email there and I like to check my sister-in-law's page for updates about "Team Maxie", but I cannot look at the scroll of updates on people's lives.  I am sure I don't really need to explain how much I envy the person who posts new photos of their lovely children.  I even envy the people that post photos of their dinner.  The mundane going ons of other people's lives is enviable.  There was a lot of activity on my page after Max died, people sending condolences and nice notes about Max.  I couldn't help but notice that a woman who had come to Max's funeral posted on her wall the day after, "Another beautiful day...they just keep piling up."  How could beautiful days be piling up when she had spent the day before at a baby's funeral?  MY baby's funeral!  It still makes me sick to think about it.  I de-friended her.  We didn't know each other that well anyway.

This morning I dreamed about Max.  In the dream, he was sick and dying.  He only had a few days left and every morning we woke up to find him still alive was a blessing.  I got to hold him and kiss him and tell him how much I loved him and he understood.  He really understood the words I was saying.  On the final morning, my aunt called us from the morgue and told us to rush over, Max was dead.  The line was choppy and I could not get the address, she kept cutting out on the phone.  I was trying to look for the address on receipts and in books but I could not.  I was crying and trying to keep my cool but failing.  I know I keep replaying the moment that I received the call from daycare on the Tuesday of Max's incident.  Max's caretaker was hysterical on the phone and said "Max stopped breathing and he is on his way to St. Joe's ER", then she said something about CPR so as I am running out of the house, I am saying "but he started breathing again, right?" and she was saying "get to the ER as quick as you can" and I kept repeating, "he started breathing again, right?" and then I got off the phone so I could concentrate on driving but I had a lunch meeting with two members of my board that I needed to cancel so I frantically called my colleague and asked her to let them know I wouldn't make it.  Then, I called daycare again and she put a paramedic on the phone who said, "Ma'am, your son is being rushed to the St. joseph's Emergency Room" and I said, "I KNOW! Did he start breathing again?" at the very moment he started to answer me, the colleague from work was calling and I tried to hang up on her because the beeps were making it impossible for me to hear the paramedic, but I accidentally hung up and him and got her.  When I realized I had her on the line and not him, I screamed, "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" and hung up on her.  By then I had arrived at the hospital but couldn't figure out where to park and made several u-turns before just parking in the staff parking lot.  This proved to be a terrible mistake because when we left St. Joe's to follow the ambulance to Tarzana, Ted and I ran around the entire perimeter of the building looking for my car, angry at each other in the moment but really just tense about our boy.  The whole scene haunts me night and day as I imagine it will forever.  It's like right out of a horror movie, another genre I can't watch.

Maxie's New Car

Friday, September 16, 2011



In June, we were in Connecticut for a wedding and to visit family and friends.  We took the red eye into town and I was TIRED when we got there.  After eating our "flagels" (Flat Bagels) I took a long nap while Ted and Gigi (Bonnie, Ted's mom....affectionately called Gigi by our niece Sadie.  She would have been called Gigi by Maxie too when he was able to speak) entertained the peanut.  They decided to take Maxie to the park and put him in cousin Sadie's little car for the ride.  When I FINALLY woke up, Ted showed me photos with a huge proud grin and told me about how little Maxie put his feet up on the dashboard and held on to the little steering wheel. In perfect Gigi fashion, the same little car arrived at our house for Maxie just a couple weeks later.  Ted assured me that even though the box said that it was for ages 1 and up, Maxie was a pro in this vehicle and I had nothing to worry about.  I wasn't worried.  If it made Max and Ted happy, it made me happy.  We parked the car in front of our house and Ted often took our little monkey for walks up and down the street in it.  Max would grab for flowers and other stuff outside the car as Daddy would wheel him past.  He looked like such a big boy in his little car.  It is just one of the many baby reminders that now lives in our house and backyard, unused, gathering dust, reminding us of who we do not have any longer.  The person we are thinking about and missing all of the time.


I wanted again to write about normalcy because this is a concept that just doesn't seem to make sense to those around us and I fully understand why.  I am not sure why it is so important to me that you understand this.  Some of you do understand it without me having to spell it out and truthfully, I cannot even speak for Ted because I think he appreciates a certain degree of normalcy and distraction, so I will speak for myself.  When you try hard to act normal with me, to talk about whatever normal stuff is going on in the world or in your life, when you don't acknowledge the pain that I am in, or you try to distract me with silliness, or you feel like you can't or shouldn't mention Maxie's name in front of me, you are doing yourself more of a service than you are doing me.  That is fine and I understand it because I have been in your shoes.  I know how hard it is to know what to say.  But, for the record, Max is in every thought that I have, whether I am asleep or awake.  When you tell me a joke or about how annoying your co-worker is, I am nodding and I may even be smiling, but I am thinking how sad I am that my baby died.  To be sure, I CAN be distracted but to start there with me is to ignore the searing pain that I feel without stop.  Again, I know how hard it is to be where you are with me now.  I have tried to distract a mourner, someone in pain, with silly stories and nonsense jokes.  I have talked about how much a day at work sucked or the dent in my car to try and distract you when you were grieving. I am SURE of it.  Now that I am here, I want to tell you with all of my heart that I am sorry.  Everyone is different, so maybe you actually did appreciate the distraction but still, I know now that nothing is the same when you sit on this side.  Everything is colored with the loss.  Everything is colored with images, thoughts, the love and longing for Maxie.  If you can acknowledge that, we have a better chance of moving into small talk, if that is what you would like to do.  I don't want to sound preachy.  I don't want to sound mean.  I don't want to imply that I will only talk about Max and nothing else.  I just want you, as someone I love, to know how to interact with me, someone you might love.

Our Happy Family

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Ted, Maxie and I were such a happy family.  We had our routines and we each had our own way of doing things.  This morning we were talking about missing Max.  I said how much I miss walking into his room in the morning, opening the door and saying very softly, "Good Morning my baby".  I would walk over to the bedside lamp and turn on the dim setting so his little eyes could adjust.  It would take a little while, but I would pick him up and just nurse him or give him his bottle in that dim light.  Ted had a different way.  He would walk in, turn on the overhead light, and say "Good Morning Maxie!"  No time to adjust to the light.....time to be with Daddy.  I liked to cuddle with Max, rub my nose against his cheek and kiss his little face.  I liked to wrap my arms around him and hold him close.  Teddy liked to play with Max.  Tossing him up in the air, making him giggle by squeezing his thighs, being silly with his little boy.  It took us a couple of months to get the hang of parenthood, but we had it down.  We were good at it.  We loved it.  We loved being Max's parents.  Oh my lord- we loved the person that was MAX!  We loved being a Mommy and a Daddy.  We loved being a family.  The numbness and shock wear off more each day and each day this gets harder and harder.  We are fully aware now that "this is the shitty hand we've been dealt", as Ted says.  We are still a family but we are missing a most important piece. 

Grief 101

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They should offer a course in high school about Grief.  There were plenty of subjects I studied in school whose basic principals I don't even remember because I have never had to use them.  But Grief is universally important to know about.  There is no common language, there is hardly even a real recognition of another person's grief.  It wouldn't only be useful for those people who are interested in comforting the grieving, it would be useful to those of us who have to grieve.  Maybe it would prepare you for the severe trauma, discomfort, agony, anger and pain that you might experience, if you were ever so unfortunate to have to grieve (which I think everyone will eventually have to do in one way or another, even if just for a family pet).  It would teach those who want to comfort the grieving that it is ok if you can't make a grieving mother laugh.  It is ok to just say, "This is terrible and should have never happened to you two and your families".  It would teach people not to say, "I hope you two are doing well" (though we understand that you say that because you don't know what else to say....because you didn't have to take Grieving 101).  I think if everyone took a course in grieving, it would be easier for us to say "yes" to friends that want to visit and it would be easier for those friends once they actually got here.  In the meantime, we are all confused.  Nobody knows what to say.

I want to mention my boss, who must have taken this course.  I guess when you are the CEO of a 110 year old non-profit organization supporting projects in Israel , you spend enough time with the grieving to know what to say to them.  Still, this man is a mensch and I am forever grateful for what he said to me, which was, "Let me walk beside you".  Simple really.  He didn't urge me to pull it together or to put one foot in front of the other or to think of all the good things in my life.  He just admitted that he didn't know what I must be feeling but that he can only imagine how terrible it must be and then he repeated, "Let me walk beside you."  Russell, you know that I love you.  Know also that my family is grateful.  I am so honored that you would offer to walk beside me.  I barely even want to walk beside myself.

When I think about the fact that Ted and I had a baby that died unexpectedly, it almost seems tolerable...barely.  If I try to remove myself and Ted and Max from the equation and just say it the way it must sound to strangers:  Did you hear about that nice couple that lost their nine month old...how tragic.  That sounds tolerable.  Then, when I think about Maxie - his beautiful face, his funny baby movements, his happy disposition, his wonderful personality, I feel sick.  It was this unique human person who we loved so much that we lost.  This person who made my heart flutter, who caused a permanent smile on my face when I was around him, who had his whole life ahead of him, who brought me even closer to my husband...is gone.  That is what kills me.  I can think about it the second way all day long.  I DO think about it the second way all day long.  At night, when I am lying down to sleep, I force myself to think about it the first way.  If one ounce of Maxie's personality finds its way into my brain, I am doomed to nightmares and sleeplessness.  My hope is that, even though it is hard, you will think of him the second way.  That you will know something of the Maxie that Ted and I love.  Our wonderful little boy with the world's biggest smile.

Not getting any easier

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It feels like I get sadder every week.  Is it possible that it is going to get worse before it gets better?  Is it possible that it will ever get better?  Do I even want it to get better?  I miss Maxie all of the time and the further I get from the last day I saw him, the more I miss him.  That's how missing goes.

Last Friday I had coffee in the morning with a mommy who lost her first born child to SIDS.  This mommy happens to live 3 and a half blocks away from me.  She lost her daughter three years ago, while she was a daycare.  She has had 2 children since then.  It seems like she is doing well.  I know she misses her baby but she is the one that told me her heart has grown and made room for two more babies, whom she loves just as much.  I was most interested in knowing how she even got through infancy with her new babies.  Once this has happened to you, there is no way that you can sleep easy again.  She bought a special monitor and she tried to have faith that it couldn't happen again and her children are still here.  She, unlike everyone else who says, "It will never happen again", didn't say that.  She knows that we cannot give each other these assurances because shit happens.  She gave me a few books and has kept in touch with me and I am happy that she is someone who understands what I am going through.  One of the books she gave me was "Comfort", by Ann Hood. It is the story of the author's loss of her daughter and her journey through grief.  I read it in a day.  I then bought the fictional account of the same story, by the same author, "The Knitting Circle".  All I can say is, that these books sum up how I feel.  In the books, the author talks about how knitting saves her and becomes a way to cope with her depression.  I used to knit when I was a little girl.  My grandma Ann taught me.  I really only ever learned one stitch and I never learned how to start or end my scarves but I remember liking it.  So, today I am off to the knitting store to buy some needles and yarn.  I told you that I've become old really quick.  "Old as Dirt" is what Ted would say.

I tried to go to the knitting store yesterday, but like sushi joints and museums, knitting stores are closed on Mondays.  Instead I went to the cemetery.  Maxie's grave is in a beautiful part of Mt Sinai.  "I am here to visit my son", I tell the guy at the gate.  Did I really just say that?  Every time Ted and I say it at the gate I wonder if it is real.  There was a funeral going on nearby, so I had to park down the hill a little bit.  Walking up to his grave is so unreal.  But, there it is.  "Maxwell Leviss" written on a little white tag on the ground.  My dad was there last week for the funeral of an old person and left some rocks on Maxie's grave.  Maybe he also left the flower that is stuck into the ground.  I didn't bring flowers because I hate the thought of them dying.  Several weeks ago, Ted and I went there and asked the woman in the flower shop if she sold pinwheels.  I liked the idea of the pinwheel being ever in motion and never having to worry about it dying.  "Mt Sinai does not allow pinwheels on the property", she said with a sourpuss.  "But our son is only nine months old", I said.  "We collect all of the pinwheels and dispose of them", she said, "It's our policy".  She is lucky I didn't leap over her little desk and knock her out!   I still feel like I could drive back there at any moment and deck her.  Anyway, back to yesterday.  I was alone, which is fine, since I am mostly alone these days.  I laid down on Max's grave and cried my eyes out. "Why did you leave me baby?" I always ask him why he left me.  I pressed my cheek against the grass and just bawled.  There was a guy in an emergency services vehicle watching me out of the window of his van.  Whatever.  I guess he got a show because I just let it all out.  Cried and cried and begged and pleaded....not sure for what...mostly crying, "WHY?  WHY MY BABY?  WHY MY MAXIE?"  G-d picked the WRONG baby!!!!!!!  Maxie was too good to have this happen!  I AM SO ANGRY!!!!

This isn't getting any easier.

Images of Max

Monday, September 12, 2011

Images of Maxie have been dancing in my head all morning.  Warm and Cozy, warm and cozy....Maxie all wrapped up in a towel, smiling at me.  Jumpie, jumpie, jumpie....Maxie in his jumperoo, smiling at me.  Maxie Moo Moo!  Maxie Moo!  Maxie Moo Moo!  Maxie Moo!  Maxie sitting in his car seat, chewing on his Cat in the Hat soft book, smiling at me in the mirror.  Sometime several weeks before Maxie died, he was on the changing table and I was about to put a diaper on him when I heard a loud "TOOT".  Max farted.  I yelped and jumped back a bit.  He started cracking up.  I started cracking up.  We both laughed and laughed.  There are a couple of big red chairs on my mom's deck, behind the tree, next to her pool.  I used to like to sit in the chair, on the deck, looking out at the trees with Maxie on my lap, his face occasionally pressed against mine, while he played and played with my infinity necklace Ted gave me for our wedding.  I used to lay Maxie on the bed and hold him by the hands, and then sit him up, he would crunch his little ab muscles to help me help him up, his face full of a concentrated look.  Then after I had him sit and I would pull him up to stand and his face would go from concentration to a big smile as I said "Up up up up and All the way up!"  I am so lonely without Max.  Everyone asks me if there is anything that I do that gives me any relief.  Here is my answer.  There are periods that I don't cry.  Is that relief?  I enjoy being with Ted but I recognize that I am sucky company and he may not feel the same way about me.  He makes me laugh though and that is a good thing.  Honestly, I am sad all day and all night long.  This isn't real.  It is much too devastating to be real.  Real life would be me, putting on the Raffi Pandora station and dancing around the livingroom with the baby, who we made, who lived inside of me, who I gave birth to, who I nursed and fed and sung to sleep.  My little pumpkin, my punky, my monkey, my Max.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It was on Catalina Island that I first remember knowing that one day I wanted to be a mother. My cousin Nathan was born when I was around 19 or 20 years old. Like everyone else in my family, I fell head over heels for him and became completely obsessed. He was SO cute and he had the best personality. I just adored him. When he was under a year (though I can't remember exactly how old) we came to Catalina, as we did every summer. Natie got fussy over breakfast and I offered to take him outside and walk around with him. Up and down the beachfront drag I walked with him as people stopped to comment how cute my baby was. Several people asked if he was mine. "Yes!", I replied and they said, "He is so precious!". "Thank you!" I wasn't too young to be Nathan's mom and it thrilled me to know that people actually thought I was. I kept this up for years. I would take Natie to the movies or the beach and just steal him down a separate isle from my aunt in the drugstore so that people would think he was mine. Now he is a teenager in Portland and I doubt he would let me get away with that but it was fun while it lasted.

Max was mine! He even kind of looked like Nate. He also had a beautiful personality. I loved taking him to the supermarket where people would say, "What an adorable baby!" I have wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. It was so much better than I ever even imagined. The amount of love I feel for my Max is endless. It is consuming. It is the most wonderful deep love I have ever felt. I will never let go, I will never move on, I will love him for my entire lifetime. Nobody will take his place, he will always be in my heart. This shouldn't be. I should be taking him to the movies and the beach and the drugstore and beaming every time someone stops to say. "What a beautiful baby! Is he yours?"....YES, he is MINE!

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