Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Personal Revelation About a Political Revolution

Last night I was at my grief support group meeting of TheCompassionate Friends, and a light bulb suddenly went off in my brain. 

Anyone who has seen my Facebook feed over the last 9 or 10 months cannot escape my frequent and unabashed enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders as my candidate of choice for President of the United States. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that many people were surprised by my sudden outburst of political fervor (normally I stick to personal updates with the occasional GMO labeling or “save the bees” type of activism). I have to admit, it kind of caught me by surprise, too.

What I already knew
On the surface, I support Bernie because I believe that he is a rare kind of politician who has the integrity and courage to stand up for what’s right—fairness, equality, and justice for all including our planet—without being swayed by Big Money interests or political favors. And I agree with his priorities and his positions on the issues.

What’s more, because Hillary Clinton is running again this year, the inevitable comparisons to the 2008 presidential race have caused me to become aware that I really don’t remember very much about that election. I was in a fog in 2007 and 2008 having just suffered the death of my precious daughter Natalie (July 29, 2005–March 18, 2007). 

What I realized last night
Last night it dawned on me how my passion for Bernie is also an expression of my grief. It’s a little complicated as grief can take some unexpected turns, but I’ll do my best to explain.

First, a few notes about my political background and why I support Bernie
I believe that this election year, the United States is at a critical crossroads in its history. For most of my 49 years our country has been sinking into a dangerous and inherently “un-American” system that has turned our democracy into an oligarchy—a system of government in which a few rich and powerful people are in control.

In 1984 I became eligible to vote in my first presidential election. I have always taken my right to vote seriously and have exercised it faithfully in every election since—presidential and otherwise. With the exception of 1988 when Jesse Jackson ran for the democratic nomination (I saw him speak three times that year), no candidate has ever really gotten me particularly excited.  It seems like every time election year rolls around, it’s the all-too-familiar choice between the “lesser of two evils.”

The truth is, aside from voting, I have never really been involved in politics.

Now, for the first time in my life, a candidate has come along and ignited a fire in my political being. I’ve almost become an activist—even going so far as to become a delegate candidate on the Rhode Island democratic ballot. Thanks to Bernie Sanders—a man who has a proven record of fighting for equality and justice his entire adult life (just look at his various speeches over the years)—I am now keenly aware that the middle class has been shrinking and the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Roslyn’s and Gabriel’s future
And I started thinking about my children’s future: what kind of world are we going to leave them and their kids? Bernie’s idea of tuition-free public universities is sounding pretty darn good right now. So is his idea of universal, single-payer healthcare. Not to mention his deep commitment to addressing climate change. I want the world to be a better place for my children, not a dark, dystopian future that we see in popular fiction like “The Hunger Games,” where an oligarchic “Capital” controls everyone else through fear and propaganda for its own gain.

But in order to make any of these things happen, we need to get Big Money out of our political process. It’s not democracy when anything other than the will of the majority of people takes precedence. Yet the influence of Big Money and special interests has become standard operating procedure in our country. Bernie wants to fix the system.

A more compassionate society
Former President George H.W. Bush once said he wanted a “kinder, gentler nation.” It is a noble goal, but one that he was unable to achieve, nor has anyone else since. Why? Because the people we have elected to the highest office are not people of clear conviction and integrity that inspire others to be better human beings. Remember the line in the movie “As Good As It Gets” when Jack Nicholson says, “You make me want to be a better man”? That’s the kind of feeling I’m talking about. To inspire that in others you must set the example—and Bernie Sanders is doing that all over this country.

As a Bernie supporter, I have noticed an amazing thing starting to happen in our country. Through the incredible immediacy and intimacy of social media, people are connecting with each other. There is a sense of community—an American community—that doesn’t seem to have existed before. As I watch voting results come in across the country, I am deeply grateful to the people in those states for having the courage to vote for change, to vote for hope, to vote for integrity. I felt a glimmer of one-ness with my fellow citizens I had never felt before—like we are all in this together. And that is at the core of Bernie’s message. We are one people. Let’s help each other. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s stop the “me first” attitude that rears its ugly head so often in our daily lives.

Why we need a political revolution
It takes a lot of courage to change. But I believe that Bernie is the catalyst for truly bringing about the reform we need in our government and our society. His political revolution embraces the inherent principles of democracy, which is what the United States of America is supposed to uphold: Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have strayed and it's time to get back on track. Bernie is the only candidate who can make that happen.

Our ancestors fought for the freedoms many people now take for granted—the right to vote. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to be accepted for who you are. 

I am just one voter. One American citizen. One mother who wants the best for her children. And that is why I am voting for Bernie Sanders.

Back to the grief connection
So… last night I was sitting in the meeting listening to people talk about their grief and something clicked.

For people who have lost a child (myself included) one of the most difficult things to deal with in the grieving process is the unfairness of it. Children are not supposed to predecease their parents. I still find it impossible to accept Natalie’s passing. It is just wrong. But I don’t have anyone to blame or be angry at (except the universe, and frankly, that’s just not good enough).

With the wrongness of losing a child comes a feeling of powerlessness. There was nothing we could do to save her. Hope dies, too.

When Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, on a level buried very deep within me, I saw an opportunity for hope and I was compelled to DO SOMETHING in a way I never had before in my life. And so political activist Beth emerged. It came from a deep need, an all-consuming craving, for there to be fairness and justice in this world.

Natalie is gone. My only hope for her now is that her memory will live on among those who knew her and those who may be touched by her life. But I can still hope for a better future for Roslyn and Gabriel, for my fellow citizens, and for our planet. I know it’s an uphill battle. But does that mean we shouldn’t try?

My very insightful and caring husband
When I shared my revelation with my husband last night after the meeting, I was surprised and touched that he seemed to have understood my motivation all along. Last summer, he had expressed concern over me getting too invested in Bernie because he saw from the beginning how it was connected to Natalie and he didn’t want to see me get crushed. (Like many people, he was skeptical that Bernie could win against the enormous power of the political Establishment and the Clinton machine.) I am humbled by his insight. Sometimes those who love us know us better than we know ourselves. It just took me longer to figure it out. I am grateful to Christopher for that and so much more.

And I'm pleased to report that he has joined me in feeling the Bern!

Friday, January 29, 2016

You Can't Undo Death

Yesterday evening when we went to tuck in our chickens for the night, my husband found one of our four hens had died. I had let them run free for a couple of hours that afternoon and hadn't yet closed the door to the coop. Immediately I assumed that a predator had gotten in there. Already I was feeling like it was my fault. But when Chris picked her up, we examined her and I noticed she was in perfect condition. There were no wounds or signs of any sort of distress. We ruled out an attack, which then left the question of what caused her to die? Not even a year old, it wasn't her age. What else could cause a seemingly healthy chicken to just die? I had just seen her less than 2 hours prior and she was running around with the flock. So what happened in that short time frame to cause her to die?

I googled this question and found out that other people have had similar experiences. Maybe it was a heart attack. Maybe she was "egg bound," a condition that occurs when they can't release an egg. Maybe she was sick (though she didn't show any symptoms). Who knows?

I couldn't get to sleep last night as I cried and cried over this poor chicken. I felt a little silly until I realized how similar her fate was to my precious Natalie's. I am forever plagued with the question of what caused Natalie to die quietly in her sleep? There were no warning signs. Just like this chicken. There are no answers.

We didn't take any pictures of Natalie that horrific morning of March 18, nor as she lay peacefully in her casket when our family members visited her the night before her memorial service. (I have those images imprinted on my brain forever.) But Roslyn did take a picture of our poor hen and posted it on her Instagram account with the caption "RIP Gaspar or Sleepy" (it was hard to tell the three RI Reds apart, but we're sure it's not Birdy) and some crying emojis. Looking at that peaceful bird makes me keenly aware (yet again) of how precious and fragile life is. One minutes they're here, the next they're gone. Poof!

You can't undo death.

As a result of not sleeping well, I'm tired and I've been in a bit of a funk. In fact, I've been in a funk for the past couple of weeks as now we are well into the new year and March 18 is just around the corner. It seems to happen every year around this time. The passing of our poor, sweet chicken has triggered my grief big time. I'm in the thick of it again. I struggle to get through this season coping with the enormity of my loss and my forever longing for my daughter who I will never get back. Because you can't undo death.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

She Would Have Been 10

Natalie would have been 10 years old today. Ten. 10. T-e-n! Such a big girl, following in the footsteps of her beautiful big sister Roslyn, now 12. Roslyn doesn't have any friends that age herself, but she does know a few girls this age through another friend. Recently we have had a couple of social occasions in which these girls were there and it was both lovely and sad to see Roslyn interacting with them. Lovely because I'm always happy when Roslyn is having fun with other kids. Sad because it is a stark reminder that Natalie is not here. It gives me a glimpse of what it might be like if she were and all that we are missing.

When Chris and I decided to start trying for our second child, we did so with the thought that having a 2-3 year space between Roslyn and her little sister or brother would be nice. Natalie was exactly 2 1/2 years younger than Roslyn. Back in March 2007, we were planning to move Roslyn and Natalie into the same room together. We had even purchased matching beds online just a week or two before Natalie died. During that insane time just following her death, I had a moment of clarity and thought to cancel the bed order. When I logged in to the website, I found that the order never went through. The credit card was never charged. We didn't have to do anything to un-do it. I remember thinking how strange that was because I had received a confirmation page with an order #. It's still pretty strange when you think about it...

With each year that passes, I cannot help but wonder, What would Natalie be like? What would she be interested in? Would she love to read like Roslyn does? Or, maybe she would have loved to play sports (which Roslyn doesn't)? How tall would she be? Would she be funny? So many thoughts that fill my head... And then I cry because we will never know. I just remember those big, beautiful brown eyes and chubby, dimpled cheeks and I'm pretty sure Natalie would still have those as a 10 year-old (maybe the cheeks might be little less chubby, though). 

Today is a day to celebrate Natalie and the love and joy she brought to our family, if only for a short time. I plan to pick blueberries this morning with Gabriel and we will eat them and hum with pleasure in loving remembrance of our sweet baby girl, our little sister, our other big sister who we never met, our granddaughter, our niece, our friend. Our Natalie. We love you so.
Newborn Natalie

Natalie's first birthday. Blueberry cake!

The last picture ever taken of Natalie.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Leaving ESNS

Yesterday was Gabriel's last day at East Side Nursery School (ESNS), the beloved little pre-school that Roslyn and Gabriel both attended for two years, that's just a few blocks down the street from our house. It's where Natalie would have gone, too. She loved being there when I would drop off and pick up Roslyn. This year, I saw all of the other little siblings as they had fun being there, and it brought back fond memories of how much Natalie loved it, too.

ESNS is where Roslyn was going to school in 2007 when Natalie suddenly and tragically left us. It was such a shock to everyone at the time -- and I'm sure it still is for many. I know it is for us. In 2007, the ESNS community, made up of other parents and the school's two teachers Carole and Susan, surrounded us with love and support in our darkest hour. I am forever grateful to all of them for their kindness and support then -- and in the years since. And I know Christopher is, too. I honestly don't know what I would have done without them. I'll never forget taking Roslyn to school that first Tuesday back after we found Natalie that terrible Sunday morning. I could barely speak. It was all I had in me to just get through the task of dropping off my child for school and everything that entailed -- hanging up her coat, washing hands, getting settled, etc. Roslyn was so brave and just went with it like a trooper. I was a pathetic mess, but somehow managed to get through it. And time went on.

When Natalie died, we asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in her memory to the East Side Nursery School. We didn't have a cause of death. We were completely blind-sided. We didn't know what else to do or say when people started asking us, "Where can we send a donation?" ESNS was the natural, and only choice for us. It took us several years to figure out how that money would be allocated. Carole and Susan were very patient and understanding and worked with us to come up with a plan for using the money for something that would benefit the school while being a lasting tribute to Natalie and her memory. Just before Susan retired in 2011, we decided to use the funds to purchase new furniture and a lovely little plaque was placed in the classroom. I still can't look at it without tears welling up.

When Gabriel turned 3 and was old enough to start at ESNS, I felt apprehensive and nervous about returning to the school. I wasn't sure if it would be too painful because of how much ESNS was wrapped up in my feelings about my children, both happy and sad. But I also knew there was no other choice for us. Carole was always so understanding and supportive, I knew it would be OK. The first day back felt just plain weird. Except for Carole, I didn't know anyone (even Michele, the teacher who succeeded Susan was new). It felt strange to be back there among people who knew nothing about Natalie or our family. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Gabriel made it all easier, though. He was just so delightful and excited. He helped me make the transition to this new group of families who over the last two years I have had the pleasure of getting to know and become friends with.

Initially, I didn't ask to be on the ESNS board, but when an opening for tuition treasurer came up in October, I decided to volunteer and my name was picked out of a hat. The second year, I moved into the role of publicity coordinator where I knew I could put my professional skills to use. I was concerned about the lower-than-usual enrollment and didn't want to see the school suffer economic problems, so I made it my mission to do everything I could to make sure the numbers were better this year. I undertook a complete redesign of the school's website, which though nice, was outdated. We were fortunate to have some talented parents in the community this year -- a web designer and photographer, in particular -- who I worked with to create an accessible, mobile-friendly site for the school. I used Facebook to support enrollment and fundraising efforts and I'm happy to say that we're in great shape for next year. Maybe it was a fluke, maybe it had something to do with my efforts, I don't know. But I do know that I worked really hard -- all out of love for this school that has given me, my children, and our community so much.

So, yesterday was hard. ESNS is so deeply connected to Natalie (she even appears in the video they have on their website, the little sister at the beginning in the hat with pink polka dots), it felt like another door was being closed. Another chapter finished. On some level, I know this isn't true -- for I know that as long as I'm living, my baby she'll be (thanks Robert Munsch). And I also know that Gabriel is ready to move on, and I'm excited for what the future holds for him at International Charter School and beyond. So on one hand, I'm ready to leave. On the other, it's hard to let go.

In the end, I just want to say: Thank you, thank you, East Side Nursery School for everything you've given Roslyn, Gabriel, Christopher, me -- and Natalie. We love you.






Natalie's chairs and couches.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mystery at Swan Point

Yesterday my husband Christopher was out doing errands. He came home and told me that one of the places he stopped was Swan Point and that someone had shoveled a direct path off the main path directly to Natalie's stone. This morning, I went there to see for myself. Sure enough, it was a beeline as clear as day right to her stone. We are both incredibly moved that someone (we don't know who) would do this. It is quite clear that it happened very recently because of the fresh piles of snow on the sides of the path and the fact that it hasn't been re-snowed on or had much time to melt. It all just looks very fresh. To me, this suggests that it is someone who knows that Natalie's anniversary is this week (tomorrow, in fact) and that the person wanted to clear the way so that we could get close without having to trudge through the snow when we came to visit. I was planning to go tomorrow, as I always do, so the mystery shoveler's thinking is sound.

We have absolutely no idea who did this. Was it someone we know or a stranger? Whoever it was, it was certainly a snow angel.

It has happened a few times over the years that strangers who have come across Natalie's stone at Swan Point have contacted me via her website or my blog. They seem to have been moved by the dates, 2005-2007 -- such a young child. Some have wondered what happened to her and have reached out to me to express their condolences. Each time this has happened, I have been moved that Natalie continues to touch people's lives in such profound ways.

In any case, Christopher and I would like the mystery shoveler to know that we are very grateful for their thoughtfulness, for taking the time to honor Natalie in this way -- and to provide some comfort to us. We are deeply moved.




Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Renewed hope

It's hard to believe a whole year as gone by since I last posted here. On one hand, I'm sorry I haven't been as faithful to my blog as I used to be, but on the other hand, it's a sign that I seem to be doing OK (better, at least). I guess. At the moment, I really don't know. My blog served a very important therapeutic role for me in the early years after losing Natalie. One of the reasons I wanted to have my blog is because after creating Natalie's website, I realized that was The End of her story. Natalie's site is about Natalie and her beautiful, but too-short life. My blog is about me and my life with and without my children. Since I'm still here and thankfully, so are Roslyn and Gabriel, it's a story that continues to unfold. I realized, too, that with the advent of Facebook, I tend to share more about this part of my story there. In my mind, somehow, a cute little thing Gabriel said or did doesn't warrant an official blog post. So, I put it on Facebook instead.

For me, it doesn't really matter through which medium I express myself, just that I do when I feel the need.

I chose to write this post now in honor of Natalie and in acknowledgment of the 8th year since she left us. It is still unfathomable to me. Recently I saw two kids (one a 19 month-old boy and the other an 18 month-old girl) and my thoughts immediately went to Natalie who was that age and I thought, "was she that small?" The truth is, I can't really remember how big she was. Gabriel keeps on growing and is now almost 5. He's average size for his age, but it has sort of skewed my recollection or perception of what Natalie was like as a busy, happy little toddler. It makes me feel sad that as time goes on, my memories are starting to fade, too. Of course, there are some priceless treasures that will always remain, but others are definitely growing more dim. It's like losing her all over again.

As this 8th anniversary of her passing approaches, I have have found this year to be difficult and complicated. My involvement with the nursery school that Roslyn was attending at the time in 2007 and that Gabriel is now attending has stirred up a lot of emotions. It has triggered grief in ways I hadn't expected and I have been doing my best to cope with it.

In addition, we are in the thick of planning for Gabriel's schooling next year. He will be in kindergarten. In Providence, kindergarten is a major process involving applications to public charter schools (free and generally considered much better than the regular public schools) and private schools, going to open houses, visiting days, evaluations, etc. It's all been such an ordeal that has left me utterly exhausted. Getting into a charter school seems to be what most people want for their child. It seems to be the best of all worlds -- a good education with no price tag (other than the taxes we pay anyway). It is an extremely competitive process as there are very limited spots and hundreds and hundreds of applications for the lottery. Roslyn did not get chosen in any of the lotteries, which left us with only one option -- regular public school. It didn't go well for her and we ended up sending her to private school for first grade. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end, though we did end up paying quite a bit for her elementary education (all worth it, but we have our limits).

I went into Gabriel's kindergarten process determined to be on top of it, to find out about every school and every option available to us. I sent in our charter school applications the very first day they came out. I registered him for regular public school, and applied for two private schools. But I also had very little hope that we would get in to any of the charter schools. Now the results are in. Amazingly, Gabriel got accepted to 3 out of the 6 charter schools I applied for! One of them we declined immediately because it is a bit too far away, but we now have a choice between two really excellent schools. (Incidentally, he did not get accepted to either of the private schools, so those which were "the back-ups" didn't pan out.) I am beside myself with joy over this outcome and I never expected it because after losing Natalie, I realize that I have come to expect very little from the universe. I have become a bit cynical that, when left to chance, anything good will come our way. I still have faith that we can succeed in situations we have control over, but when it's up to the universe as these kindergarten lotteries are, I really didn't think we'd get picked. It has given me a little injection of hope that good things can come our way. And now, my sweet little Gabriel has two wonderful opportunities to choose from. Making that choice is what's been keeping me up at night, but that's another story.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

7 Years

That's how long it's been since I took Natalie to Cold Stone Creamery on this day, seven years ago. We went there again tonight as we have done for the past seven years. It's one of the ways we honor Natalie, by celebrating a special time she and I shared. I've written about our visit to the Cold Stone Creamery on Thayer Street before. That store has been gone for many years, so now we go to the one in Seekonk. It's not the same, but then nothing is really as it should be anymore... because Natalie isn't here with us. Still, I got the usual two flavors -- banana and chocolate (they didn't have the dark chocolate, which was a bummer) in a plain waffle cone. Chris always gets something with blueberries mixed in. We ate quietly and enjoyed the peacefulness of the moment. Then Gabriel leaned over and stole a bite of my waffle cone. We all laughed. And he had many more bites after that.

There's a good chance this year might be the last one that we go to that particular Cold Stone Creamery, because Chris is convinced it won't be around for another year. A few years ago, the thought of not going there would have been devastating to me. But not anymore. I know that it's not really the specific place that matters. It's going out together as a family to honor Natalie in this special way. It's about remembering and being together. It's interesting to see how far I've come on this grief journey -- a journey that will never end until I'm gone, but one that is forever changing and unpredictable.

Chris and I have both been extra sad for the past couple of weeks. It always happens when March rolls around. I've cried into my pillow more nights this week than I have in awhile. I'm just so very, very sad. It still feels so unbelievable, yet it is so painfully real.

And so it goes.