Sunday, March 17, 2019

Memories and baby elephants

It was 12 years ago right around this time (it's about 9 o'clock as I write this) that I tucked Natalie in for the last time. The past few weeks have been more difficult than usual, leading up to the dreaded March 18th.

Today in particular I thought about our last day together, 12 years ago. It was a Saturday and kind of a crappy day in terms of weather -- we'd gotten a few inches of snow followed by rain, which created slush. Natalie and I had both come down with a cold the day before. Although the three of us girls were taking it easy at home, I felt the very least I could do would be to clear the slush off the front steps for the mailman. I rallied Roslyn and Natalie to go outside for a bit while I did that. Natalie flat out refused to put on her snowsuit and I didn't have the energy to argue with her. She wore her winter boots and coat. Roslyn who was fully suited up was having fun frolicking in the slush, but all Natalie wanted was for me to pick her up. She kept reaching her arms up at me saying "up, up!" I obliged, picked her up, and managed to push the slush off the front steps with a robust toddler in my arms. We went back inside as quickly as we could, had some lunch, and then I took Natalie upstairs for her nap. She nursed, but had trouble falling asleep. Finally, she drifted off for only about 30 minutes. I don't remember the rest of the day other than we had spinach pie for dinner and Natalie ate pretty well. When I put her to bed, the light from the streetlight outside her window was enough so that I could see her face in the dark. She was wide-eyed and looked right at me as I said good night. I kissed her again and said "nite, nite, sweet girl. I love you."

No parent ever thinks when they put their child to bed that it's going to be the last time they ever see them alive. Why is the universe so cruel?

I don't really have the energy to write any more about that night or the morning of March 18th, 2007. I have found it remarkable that several adorable baby elephant pics and videos have popped up in my Facebook newsfeed in the past few days -- three in the last 36 hours alone! Natalie loved blueberries, her favorite color was purple, and elephants were her favorite animal. One of her favorite bedtime books was Eric Carle's "From Head to Toe" and she took pride and joy in showing me how she could stomp her foot like an elephant (such a big girl!). I've written about signs before, usually in the context of butterflies, but I'm taking all of these baby elephant appearances as my sign this year. I love you, Natalie, and miss you more than words can say.



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Grieving Parents Club: Thoughts on the Death of President Bush

The passing of a president naturally causes people to reflect—both on the president's life and time in the White House and their own lives seen through the lens of that time. I was deeply moved by today's funeral service for President George H.W. Bush. The four eulogies were eloquent and honored the life of our 41st president with warmth and dignity.

I didn't know that George and Barbara had lost their three year-old daughter Robin until it was mentioned when Barbara Bush died earlier this year. I'm not sure if the Bushes intentionally kept it private back in the days George was active in politics or not. But I am pleased to see the Bush family speaking openly now about their tragic loss all those years ago, and the lifelong grief George and Barbara endured.

I cried as George W. Bush broke down at the end of his eulogy, thinking about his father finally being able to hug Robin and hold Barbara’s hand once more. What a comforting idea that is. For a parent who has lost a child, the thought of one day being reunited is sometimes the only way to get through the agony of having to go on living without her. It is a thought I sometimes entertain about Natalie… (until my pragmatic side wakes up and causes me to question it).

Listening to all the stories and analysis of George Bush’s life and his presidency has been illuminating, but through it all I am left with the image of a father who lost his baby girl and lived the majority of his long, full life grieving her each and every day. Despite all the privilege and power and politics of the Bush family, I am left with the image of an imperfect but very human man who welcomed death with open arms so he could be with his beloved wife and daughter again. I hope he has found them.



Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Shooting Too Close

Yesterday a 15 year-old boy was shot and killed just outside Roslyn's school. According to the latest reports, he was an innocent bystander, a "good kid" in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is sad and absolutely heartbreaking. The tragedy has sent a tsunami of fear and sorrow and anger throughout our community. My Facebook feed is now full of posts from friends, parents with kids at Classical, expressing their sorrow for the family, worry about their children's safety, and relief that they came home from school yesterday. We are all scared and sad. It was too close, way too close.

Earlier this morning, I found myself involved in a Facebook conversation where some people were talking about this incident as a "school shooting," and I felt compelled to clarify, to point out that this wasn't like Parkland or Columbine. This wasn't a crazed maniac entering a school armed with assault rifles and opening fire. This happened on the street, in front of a school, during a fight, with a handgun, one shot fired. This is in so many ways NOT a school shooting. Or is it?

I started to question why I felt the need to point out the distinction. Why was I so uncomfortable with it being talked about as a "school shooting"? Like everyone, I'm still processing what happened, but maybe I was triggered because I cannot even begin to allow myself to entertain the possibility of an actual school shooting happening so close to home. Maybe if I focus on all the ways this ISN'T a school shooting, that it's not some random evil act by a lunatic with machine guns, maybe then it's not quite so scary. But unfortunately, it is that scary. It really is. Because when it comes to the possibility of losing your child, it doesn't matter how.

People talk about this incident as "every parent's worst nightmare" -- and it is. I know that it is. But what does that mean really? Haven't I also lived "every parent's worst nightmare"? Eleven years ago, I put my happy, healthy toddler to bed one night and she never woke up. No warning, no explanation. Where is the outrage? Where is the outpouring of calls for research funding to find out why thousands of children each year die suddenly without any explanation?

It's because it defies comprehension. We can look at this boy's tragic death and get angry that politicians continue to do absolutely nothing time after time, or that we don't have enough resources to help our troubled youth. You can point a finger and identify a culprit and place blame and that makes it just a bit easier to get angry and feel a little bit less helpless. 

When I heard about the shooting yesterday, I instantly burst into tears. Rationally I knew Classical was on lockdown and Roslyn had to be safe. (Right? She had to be...) But irrationally, I felt that I could not survive losing a second child. I know what it feels like and it would literally kill me.

There's a saying that when we have children, it's like having a piece of our heart walking around outside of our bodies. It's true. When your child dies, your heart is forever broken. As a "bereaved parent" (that's what we're called because the English language doesn't actually have a word for us like "orphan" or "widow/widower"), I'm now reprogrammed to be extra careful, extra vigilant to potential danger -- and extra grateful when my kids come home safe and sound. 

Yesterday's tragedy hit like a sledgehammer reminding me of all the things that are beyond my control. The truth is, we cannot protect our children. It's one of the hardest realities of being a parent. We are helpless, and when you add guns into the scenario, it's downright terrifying. Life is so fragile. Don't take anything or anyone for granted.

I hugged Roslyn extra tight yesterday when she got home. We talked about what happened. She said it was scary during the lockdown. I wish none of us, but especially our children, had to live in a world where the threat of gun violence is an everyday reality. I hope soon, very soon those who are in a position to do something about it will act.   

I am deeply sorry for the family and friends of William Parsons. I'm sorry his parents are now part of the club no one ever wanted to be a member of. But I know after surviving 11 years of grief that somehow we manage to breathe and keep on going. When this tragedy is no longer in the news and everyone has gone back to their regular lives, I hope William's parents know that they are never alone. I hope they know that he will never be forgotten.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

13


July 29th is coming up in three days. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the fact that Natalie would be turning 13 this year—officially a teenager and another milestone we won’t get to share. This summer I’ve run into some other 13 year-olds, the children of friends whose kids have grown up to become awkward, introverted, and lanky teens… all the endearing things a 13 year-old could be. Seeing these kids now—kids who I knew way back when they were toddlers, when Natalie and I would drop off Roslyn as East Side Nursery School—sometimes stops me in my tracks. It’s an odd perception of time because these kids are now going into the eighth grade (!!), but Natalie is and will forever be a little 1½ year-old girl. How is this possible?! The perception of time is so subjective and changes constantly. I look at Roslyn, now heading into her sophomore year and it feels just right. I’ve watched her grow up into the confident, sensitive, and loving young woman she is each and every day—and though sometimes it does feel like time is moving too fast, it also feels absolutely perfect.

I have written about this before—wondering what Natalie would be like. But this year, another milestone birthday, it strikes a bit harder. What would her passion be? Music? Sports? What would be her favorite subjects in school? Would she like math and science? Or maybe art? Or Spanish? Would she follow in her sister’s footsteps and love theater or would she be playing bass in her own punk band? Or maybe it would be something else entirely that I can’t even begin to conjure in my brain. And what would she look like? She had the best giggle, I wonder what her voice and laughter would sound like. I can imagine, but then I just can’t. It’s a strange paradox—and sometimes it just hurts too much to think about it. More than 11 years ago, the universe decided that we wouldn’t ever get to know these things, and Natalie’s life was taken away. We were all robbed of the beauty, joy, and amazing amount of fun she brought to the world. I can only imagine now that she would still be wreaking havoc, only on a bigger scale—doing all of the things a 13 year-old girl should do. It is forever heartbreaking that she can't.

Since 2007, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of saying “happy birthday” to Natalie, but I am starting to think about it in a new way. It always felt awkward, because the truth is, she is gone and there is nothing happy about that. Instead I would acknowledge her birthday by honoring the day she made her grand entrance into the world and celebrating her beautiful, happy life and all of the love she brought to our lives. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: for all the indescribable pain I have suffered as a result of losing Natalie, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am so, so, sooooo happy Natalie was born. I love you, sweet girl—soooo much! Happy Birthday.






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Sunday, March 18, 2018

A surprise gift

Today marks 11 years since we lost our precious Natalie. Last night, I was looking through old photos and noticed something on this one that I'd never noticed before. Natalie was born with a small patch of white hair on the back of her head, which you can see in this photo! I am so thrilled to have some kind of tangible record of this unique little part of her because a few days after she died, the funeral director had given us a few "keepsakes" -- a lock of her hair and some plaster casts of her hands and feet. It reminded to ask about the white tuft of hair and I asked if there was any way I could have it as well, but unfortunately it wasn't possible due to the autopsy (let that sink in). It broke my heart but there wasn't anything anyone could do and it felt like another little piece of her had slipped away.

Last night I was looking at every photo, not just the "good" ones of her beautiful smiling face. Since this one is taken from behind, I'd never really looked too closely before, but suddenly there it was! Her precious little lock of white hair. My heart leaped to receive this special gift, especially now on her Angelversary.

I remain eternally grateful to all of my friends and family who continue to support me and my family on this life-long journey. My dear friend Laura Prieto, who also happens to be the first person we called 11 years ago this Sunday morning, recently commented "Love keeps her memory strong." I love this idea and it's true because the depth of the grief is measured by the depth of the love. And the love is oh so strong. It is unbreakable.<3 p="">

Saturday, July 29, 2017

#Natalie

Today my beautiful Natalie would have turned 12. As the years go by, the pain of losing her has not diminished. If anything, the longing and wondering what she'd be like grows ever stronger, and the magnitude of her loss is amplified through all that could have been but will never be.

Her memorial website is temporarily down, something beyond my control. In lieu of a virtual candle there, let's light up Instagram and Facebook with messages and/or pictures of candles, blueberries, or anything else that reminds you of Natalie with the hashtag #Natalie.

We celebrate this day she entered the world 12 years ago and the 19 months and 18 days she was here to brighten our lives. Remembering Natalie always with so much love.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Why I Talk to Butterflies

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Once again, death has been on the front burner in our lives. June 30th saw the passing of Christopher's mother, my children's last living grandparent. And a few days ago, Gabriel's beloved chicken Pickles died after being ill for several weeks. Whenever we are faced with death, inevitably it triggers thoughts of Natalie—thoughts and feelings even deeper than the regular, everyday thoughts and feelings.

Today I took an alternate route home, which took me past a funeral home in East Providence. As I took note of its existence, a sudden flood of imagery came to mind, all pictures of death: my mother-in-law in her casket, our dead chicken, and my precious baby Natalie on several occasions: her small lifeless body when I found her on March 18th, at the funeral home, and at the cemetery before she was cremated. Overcome by the sudden intensity of these memories, I burst into tears and cried the rest of the way home.

Earlier today, someone in one of my grief support groups posted an interesting article about how people who don’t believe in God deal with death. It talked about the science of what is proven/known vs. what is not and where faith comes into the picture for many people. It reminded me of the beautiful sermon Pam Gregory gave at Natalie’s memorial service about how physicists know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, just transformed. It gave me tremendous comfort to think that Natalie’s energy and life force did not die, but simply took on a different form. Pam talked about how maybe if we pay close enough attention, we will be able to perceive it.

When I got home and was getting out of the car, which I had parked in the shade of the house right next to Natalie’s garden, a beautiful swallowtail butterfly swooped past and landed on Natalie’s butterfly bush, the first I’ve seen this summer. I couldn’t help but feel an immediate connection to this spectacular creature. Nor could I help wonder if her appearance was not particularly timely and relevant given recent events. I greeted her and remarked how beautiful she was. I thanked her for coming to visit me today.

Hours later when I went back out to the car to pick up Gabriel from camp, a monarch butterfly was flitting about Natalie’s garden. Again, the first one I’ve seen all summer. Again, I greeted her with joy, so happy to see her and, again, I thanked her for coming.

I don’t know if this is Natalie’s energy manifesting to bring me comfort, but I don’t know that it isn’t. And that is why I talk to butterflies.