I wrote most of this in February, but couldn’t finish it for some reason, so I didn’t post it at the time. Anyway, here it is, late, but still the actual emotions I was feeling on Eliana’s second birthday.

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It has been two years today since Eliana died. It seems crazy to say that-crazy that it ever happened, crazy that it has gone by so fast, and crazy that I survived it. There were many times I would have eagerly chosen to actually go crazy. I told someone early on that I desperately wished I could just lose my mind, and be locked up somewhere, and to not have to think about what had happened or feel the pain of it. Apparently one cannot choose to be insane, though, as my brain and heart stayed firmly planted in excruciating reality.

So now, two years later, I suppose I’m happy that I stayed sane. I made it through. I am still making it through. Most days are pretty easy. Today was a little rougher than most. I thought I was doing so well. I thought about her frequently throughout the day, but stayed pretty calm. Then tonight I just lost it. That’s fine, I’ve been overdue for a good cry and a trip through Eliana’s memorial. I think it’s cleansing in a way. Embracing the pain when it’s unavoidable seems to make it slip away easier afterward.

In that vein, I’ve been thinking about those last days with her, the last hours, the last minutes-the pain of what was. I’ve also been thinking about how she would have been two right now, about the same age as Rebeckah was at that time, and that she might have been looking forward to another sibling being born any day now-all the pain of what wasn’t. And I’ve been thinking of those things that I’ve forgotten, or are fuzzy by now. I can’t remember any of the words the doctor said when he came to tell me she wasn’t going to make it. I can’t remember if I was standing up or sitting down. I can’t remember what I ate the night she died. I can’t remember who was with me when she had her CT scan done. I don’t suppose any of that really matters, but it bothers me just the same. How much more will I forget?

I do remember, though, the feel of her snuggled up next to me when she nursed. I remember the feel of her tiny hand in mine. I remember how silky soft her hair felt on my cheek. I hope the really important stuff stays with me forever. I find that the picture images in my head are extremely unclear, but the physical feelings are embedded deeply. I’m grateful that I can close my eyes and instantly bring up the feeling of her sleeping next to me.

Grieving is a rather crazy business even when you’re not crazy. I write letters to someone who’s not here. I put my deepest feelings out there for total strangers to scrutinize, in the hope that it will help someone. I pour out huge amounts of words, all because of someone who never spoke a single one. I see butterflies that other people don’t. Sometimes it seems like the craziest thing of all though, was that I was able to keep going, even when I wanted to curl up and die too.

When a child dies, there is so, so much that doesn’t make sense. The one thing that does, and the one thing that will last, even beyond the pain, is love. There is so much of it! It threatens to burst out of my chest when I think of her. I hear it pouring out in the letters from other parents living without their precious babies. It plasters the virtual walls of the grief forums. It comes choking out of the mouths at the support groups. It echos down the hallways of the hospitals. When you’re new to the grief, all you feel is the pain, but with a little distance, a little perspective, you can begin to see that it is all love. If we didn’t love so much, we wouldn’t grieve so hard, or so long. If that seems crazy to those who have never been through it, so be it. I’d rather be called crazy (or just plain wrong) than to give up any of the love I have for my child, even if that love is disguised as grief in the beginning.  How crazy would that be?

Right after Eliana died I was understandably desperate for a baby in my arms. I thought, and cried, and agonized over trying again right away. Some to whom I looked for advice said it would be a huge mistake, that I needed time to heal first. Others, mainly moms who did have another child soon after losing one, said it could be incredibly healing to have another baby as a comfort for the loss. I put it off, and procrastinated, and deliberated so long that I made a decision by default.

I also realized that I would not be able to handle the knowledge that a new baby would only be there because Eliana was not. My hat is off to all the women who handle it beautifully. I just knew that I wouldn’t. In the end, I decided to wait until at least the same amount of time had passed as there was between the other kids. That meant that according to my timeline, I was free to try around August.

Now, five months later, I am still paralyzed in fear over the very idea of it. I want a baby, of course. What I don’t want is the nine months of terror over the possibility of losing it. Knowing that one minute, day, or month of time could mean the difference between a healthy child and one that will die and destroy me with grief leaves me frozen, unable to move forward, and trapped by indecision. What if we pick the wrong moment? So again, I keep putting it off, and sit here wondering how long I can keep this up.

I’m not ancient, but I’m not getting any younger either. I know the chances of birth defects go up the longer I wait, and the chances of conceiving go down. It’s going on two years now since she came and went. Is it possible that another two years could come and go just as quickly and just as babyless because I’m too scared to take the chance?

I don’t know how to do this. I didn’t know how to make it through my grief. I don’t know how to make it through my fear. I don’t know how to make it through a pregnancy without going crazy. And I hate, hate, hate that the only way is to just do it. Here’s me having a conversation with Nike: Them-“Just do it.”  Me-“I can’t. I haven’t planned it out yet, and I can’t predict the outcome. I’d rather not do it, thanks.”

I of all people realize that grief and healing are a lifelong journey, not a destination or a goal. I’m not going to wake up one morning and be “okay” or “ready.” But it sure would be nice to feel a little bit more ready than I do right now. How long would I have to wait though? I’ve already been waiting a long time. Would that feeling of readiness ever actually materialize?

I am scared. I’m just so very scared because I know what it’s like to lose my child. Part of me says to just trust God.

But that’s what I did the last time.

I’ve been away from here for a while now. By “here”, I don’t just mean my blog. I mean my grief too. For all my big talk about how I was not going to avoid or hide it from anyone, myself included, I feel like that is what I have done the last few months. To be honest, the place we moved is so nice, and we are doing so well, and are so happy, that I think I simply didn’t want any sadness to intrude upon it.

And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’m at a point in this life that I don’t need to deal with it so often, and there is just less of it to deal with. I suppose deep down I knew all along that this is where I would get to. I was adamant about trudging through the pits of my despair early on, so it wouldn’t take as long to climb back out. Nevertheless, it is almost as scary to admit how good I’m doing now, as it was to admit how bad I was doing then. Because I was so “in your face” about how I was never going to let go of Eliana or her memory, I’m sensitive now to even the appearance that I’m now doing so.

The truth is, life does (except for the most tragic of the bereaved) go on. We may not like it. We may fight it. We may scream and curse and weep. But it does about as much good as trying to stop the wind. The rest of the world keeps right on going as though we never lost our children, and our own lives keep right on plugging along too, whether we want them to or not.

I figured that some people who follow my story were probably curious about what we did on the one year anniversary of Eliana’s death. I have heard and read so many beautiful things that parents have done on those days. I wish I could say that I have an equally beautiful story to share. Instead, I’ll share the truth.

I have a yahoo group to notify people of events done in memory of Eliana. I asked the people on it to each light a candle at the time of her death, and to take a picture of it for me, which I could then post on her memorial. I had just moved out of state and was all alone on this day, and it felt like a way to connect with people who love us, despite how far away we were. I wanted to spend a quiet day at home, and light our candles at the same time.

We ended up spending most of the day doing errands. At an hour before the time the candles were to be lit, do you know where I was? Sitting, contemplating, crying, talking, or getting ready? No, I was at Home Depot. It was one of those trips that you think will only take a few minutes. At twenty minutes ’til I was really starting to get stressed out. At fifteen ’til I told my husband I didn’t care what we were doing, we could do it later.

We got to our house with five minutes to spare. I grabbed some of the things from her cabinet, laid them out on our buffet, and lit her candle. Over the next half hour or so, we added more things, cut some fresh roses for bouquets, the girls drew pictures, and we lit more candles. Our little grouping got quite large, and ended up being really pretty. We sat and talked about her, recalled funny and sweet memories, and I spent time on her memorial crying. It ended up being an okay day.

But still, the fact that I almost missed it really upset me. How could I almost miss such an important moment for whatever it was we were doing at Home Depot? I decided that day that I was not going to write about it. How embarrassing! And how pitiful compared to the other things I’ve done in her memory that I am rather proud to have done. Ugh, I don’t want to admit that not only did I not have the time or energy to do some grand gesture, but that I barely managed to achieve a meager one.

A few days ago I changed my mind. When I started this blog, I did so with the hope that baring my soul would perhaps help other grieving parents by letting them know they are not alone, and possibly open the eyes of those who have not experienced the death of a child. Above all else, I wanted it to be REAL. Well, what could be more real than the fact that, despite it being the anniversary of our daughter’s death, this was the only day my husband had off work, and there were things that had to be done and just couldn’t be put off? I’m not willing to sugar coat my real life now any more than I was willing to sugar coat my raw grief then.

It’s good that we can put some things on hold temporarily in order to deal with the excruciating work of grief. I think it’s good to throw ourselves into the pit if it will help facilitate our eventual climb back out. But it’s also good that real life gets in the way after a while. There are still dishes that need to be washed, yards that need to be mowed, and errands that need to be run. Real life forces us to start living again, even if shallowly at first.

So there it is: what we did that day, and really, what we’ve been doing since you last heard from me. Living life-some happy, some sad, a lot of average. I was wrong about how I’ve been dealing with my grief. I haven’t been avoiding it. It has simply changed shape and I didn’t recognize it. I haven’t let her go. It just doesn’t hurt as bad to hold on. Welcome back to the real life of a real bereaved mom.

The morning of the surgery I stood in the hallway holding Eliana, bouncing her, rocking her, trying to give her a binky. She was so upset because she hadn’t been able to nurse since 1AM. (No food or drink before surgery) She was crying and I was crying and there was no comfort for either one of us. When it was time I had to put her down in the crib. The doctor said “Everything will be fine.” and I wanted to scream at them all that it wouldn’t be. I wanted to yank her back from them, to not let them touch her. But I didn’t. I let them wheel her away. The last faces she saw were strangers’, and the last hands she felt were doing things I’m probably better off not knowing about. I let her go. I let them take her and she had to just lie there crying, with no one to even hold her hand. My baby’s last conscious memory as they were putting her under was crying in a room on a table all alone without her mommy. Mommy didn’t come.

I hate that even now, a year later, I am still struck dumb by the “last times.”  In the beginning it was expected that there would be lots of them. “The last time I drove was the day I took her to the hospital.”  “The last time I was at this friend’s house for dinner I was holding her.”  “The last time I sat at our dining room table I was nursing her.”  “The last time I slept in this bed, she was sleeping next to me.” 

It happened less as time went on, as each one of them was realized, cried over, and recovered from. They would still creep up occasionally, less frequent and less expected.  “The last time I watched this movie we were in the hospital and I was watching a stupid movie instead of holding her.”  “The last time I talked to this person, I was still pregnant with her, and now I have to explain to someone else how drastically things can change in just a few months.” 

Even now, it still happens once in a while. Today I decided to order from a company I used to do business with. I went back through my old invoices to jog my memory about what I might want to get. Then it hit me. The last time I did an order was just a couple months after Eliana died-during that time I was walking around like a zombie half the time and crying hysterically the other half.

It seems strange to me now that I was doing something so mundane as ordering food. I don’t remember eating. I guess this is proof that I fed my kids at least. I can’t even begin to imagine how I pulled it together enough to either make a decision about what food to buy or to actually purchase it. I certainly did not feel very functional or even okay. Did I look like I was functional or doing okay?

Going back a few orders I found the ones I placed right before she was born. I bought all that stuff in preparation for having a new baby. I stocked up on essentials so I wouldn’t need to go to the store for a while afterward.  I made ready for life with a baby that I wasn’t going to get to keep. I have a whole trail of sadness, neatly disguised as food orders.

And then this whole line of thinking leads me to the really important stuff. The last time I held her. The last time I saw her smile. The last time, the last time. Most people record their baby’s firsts. I can only recite the lasts. The last time she took a breath, and the last time I was able to hope for miracles.   The last time my baby looked into my eyes, the last time I saw her face, and the last time I looked at the world unclouded by grief.

I think most of all I yearn for the last time that both she and I were whole, and for the time when we both will be again. Someday, hopefully a long time from now, it will be a relief to know that I’ve cried for the last time over missing my Eliana.

One year ago, on February 15th, at 3:27 in the afternoon, Eliana Meredith entered our world. She was beautiful, and soft, and perfect, and an utter joy to me. As I sit here now, one year later, I hardly know what to say, or think. It is still so unbelievable to me that it all actually happened, or that it has been this long already. As much as I grieve and agonize over her death, though, I will never regret her birth. Even in my sadness, I will still celebrate her life. If my pain is the price of having been able to love her, no matter how briefly, then I will gladly pay it.

When I was pregnant with her I watched Steel Magnolias-I know, call me crazy. The line that stuck with me, that still sticks with me, is “I’d rather have five minutes of wonderful than a whole lifetime of nothing special.” I would rather have had my two months with Eliana, than to have never known her at all. It hurts that she’s gone. It hurts unimaginably, sometimes unbearably, but she was worth it. And now, one year later, sitting here without her and crying even while I write this, I can say that February 15th is a good day, a happy day. It was the day I met my precious Eliana, and that will always be something to celebrate.

Happy birthday, little one. I love you always. -Mommy

I’m in love. No, don’t call my husband please. The object of my affection is no threat to him. I’m in love with the rainbow baby. The day he was born I held him for …. about eight hours. Do you think that’s excessive? It was hard at first to be sure. I cried on the way to the hospital. I cried walking in. I cried in the elevator. I cried when I got to the room, and when I first held him. So much fear and joy and sadness and wonder, all tangled up together.

The worst part, though, was after the nurse gave him a bath. He was crying, so I went over and held his hand and stroked his head. Then it hit me forcibly that this was the same thing I used to do with Eliana-same overhead warmer, same hand holding and head stroking, same whispering that everything would be okay. It was like a knife in my heart, an instant transport back to those horrible, endless days and nights at her bedside. I stood there sobbing, onto my shoes instead of onto him, though. He was upset enough over the bath already. What a lucky little thing, too young to know that sometimes everything is not okay, not even close to okay.

The next day I was thinking about him, and musing about the fact that he is the first child besides our three girls that I have ever bonded with ….and then the panic set in. I’m moving! What in the world was I thinking? Why didn’t it occur to me beforehand that I would have to leave him? That if I allowed myself to love him, my heart would feel it as another loss? Should I have held back, built a nice safe wall to protect me from any more pain? Was I so anxious to love a baby again that I was foolish to do so with one I won’t even get to see very often? Should I have kept a tighter reign on my emotions? How did I not realize this until after I fell in love with him?

Interesting questions to be sure, but all a little too late. I love this baby, and it already hurts to think about leaving him. I don’t know why I’ve never had (or really tried to make) a connection with the other kids I could have been “Auntie” to, but I was finally ready to try it. Unfortunately, it seems I won’t get the chance now. When I said I wanted to love him from a distance, I didn’t mean from a whole state away. Any emotional distance I thought I was going to have went out the window the first time I held him. What do I do now? I’m in love with the rainbow baby, but I won’t get to see him grow up either.

The Mask
By: Gwen Flowers

It doesn’t fit me very well,
But it matters not, you see.
Because most people do not want
To see the real me.
It’s much too painful for them.
So they avert their eyes.
Their platitudes are only words
that I’ve come to despise.
They can’t bear to confront it.
They don’t know what to say.
They think if I ignore it,
The pain will go away.
But I cannot ignore it.
It is too deep and real.
And those who’ve never lived it400
Just don’t know how I feel.
No one wants to face it
When a baby dies.
They quickly try to hush
A grieving mother’s cries.
They say I should be moving on.
They don’t know what they ask.
So, to spare their feelings,
I put on the mask.

I’m moving. Soon and far. The wanderlust side of myself is reveling in the change and the new adventure of it all. The sentimental side, however, is crying rivers of tears inside my head and heart. All three of our children were born in this house. That fact alone could have kept me content here for the rest of my life. There is a certain old-time appeal to the idea of birthing and raising our children here, and growing old and dying here. It is not going to happen that way now.

Since Eliana only lived two months, there are very few physical ties to this world. One is our house. The other is the hospital. She was born and lived one month at our house. She lived one month and died at the hospital. Now I am leaving both behind. I’m also leaving my friend’s mom’s house, where Eliana made one of just two social outings. My other friend’s apartment is here, the place of her second social event. The doctor’s office I took her to is here. The urgent care we went to is here. The funeral home, the last place I ever held her, is here. Every place she ever was, is here, and I’m leaving.

I won’t be able to drive down the street, and pass any of these locations anymore. I won’t be able to go visit the nurses at her hospital and chat for a few minutes with someone who actually knew her. I won’t be able to sit in my recliner, or lay down in bed, and close my eyes and relive the moments when she was right there in that exact spot with me. I suppose to someone who has never lost a child that might seem like a good thing. To anyone who has, though, we know that part of getting through this depends on clinging to whatever memories we have of our children, because that is all we will ever have of them. There will never be any new ones.

I’m also leaving the only people who are witnesses that my child existed. People here saw her. They held her. They came to the house, to the hospital, and to the funeral. To them, she is more than just a picture on a wall. She is a person. I’m moving away from all the people who care about my baby, or about me. I’m leaving the only people who know me and love me enough to support me in all the things I do in Eliana’s memory, the things I need to do to survive this life without her.

Her birthday is going to be the last day I see most of the people I know. How could the day be any sadder? Two months after that I will be in a new place nearly alone on the one year anniversary of her death. The only thing I can think of that is worse than dealing with my child’s death, is trying to deal with it alone. I’m scared of how hard it is going to be.

I will still have her urn, and her pictures, and stuffed animals, and everything else that was hers, and that I’ve collected since she died. It just isn’t the same, though. It feels as though her essence or spirit is here, and I’m leaving. It is somewhat ridiculous, as I do not believe that at all, but that is how it feels. I’m aware that feelings sometimes have little to do with reality, but  knowing that does not stop how much it hurts to be leaving this place-leaving it without her.

img_2272_edited-11I’m moving, but a part of me, a part of my heart, will always remain here, in the bedroom of this house where my sweet baby took her first breath, and in that hospital room where she took her last. I may have to move, but I will never move on.

One of my closest friends is pregnant and is due on February 21st, just 6 days after Eliana was born. Needless to say, we have had many discussions about the various emotional responses we’ve both had. I am both terrified and excited about the possibility of her child being born on the same day. What an incredible cyclical sort of irony there would be in that-a living testament to the reality that life goes on. It never occurred to me to ask, but I realize that her baby must have been conceived somewhere around the time that mine was dying.

To be honest, there are few people in this world that I could have been truly happy for if they had told me that news at that time. She happens to be one of them. It has been both painful and healing to watch her go through her pregnancy. It’s like watching a fuzzy movie of myself one year ago. The discomforts, the growth, the expectations, the waiting-all the things I went through at the same time I went through them, but from a distance.

Because it’s her, I don’t hate her for her pregnancy. I don’t hate her for her happiness, or for her complaints. Because it’s her, I don’t assume she is naive about the fact that sometimes babies die, and I know that she does not take this gift she’s been given for granted. She knows, and that makes all the difference.

I have a much harder time with strangers, or for that matter, with acquaintances who know I lost Eliana, but who never said anything to me about it. It may be unfair, since I don’t know for sure what has happened in their lives, whether they have ever lost a child. Unfair or not, I have to fight the resentment I feel over the thought that they don’t know how lucky they are, and anger over all the times I have to sit and listen to them griping about inconveniences I would give anything to have back. I want to scream at them to shut up and go hug their babies, that they might not have them tomorrow. But I don’t.

Would I have listened if some crazy lady had started ranting to me about appreciating my kids while I still had the chance? Would I have understood if a newly bereaved mom had cried to me to not wait until it was too late? Was I only able to truly let in the horrible, unbelievable truth of child death after it had already happened to me? Was it just too terrible for my mind to accept until I no longer had a choice, because I was living it?

Does my anger and resentment toward the clueless really just stem from jealousy over their lack of knowledge of this agony I now call my life? That may be it. I’m jealous-of not knowing, of not feeling, and of not understanding the grief of losing a child. I don’t want to know what this is like. I want to be clueless too.

I wish I could go back. I’d give up my greater empathy, my fundraising, my collection drives, what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown, who I’ve helped and all the people whose lives have been touched by my baby’s story. I’d give it all up to turn back the clock. It was too high a price. Losing Eliana is not worth whatever I may have gained from the experience of going through it. Selfishly enough, it’s also not worth whatever others may have gained from it.

Nobody is given a choice, though, about whether they want to go through hard things. I would certainly never have chosen for my child to die, no matter what good may result from it. And I suppose if I had been given a choice, I probably would have thought that going through my friend’s pregnancy, with it’s eerie deja vu timing, was way too hard too. Better to put it off-too hard to deal with right now. But as soon as she told me, the whole thing just felt right-difficult, but right.

And now, I’m greedy for this baby, so anxious for him to be born. I want to hold him in my arms and be comforted once again by the thought that most babies are healthy, that most babies don’t die. I need to cry on his little head, both in sadness over Eliana being gone, and in amazement over the miracle of birth and life. He is both a reminder of the past, and a hope for the future. I need to love him, but from a distance. I need to test out the waters of opening up my heart again to a baby, to work through the fears and confusion and guilt of loving again after losing her. I’m grateful to my friend for loving me enough to put up with all the weird, convoluted emotions I already feel for her little boy.

The people on the grief support forums have a term for a child born after they’ve lost one-a rainbow baby. That’s what this unborn child is to me. He may not be my rainbow baby, but he is the rainbow baby. He’s the baby born after Eliana, the baby that represents promise-promise for his parents, promise for me, promise for the future, and promise for the world. There will always be pain, but there will also always be joy that follows it, just like the rainbow after the rain. Sometimes it appears right away, and sometimes we have to wait a while to see it. It has been a long, rough storm, and I’m looking forward to seeing a rainbow.

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