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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.

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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

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 was going through some of my old files a couple days ago, and I found this. I do not know who wrote it, so unfortunately I cannot give them credit. I’ll write more of my thoughts at the bottom, so you can read this first.

TO MY CHILD:
Just for this morning, I am going to smile when I
see your face and laugh when I feel like crying.
 
Just for this morning, I will let you choose what
you want to wear, and smile and say how perfect it is.
 
Just for this morning, I am going to step over the
laundry, and pick you up and take you to the park to play.
 
Just for this morning, I will leave the dishes in
the sink, and let you teach me how to put that puzzle 
of yours together.
 
Just for this afternoon, I will unplug the telephone
and keep the computer off, and sit with you in the 
backyard and blow bubbles.
 
Just for this afternoon, I will not yell once, 
not even a tiny grumble when you scream and whine 
for the ice cream truck, and I will buy you one 
if he comes by.
 
Just for this afternoon, I won't worry about what 
you are going to be when you grow up, or second guess 
every decision I have made where you are concerned.
 
Just for this afternoon, I will let you help me bake 
cookies, and I won't stand over you trying to fix them.
 
Just for this afternoon, I will take us to
McDonald's and buy us both a Happy Meal so you 
can have both toys.
 
Just for this evening, I will hold you in my arms
and tell you a story about how you were born and 
how much I love you.
 
Just for this evening, I will let you splash in the
tub and not get angry.
 
Just for this evening, I will let you stay up late
while we sit on the porch and count all the stars.
 
Just for this evening, I will snuggle beside you for
hours, and miss my favorite TV shows.
 
Just for this evening when I run my finger through 
your hair as you pray, I will simply be grateful 
that God has given me the greatest gift ever given.
 
I will think about the mothers and fathers who are 
searching for their missing children, the mothers 
and fathers who are visiting their children's graves 
instead of their bedrooms, and mothers and fathers 
who are in hospital rooms watching their children 
suffer senselessly, and screaming inside that they 
can't handle it anymore.
 
And when I kiss you good night I will hold you a 
little tighter, a little longer. It is then, that 
I will thank God for you, and ask him for nothing,
except one more day.............

I remember reading this years ago, and it always made me cry. The strange thing is, I didn’t shed a single tear when I read it this time. I don’t have to wonder in terror about how that would feel if it happened to me. It already has. I’ve experienced all the regrets, should haves, what ifs, fears, and pain, and grief. I live with it every day. Reading about it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t gone through it doesn’t seem to affect me now. I guess I’ve wept enough over the actual event that I don’t need to weep over the possibility of it happening. Imagination is much gentler than reality.

Every year we drive North to go play in the snow. Right now I’m recovering from this year’s trip. It’s a long drive, and during part of it I was sitting there just thinking about things. It occurred to me that I felt okay. As a matter of fact, I felt pretty good. My husband and I were getting along. The kids were excited to get there and play. My close friends were with us and sharing the fun. I had snacked for the last hour and my tummy was happy. I just sat there for a few moments in sheer wonder that I could feel this “okay.” And then I had to turn my face to the window because the tears started streaming down.

The crying didn’t last long, but it is a good example of how a bereaved parent can be so happy and so sad at the very same time. I wouldn’t trade my tentative feelings of normal for the utter despair I had in the beginning (and that still hits occasionally), but even the sense of normalcy seems surreal. How can anything be good, or happy, or okay, or normal, when my baby is dead? Even when I’m sitting there thinking about how nice it is to feel good, part of me is saying “I don’t really feel okay, do I? Do I really feel good? How is that possible?” It’s enough to make a person feel crazy.

So how can anything be good again when my baby is dead? I guess the only answer is …..that sometimes it just is. In the beginning I didn’t believe it was possible. Even while feeling it now, it seems strange and unbelievable. But it’s there nonetheless. I didn’t ask for it. For a while I didn’t even want it. It seemed like a betrayal that I might feel happy again without her. Guilt rending as it may be, though, I am grateful for it.

Her death and my grief don’t feel like the heavy chains they once were. Now they feel more like an old injury. There is an ugly scar, a dull ache I don’t notice all the time, and at times it acts up and is incredibly painful and debilitating. But I don’t feel constantly enslaved now. I’m not crippled under the weight, or chained to one spot, unable to move forward. Sometimes, even with my injuries, I can feel good.

I guess I need to give myself just as much permission to be happy as I do to immerse myself in the sorrow. I can agonize over the death of my precious child even while loving and caring for my family, and I can joyfully live my life, thankful for all the blessings in it, even while missing my Eliana terribly. Smiling and crying at the same time isn’t crazy, even if it might look that way to others. It’s just another step of this road of grief. I’ll keep allowing myself to smile, even if it makes me cry, because they are both okay.

And now, at the risk of sounding bi-polar, or schizophrenic, or whatever the correct term is these days, I’m going to write a post completely opposite of the last one. I don’t take pills, so please don’t suggest whatever the appropriate medication might be. 😉

I had errands to run today. I was already really tired, kinda cranky, emotionally drained, all the things you might expect a person to be after having a morning of dreams like the ones I described in the previous post. I was wishing I was anywhere but OUT, with all the in-your-face consumerism and fake holiday cheer that the stores try to seduce you with. Nevertheless, I ended up at Kmart, hoping to hunt down the ever-elusive *ADVERTISED SPECIAL*-the one that is usually so special that you can’t actually purchase it, but can only look at its picture in the ad and drool over the price. I wanted just one thing, and I was on a mission.

I had just walked into the store, planning my strategy for where to begin the search, when I heard someone behind me say something. I turned around and there was a woman walking toward me. To tell you the truth, I was in a hurry, and was not really in a mood to deal with whatever this person wanted from me. She walked up to me, I think she said “Here”, and handed me a $50 bill. I’m pretty sure she said something else that I can’t remember now, and I suspect that I was looking at her in shock with my mouth hanging open. I barely got out the words “Thank you” before she walked away. Then I started crying. My kids were looking at me like I was crazy, as I stood there bawling in the entrance to Kmart. They started asking me what was wrong, and I tried to tell them, but then they really started looking at me weird, because that seemed like a good thing to them, and they couldn’t understand why it made me cry.

When I started out this morning, I was trying to figure out what sorts of juggling would allow me to buy the things I needed to get. This woman’s gift was such a blessing, and so unexpected. It’s the sort of thing you may hear about when it happens to other people, but it never happens to you. As a matter of fact, I was just reading a news report about people doing this very thing in cities across the US. How amazing when it becomes more than just something I read about.

When I recovered enough to look around and start moving again, I tried to find the woman, but never did. I wanted to talk to her, to say something more than thank you, and let her know how much I appreciated what she was doing. And as strange as it sounds to say it, I think I wanted to cry with her. Maybe someone who would do something like that for a stranger is the kind of person who would be willing to listen to me try to explain why my emotions are so close to the surface. Maybe she would like to hear how much she touched the heart of someone who’s heart has been so recently broken. Maybe she would like to know that her gift was going to go to two little girls who are still suffering the consequences of losing their baby sister. I wish I could have just hugged her.

It seems like anymore someone can do the smallest kindness for me, and I just break down. Not always in front of them, but at some point. It feels strange to know that maybe I am that dependent on people just acting like they care a little bit. The downside of that is that I can also be hurt so very easily, because my heart is on my sleeve.

It got me to thinking though, about that feeling I had today. How incredibly grateful I was for what she did. Not just for the money, but for her wanting to do something for someone without getting anything in return. How grateful I was for the caring of someone I don’t even know.

I wonder if Eliana’s life is having that effect on people, too. Are these people, struggling with their own burdens, touched to the point of tears because a random stranger decided to help them? In addition to receiving the material stuff they need, are they getting some emotional needs taken care of too, just by the thought that someone out there cares enough to do something? I hope that some of the people who are helped because of Eliana feel some of what I felt today. It was a wonderful feeling, despite the fact that I couldn’t stop crying.

It made me realize that sometimes we must be willing to receive, because that is what recharges us to keep on giving, and reminds us of why we are doing it in the first place. I can’t speak for the men, but it seems that for a lot of moms, we have lost (or never learned) the art of gracious receiving. We know our job is to serve our families, so we end up feeling uncomfortable when one of them wants to do something special for us, pamper us, or do one of our duties for us. How many times has someone we loved tried to do something nice, only to hear “That’s okay. I can do it.” or “You don’t have to do that.” I’m sure they know they don’t have to do it, and us putting up a mock protest or refusing the gesture all together is sure to diminish some of the joy they might have felt over their attempt to love us. You know how wonderful it feels to do something great for someone? Well, we rob them of that feeling when we rebuff their efforts.

Giving to others is not just about providing for physical needs. It is a reminder that a person cares enough to do it. We may not all have the money to hand out to strangers like this kind woman did, but we do all have the ability to make someone (even a stranger) feel loved, and we all have the ability to happily accept when someone wants to do something for us. It might take some creativity. It might take getting out of our comfort zone. It might take some practice. But we can probably all get better at enthusiastically dancing the dance of give and take. We can all work on receiving as graciously as we give. Who knows, sometime it might save you from standing in the doorway of Kmart with your mouth hanging open, wishing you had said what you really wanted to say. =)

So, my whole family has a cold right now. Those of you who know Eliana’s story probably remember this, but for those who don’t know, the very first step of this journey into h**l was…you guessed it-our whole family coming down with a cold. So many times in the last few days I’ve been talking to someone and said those exact words. “Our whole family has a cold.” It sounds so innocent, inconvenient at worst, but I feel the vise of grief squeeze my heart every time the words slip out of my mouth. What I thought was just a little cold started the downward spiral that eventually resulted in my baby dying.

The cold bug seems to have hit me the worst this time. I mentioned to my husband that I might end up sleeping in the recliner tonight because my nose is so stuffy that my head feels like it’s going to explode. As soon as I said it I almost collapsed on the floor in a heap. I just wanted to scream and cry until I couldn’t cry any more. This time practicality won out and I settled for a few tears. My nose is so stuffy it hurts to cry.

img_2312-2The reason I was so upset, though, is because that’s how Eliana and I spent our last week at home. Her poor little nose was clogged up too, so we spent our nights and nap times propped up in the recliner with pillows and a cushy blanket. She could breathe a lot easier being upright on my chest than she could on her back. Even though we were all sick, it is one of my favorite memories. I love that we got to snuggle and nurse and rock and sleep. I love that I have the picture in my head of us all cozy and safe and warm. And I love that I had that much time with her before our world got turned upside down.

As soon as I thought about sleeping in the recliner, I immediately realized that the last time I slept there, I was holding Eliana. I figured if I did sleep there I’d end up taking out her blanket and teddy bear and crying myself to sleep, and I got so scared; scared that I wouldn’t be able to stop the tears, scared that the physical re-creation of those tender moments would send me back into the pit, scared to let go the tenuous grasp I have on feeling somewhat okay.

Grief is sometimes a silent predator. It strikes when I least expect it, and am least equipped to deal with it. Out of the blue, it pounces, and tries to devour me. I know by now that it won’t succeed, but that doesn’t stop the pain that I feel while I wrestle with it. I still have the urge to run, but I know it wouldn’t do any good. Grief is an impatient opponent, and it waits for no one. I must face it or it will follow me wherever I go.img_2564

It’s time now to go sleep, and since my nose has not miraculously cleared up, I know where I’m headed. What used to be just a recliner is now a place of danger, fear, sadness, joy, tenderness, love, and heartbreak. I don’t know which emotion will win this time, but at least I have a blankie and teddy to help me through the fight.

Note: Just thought I’d add this humorous update on my night. Grief had some stiff competition last night…from my husband’s snoring. =)  I was sitting there trying to go to sleep and couldn’t because he was so loud. Frustration over that won out over the sadness. I had taken the same blanket that Eliana and I used out of the hall closet and used that to wrap up. I just basked in the memories of holding her under that same blanket, but didn’t break down like I expected. That doesn’t mean that tonight it won’t happen exactly as I feared, but for last night, I got a break.

I’ve spent most of the last week crying. My Eliana was born on the 15th, and died on the 19th, so at least a week out of every month is now very difficult for me. At what would have been her six month birthday I thought I was doing pretty good. Then seven months hit and it was much harder. I’ve just passed her eight month birthday and in many ways I’m even worse than I was at the very beginning. The blessed numbness is gone, leaving only the raw aching.

If someone just had heart surgery, they would be given pain-killers without question. We would think it inhumane to not medicate them after such an invasive procedure. But here I am, a physical part of me ripped away, and I have no pills. There is no prescription to make it hurt less, to ease the agony of having an Eliana size hole bluntly cut from my heart. My God, it hurts, and there is no comfort.

The ragged edges catch, on thoughtless words, and unexpected memories of her. My wound is ripped open, over and over again, by the sudden sight of other baby girls, or by the relentless weight of my own sorrow. My heart is shredded, and there are times all I can do is sit and cry and moan. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I can’t do anything but sit, enveloped in the pain, doing nothing but feeling the immeasurable grief of this life without my child, of knowing what I’ve lost.

The suffering comes in waves, though. It’s not always suffocating. It’s not always unbearable. But like a wave, I know it will always come back. The time in between may get longer. The manic feeling of unending tears may not last as long as it did the last time. But it will always be there, waiting to overtake me yet again. This is my new life, the one I’m forced to live since my Eliana died in my arms. My God, it hurts, and there is no comfort.

I go to bed at night and lie there, looking in the dark at the spot where she used to lie; as though somehow if I look hard enough I will be able to see her; as though somehow if I stare long enough she will appear. The thought that keeps going through my head is “She was here. She was here.” Am I trying to convince myself? There are times it really does seem like a dream. My mind is trying to protect me from the crippling knowledge that she is dead. I can hardly believe it is real. How could something this horrible really happen? Isn’t this why we have medical technology? Isn’t this why we have medicine and surgeons and modern miracles? Where is she? This couldn’t have really happened, could it? I have the frightening situation repeat itself over and over. I’ll be somewhere with my older two girls, and I nearly jump out of my skin because I don’t see one of my kids. Then I realize that it’s her I don’t see, and I will never see her. She’s not missing. She’s MISSING. Forever. Oh God. Just when I think I’m getting ahead in this awful, painful, clawing my way out of the pit, it hits again. My baby is dead, and there is nothing I can do, and she will never come back. No matter how much I try to act as though things are getting back to normal, I know they never will be. I live my life now in shackles. I drag my chains with me and try to pretend for a few minutes that they are not there. What a joke. None of my pretending, or ignoring, or searching will change the fact that every night when I go to bed, I will lie down next to the spot where she is supposed to be, and cry myself to sleep because she is not there, and never will be.

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