Five years

Five years ago, I lost the ability to think about the future, plan for the future, hope for the future. A few weeks ago, we watched some old home videos, from the time just before and after Genevieve died. I hadn’t ever watched some of them. The “before” videos were actually more painful to watch. I look tired but relaxed, confident that I am about to bring home my second daughter and be done with pregnancy forever.

The first “after” video was taken on July 19, the day after I arrived home from the hospital. My eyes are leaden. I am talking to family members and interacting with Eleanor, and I am alive only in the physical sense.

In those early months, I spent most of my time reading about grief and crying. I tried to take care of Eleanor, but some days I couldn’t even do that and had to call Greg to come home from work. The books said that if I could take a shower and eat, I was doing OK. The bar was set very low, and I was skimming by.

When I started therapy, I learned that anger was a byproduct of sadness. When we can’t stand to feel sad, we get angry. I got really, really angry. I collected grievances in my journal, noting the painful things that people said or didn’t say. The books said that only the passage of time could soften the pain.

Time couldn’t pass fast enough. I wished for my days to unspool, wished to forget almost everything that was happening. At Christmas, I was still just subsisting. It was hard to see how I could keep getting out of bed and showering and eating. What was the point? I was only doing these things so that I could move one day farther away from the worst day of my life.

Many people say that being a parent is the hardest job in the world. Yet, we are surrounded by people who are on the journey with us. Being the parent of a child who has died? That is one tough gig.

Around the time of Genevieve’s first birthday, I began to really think about how to be her mom and brainstorm work that I could do in her honor. I stopped wishing for my life to fly past. I started to register happiness again.

Part of the reason life feels good five years out is not just that time has passed. It is that I have learned how to continue being a mom to her. I have had the chance to write passionately about an overlooked problem, and I have been connected to amazing people.

A few weeks ago, I went to a local hospital for an interview. I’ve been taking steps to become a hospital volunteer. When I arrived, the volunteer coordinator wanted to know about my life. Why was I interested in volunteering? I began to talk about Genevieve.

She asked, “Do you know Threads of Love?”

I said that I did. Threads of Love is the nonprofit that provided us with hand-made clothes and baby blankets for Genevieve when we were in the hospital.

“I’m the co-founder,” she said. And she explained how the group came to be and how they still get together every Monday to make the clothing and blankets for preemies and stillborn babies. And then I started to cry because here I was, meeting a stranger who had helped me during the worst time of my life.

This fifth anniversary feels gentler than the others. Eleanor has become nearly obsessive about her little sister this week. She has made drawings with all of us, and when we played family, she used three figurines for the children. Henry has started to exclaim “I have two sisters!” We have actually felt like a family of five. For once, I am not worrying about what it means for my children to grow up with a missing sibling. We are handling the grief thing and the parenting thing just fine.

Summer blues

I have never fully adjusted to living in Texas, which is to say that I still get excited at the prospect of summer vacation. My inner Midwesterner believes that summer is the happiest of times, and so I am disappointed annually when we reach June and I remember that summer here is something to be endured.

People can be found in only two locations: the pool or their air-conditioned homes. And I even consider the pool off-limits in the afternoon because 100 degrees is so hot. The pool deck scorches tender little feet, and the kids quickly become fatigued. We spend most of our time at home, hiding from the heat. Sometimes we go so long without seeing other people that I start to feel as though I’m in some sci-fi movie where we’re the only humans left.

I’ve always liked our neighborhood because we have so many children nearby, but with kids getting older, everyone seems to travel more. Eleanor is also reaching that age where girls mainly want to play with girls and boys with boys, which narrows the pool of playmates.

Greg and I have started talking about renting a house someplace next summer for a month or so. He’s allowed to work from home, and I can work anywhere. If we’re all going to be lonely, it seems far better to be lonely in a place with better weather where we could share some new adventures. I’m even excited at the prospect of a road trip. This might be proof that the sun is frying the frontal lobe of my brain.

We’ve spent every July at home since Genevieve died. I’ve insisted on it because I can’t see the point of trying to take a vacation at a time when I know I will be emotional. But I’ve started to wonder whether the isolation of a Texas summer makes my grief significantly worse. I know that grief will always be there; my nerves start to fray every Fourth of July. How would I feel watching waves crash onto the beach or hiking through the Rockies? Certainly, fresh air couldn’t make things worse, right?

Seven days until her birthday. Eleanor is super excited this year (because of the cake, I assume), and I don’t know how to tell her not to be.

30 months – Henry

Dear Henry,

A week ago, you finished your first year of preschool. You will soon learn that I enter a phase of mourning at the end of each school year. Most parents seem to feel the passage of time at the start of school. I feel it at the end.

You were in the Cubbie Bear Class, which might be the most perfect name ever devised for a group of toddlers. I felt so good leaving you with those affectionate teachers, to the point that I wanted to stay in the class and sit on the rug and soak up all of that warmth and security. I would stand to the side of the window when I came to pick you up, trying to spy, because as soon as you saw me you would come running. When I did get to watch you and your friends, the tears welled. All of you were so earnest as you sang songs, said your names and tried to identify colors. What sort of world would we have if we could hang on to that innocence?

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Over the winter, your language skills bloomed. Now you speak in full sentences, and when you aren’t sure of the word for something, you use a word that seems appropriate. You call watermelons “lemons” and corn on the cob “popcorn.” Motorcycles are “cycle motors.”

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You are always hungry and push a chair over to the pantry or fridge to reach things when I am not looking. Yesterday, you ate half a box of crackers while I was elsewhere. Today, heaping handfuls of raisins that you nearly choked on when I caught you. When I take away your snack, you squeal in anger like a crazed pig and shout, “But I hungy!” (You cannot say your Rs.)

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Your imagination has recently become a big part of your play. Fires everywhere! And you are always ready to put them out. You also spend a lot of time devising stories for your train cars. I spend much of my time putting out the more figurative fires in our house, but when I do find time to play with you, you are a total mama’s boy. The other day, when I started to get up after playing, you grabbed Daddy’s bag of tae kwon do gear and threw it across my lap in an effort to pin me down. Then you slammed the bedroom door and blocked my passage.

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You live at full tilt. You are never a little hungry or a little engaged or a little mad. For your mama, who is cautious and nervous, you are a wonder. Keep your boisterous spirit always.

Love,
Mama