Coping in Secret

All of the time people are telling me about someone else they know who has lost a child and is coping really well with the loss.  Sometimes the context of these conversations feels a little accusatory, like, "why aren't YOU coping as well as our friend so and so?" - sometimes they are just told as a way to make a connection, like, "My friend so and so also lost her child and she has also figured out a way to move on and be happy" - sometimes the awful grief competition is introduced with the statement, like, "So and so lost her husband, then her mother, then she had multiple surgeries, and then she lost her son - and she is soldiering on - doing great!  She is such an inspiration to us - it's amazing she hasn't fallen apart" (unspoken subtext: "Like you did.  She has lost SO MUCH more than you but she is keeping it together").

I usually nod, ask a few questions and leave it at that.  Even without knowing "so and so", I feel pretty confident that he/she isn't coping as well as whoever I am talking to thinks he/she is.

I want to propose something - perhaps these people aren't coping as well as you think they are.  Perhaps their lives are incredibly complex and the only place that they can really grieve is with a grief group/therapist/significant other/alone.  I mean, it just may be something worth considering.  I know you are the one that knows them really well and of course, I don't know them at all - but I'd just like to put it out there.  Consider it food for thought.

A lot of grieving parents are not showing YOU the full picture - for a variety of reasons.  A lot of grieving parents sense that people don't want to hear about how awful losing their child really is, they aren't comfortable expressing emotion, they don't want to "burden" you with their loss, they are of a generation/gender that was taught to keep a stiff upper lip or sweep it under the rug, or they may feel like it's important to "fake it till you make it".  I am not saying that there aren't parents out there that are coping well - I am simply saying that you may not be privy to the complexity of the loss or the toll it's taken on your friend.

I tend to take these stories with a grain of salt.  My experience tells me that these people are not as well adjusted as you are giving them credit for....losing a child is's as simple as that.  If they are actually coping well today, the chances are that they have been to hell and back to get to this point.

The fact is that I don't let everyone in myself - fewer and fewer, in fact, as time goes on.  AND - the ones that I do let in - don't get let in for very long.  There actually isn't one person on the earth who gets let in on it all - not even Ted.  It is just way too heavy to actually share in its entirety.  There are plenty of people in my life - people who don't read my blog, or who I keep things light and superficial with - who probably think I am one of those people who are coping so well.  In many ways, I AM one of those people.  Truly.  My grief has finally made space for other things.  I am super functional, very happy most of the time, especially when I am surrounded by friends and family.  But, I would NEVER want someone using me as an example of "coping well" to another bereaved parent.  It is too simplistic and untrue.  It took me a LONG time to get here and I still have a LONG way to go.  My grief defines who I am in many ways - even if there are also many other pieces of my life that define me as well.

I remember one of the "happiness pushers" early on our loss kept telling me that she wanted me to talk to her friend who had lost a child.  "She lost her son when he choked on a grape right in front of her and she is fine now".  This person sounded like the last person on the earth I wanted to talk to after losing Max.  I couldn't wrap my brain around someone being fine with losing their child and I didn't ever want to be that person myself.  The happiness pusher thought that I was making too much of Max dying and that perhaps if I could just talk to someone who had lost a child and was well-adjusted, I'd be fine too.  I thought about this mother many times over the first two years of my loss - how had she done it?  Finally, and I am not sure why exactly, I did reach out to this mother, we made an appointment to talk on the phone and we spoke for several hours.  As you can imagine, the mother is not "fine".  She has incorporated the loss into her life.  She has much joy from her two surviving children.  She is busy and surrounded by people and her life does not any longer revolve around grief - which it did - for a long, long time.  Her early experiences reflect much of the same stuff I've been going through - anger, denial, spiritual searching, despondency, defensiveness.  But, there was still a gaping hole in her heart.  She still went through periods of hell.  She was frankly more than a bit insulted and pissed off that anyone had assumed she was "just fine" with the death of her son.  She was actually happy to be talking to me because it had been so long since she felt like she could have an honest conversation about the havoc her sons death had wreaked on her life.  Everyone expected more from her now - now that it has been such a long time since he died.  Her son. (Honestly, how does anyone expect anyone to get over that?  It's just unrealistic and unfair).

I guess all I am saying is that people are fighting battles that they are not necessarily sharing with you.  I made a decision to more open than most because that is who I am.  I have always been vocal (voted most talkative in more than one of my growing up scenarios), I have always been outspoken.  I have never been one to shy away from telling it like I see it.  This hasn't always made me popular or well-liked but it has always been who I am.  This is why you are hearing how I really feel about grief....and you are part of a small group of people in my life who do.  The only ones who ARE really hearing it are the ones who are seeking it out - by asking me how I am doing, checking in on my Facebook page, or by reading my blog.  Most everyone else likely thinks I am coping well and I don't go out of my way to tell them otherwise.  Contrary to what you might think - I also think I am coping well as can be expected. 

I saw this post on Facebook yesterday and it made me think - how can we ever know the demons someone else is fighting unless we ask?  Unless we are told?  Maybe we should stop making assumptions about how someone else feels or copes - because the fact is that we can almost never really know.  Anyway, just a thought.....

Safe sleep

I've debated writing this post for a long time. I often feel like the annoying rule -follower standing on my soap box, preaching about safe sleep - barking messages nobody wants to hear.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under 1 sleep in their own cribs, with no blankets, bumpers, pillows, or anything else. They should have a tight fitting sheet on their mattress, be put down on their back, and wear a sleep sack and appropriately warm pajamas. They should not be over-bundled and should ideally have a fan on or air circulation in the room.

SIDS is not suffocation. When babies who stop breathing die of suffocation, the cause of death is "suffocation". SIDS is the sudden infant death of a child that has no explanation. I guess my point is that even though you might feel very comfortable and sure that your child isn't in danger of suffocating, you cannot be confident and sure that your child isn't in danger of dying of SIDS - so why wouldn't you take all of the precautions? Even if you are tired - I just don't see how a full nights sleep is worth the risk. 

The research has showed for some time that there is a connection between safe sleep recommendations and SIDS. Many of the experts in the field feel that the research coming from Dr. Hannah Kinney in Boston is the most convincing. Her team have found a brain stem irregularity in children who have died from SIDS. The abnormality impairs the brain's ability to use and recycle seratonin. Seratonin is known for the role it plays in regulating moods - but it also helps to regulate essential functions like breathing, heartbeat, temperature blood pressure and arousal. The irregularity might be the reason that the brain is triggered to believe that the airflow is not readily available in certain sleep environments. The theory is that the soft bed covers found in adult beds, the pillows and boppys that are placed in cribs with babies, and just being on the tummy triggers the deadly response in baby's brain stem. Sadly, there is no way to test for this irregularity until after death. So, there is no way to know if your child has it. This is something that Dr. Kinney and her team are working on. First Candle and other organizations support her research (and other reputable research in the field as well). We hope that someday soon there will be a test to detect this irregularity in newborns.

You know that babies die of SIDS. You know it because this is how we lost Maxie. Maybe you think your baby is safer because you love them so much. If love could have protected a child's life, I promise you - Max would still be here. Our love for him runs deep into the core of the earth and completely took over our lives from the moment he was born. He was loved and cared for and adored - and he still died. I KNOW that whatever decisions you make regarding your child are made with love. I don't want to be the bad guy, I just want to make sure you have all of the facts.


"Happy Birthday!  I hope it's the best day ever!"

"Happy Birthday to you!  Happy Birthday to you!  Happy Birthday Dear Abby!  Happy Birthday to you!"

"I hope you are celebrating today!"

Birthdays are complex (are you surprised to see that I've written that?  What isn't complex these days?).  I loved getting so many wonderful FB messages, emails, voicemails, calls, and texts on Friday.  Really.  It's hard to feel unloved in the Facebook age when everyone is reminded that it's your birthday and makes an effort to acknowledge it.  My birthday is just one of those days now that leaves me feeling pretty empty, heartbroken and guilty.  For me, birthdays stopped being full of childlike wonder when I stopped being a child.  I think birthdays started feeling a little self indulgent around my 25th one.  Not to say I haven't had some good celebrations since then.  I have.  Including my 40th last year - celebrated in Costa Rica with a group of my very best friends.  It wasn't really about my birthday though - more of an excuse to remind myself and be reminded that life is still full of love and possibility.

Having a birthday and the expectation of joy around it actually feels kind of shitty. I just can't believe I keep having these things when Max never even had ONE.  There is just nothing that is more wonderful than seeing a child celebrating their special day.  It makes me feel sick inside that he never got that and that all of his birthdays are commemorated without him.

"Hi Abby, just want to send you a few big hugs and lots of love for your birthday xxxx" - wrote another bereaved mother to me on Facebook

"Thank you, that's so sweet of you", I wrote back.  

I've never met this mom in person.  She lives in the UK.  She is part of a private grief group I belong to on FB.  Inside the virtual walls of that group is one of the only places that I really can say how I feel (you think I am telling you how I really feel here?  Nope).  Even though I've literally never met even one of these people in person, I feel closer to them and trust them more than most people I have known my whole life and see regularly.

"Birthdays are hard now, aren't they?", she answered

I breathed out a deep sigh of relief to finally have someone acknowledge the reality of the day.  "Thank god someone gets it", was all I could think.  Of course the only ones who really get it are those who have lost like I have. 

I cried myself to sleep Thursday night.  I also spent too much of Friday locked in my bathroom at home so my nanny wouldn't see me crying.  And it isn't because I am sad to have turned 41.  I don't feel like an old woman (because I'm not one) and if anything, getting older is the one thing that I can actually appreciate about my birthday.

I know it's hard to understand how someone with so much good in her life can still have so much sadness.  I hope that you never ever have to understand how complex (yep, there it is again) it all is.  I have a wonderful husband, two delicious living children and another one on the way (god willing).  I have a good job and a nice home and two loyal dogs.  I've got good friends, a nice family, my parents are still living, and I am not lacking in anything that I really need.  But there is this one missing piece that never goes away.  I don't have Max.  And, what's so much worse is all that he doesn't have.  

I am finally coming out of the birthday fog (both his and mine) and genuinely feeling like there is some sunshine up ahead.  

"No light that was ever born in love, can ever be extinguised." - Darcie Sims

Myla Six Months

Aw man.  I am a few days late.  I have excuses - we were at my mom's house all last week in an attempt to keep our house clean.  We put our house on the market and hoped to have a bunch of showings before we returned home (more on that later....) I cannot find the blanket that I was taking Myla's photos on but am still hopeful it will show up. Ted was out of town all weekend, which made organizing my time kind of hard.  But, alas, there is no excuse.  Myla turned 6 months on Saturday and we should have done the photo shoot then.  It in no way reflects how HAPPY we are that she is getting older!  She is a doll!  She is sleeping better (with lots of patience and commitment to her sleep training), she is eating a few bites here and there of "solid" food (otherwise known as mushy sweet potatoes), and she smiles and laughs all of the time.  Mostly, I can't get over how CUTE she is.  I'm obsessed.  She gets lots of squeezes and kisses all day long.

So - here is the recap, starting with 2 months, when we got her!

A music class moment

"Are you expecting?", asked the woman sitting next to me in Mo's music class.
"I am", I said, smiling.
"Do you have other children?", she asked - motioning to Mo.
I paused.
"I do.  I have a six month old daughter at home".
At home is what I say to avoid having to get "into it".  I am just not mentioning my other son right now - who isn't "at home".  It doesn't really work, but it's what I do.
"Ooooo, a girl!", she said enthusiastically.  She looked down at her own belly (which wasn't bulging nearly as much as mine is) and said, disappointingly, "We are having another boy."
She is due two weeks after me.  She has 2 boys already - a four year old and a two year old.
"Boys are wonderful!", I said - feeling envious of her three boys.
"I was hoping for a girl", she said, still disappointed.
"Girls are wonderful too", I said.  And they are - I ADORE my baby girl.
The teacher asked us to stand up to sing the next song.  "All of this standing up and sitting down is getting pretty old - dontcha think?", I said, grasping my sides while awkwardly pulling myself up.
She laughed, "Tell me about it."

I really like this mom.  She is always smiling and she has the cutest boys and they are all so loving with each other.  I was excited to learn she was pregnant (she really doesn't look pregnant but anyway.....) and thought that maybe we would chat about our pregnancies in the coming months and be able to commiserate about where we are at.  Still, the conversation made me feel emotional - as so many seemingly benign conversations with other mommies do.  I moved on from it pretty quick though and just put my focus back on Mo and the class. ..................................and then.........................really out of nowhere - I found myself on the outside of a beautiful, chaotic, playtime music scene and my eyes began to fill with tears and it took everything in me to keep the tears in my eyes.  It was everything - sadness that Max wasn't there, shame that I hadn't mentioned him, heartbroken that I don't have what she is disappointed to have, gratitude for being given a second chance at motherhood with Mo and Myla and this new little guy who is coming.  It just felt like TOO much to contain.  I grabbed my phone to record the moment, thinking there was something big here.  But, then I got home and saw that it was just this:

An ordinary day, doing ordinary stuff with my kid.  Wish it wasn't laden with so much more......