Sunday, March 28, 2010

On not being a burden

This weekend was my nephew C's first birthday. It is a blessing that he has made it through his first year. He had heart surgery at 3 days old for transposition of the great arteries and an atrial septal defect. He had a cleft lip and palate that are also now repaired. The lip was repaired about 6 months ago. The cleft palate was repaired about two weeks ago. The doctor said even though he has another week until he can fully eat solids, he could eat his birthday cake.

It was great to see C so happy even though he is still healing. In fact he seems to enjoy eating more now, which makes sense since the cleft caused stuff to go up his nose. He is nearly walking and loved all the walking/riding toys he got for his birthday. Meg enjoyed playing with C and the other girl who was at the party.

The party was hard for my husband and I. There was the usual hardness of having to be social with people we don't know well from the other side of the family. There was the family was talking about how great it was for Meg and C to get to know each other when Drew never met C, since C was born after he died. There is my mom who is a put on a happy face person who doesn't really admit to grieving. There is a sadness that accompanies all major events where we wish Drew was there.

So we both tried to avoid grieving in public at the party. It is odd that I, who cry in public quite a lot, didn't feel comfortable crying in front of family. I ended up crying in the guest room after we put Meg to bed and then going to bed early. My husband had to take several breaks from the party to cry. Next year I think we'll get a hotel room, so we can escape.

My brother, C's father, has actually been really understanding during the whole grief process, since on top of losing his nephew he was really scared he'd lose his son. I mentioned to him that the party had been rough for me grief wise and he mentioned that he and dad had talked about that for them as well today. My dad didn't tell me because he didn't want to burden me. My brother and I suspect that our mom is only talking to my dad to avoid burdening us as well.

I wish we'd all stop avoiding burdening each other and talk.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The dining hall

On Friday's preschool gets out at 11:30. Last year we often ended up at the dining hall for lunch on Fridays where our table of parents and preschool children joined the college students for lunch. Kids eat free there and what kid doesn't want to eat at a place where there is always infinite pizza and ice cream.

We don't go as often this year. Partially this is for the obvious reason that it is sad to be there without Drew. Mostly it is that many of the other children have headed off to kindergarten, so we don't have a crowd to go anymore.

Today we went anyway. On Fridays, we share the afternoon babysitter with a colleague of mine so that Meg can play with her friend A and my colleague and I can both work. So my husband, Meg and A arrived first and I arrived once I was done with class and my daily walk. Meg and A are quite an experience at the dining hall.

First of all there is the large number of college students that know them that I don't know. When your child goes to the preschool on campus that is used as a learning lab for the college students, every student who has taken Child Development knows your kid. Meg and A seem to be quite popular with the students.

The food routine is pretty consistent. Pizza and pasta with chocolate milk, followed often by fruit or yogurt from the salad bar, and then always ice cream. Ice cream that takes awhile to eat. Ice cream that is always messy.

Trying to keep them reasonably close to their seat while we finish eating is an adventure. It can involve them lining up their chairs and pretending they are on a train. Or seeing how far they can get away from standing at the table before we tell them to come back. They also make a game of hiding under the table and tickling our legs.

Meg and A look more alike than Meg and Drew did. I often wonder if the students think they are both ours. They also play together so well, we call it the "Meg and A show". Meg says "A let's do this" and the do it. Then A says "Meg let's do that " so they do that. Quite a team. I hope no one ever asks if they are twins.

Today was a good lunch at the dining hall. They ate pizza, drank chocolate milk, and ate chocolate ice cream for dessert. They did so badly at wiping their faces after the cones that my husband joked that they looked like they had a beard like him. We managed to time things so we had nearly finished eating when they were done.

I will miss Friday lunch at the dining hall when Meg is in kindergarten. Fortunately we have another year of preschool left until then.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ice cream

The weather has been nice for most of the week. Today we had dinner cooked on the grill while sitting on our back porch. We went for a bicycle ride and noted that Meg has nearly outgrown the bike stroller. Then we went for ice cream (custard actually) We've been going to this custard shop since it opened during the kids first summer. Meg and Drew had their first frozen yogurt there at about 9 months, fed to them by one of their grandmothers. I wasn't completely convinced that it was a good idea at the time, although they were eating regular yogurt at that point. They loved it. I cannot remember if they had their first actual ice cream there as well.

We go out for custard a lot during the summer. The place offers vanilla, chocolate, and two rotating flavors of the day. The cones come with wrappers which if you collect 10 you get a free cone. Today I emptied all of the places we keep the free cone wrappers and we had enough for two free cones.

So we called our usual friends to go with us and so four adults and four kids (ages 3,4,5 and 6) all had custard together.

After the custard we usually go out on the patio. All of the kids like to walk on the short wall around the patio and pretend they are trains. Today was no exception. I couldn't take it. Drew loved to walk on that wall too. I couldn't bear to watch it and started crying. By now of course I'm used to crying in public at unexpected times. Our friends noticed and got all the kids to stop and claimed it was getting cold, which was somewhat accurate, and loaded the kids all in the minivan. Meg had insisted on riding with her friends. So my husband and I sat in the car and cried and hugged and then headed home.

I'm sure it will be easier next time. It was easier after the first time last year. I wish it could remain easy.

Monday, March 15, 2010


We had always planned on having two kids. My husband and I both came from two child families so that number seemed just right to us. We found out I was pregnant with twins at the 19 week ultrasound. After the shock wore off, we figured we just gotten a bonus, two kids with one pregnancy which now seems incredibly naive. Once they had arrived happy and healthy we figured we were done.

After Drew died, I wanted to be pregnant again. Immediately. This biological rather than rational desire has persisted. It isn't that simple though.

I would like Meg to have a living sibling. Although even if I were to miraculously become pregnant immediately, they would be at least 4 years apart in age. Also Meg would have to live with another thing that takes our attention away from her and she gets a lot of that from the grief already. Also I'm sure the sleep deprivation and grief combination would just add to the difficulties of being patient with a preschooler who is quite decisive and persistent.

Additionally, we've won the one way ticket to worrywart street. I'm not sure either of us can handle the first year of baby life SIDS worries. The SIDS worries were bad enough when I had two healthy babies and was blissfully ignorant about how fast things could turn bad. My grief counselor thinks I will likely have PTSD triggers about whether or not the baby is breathing. I already wake up in the middle of the night panicked and worried that Meg is not breathing. I'm sure adding another baby will not help with that.

My husband is not ready yet. I hardly blame him. It is hard to trust that things will go smoothly. Once you have had one statistically unlikely event in your life, it is hard to not think you are destined for another. Also, I was not a pleasant pregnant person. Hormones and grief is likely to make a new pregnancy even crabbier. We've agreed to discuss it again after the one year mark. We haven't yet.

It gets more difficult though. We thought we were done. So my husband had a vasectomy when the twins were infants. I wanted to not have to go back on birth control, since I have a family history of breast cancer. Besides, we figured, I had done my time taking care of contraception, now it was his turn.

Vasectomies are potentially reversible. It is not a guaranteed thing and it can take awhile for the sperm to repopulate even when successful. There are other ways around the issue including IVF and donor sperm. There is adoption as well. We'll consider all of them and have to think about cost and emotional cost of each process. I am still working up the nerve to ask the insurance company if any of this would be covered and my guess is no.

Why do I want to have third child despite all that? I think it is because the potential for adding joy to our life outweighs the fear that something else could go wrong.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hanging with Meg

We are on spring break this week, Meg and I. This is either the advantage or the disadvantage of using the college's preschool, depending on how you look at it. The advantage is that I don't have to manage childcare with a break that doesn't match up with my breaks. The disadvantage is that I don't get to catch up on my grading and planning over break.

Spring has come here and with it lots of pleasant outdoor activities.

We went for a walk near our house and ended up accidentally sliding down a hill on the remains of the slippery snow. So we headed home to change our now wet pants. Meg with her four year old fashion sense had also insisted on wearing her pink polka dotted dress shoes on this excursion and now want to take off both them and her wet socks. I managed to convince her to only remove one sock. On the way back to the house she decided to run and then proceeded to trip and fall on the gravel at the side of road leftover from plowing.

Meg tends to overreact to any setback right now. I've heard it is normal for a four year old, but I have to wonder if it is a reflection of the strong emotions she sees from my husband and I. It also doesn't help that I don't have the largest ability to remain calm when she is upset either. So a small fall with a slight scrape yields screaming. Lots of screaming. One of my neighbors stopped by to make sure she was okay. I had to convince her to keep on walking since she has gotten to heavy for me to pick up without hurting my shoulders. Eventually she started walking while crying.

After a few moments, I asked her if she knew why there were rocks on the road. So we got to have a conversation about sanding the road, plowing, and what the road is made of. No more crying now. Now she wanted to collect rocks. I let her collect as many as she could carry and finally got her home. She had forgotten about the fact that her pants were wet and she had a scrape. She wanted to wash off the rocks.

So we get in the house and I convince to go upstairs to change before washing the rocks. I changed clothes and headed downstairs. Then I called up to her to make sure changing was going well and had a brief momentary panic when she didn't answer immediately. However she was fine and came downstairs, washed her rocks, and insisted on putting them out for display for daddy when he got home.

A good afternoon well spent. Now I just need to find someplace to store the rocks.

Monday, March 8, 2010

In a better place

Since we are now more than a week after the first anniversary of Drew's death, life it a little less intense at the moment. Which is good, because both my and my husbands work life have had their rough points since the anniversary. I am now on break. Break is nice since I do not have to teach. Break is not much of a break since we use the preschool associated with my college and so when I'm on break, so is Meg. No catching up with grading during the day for me.

I'll try to write about the ups and downs of hanging out with Meg for a day soon.

Near the anniversary of Drew's death we donated money to two places, his preschool, where Meg still attends, and a school in Guatemala which is funded partially by my church. We got the thank you for your donation letter already from the preschool donation.

Since the preschool is associated with the college a donation to it is officially a donation to the college. The letter was written by a staff member at the college and not part of the preschool. I don't know the letter writer well, but the letter was mostly okay. It mentioned the preschool appreciated the donation and they were sorry for our loss. Then the letter said "at least you know he is in a better place now."

Cue the swearing at the letter writer, which I will not repeat here.

I know the letter writer meant well. Also I like to think that heaven is a wonderful place where we can be with God. However I don't think that it is a better place than being here with us, his family. I think the phrases "he is in a better place now", "God needed another angel in heaven" and "at least you have Meg" should all be banned. Not that I don't take comfort in heaven and in Meg, but that the presumption that the comfort of these things should some how make things better is false. Nothing will make Drew's death better. Some things make it easier to tolerate the process of finding the new normal, but nothing will heal the wound.

I can hope that someone points out to the staff member before next year never to use that phrase again. I will tell a couple people I can trust to pass it along and hope it reaches there.

I take sad comfort that the thank you letter from the school in Guatemala is likely to contain no such platitudes. The director lost two sons in early childhood. He has walked our road.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


The Sudden Unexplained Death in Children Program (SUDC) is something I found in my early desperate googling for people in similar circumstances as me. People who like my husband and I put a healthy three year old with a cold to bed one night and then found him dead in bed in the morning. While I found SUDC a few months out from my loss, I didn't contact them.

Why didn't I contact them? Well by then we had an autopsy report and a death certificate with severallisted causes of death. Drew had idiopathic (not showing symptoms) pulmonary hypertension, which of course we had no idea was occurring. There were two other things on the death certificate which I remember the pediatrician, who met with us to explain the autopsy report, were from the fact Drew stopped breathing. The thing the autopsy didn't figure out is any reason why he stopped breathing. So we have some symptoms but no cause.

I had gotten the mistaken impression that in order to be considered SUDC that the death had to have a completely unknown cause. I'm not sure from where. I did consider Drew's death to be SUDC in my head, since how else do you deal with the unexplained.

Daven from Missing Evan told me to contact SUDC and see what they had to say. Thanks Daven, I'm glad I did. So far I've spoken to the director and had a call that I need to return from the volunteer nurse. It has been good to talk to them. It should be possible to enter Drew in their research study. This may yield some answers for us or maybe not. Either way it will help me get some closure to have an expert check out his case. Also SUDC has some other resources available and I will check them out soon.

It is useful to find other people in your situation, even when your situation totally sucks and should never happen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The memorial

We had planned to have a memorial at a year since some important people could not make the funeral. So on Saturday we had a short graveside service followed by dinner and memories at the church. It went as well as it could. Just as my husband have said about the funeral "It was a lovely service and I hated it." It allows us to both acknowledge that people are doing lovely things for us and to remember Drew, but it still sucks.

My sister-in-law and my maid of honor both made the event along with their families. They appreciated being able to participate in the memorial since they were both on bedrest at the funeral. They both brought the babies that they were on bedrest for to the dinner and it was nice to see them.

The graveside service was beautiful and awful. Drew is buried under a birch tree on the dirt road portion of the cemetery. The cemetery didn't plow the dirt road. Fortunately by Saturday the snow had turned to slush and so it was walkable mostly. When the family and I arrived at the cemetery I picked up the bouquet of purple roses and started walking to the grave with Meg and her grandma. Unfortunately Meg wanted to run and grandma followed, so I ended up walking by myself to the grave, sobbing. My husband was following behind helping his parents navigate the slush.

The service was short and lovely and awful. There were extra purple roses for the children who were there to place on the grave. Meg spent most of the service looking a the flowers and the yellowing pine cross with a train ornament that were on the grave. Several of her current and former babysitters were there and helped out with her and us. Afterwards there were hugs all around. As I looked around I was surprised how many people were there. Meg decided post service that she wanted to run down and attempt to visit the trampoline in the yard adjoining the cemetery. It took the sitters a bit to talk her out of going there.

We all returned to the church for dinner. Dinner was comfort food, in fact I think it was the same rigatoni with sauce that was made for the funeral. The adults ate and the kids alternated playing and eating. We ran out of chairs in fellowship hall. I would guess some people forgot to tell the organizer that they were coming. No matter, none of the kids would sit still for long anyway. It was good that many people brought their kids because it provided other ways for the adults to mix among groups.

There was a craft table for the kids. Lots of pictures of Meg and Drew had been printed out and the kids were decorating pages of pictures and memories to place in a book for Meg. The kids really enjoyed it and some made multiple pages.

After dinner we were supposed to have a time of sharing stories. There were bits of paper at the table for people to write down memories. Everyone liked the informal socialization that was going on and my husband and I decided that we would not break up the talking to have everyone tell stories aloud as we had planned. Instead we encouraged the adults to make scrapbook pages as well, since the kids had long abandoned the craft table for chasing each other and playing with the toys in the nursery. They seemed to like it, especially the college students.

I think skipping the stories told aloud allowed my husband and I to take a break from crying and just watch the spectacle. The only person that seemed disappointed was one of the grandmothers. At the end time, it took awhile for people to gather their families and head out. Meg was exhausted from all the running around and went to sleep early. We were emotionally exhausted and spend the evening playing Super Mario Wii with my brother and sister-in-law.

It was the best day we could manage. And I hated it.