Tuesday, February 28, 2012

December 25-A Merry Christmas Day

Santa came!!

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and so did the grandparents!!

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We’ve got lotsa pictures to share from today!

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seeing the evidence!

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oh my! Santa’s pockets were so full of reindeer food that he dropped some on our floor. AGAIN!

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The milk is gone Mommy!!

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yes, that is a yardstick!

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Demonstrating how this gift will be used…

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Being a pirate and modeling his shark tooth necklace! Doesn’t he look like such a big boy here?!?!?!?

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These were Aaron’s big Christmas wish, the Imaginext dinosaurs, which Aaron calls, “Dinosaurs in Gear.” He has been asking for these for the whole year.

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oooh, cute new coat!

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ARRRGGHH!!! An AWESOME pirate ship from NanaGrampy…

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…which I will spend an hour putting together.

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Can you see through the glare? My son SAW and CHOSE this gift for his Mommy all by himself…LOTR Pez dispensers!!

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Somewhere between watching Aaron open gifts and sitting down to Christmas dinner, I realized I was truly having a nice day. I took nowhere NEAR the number of photos I usually take, which is a marker of how slow and reserved I was feeling. There were some lovely times of the day that I don’t have photos of at all, like when Sarah and Zack and the girls were over. I know that I didn’t feel it as deeply and joyfully as I usually do, but sometime during the day I noticed that I was actually enjoying myself. It was as if every desperate plea we made for this pain to ease was finally answered. It felt like the burden had been lifted, and while I knew that feeling was going to come and go, just knowing that it was possible was empowering, and it was an unbelievable relief. Just a little mercy and grace for us. We were given one precious day. I imagined that all the love and good wishes and words of support from people who had reached out to us had woven a net that lifted our pain from off of us and held it for us for a while. It really worked. We managed to have a good Christmas after all, to focus on Aaron, and to enjoy things as much as someone possibly could after going through what we have.

When we made it upstairs for the night, I expressed these thoughts to Chris, and wondered if he had thought about the day the same way. He said that the same thought had crossed his mind earlier in the day and he felt guilty for a moment, even thinking, “Wait, I shouldn’t be laughing! Why am I enjoying myself?”  I think this kind of thing is pretty common during grieving. It’s so so hard to reconcile all the different feelings that course through us, so quickly and unpredictably, and leaving so much raw damage. I would later experience that instant of griever’s guilt on the one month mark of when Mara died. But we snap out of it, sometimes at least, and we let ourselves feel good again. And the moments when we feel good will come more and more and we will learn how to live with this loss.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

December 24-Christmas Eve

Today for some reason I got this motivation to refresh all the flowers we had received. I have never had so many flowers before. The arrangements we received were all so beautiful, I just loved looking at them. They seemed to be the perfect example of girly beauty to me and I felt comforted by them. And I did stare at them A LOT. So I puttered about as if it were something truly important, rinsing the vases, adding more food to fresh water, and pulling off wilted leaves.

We got this beautiful white arrangement from Sarah and Zack and Zack’s family. I loved the squat square glass vase they came in.

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We got this perfectly Christmassy bouquet from Kelly and Caleb and Cameron, and I heard a rumor that Caleb picked them out himself. :) We put them in a red vase and they were just the perfect addition to our Christmas table centerpiece. (How many times have I used the word perfect in this post so far?)

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This sweet basket was from Chris’ brothers Ray and Randy.

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These are two halves of a massive bouquet from an administrator at our school. He would have had no idea, but I appreciated the purple. I put half downstairs and the other half up in Mara’s room.

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This HUMONGOUS basket was from our department. It was stunning.

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This beautiful bouquet is from our school librarian. So purple and wonderful. I had these ones in our room.

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My Mom made Christmas Eve dinner. I am pretty sure Ashley helped her out, and I am completely certain I did not do one single thing to help. It was a great dinner. We wanted to keep it simple, back when life was normal and we planned it, and one of our friends from work brought us a Honeybaked Ham, so it all worked out.

Aaron was TOO CUTE sitting down all seriously and using his knife. Who is that big boy? When I sat down to a full dinner that I didn’t even help make, I kind of had a moment of awareness that Christmas stuff was going on and that it was okay to enjoy my dinner. And I did.

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After dinner we worked on some more Christmas cookies. Aaron, as always, did a great job with the sprinkles.

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He set cookies out for Santa just perfectly.

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My loving husband brought up the White Christmas DVD to our bedroom so I could watch it before bed, like I always do. I had started it earlier, but hadn’t thought about finishing because…I just wasn’t feeling it. But my hubby, he knows his wife. He turned it on and we snuggled up and it was the start of a very nice Christmas day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

December 23-the worst errand

Today Chris and I agreed that I needed to get out and walk around a bit. My pain was getting a little better and I knew some movement and fresh air would do me good. It was the day we were scheduled to pick up Mara’s ashes from the funeral home, so while we waited for that call, I went outside with Aaron. It was a cold windy day so he didn’t want to stay out for long. While he rode his bike around the cul-de-sac, I did really slow laps. I was definitely feeling the pain by the time we went in.

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Here he is rejecting my picture taking efforts.

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Eventually it was time for Chris and I to go pick up Mara’s ashes. Now you may remember that I said going to the funeral home to make the arrangements wasn’t as horrible as I imagined it would be. This visit…just as horrible as I imagined it would be. Worse. I took a small pink felt bag with us to put the container in. I had no idea how big the container would be or if it would even fit in the bag, but it seemed like the best thing to choose. We got the bag at the hospital. It was holding a little bundle of things made by a mom who had lost her baby. It included a small blanket, onesie, poem, journal, and some other things, along with a story written by the mother about her baby girl’s death. It had a ribbon handle and a butterfly applique on it, and when I read the story by the mother I learned that the butterfly is a symbol often used to memorialize infant loss. I certainly didn’t have any other plans for that pink felt bag, and didn’t want to put Mara’s container in a bag that had other meaning or use for fear that I would never want to use it again, so pink felt bag it was. We entered the funeral home, told the attendant what we were there for, and just stood there waiting. I dreaded seeing the container. How awful. We looked around at the odd wallpaper, bird cage, pink upholstery, and commented to each other in low voices about why funeral homes seem to have a requirement of creepy d├ęcor.

The attendant came back holding a small brown plastic box with rounded corners. He reached out to hand it to Chris and said, “Here’s your little angel.” His words jarred me deeply and I couldn’t accept what he was saying. There is no way around this…my baby was in that box. My child’s body was in a plastic container the size of half a shoe box. It is disturbing on the deepest level. Chris handed me the box and I stared at it and slid it into the pink bag, which was exactly the perfect size. I couldn’t look at the man who had verbalized that Mara was in that container. I clenched my teeth together fiercely. I know that if I took a breath too deep or tried to talk I would not be able to keep myself from crying. There was a document to sign that certified Mara Olivia Karayannis was in fact the person who had been cremated. Chris signed it, we walked out, and as soon as my feet crossed the threshold of the lobby the tears rolled slow and silent. We had planned to get some groceries we needed for our Christmas dinners, so we were headed to the store. I sat down and held that container on my lap and positioned my hands around it just so. I had a horrible feeling that it was the closest I would ever be to holding her again and I just couldn’t bear to have that box slide or be bumped. We drove to the store and waited a minute or two in the car while my tears just kept rolling. I was going to put the container down and leave it in the car while we went in the store. It was hard to make myself move. We walked in and made our way around the store really slowly. I remember that Chris and I separated for me to get something or put something back or something, and walking through that crowded store by myself felt so disorienting. It was a thousand times worse than the trip to Costco. I felt like I had a huge open wound on me that I was trying to cover with my jacket. Every step was an effort and I didn’t make eye contact with people. We came back home and I took the container straight upstairs to Chris’ closet, where it would rest until it was time to go to the mountains. I would not face the thought of her ashes in that container again until that day. There was always plenty of grieving to do without visualizing that.

I don’t remember much else about this day, except that my boys put on their new matching shirts from Ash and my Dad. Aaron started really getting into eggnog this year and they have been drinking it together. Just your standard store brand carton. Aaron loves it as much as any other dessert. They were cute.

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The time when Chris and I went up to bed became the time we were doing our grieving together after holding it in for most of the day every day. We didn’t want to cry around Aaron all the time, and we were trying so very hard to be Christmassy as much as we could. I remember that on this night when we went upstairs I told Chris that I had no Christmas in my heart whatsoever. I didn’t feel a thing related to it at all. No excitement, no giddy giggles about Aaron’s reactions to his gifts, no pre-staging photos in my mind, no interest whatsoever in opening my own gifts, no desire to sing songs or watch White Christmas or wrap gifts or eat cookies. Nothing. For a Christmas lover like myself, that realization was not only sad, it was scary that not even Christmas could penetrate through my numb sadness. I didn’t feel it at all. I went through the motions, all of them, not only for Aaron, but for myself. I wanted to awaken something in myself. I wanted to feel happy. For the days leading up to Christmas, it didn’t work at all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

December 22-passing time

I wish I could say with certainty what happened on this day. I don’t remember. I’m sure it involved sitting, taking Motrin, snuggling with Aaron while watching Christmas shows, and staring into space trying to process all the ways I was missing Mara. Christmas was getting closer, and so was my Christmas Eve due date. I do remember I was very sad on this day and the next, and I was disappointed that I felt that way after our amazing open house the night before. I know now that the ups and downs are normal, and can be triggered by so many different things.

I needed to wrap gifts and decide on Christmas meals. I didn’t have the spirit to do either. I spent time avoiding online communication and looking at tanzanite jewelry. We weren’t sleeping well and we were tired. Being awake alone at night was awful, but not nearly as awful as waking up each morning and realizing again that Mara wasn’t with us. Chris and I have gone to bed together every night since Mara died, even to this day as I write this entry. That is something we occasionally did before, each of us having something to do from night to night, grading, watching something, scrapping, something. After Mara died, a new bond grew between us, and we have clung to each other closely ever since and handled each other tenderly. My husband is an incredible man and he has shown his strength and sensitivity through every awful moment. I have never loved him or needed more than I did in these weeks following Mara’s death. Losing a child is one of the most stressful life events someone can experience, and it can often put terrible strain on marriages. That seems to come about primarily when spouses have different ways of expressing and coping with their grief, which Chris and I most certainly do. Fortunately, perhaps, we already knew that before Mara died, and our communication more than bridges the gap.

I spent a lot of time during these days reading through materials the hospital gave us and looking for online grief resources.  I found a lot of quotes that seemed to express exactly what we were feeling. Here’s one that cut right through me:

“She will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn't go away; it becomes part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving because I will never stop loving. That's just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don't get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.”
Jandy Nelson, The Sky Is Everywhere

Monday, February 13, 2012

December 21-our open house

Today was really about our open house. I didn’t take any pictures from this night…it just seemed too strange. I don’t regret that decision at this point, but I do need to sit down and make a list of the people who came to see us. We asked Scott to let our friends at Edison know about our open house, which was really about a visit to us, not a visitation to Mara’s body. It was a risky thing, and we didn’t know how it would go, what it would feel like, or how many people we would see. There are people close to us who have experienced losses of their own, or who are currently expecting children themselves, and we couldn’t guess who might just think it was too sad a thing to come to an open house and make pleasantries. People don’t know what to say…but we don’t either. We just wanted to try something, and this was something that made sense to us and felt like our style. In a situation like this, you can only do what feels right to you, because there is not a map for this journey.

Chris and my Dad went to Costco and got plenty of food and my Mom and Ashley worked on cleaning the main level of the house. I wore purple, to feel connected to my girl, and just waited to see what would happen. When people started arriving, and more people kept arriving, bringing flowers and food and hugs…it was an incredible thing, and Chris and I recognize that it was one of the most special experiences of our lives. It got pretty noisy in the house…everyone was together and talking. I stayed seated the whole evening after trying to stand for the first 20 minutes and finding it too hard on my whole incision area. People would come and sit next to me and talk to me for a few minutes and then get up and continue mingling while someone new would come and sit beside me. All in all I count about 45 people who came that night.

It was just amazing in so many ways.

First…The love and support truly helps. A thing about grieving…you don’t want anyone you care about to experience the pain you’re feeling, but at the same time, it is comforting to know that others want to help carry the burden. Man we felt loved that night, no doubt about it. We are so fortunate to be part of such an incredible group of people and if I made a gift casserole every night for the rest of my life it would never be enough to repay every one of our colleagues and friends who came that evening to give us their love and support.

Second…it gave us a chance to talk about Mara, about the things that happened the night she died, and about how we were feeling at that stage in our grieving process. For me, talking is part of healing. I know that socializing the grief is not everyone’s way…but I needed that just as much as I needed time to cry alone.

Third…many people from Ashley’s school came to support her as well. It was extremely heartwarming to see her community of friends and the way she has had an impact on the people she works with. I appreciated their presence very much.

Fourth…Aaron got to play with Lainy and Cameron. I loved to see them running around and having a good time. It felt normal. Normal moments add up, and people told me those moments would become more frequent with time. I have found that to be true.

Finally, and most importantly, it reminded us of our lives, of what we did and what we were before this awful thing happened to us, and of the things that were important to us. It was like seeing yourself in a mirror after a long day at work. You may see a haggard and worn person there, but at least it’s familiar. And that was a feeling that I let wash over me all night. Oh that’s right, these are my friends. They complimented our Christmas tree, oh that’s right, Christmas is coming. They talked about what was going on at school, oh that’s right, we love our jobs. I was very numb and overwhelmed that night…I had the feeling I was disconnected, floating over the room watching myself sit there and smile and nod and answer questions, but it was the first time I felt like there was really hope for us to live through this and come out on the other side with happy lives. That’s what our open house did for us.

When we went up to bed that night, completely exhausted, we reflected on the night and how it had turned out to be exactly what we needed. I felt so hopeful and loved that night. The next couple days were horrible and difficult and I felt so low, but the love from that night has lasted, and bolsters me in my saddest moments. So many people were ready to love our sweet girl. They have all taken that love and passed it to us when we needed it most.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It’s time to go back to work

I haven’t been able to make all the posts from the time I have been on leave yet, but they will be coming. However, I feel very strongly about making this post as I take this ultimate step in healing, returning to work.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the morning after Mara died, when I was watching that beautiful sunrise, the thought crossed my mind that I may never want to teach again. Because I want to be patient and open through the whole grieving process, I never mentally scold myself for any thoughts I have along the way, no matter how alarming they may be. That morning when everything was so raw and foreign, I thought that maybe I would never be strong enough to teach again. It takes an awful lot of mettle, especially when you love it. It also takes an incredible emotional investment  in other people, colleagues and students, and that sometimes results in disappointment and heartbreak. I realized that having such a public job, so focused on people, and so surrounded by people, would mean that many people were touched by our loss and that going back to school would mean facing a crushing flood of memories. I considered that it could possibly be time to transition to something less public and and less stressful. Something that actually started at 9 and truly ended at 5, where I could show up, do a simple job, and go home. While I was laying in that bed watching that sunrise and having those thoughts, the core of me that was buried far below layers of shock shouted something about how the Earth must have tilted on its axis for me to think such things and that it was contrary to everything I have wanted and planned for…but so was Mara’s death. I decided to wait it out and see how I felt. I was afraid, I know that. I was afraid of not knowing myself, and not being able to go back to the way life was. Of course we can’t go back, and that is a large part of what we grieve. We can’t let it go, we can’t set the burden down. We have to simply move forward with it.

I have come to realize that there are many hard things about going back to work. The very fact that I can be at work is a constant reminder that I’m not at home with Mara. It will hurt, and help, to face all the students who I knew before this happened and who were there with me sharing the journey of my pregnancy. I went in for the teacher workdays as I had planned to do anyway, and it hurt to see colleagues avoid eye contact because they don’t know what to say. It hurts to imagine that when people look at me they think, “oh how sad, she’s never been quite the same since her daughter died.” Well, I’m not the same. I feel quieter, slower somehow. What if the things that are different about me cause my relationships to change? I’m sensitive and raw…and conflicts come up constantly in teaching. What if I burst into tears when a student speaks to me in a disrespectful way? What if I just can’t hang anymore? What if I have no spark and the parts of my personality that used to allow me to connect with my students have been damaged, and that ability is gone?

And worst of all, going back to school means that life is going on…without Mara. Facing the memories that school holds of pregnancy and planning for her arrival in our family is painful, but taking another step away from her is the hardest thing I have ever had to make myself do. In many ways it is far easier to stay here at home and let myself think about her all day, look at her things whenever I want to, and cry whenever the tears come. Moving forward without her hurts so much and is so hard, which is how I know it is exactly what I need to do.

The video below, along with a booklet of all the signs the students are holding up in the video, was given to Chris by his leadership students when he went back to work on January 3rd. We looked through it all together, along with countless other cards, notes and emails that we received from our colleagues and students at Edison expressing their sorrow for our loss and their willingness to reach out and help us bear our burden of pain. Although I know some of these students casually because they are in Chris' class, I have only had a few of them in class myself. As leadership students, they are committed to bettering themselves and our school with their creativity and service, and as you will see, they are nothing less than inspiring. I just love them for it.

Watch this. Period. And turn up your sound.

Watch it if you are mourning Mara's death.

Watch it if you are thinking teenagers are a blight on humanity.

Watch it if you know these kids because you teach them too.

Watch it if you just need to feel a little love.

Love, Leadership

This is why we can take a step forward and go back to school. This is what I think of in the dark of night when I am alone and lost. This is why we teach, and this is how I knew that going back to work was the right thing for me to do. If our daughter saw this, she would be proud of her parents, proud that we make a difference in people's lives, and that we are part of a community of love and support that we both contribute to and benefit from. Going back to work is about being the best version of myself that I can be. It's part of who I am. THAT is how I honor Mara and serve as a role model for Aaron. I have had my time for crying and screaming and silence and solitude. While the deep feelings of grief and the pain of this loss will always be with us, I know I can still have a happy life, and that teaching is part of it.

December 20-making arrangements

Today was our appointment at the funeral home to make arrangements for Mara’s body. It was something we dreaded but had to get done, and it was also my first trip out of the house since Mara died. We chose the funeral home Chris used when his Dad died, because it’s close to our house, and because we already knew of it, and why on Earth would you spend more time researching such a thing than you absolutely have to? We decided that we would go to Costco afterwards just to have a chance to be out and about together, feel the cold air, walk around, hold on to each other, and actually pick up some groceries.

While we were in the hospital, we had some hard decisions to make about Mara. It’s impossible to plan for such a thing, and I can honestly say that we initially had no idea where to begin or how we could even make ourselves speak words about something as horrible as what to do with our daughter’s body. Hearing people ask about “Mara’s remains” was too much to bear. Eventually, we did begin to talk about it while sitting and holding on to each other and crying. At first we could only identify what we didn’t want to do, and then eventually we were able to develop plans.

We didn’t want to visit a baby grave, and we didn’t have a location that was especially sacred to us as far as Mara was concerned. We also knew we didn’t want to have a funeral service for her, especially not in a funeral home that we had no connection to. We wanted a personal way to let Mara’s body go and a way to connect with our loved ones without a tearful service given by an officiant who didn’t know us or our daughter. What we ultimately decided on was inspired by Aaron’s understanding of what happened to his baby sister and an image I had in my mind of sending Mara off. I imagined standing in a high place with my arms stretched up into the sky and wind carrying her away. When I shared that with Chris, it resonated with him and he felt like it sounded like the best possible thing we could do. So we made arrangements for our baby girl to be cremated, and then we would take her ashes into the mountains together, just the two of us, to release them. We wanted to do it sometime in January while my parents were still here so we could leave Aaron with them. After we talked about it, we became more and more comfortable with the idea and it gave us a bit of peace to have it decided.

As far as a service, we decided that instead of something focused on Mara’s body, we wanted a chance to see our friends and let them see us, especially before Christmas. We wanted to help people feel a bit of closure before the Christmas holiday, and we wanted to feel like we had done something in Mara’s honor that was separate from Christmas so that we could try to focus on having a special Christmas with Aaron. We asked our dear friend and department chair to spread the word for us that we would be having an open house on Wednesday evening.

When it was finally time to go to the funeral home, we just wanted to get in and out of there as quickly as we could. Since we were not doing a service our arrangements really did not take very long. The woman who was working with us was efficient and soft-spoken, thankfully. Chris did most of the talking, we paid for Mara’s cremation and we headed out. It was quicker and less awful than I was afraid of. This was, of course, because of shock, because it hard to imagine something more awful than handing over a credit card to pay for someone to take your baby’s body and turn it to ash. Shock and numbness is merciful in this way. It allows you to function through the unthinkable.

We did walk around Costco afterwards, and for reasons that make no sense whatsoever, that hurt me much more deeply than being in the funeral home. I felt completely overwhelmed by walking around a crowded busy place. I felt sensitive and raw and afraid, and I saw pregnant women and babies everywhere. There was one woman in particular with an infant car seat in her cart carrying a very small baby girl, and I couldn’t understand how she could be in every aisle we turned down. By the time we were checking out, my pain was flaring up and I just wanted to hide in my bed. This kind of social anxiety was totally new to me and forced me to do a lot of thinking about how much our lives had changed in such a short time. What the heck is wrong with me, being afraid of walking around Costco? How long can that go on? This is what I mean by not recognizing one’s self when you are lost in grief.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

December 19-going home with empty arms

I got to go home today. I took these pictures with my camera (unlike the previous ones which were all with a phone) and was struck by the lovely view I could see now that I was standing up and walking around the room. I wanted to go home so badly and start feeling normal…but I was dreading that scene where the bereaved parents walk out of the hospital with empty arms, and drive home without their baby. I dreaded it for two days.

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I got a real honest to goodness shower this morning, a warm one (that water never really got hot), with very little pain in my body, and it felt really good to wash my hair and just stand under that water. Our doctor came in to see us. We love her. She is amazing. One of the things that struck us about her and our two other caregivers, the nurse who took care of me on the OB floor right after my c-section, and the nurse who cared for me up on the surgical floor for both days of my stay, is that we could see Mara’s death was a loss for them too. They felt it deeply and provided such strong and tender care. They were just phenomenal and I can’t say enough about the care we have always received at these military facilities. Aaron’s care was superb during the entire process of his surgery and mine has been too. I’m very grateful for that.

We were also seen by some patient care representatives today who made a birth document for us and brought us some more information on the grieving process and available support. We also contacted the funeral home we had chosen to use to make arrangements for them to come and get Mara’s body from the hospital. We scheduled a meeting with them for the 20th. There were so many things to think of. It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing we got through those things as smoothly as we did, and I am so thankful that Chris and I were of one mind through the whole process. I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been if we were in conflict over how we wanted to proceed.

We asked Mom and Dad to just stay at home with Aaron since we were going to be discharged soon…knowing how long THAT part of Aaron’s surgery took, we weren’t optimistic about how quickly the process would be completed, but our doctor was totally on it and had everything in order very quickly. I think we left the hospital about 10:30 or 11.

Before we left, though, Chris and I had a long conversation with my nurse. She is an Army nurse, and she and Chris shared stories about why and how they joined the Army and the paths their careers took them on, including around the world. They were both emotional during the conversation and once again, I was impressed by the commitment and camaraderie and shared experience of service members. It was especially touching because she had displayed a rather serious and reserved personality prior to this very personal conversation. Then she explained my discharge instructions and my medications and reminded me that I had lost a lot of blood and needed to take iron. After that, we prepared to say our goodbyes, but it was obvious that she had more to say. She and I were sitting on the couch by the window and the sun was shining on our shoulders. She turned to me and was immediately choked up as she began to talk. She told me that when she saw my chart, she thought of her best friend, also named Kim, who has lost 4 babies. My nurse is a surgical nurse and although she did some OB/GYN work many years ago, she had not cared for someone who had lost a baby, so she called her friend Kim for advice and asked her, “What do I say to my patient? How do I do a good job, and be a good nurse to her?” And her friend Kim simply said, “Tell her it’s not her fault.” So my nurse held my hands and looked me right in the eyes while fighting back her own tears of empathy and said, “It’s not your fault. Mara is still your daughter, and Aaron is still her brother. She will always be a part of your family.” She leaned in to give me a bone-crushing hug and I think a choked out a thank you. I will never forget her care for us or that conversation on the couch. It has become one of those fiercely held memories that make up the tiny period of time of Mara’s life. It’s strange, the kinship that grew between us with these people that cared for us, and how tightly I cling to those memories. We have so little, that those things mean so much.

She brought us a wheelchair for our departure. I wanted to walk, because being in the wheelchair reminded me of the night we arrived at the hospital, and walking is part of healing. But she told me I have the rest of my life to walk and that I needed to let myself be taken care of for a while. So Chris wheeled me down to the door and then we left the chair there and I walked to the car holding on to Chris’ arm with a desperately tight grip. I wore my flip-flops and left my sweatshirt open…I wanted to feel the cold air on my skin and be refreshed. That walk, the empty arms walk, it is every bit as horrible as you’ve imagined, only worse. Everything about this is a complete nightmare. Only it’s one you wake up to every morning, not one you can wake up from. I remember thinking many times that I just wanted to wake up and have this all be gone…like some horrible dream. There is something so crippling about living through something like this, and knowing that nothing in the the world can reverse it.

The drive home was hard. I remember crying. I called Minnieland to let them know Aaron would be out of school for the week before Christmas. It was the first phone call I had to make to explain Mara’s death and it was excruciating. The people at Minnieland were shocked and sad, and I knew we had many more phone calls like that ahead of us. I had imagined making that call under the exact opposite set of circumstances. I wanted to be telling them that Aaron would be out of school because his baby sister was home, not because she had died. I knew then that I had a lifetime of realizations like that ahead of me too. Even so, I was glad that “first time” was over with, and I was even gladder to be home.

I don’t remember much else about this day at this point. I think this may be the day I called my sister to talk to her about Mara myself for the first time. I think Chris made many phone calls to family over these couple of days that I wasn’t in the room for. I think I got sore and took a long nap, although it’s entirely possible that happened on a different night, or multiple nights. My pain was still pretty wicked every time my Motrin wore off but it was frustrating to just sit around the house and watch things go on around me. Actually, I can’t imagine what else I would have done even if I had the ability to spring out of my chair.

December 18-the day after

Now having overcome the huge hurdle of posting for the 17th, we have been preparing posts for the days following Mara’s death. I remember even less of the details from these days as we numbly made decisions and my body started to heal.

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I got very little sleep last night as I was being moved to a different room on the surgical ward and being wakened every two hours for monitoring. I had these compression leg huggers on to keep my blood moving that squeezed my legs every couple of minutes. The pain medicine I was given worked very well but every time it wore off I was in a lot of pain and needed more. During one of the times I was awake in that endless dark night, I sent a short text to family and close local friends that Mara had been stillborn. It was not an hour for people to be awake, so it was a while before I received replies, and I hated to think of people waking up and seeing that text, but I felt a need to speak it, and let people know that she was gone and that I was physically okay.That night was very lonely.

I was awake early in the morning and saw this sunrise through my hospital window. I remember being so grateful that it wasn’t dark anymore, and wanting that brightness streaming in my window and thinking of how beautiful it was, orange and purple, and from that time forward I have associated purple and beauty from nature with Mara. I also would come to learn that the dark of night would be an awful time to be awake and alone with my thoughts. Sleep was the only relief from the sadness that I was still too numb to feel.

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Chris was at home with Aaron and Ashley and was planning to tell Aaron about Mara when he woke up. I felt very sad that he had to do that alone. There were a lot of hard things he had to do alone these couple of days. But the only alternative was driving back to the hospital with Aaron in the car thinking he was on his way to meet Mara for the first time, so that was the way it had to be.

Chris called me after they had gotten up and talked and told me about how the conversation went with Aaron. Aaron had been very sad and asked why Mara died. Chris told him that her heart stopped beating and that we didn’t know why. Then, in the way that children find to explain things, Aaron told Chris that her whole body was lifted up into the sky to heaven. That was something he imagined in his own mind and we thought it sounded just lovely to us.

I wanted the boys to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I felt a strong need to see Aaron and hold his warm little body and squeeze him and remember that some things were still as they had been before. I also did not want to spend time apart from Chris, the person who most closely shared this loss and these feelings. I waited and waited and watched the clock and texted until they got there, and was so relieved when they arrived. One of the things I texted while I was waiting was this picture of the breathing device I had to use, just like what Aaron loved using in the hospital after his surgery.

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At the time that I sent it, it made me smile, something that connected Aaron and I, but in later days it struck me as such an odd thing to focus on… and I know now it is proof of the stumbling numbness of shock.

When the boys arrived they worked on Aaron’s new Prince of Persia Legos together, normal as could be. I remember feeling grateful to Christina and Nathan for choosing such perfect gifts for him, and was relieved he had something new to occupy him at the hospital. Aaron hugged me and rubbed my hair and Chris gently put him on the bed so I could hug him.

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Sometime during this day I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom with a nurse to have a rinse off. It hurt really badly to get up, but I felt okay for most of the rinse. Part of the way through, the pain intensified and I became dizzy and nauseous. From that time on, everything got easier every time I tried it. That has been true of every part of this process, both the grieving and the physical healing. The first time I try something, like standing that day in the hospital, or being in public, or speaking to someone we know about Mara, the pain is sharp and intense and real. The only comfort in it is knowing that the “first time” is over and that the second and third time you have to do something, it can’t possibly be as hard as the first.

Sometime (I’m fuzzy on a lot of details, as you can see) in the afternoon Greg and Neecers and Eric came to the hospital to see us. It was the first time I had seen anyone, and now looking back, I still had cried remarkably little (except for lots of slow silent tears in that first dark night, and one short sobbing spell that was interrupted by a blood pressure check) and I wonder if I seemed “okay” on the outside, since that’s how I felt I seemed. On the inside…who really knows. Nothing was sinking in, nothing was touching me deeply, everything seemed dull and far away and unreal. I was grateful that Greg and Neecers brought Eric so that Aaron could have a bit of “normal” fun. I could only imagine the stress and tension and sadness that would become part of his daily life in the next few weeks. They also offered to take Aaron home with them to play for a few hours so I could have a chance to take a good long nap before Ashley arrived with my parents from the airport. I didn’t want to be away from him, but I knew Legos in a hospital room could only keep him happy for so long, and I did get a good long rest out of the deal.

I ate, I slept, nurses came and went, and Chris stayed with me. I learned that if I was up and about and not needing to be hooked up to anything, I could leave the next morning. I really did want to get unhooked from all the lines, and so I started taking my pain medication orally rather than getting it through the IV. I think that sometime during this day various people from the hospital came and talked to us about what arrangements we wanted to make for Mara’s body but for the first several rounds we told people that asked that we had no idea what we wanted to do yet.

Our doctor came in to repeat the things she had learned about the placenta and the cord. The information about placental weakness and malformation was very interesting to us and helped us understand how Mara died. I was hungry for information…things that were definite and factual. I wanted to know exactly what I was grieving.

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Now, writing this, I can’t believe how much of this day that I don’t remember. I remember so many awful details of the night Mara died…and I started keeping a journal on January 7th, but the shock that comes with trauma and loss has wiped away many of my memories of the days in between. I can’t remember when Chris and I first talked about what we wanted to do with Mara’s body, and I can’t remember who came in to talk to us when. I do remember some things with deep emotion, like how much I clung to Chris while I was in the hospital and needed the reassurance of his presence more than I had ever needed to be near another person. I was terrified of being alone without him. I remember the people who cared for me in the hospital and their compassion and sensitivity. The loss of a child is hard for all people to deal with on every level. There were very few awkward moments with our caregivers…they were all so compassionate and informative and helpful. They were not afraid to express their sadness and their desire to be helpful, they spoke Mara’s name and helped us feel comfortable with verbalizing our grief and confusion. Our incredible doctor and nurses honestly became the standard by which I judged other people’s ability to communicate with us about Mara. That’s unfair, because they are professionals who deal with these kinds of situations, and they are not members of our family or friends who were emotionally connected to us and the baby girl we had all been waiting for, but nevertheless I found myself wishing that people could act more like them instead of not speaking Mara’s name, or not being able to look us in the eyes.

Ashley stopped by on her way to the airport and looked at some of the things the hospital had given us. It was hard. I kept trying to hold back my tears while we were in the hospital. I wanted to cry with Chris, or alone, in my own bedroom, not in a place where someone could come in at any moment and check my blood pressure or knead my stomach painfully. 

Ash went to the airport to bring my parents and they came to the room for a short visit. It was hard to see them upset and crying. I wanted so badly to just cry in private and let it out, but seeing my parents cry made it hard to hold back.

I know I seemed numb…like nothing was really sinking in. I could feel it. I am grateful that I understand myself well enough to realize what I was going through, but the numbness is frightening. You don’t recognize yourself, you don’t recognize your life. You wonder if you are still in there anywhere. The first time I wondered that I cried and cried, and I was really scared. In the coming days I focused on concrete things that made sense, since losing Mara didn’t: Aaron’s daily activities, deep gratitude that I was physically safe and healthy despite potential dangers of a placental abruption, the beauty of the flowers we received, looking at jewelry in Mara’s birthstone, sunrises like the one I watched through my hospital window the first morning after Mara, eating meals that I could barely taste, let alone enjoy, and the ever important measurement of time that marked when I was allowed to take more Motrin. After I got home, every time I felt better I tried to do a bit too much and would find myself hurting again. After a stern warning from my dear friend who pushed herself too hard after a c-section and ended up needing additional surgery, I slowed down and let myself rest.

Ashley and Aaron and my parents went home together and Chris stayed the night with me. I was so so grateful that he was staying and that my parents were at our house to support Ash and Aaron. Sometime that day Chris and I decided on our plans for Mara’s body and the plans felt good, and put us a bit at ease. I got unhooked from everything and got a much better night’s sleep.