December 30, 2011


Grandpa + Jamie


Mike + Miles

Stella + Momma

Play Time

Sweet Iris


Grandma + Papa + Stella

Miles + Stella


Eaton Canyon Hike

Margot Was Here


December 26, 2011

Sometimes when I allow myself, when I can't take it anymore, when I can't feel M, when I achingly long to hold my little girl, I look at pictures of Stella at the same age as M would be now.

Today, December 26, Margot would be nine months and two days old. 
Stella was nine months and two days on November 23, 2009. 

I search through iPhoto, scrolling through the months until November 2009 and the days until the 23rd and the pictures until my Stella appears.

There we are, the three of us, happy as can be, walking the streets of our downtown home, ice skating in Pershing Square, frolicking around our loft. And there is Stella. Smiling, making mischief, living freely and willing to wear pants.

Blue eyes, thin upper lip, full cheeks and the Jackson'est smile you'll ever find.

Margot, Margot, Margot, my love, my dearest, with your perfect blues, are you in there somewhere?

December 25, 2011

We pulled up around seven, parked in a nice little spot, and ordered some food. Burgers, fries and a soda. The three of us sat in the car and waited for our number, the interior lights giving the older of us enough light to see the younger of us swinging wildly between the seats. Chocolate! she screamed in anticipation. A morsel of mint cocoa for a finished burger.

It's Christmas Eve and the weather is mild.

Nine months today.

We turn on the radio, looking for Christmas music, the first Christmas music of the season, some six weeks later than usual. An older gentleman begins singing while we dunk fries into ketchup and she tosses the bun for quicker patty access.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

December 15, 2011

We head up to Margot's River, as we have all come to call it, every so often, when the day feels right or when Stella feels like picking out a rock for M, or when a massive wind storm hits Los Angeles, which happened a few weeks back.

We hiked and crawled around the forest, picking our way across the creek and climbing over downed trees and logs. We carefully selected the biggest rock yet to add to M's jar, and Stella, of course, wore her pink dress with a recently added star patch, which covers an impossible stain.

December 12, 2011

The following is the address I gave last night at the MISS Foundation's candle lighting service for National Children's Memorial Day. It was a beautiful evening, remembering our kiddos, talking about our kiddos, sharing it all next to dear family and friends. Thanks to Sari and our dedicated leaders for putting this together and inviting me to share.

Her and You, Then and Now

December 11th was a Saturday last year and already, our house was dressed in Christmas. Ornaments and colored lights adorned our tree. Festive trinkets were neatly placed around the house. An ironic glass snowman in the bathroom. A vintage santa clause on the bookshelf. And my relentless christmas playlist blared on repeat, pounding us with Mariah Carey and at least eleven of the sappiest versions of Silent Night that I could find.

On this day last year, my first child Stella and I played in the yard with our housemates. That evening, we prepared for our first christmas movie night by making popcorn and turning her room into a fort, outfitting our creation with a plethora of blankets and pillows. We watched a Charley Brown Christmas and snoopy's hysterical antics were the hit. And my wife Kari was twenty-four weeks pregnant with our second child, Margot June, and the holidays were a welcomed distraction from the hibernation that we normally go into during pregnancy.

Looking back on this day, I can almost smell the innocence on my breath. I can practically taste the richness of life, and feel the simplicity of my emotions.

Fourteen weeks later and twelve days before her due date, my blue eyed baby girl was dead.

The pain was, as you can attest to, more fiercely felt than I knew was possible, as if all of the heightened emotions I had ever experienced in my life were suddenly reduced to utter dullness in comparison. For the heart to swell with the deepest of love, and to break into a multitude of pieces, one right after the other, almost simultaneously, is something that only this unfortunate group can know. 

I could have never imagined on that December evening, watching snoopy slide across the icy pond, that a mere fourteen weeks later I’d be facing the darkest of nights, smothered in anguish and sorrow.

But, such is life, I have learned.

It is full of accidents and full of fortune, full of complicated twists and full of predictable outcomes, full of beauty and full of gloom, full of exhaustion and full of youth, full of hope and full of despair, full of suffering and full of wellness. I have come to see these attributes of life as not either-or, but both-and-together. A freak accident took my daughter, a fortunate clotting of blood saved my wife. And on and on we could go, showcasing the audacity of life’s complicated nature.

I feel this new life around every corner, both the splendor and heartache of what it means to be alive, what it means to be fully human. I think of this more acutely, I feel of this more deeply, especially on a night like tonight.

Thirty-eight weeks after Margot died, the exact amount of weeks she was alive, I stand here with you. My fellow survivors. YOU who comprehend, YOU who whisper the names of our children, YOU who abide with us, YOU who we can be our whole selves with, YOU who usher us out of the loneliness, YOU who say, “I understand.”

I could have never imagined, on that dreaded day when my daughter was here and then wasn’t, that thirty-eight weeks later I’d be sitting here with you, facing our losses in abiding unison.

In you, in this society of the suffering, I see the beauty of life. And on this cool December evening, as we light our candles and remember our lost children, I see the hope, however soft and delicate it may be.

December 10, 2011


I copied her to a USB drive and slid her into my pocket.

We arrived to the neon lights and glossy floors and aisles of nonsense just in time for an upbeat version of jingle bells.

Not so jingle this year, I thought to her, squeezing the plastic drive.

I pushed her in and she appeared, still warm, hair still wet, still wrapped in blankets.

Hey kiddo.

I stood up to cover the screen, surprised by my own instincts, to protect her from indifferent eyes.

4x6? 8x10?

How about 200x200? Would that be okay?

Here is your picture, he says, handing her back to me.

December 5, 2011

I'm writing over at Glow In the Woods today, talking about the purity in missing. Please feel free to stop by Glow and read my post, beautiful empty, and join the discussion.

November 24, 2011

Letter #63


Hey kid. I started referring to you as M from time to time, which I think sounds kind of endearing and wonderful. I like to draw little pictures of the lowercase m. I stamp it in my little journal and doodle it at work while I'm thinking through a project. Truth is, I'd like to scatter little m's and m phrases all over the city; on trees and sidewalks, on concrete walls, in the front cover of books, with stones in the river, with shells at the beach.

m was here.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have called you this if had you lived. Way to go M, I might have said. Or, happy Thanksgiving M. I always wanted a hip nickname when I was a kid, but unfortunately, all I got was juicy jackson. Hey juicy, pass me the ball! Ain't nothing hip about it. And then in dreaded middle school, one guy started calling me jacksypads. That was a long month.

Your big sister has been calling your mom and I "sweetie" lately. Sometimes when I call her name, she'll say, yeah sweetie? as if it's a completely normal way to respond to someone. I'm pretty sure you would have been added to her selective sweetie list. And I think she would have called you M sometimes too.

Well, today - on the eight month anniversary of your death - would have been your first Thanksgiving. I can just imagine you nibbling on a tiny piece of turkey, and posing for pictures with your buddy Lyla, or getting sideswiped by the older kiddos. If you were going to be anything like your parents, I think you would have had a grand time.

I normally spend the days leading up to Thanksgiving thinking about what I'm grateful for. It's a habit I got from your sentimental Papa Dennis, who always wanted us to share what we were thankful for. And even though you're not here, I couldn't help but to do the same this year.

I'm certainly thankful for you. I know this is complicated, but I'm so glad you're a part of my story, even if I can't always see it. For now, it seems missing you is mostly where I'm at. I'm thankful for your mama. I still can't believe she is all mine. I count my great fortune every single day. Her beauty and intelligence and strength is something that I see every day in your sister and miss every day in you. And your sister, of course, whose very existence feels like a miracle. She is simply perfect. I'm thankful for those family and friends who talk about you openly, for those who ask how we're doing, for those who don't ingnore or diminish what we have lost, for those we can be our whole selves with. I'm thankful for our new friends, who feel like a gift from you. The first of many, I hope. And I'm thankful for less important things like the movies and a job that allows me to work with my hands.

Even without you in my arms, even with the brokenness that I feel, there is much to be grateful for. Thanks for helping me remember.

Sometimes in the quiet mornings, before the sun has come up, when it's just the two of us, these little chats bring me comfort. I like to imagine the world consisting of just you and I, that I'm the only person on earth in these moments that is thinking of you, talking with you, picturing your face. There is a sacredness in this space my dear. Don't worry baby, your memory is safe with me.


November 13, 2011

For George

I built this little box for our friends, Leif and Brianna, and for their son George, who died on March 31, 2010 after twenty-four short minutes of life. They wanted something to hold his precious belongings, so I crafted this box out of reclaimed doug fir wall paneling. 

We never got to meet George, but the impact he has had on my family through his Dad and Mom is tremendous. I don't know where we would be without the love, tenderness and understanding that their friendship has brought to us since meeting them shortly after Margot died. The very existence of our friendship, the profoundness of it, the sadness behind why we met, the source of joy it brings us, is still a complicated mystery to me.

To George Ellsworth Hanson. Thanks for all you have given us.

November 8, 2011

We got dropped on Friday around 11pm. It was in the 30's, the moon high, three quarters full. The four of us zip up our respective wintery gear and start walking, climbing to 6855' and then 6680' and so on. The night views catch us off guard around a certain bend and we stare out over the landscape, the mountain behind casting a shadow on the valley below.

This is the Pacific Crest Trail. It runs from the Mexico border fence straight into Canada, some 2600 miles all said and done. Yes, if you can imagine it, there is a trail that stretches across the entire United States. And ever since I heard of such a miraculous thing, I wanted to walk on it, all the way. Or attempt to anyway, over the decades. This little weekend jaunt started where I left off in 2009, at mile 265 out of 2663.

My tent partner and I swallowed a benadryl and we were off to dreams. We woke up to the sun and food and many miles in our immediate future. At 8am I won a bet about snow, and scored seventeen pringles.

As we climbed up, the temperatures dropped down, almost secretly, like it wanted to catch us off guard. The snow fell lightly, and then fell all damn day, inch after inch, covering the place magically. It looked exactly like something fabricated you might see at Disneyland, except it was real and hard to walk through. And it made everything wet, which created a nice entry point for potential frostbite.

One of us, the partner of this friend, took pictures from time to time, lucky for us.

By 4:30, we had stepped through 17 miles of forest. Night was rising. We were freezing. And despite the fact that being in our tents for the next fifteen boring hours seemed like torture, it also seemed like a smart idea considering the elements. So we pitched some tents and shrugged off the concern. Let's get warm, we all said to each other.

Then we heard some guys running, literally running, in shorts and stocking caps. And they stopped and offered help. And Bob and Micky came back with a truck an hour later to pick us up, and fed us homemade cookies and spaghetti, and let us display our wet gear all over the living room and staircase and bathroom, and cleared off the ping pong table so we could play, and brought out blankets and pillows, and let us crash on the couches and mattresses, and then went to the store in the morning to buy orange juice and syrup so we could have home made waffles. And then said, "thanks for coming" on our way out the door, as if our whole misadventure and rescue had all been planned.

The next morning, from the comfort of Bob's living room.

November 3, 2011

I'm writing over at Glow In the Woods today, telling a story from a recent trip to Whole Foods. Please feel free to stop by Glow and read my post, signs, and join the discussion.

October 30, 2011

I am (reluctantly!) joining Angie's project, where she asks those of us who have experienced baby loss to read one of our posts. I've loved watching the others who have bravely shared -- thanks for taking the first steps. :)

October 25, 2011

I read this piece in the Milwaukee Journal last week and thought it was worth including here. The piece is written by Laura Schubert, who lost her daughter five years ago, and her words ring so achingly true. In some ways, her piece feels like a summation of all the heartache I have been writing about since Margot died. There are two sides to every lonely day, both the sorrow and joy, and she captures the sorrow part well.

Infant loss is nature's cruelest practical joke. It's investing all of the required time and effort into pregnancy, only to be robbed of the result. It's cradling a body that grew within your own and trying to reconcile the cold, lifeless form in your arms with your memory of the baby who turned double flips in your womb.

It's worrying that you'll forget what your child looked like and snapping an album's worth of photos that no one will ever ask to see. It's sobbing so hard you can't breathe and wondering if it's possible to cry yourself to death.

Infant loss is handing off a Moses basket to the nurse who's drawn the unfortunate duty of delivering your pride and joy to the morgue and walking out of a hospital with empty arms.

It's boxing up brand new baby clothes and buying a 24-inch casket. It's sifting through sympathy cards, willing your foolish body to stop lactating, clutching your baby's blanket to your chest in hopes of soothing the piercing ache in your heart.

It's resisting the urge to smack the clueless individuals who compare your situation to the death of their dog or who tell you you'll have another baby, as if children are somehow replaceable.

Infant loss is explaining to your 7-year-old that sometimes babies die and being stumped into silence when she asks you why. It's watching other families live out your happy ending and fighting a fresh round of grief with every milestone you miss.

It's being shut out of play groups for perpetuity. It's skipping social events with expectant and newly minted mothers because, as a walking worst-case scenario, you don't want to put a damper on the party.

It's listening to other women gripe about motherhood and realizing that you no longer relate to their petty parental complaints because, frankly, when you've buried a baby, a sleepless night with a vomiting toddler sounds something like a gift.

Infant loss is pruning from your life the friends and relatives who ignore or minimize your loss. It's recognizing that, while they may not mean to be hurtful, the fact that they don't know any better doesn't make their utter lack of empathy one whit easier to bear.

My baby girl would have been 5 years old this month. I don't know what she'd look like, what her favorite food would be. I've never had the privilege of tucking her into bed, taking her to the zoo or kissing her boo-boos. I will never watch her graduate or walk down the aisle.

Infant loss is more than an empty cradle. It's a life sentence.

Laura Schubert, The Heartache Of Infant Loss

October 21, 2011

There was a time, a lifetime ago (early 2011), that I posted movie reviews fairly regularly on this blog. Kari and I have been walking to the theater for a strong eight years running now, a love that has only grown with each new film season. We used to joke around and say that if tragedy ever struck us, we figured it would be the movies that would heal our broken hearts. So as Oscar season approaches, we'll head back down the street to the movies, facing the irony, hoping a few good pictures might lift us up, even for a moment.

These are the twelve movies I want to see this fall in preparation for Oscar night 2012, a night which is met in this household with more vigor than we have for most major holidays.

As a side, I should mention that I have already watched Drive (twice), which was so perfectly perfect I can hardly imagine anything better, and Moneyball, an incredible adaption of the stunning book I read in 2009. So here are the rest, and PLEASE let me know if I am missing something.

We Need To Talk About Kevin: Tilda Swinton alone is almost enough to get me into this movie. Adding John C Reilly to the mix is like icing on the cake.

Hugo: A Martin Scorcese film in 3D? I'm in.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: The preview for this film practically gave me goose bumps. Gary Oldman looks freaky good.

The Descendants: One, George Clooney is in it. And this guy always seems to pick films I love. And two, it's directed by Alexander Payne, the famed director of Sideways and Election.

War Horse: Okay, so the story of a man and his horse doesn't exactly pull me in. But Steven Spielberg directing and Richard Curtis writing (he wrote Love Actually) means this could be a nice epic little film.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Finally! The book, by Jonathon Safron Foer, is one of my all time favorites. I have been hearing about this movie for years and it's finally here. What gives me hope for this film is director Stephan Daldry (The Hours). What scares me is Sandra Bullock.

We Bought A Zoo: I'll admit, the only reason I want to see this movie is because Cameron Crowe is directing. I just hope the Cameron Crowe from Jerry McGuire shows up, and not the Cameron Crowe from Elizabethtown. And if Sandra Bullock scares me as an actress, then Scarlett Johansson is like a terrible nightmare. We'll see on this one.

The Ides of March: One, Ryan Gosling is in this film. Two, George Clooney is directing. Three, George Clooney is writing. [Clooney also wrote and directed Good Night and Good Luck, a film I still think about six years later). Four, Paul Giamatti. FIVE, Philip Seymore Hoffman. That's four more reasons than I needed.

The Rum Diary: Johnny Depp and rum and Hunter Thompson seem like a nice concoction.

Young Adult: I honestly don't know how director Jason Reitman has done it. His first three directed films have all been insanely good. He followed up the brilliant Thank-You For Smoking with JUNO. And after Juno, he directed Up In the Air. Can he really pull off a fourth straight great film? I hope so.

A Dangerous Method: A movie about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud? Directed by David Cronenberg? With Viggo Mortenson playing Freud? I'm in.

J. Edgar: L. Dicaprio

October 18, 2011

It’s quiet around here. Unbearably quiet. The silence is getting louder as the months trudge on.

I can practically hear Margot, her hands clapping together in wildly uncoordinated fashion, throwing small objects, yelling here and there. I can almost see her too. She is crawling around the dining table, under and through the chairs, she is pulling her big sister’s hair. She is sitting at her high chair, scooping mashed bananas and scattering cheerios to the four corners without even trying. She is outside, the last of the non-walkers left in the yard, eating grass and dodging kids.

Her car seat faces backwards. Stella pulls at her hand from across the seats and updates us on all her silly faces and unseen gestures. She is there at the beach, in the park, down the street, up the stairs.

She is in my arms, in the middle of every night, gulping down milk and making little faces, just like her sister did. I sing to her, yawning between each little rhyme.

I love you Margot, yes I do,
I love you through and through,
every part of you.
I love you Margot, yes it’s true.
I love you Margot, oh I do.

I can feel the emptiness on little vacations and around meal time and on little jaunts around the neighborhood. I feel it in the happiness of others. I feel it in my own happiness. And I feel it at nighttime, when there is nothing to do but wait for the morning.

Stella is here. Kari is here. I am here. We are here. But our noise isn't enough to overcome the silence of her absence.

She is everywhere and no where to be found.

October 16, 2011

We drove to Wrightwood this morning, an hour into the mountains behind our city, and ate some food and played in the park and browsed a little bookstore and hiked around Jackson Lake. It was a really nice day.