April 29, 2011

[april 14, 2011]

We decided on a Thursday that it wasn’t the right day to pick up her ashes. Something just didn’t feel right about it, as if we imagined there would be a day when it would make sense to pick up the ashes of our dead baby girl. So we went on Friday, in the afternoon. We picked a particular funeral home because they only charged $241 to cremate Margot, and the other funeral home I called wanted $635. Screw that, I said to Kari after hanging up. For a split second I wasn’t calling around about the price of cremation, but something more ordinary, like the price of carpet cleaning or an oil change.

I had driven by the funeral home a hundred times since moving to Pasadena. I always marveled at the beauty of the place. The red stone walls, the spanish bell tower, the lush landscaping.

I parked the car at the back of the lot, in a place where people wouldn’t be able to see the tears that I knew were coming. We walked in through the double doors and made our way down a long hallway with classy carpet and ornate frames filled with fabricated images of nature. Kari sat in a chair halfway down the hallway and I walked up to a large woman sitting at a desk. She wore a business suit and a look of disregard. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say? My name? My daughters name?

I felt like the whole world should know about what happened to us. I felt like this woman should have seen us coming and had everything ready.

Hi, she said blandly, as if I just interrupted her.

For a moment, I wanted to slap her. Any of the anger I had experienced suddenly had a target. I felt like unloading the shitstorm of the past two weeks onto her with every gruesome detail. I wanted to ask her how it was possible to be so damn surly, even when almost every person she encounters is there because of death. Then it was gone and I’m standing in front of her with my head down and my eyes glazed over, trying desperately to find some words.

Hi, I muttered back.

I’m here to pick up my daughter.

April 27, 2011

The waves of grief continue to pound the shores of our hearts, slowly breaking off tiny pieces that sometimes feel irretrievable. Some of the waves are familiar now. Like the subtle and obvious reminders of Margot that seem to be everywhere we look. Babies, sisters at the park, ashes in the fire, an empty belly, the eery quiet of our home that should have been filled with infant wailing and dancing and friends. Or when I look at pictures of Margot, which I do every single day. I stare at her face and limbs and try to see something new, like the shape of her knees or the tiny dimple above her lips. Or the inevitable reality that most of the world has gone back to normal life. To jobs and counting their blessings and happiness and Facebook updates and exclamation points. I’m not sure this familiar grief has gotten easier to face, but it’s gotten something....perhaps there is comfort in the familiarity of it, or maybe even peace.

Then there are the waves of grief that come as a surprise and force me to take a deep breath in order to avoid throwing up. Like why must I wake up at 5am thinking about the fall on the sidewalk? Why does it replay over and over in my mind like a cruel slideshow where every slide is the same image? Or sometimes the grief is a sudden flash into my future life. This wave seems to build up steam, getting louder as it approaches, and then states boldly in no uncertain terms: Margot is still missing. I don’t even know how to begin handling this kind of unexpected grief. It builds and crashes and knocks me over until I’m standing naked and overwhelmed, lost at where to turn next.

And yet. AND YET.

Every so often, even smack dab in the middle of this grief, as the waves pound with fury, I find myself face to face with something so profound and beautiful I can hardly believe it can exist. For there in the darkness lurks courage.

From the early moments of this tragedy until now, a poem by William Henley has allowed us the words to declare our courage.

I whisper it in the depths of my despair. I chant it when the anger bubbles up, when I’m the worst version of myself, in order to bring myself back down. We utter it to each other in the most hopeful of moments, when it feels like we actually believe and feel it.

It was one of the first thoughts Kari shared with me after waking up from our five hour nightmare, when life and death teetered back and forth almost inevitably, as if losing a baby and a mother in the same evening isn’t out of the ordinary.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul...

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Amen and amen.

April 25, 2011

My Dear Stella,

I am so, so, so proud of you buddy. Despite all that you have endured over the past month, you have handled everything with so much strength. You have been shuffled between grandparents and aunties and friends, so many different people putting you to bed and singing you their own songs and feeding you and taking care of you. Knowing your love of regimen, I can only imagine how hard this must have been at times. You had to visit Mommy in the hospital, even when she didn't look like Mommy, with tubes sticking out of her neck and fifty pounds of fluids in her body. You have had to deal with constant tears and sadness, all for something you don't fully understand. The rain has come, and stayed, and you keep walking along and singing your songs. You are the bravest of all of us these days.



April 23, 2011

We hardly talked today. There were few exchanges and little effort. We slept in and then laid next to one another, our eyes and toes facing the ceiling, our hearts fragile. She showered and I slowly packed up our shared suitcase. We had breakfast at a little diner and made a few comments about the food. A pregnant woman sat in the booth across from our table, looking so happy and free in her third trimester. On the drive home, we couldn’t even muster a sentence. Sadness hung over us like rain and every time I tried to claw my way back to a rational thought, the sadness seemed to take notice and gush with more force.

But what is there to say? Do we repeat everything that has been said already?

In the past, pre March 24, sadness never stayed around very long. Partly because I’m not one to dwell on the despondency of life. And partly because my nature has always been to overcome it with some form of distraction or positivity. But now, post Margot, the sadness comes and I have zero motivation to overcome it. Nor do I feel any need to get over it. And sometimes, like today, I don’t want to get over it. For there seems to be some kind of strange healing in my new friend named sadness. It feels like this sadness, which lurks around every new hour, hides in every conversation, and stares at me in the distance, just might eventually be my ticket to acceptance.

April 22, 2011

The old man with the jeans and white tee shirt searches for buried treasure. He looks as weathered as the cliffs that dot the coastline. He swings his arm back and forth, waving a broom, listening for metal.

An oversized teenager yells to her parents from the edge of the water. Momma! Momma! Look! Seriously, look! Come on! The mom creeps closer and closer to the sixty-five degree water, her feet slowly shuffling forward to the last inch of a wave about to retreat.

A boy in board shorts chases pigeons. His shorts depict the American flag; red and white stripes on the legs, blue stars in the rear.

Pigeons aimlessly walk around the sand, bobbing their heads up and down with authority. They work in pairs and occasionally peck into the sand. The purple on their backs glisten in the sunlight. They seem comfortable yet tentative around humans, as if they haven’t quite figured out the difference between a chasing little kid and a bread generous adult.

A teenager catches a wave on his boogie board and miraculously floats on it nearly one hundred feet to the shore. He screams and hollers the entire ride and his smile is as epic and free spirited as his ride along the white washed wave.

Two sailboats in the distance. Four girls scream with delight just before the wave crashes.

The man in search of treasure disappears over the small rise without his shovel ever touching the ground. Just another day, he thinks to himself.

A couple celebrates ten years of marriage by sitting in rusty beach chairs where the sand and rocks meet one another. They type and write, grieving together, taking the sun in one ray at a time. This is nice, she says to him.

April 20, 2011

Every day we’re astounded by our sudden strange and intimate connection with those who have experienced loss. There are those in our inner circle who have experienced this sort of sorrow in the past. Others outside of our circle have shared their own tragedies and each story seems to trigger these unexpected feelings of intimacy and empathy. Even the grief of the people we’ve only heard of seems to move us. All of these people and their stories suddenly mean something more, as if there is this alternate reality out there, this society of people who have learned to find normalcy and harmony within the grief. These people, near and far, dead and alive, are like magnets that keep drawing us in. Their stories call to us, asking for our brokenness and sadness, inviting us to share in the pain together, and in doing so, they weave our shared pain into this complicated and beautiful tapestry of grief.

These people look at us differently, with deep pools of understanding in their eyes. They’re not afraid of grief or death or freak accidents or confusion. They have a quiet strength about them. They are resilient. They have sure foundations. Somehow they have made peace with their own losses and become fuller human beings, more capable of love and empathy. They remind us that while death is no stranger and though life is not certain, hope remains.

We joined this society of the suffering not by choice. It would have been nice if death could have passed us by, if we could have lived a little while longer without this deep sorrow, but here we are.

Life is fragile.
Death comes when you least expect it.
A dozen different decisions on March 24 could have prevented the accident.
Kari did fall.
Margot did die.
And grief hangs over us.

My hope is that eventually we can become like those we have joined.

April 18, 2011

I’m struggling to put these last several days into words. Our emotions seem a steady portion of sadness with a dose of peace sprinkled in from time to time, which only seems to come as the tears stop rolling and we find ourselves remembering how much death and loss and grief are part of the full human experience.

We are finding ways to cope.

We have learned to measure our days and weeks in small blocks of time. Morning, afternoon and evening. The mornings seem to be the hardest, like a cruel Groundhog Day repeat moment, except the clock radio that wakes up Bill Murray is replaced by images of Margot and the harsh reality of her death. Getting through each block is our main focus, knowing that in the end, the simplicity of the clock ticking on and the calendar pages flipping over will bring healing.

Distraction has become our closest ally, giving us much needed breaks from the grief that often seems insurmountable. An afternoon playing with the kids outside, chasing them around the yard, looking for worms in the garden. An hour watching Survivor. A meal with friends. Late night fires on the back patio.

Music has helped. From The National to Eddie Vedder to Alison Krauss, we have found solace in the beautiful, soul soothing lyrics and sounds. The three of us slow dance to “Fix You” by Coldplay and for those brief few minutes, the world seems just fine.

There is sleep, precious sleep.

There is all there is to be grateful for, which we calmly repeat every single day, multiple times out. For life. Stella. Family. Friends. For all that could have been worse but wasn’t. The hundreds of strangers who have shared in our grief, sent meals and even some who have told their own tragic stories of loss.

Our thoughts and rational allow us to be comforted. We know this loss is a common experience for so many individuals and families, that death is a part of life. We know this has been the case throughout history, is the case now and will be into the future. It feels like we’re just waiting for our emotional feelings to catch up to our rational thoughts.

Ashes to ashes, morning to morning.

April 15, 2011

Since death is such a part of life, today we choose hope and acceptance, because despair is too great a burden.

April 9, 2011

It shouldn't be this way. We shouldn't be packing up a closet that was meant for Margot, shouldn't be telling Stella that we lost her little sister. We shouldn't be having to face reminders around every corner. The flowers shouldn't be covered in sympathy. The cards shouldn't be wet with heartache. Stella shouldn't have to be so confused by our constant tears and blank stares. Our families shouldn't be flying in for this reason. Her body shouldn't have gone through all of that for nothing. We shouldn't be picking up her ashes and deciding on a memorial site and thinking about a service.

We shouldn't have come home empty handed.

And yet here we are, facing this reality, without any warning or instruction book.
Oh, how it hurts. Oh, how it hurts.

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Coldplay. "Fix You." X&Y

April 7, 2011

We went through so much here, I hardly even know where to begin. Our Stella was born here and our Margot was lost here, just a few rooms down from one another. Years from now, when we reflect on this delicate place in the foothills of the San Gabriels, I imagine this is what we will remember more than anything. But for the fourteen days we lived here, it has been agony and triumph, nurses and specialists, movies and visitors and cries of grief for Margot and desperation for two fist sized kidneys to regenerate.

A few pictures to remember these long, tiresome days:

[our room in the coronary care unit: most of the blood and platelet transfusions happened here, as well as our time with Margot]

[digits and catheters]

[the board in room 1422]

[view from room 1422. we spent hours sitting in front of this window, looking at the mountains that we have hiked and played in for the past six years]

[the hallway where our daily walking took place from day 7 to 14. we walked at least 20 laps a day down this hallway]

[dialysis. those two tubes are running into kari's neck]

[dialysis machine]

[the bereavement card outside our room, signaling to those who entered that we were in mourning]

[visitors. our families and friends came up in the morning, afternoon and evening to bring food and help us pass the time. we couldn't have done it without them]

[stella + eisley + sam]

[our wonderful, loving, tender dr. wu. he delivered stella and margot and shared in our grief more than we could have imagined]

[kari + stella, sharing a legs crossed moment]

[our wonderful nurse sheena removing the catheter from her neck. no more dialysis! kidneys are healing. we longed for this moment]

[perhaps the defining picture of our entire stay here. when kari was fighting for her life, she remembers wanting to simply feel the sun again. every day on our walks together, we would stop for several minutes in this window, letting the beautiful sun rain down on our bodies and our grief]

April 6, 2011


After 14 blood transfusions, 13 hospital bed nights - 5 of those in ICU - 7 days of extreme nausea, scales tipping over 180 lbs, elephant feet, 6 days of oxygen, 4 sessions of dialysis, 4 enimas, one catheter sticking out of my neck like a finger, one bruised abdomen, one c section...we are going HOME.

So much to be grateful for. So must lost.

April 4, 2011

By today, you would have been close to nine pounds. Your hair would have been darker and thicker and those important feeding reflexes even more ready for latching. And if you were anything like your stubborn sister, who came fourteen days late, this date would have come and gone without much hoopla.

April 4, 2011 has been marked in our minds and hearts for some time now, as we eagerly anticipated your official entrance in the flesh. We think of you constantly and today is no different. We miss you Margot June. We miss what was going to be.

Yes I understand that every life must end,
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go,
I’m a lucky man to count on both hands,
The ones I love.

Stay with me,
Let’s just breathe.

Eddie Vedder. "Just Breathe." Backspacer

April 3, 2011

We endlessly swing back and forth, from grief over Margot to fighting for Kari's health, blown by the winds of bodily pain and baby reminders, neither one being easy, both frightening and unpredictable. It seems we oscillate between these two forces almost moment by moment, never letting one take too much precedence over the other, but never allowing us to fully engage with each emotion either. For when we're focused on getting better, on walking and hydrating and resting, Margot is there. And when we're remembering Margot, Kari's pain and bruises and immobility hangs thick in the air. This is our predicament, the reality of this new story we find ourselves living in.

On the one front, today was the kind of day we needed. We laughed more, smiled more, felt like ourselves more. We shared a meal with friends, wrestled and sang with Stella, spent time laughing with our families and went an entire day without the stay-in-your-bed nausea that has consumed most of our other days. We took long walks around the fourth floor of our building, stopping in a certain window to let the sun drench over us. We shared intimate cheek-to-cheek hugs and tender forehead kisses, moments nearly impossible to have with all of the tubes, pain and nausea that have dominated the past ten days. We spoke of hope and the future and began scratching the surface of what this new story might look like.

But I also lacked emotions today. My eyes were dry, my heart confused. I wanted to join Kari in tears when we spoke of what we were going to do with the tiny room we created for Margot in our bedroom closet. I wanted to cry when Stella innocently asked where Margot was. But there were no tears and few words, leaving my heart in a state of confusion. Where did the gratifying, therapeutic tears go? Why did these emotions, which were always on the edge of my heart and on the tip of my mind, suddenly seem distant and removed?

These are the thoughts and questions I have tonight. They stream back and forth tirelessly from my head to my heart and back again. I search for clues and look for meaning.

If I find solace in anything about today, it's this: whatever we're going through, whatever we're thinking, whatever emotion is dominant, whatever we may feel or not feel, however the day plays out...this is our grief. There are no easy answers, no wrong or right way to grieve, no expected formula. This grief is complicated and simple, creeps in slowly and harshly and manifests itself in many forms. I guess in these early days, I'm learning to embrace griefs tricky, soul soothing complexities, from one day to the next.