June 25, 2012

From Kari: Right Where I Am: 15 Months

Fifteen months ago, my daughter died. I held her lifeless body in my arms. I kissed her black hair. I had her cremated and to get close to her I have literally tasted her ashes. This reality will be with me for the rest of my days.  She is our second child, and she’s gone.

Somehow we crawled our way through the past 15 months with out her. Somehow we did it while facing the daily anxiety of another years' pregnancy. And here we are. Older. More wrinkled. Less naive. Much more empathetic. Perhaps even more fully human.

As I reflect back on this year, one thing is incredibly clear to me: I am not as strong as I once thought. I have discovered over these long months that there are things in this world that can truly break me. Death is no longer some abstract reality that, as I once believed, is simply a part of life.  It is bigger, more painful, than I knew.  It sweeps through a persons life and threatens to destroy everything.  It knocks you to the ground; it breaks you.

Living through this year has been unbelievably traumatic. It's not just the day you lose your baby that breaks you, it's the living with out one of your children, day after day after day. It's the ongoing trauma of facing the world with our her. For five months, I barely ate. For nine months, I cried every day. Even now, although I can finish my food when I think of her and I can string together several days with out tears, I have come to realize that much of this sorrow will actually never leave me. She will always be mine. And she will always be gone.

And yet the truth is, my world has not fallen apart. My friends and family have supported me. Spoken her name. Cried for her.  Held my hand as I walked the terrifying journey of subsequent pregnancy. They kept calling when I couldn't pick up the phone, kept knocking on my door when I couldn't answer, and kept asking how I was doing when all I could do was cry for months and months. My living daughter has danced in my arms and covered me with kisses. And my husband...well, there are never the right words for him. We walked this road the way we always do, together, side by side, with deep love.

Often I think that the reason my world did not crumble to ash (like my heart did) was because it was held together, not by me, but by the people who love me. And I can hardly believe my good fortune to have them all.

These days, there is a saying that keeps going through my head. It's something my doctor said to me when I asked when I should deliver Leo. "Let's get to 38 weeks, and then let's take the money and run."

Take the money and run. That's what we did, six weeks ago, and my baby boy came alive into this world. And now I think of that phrase all day as it pertains to making peace with this life we are living.
Take the money and run. Don't be too greedy. Accept. Make peace. Seize the joy while I can. Let go - not of her - but of the hard truth that this god awful tragedy happened to us. Be grateful. Hold my first born and now my third born tight in my arms and weep for all we do have. Because it feels as if it could all be taken from me at any moment, and I don't want to look back and wish I could have reveled in the good while it was mine to have.


I’m finding that hope and peace and relief are washing over me in waves, more and more, each day of Leo’s life. My body, the physical "me," hurts so much less these days. I have felt an acute physical longing for my daughter for all these longs months. It's as if my body had been continuously searching for her, looking for my missing child. When Stella was born, I remember that leaving her in order to run errands or go to the gym felt like leaving a part of me - a vital internal organ of some sort. I felt tethered to her by a kind of invisible umbilical cord, and I never felt quite right until I returned to her. I had the same feeling for Margot. But there was nothing on the receiving end of that longing, only absence, emptiness, ashes. It hurt in a place deep in my bones, a place I can find no adequate words to describe. (This pain is part of why I barely touched another infant over this long year. I have not held or tickled another baby, even though there are many in my day to day life that I love. Mostly, my body forced me to look away, stay away, because the emptiness of my own arms would threaten to suffocate me.) And then Leo entered the world and suddenly this layer of pain just...lifted. My body took a deep breath, pulled him close, and some evolutionary need was satisfied.

[In the same breath I feel that I must be clear that Leo’s life does not help me feel any more ok about Margot’s death.  I can imagine that most of the world (even perhaps myself in those early days) would assume that somehow his life would make her death more palpable.  I’m sure this is what my old babysitter meant when she said, “now you have a new baby!” But even though my logical brain knows that Leo would not be here if M was, I’m shocked how little that matters to my heart.  I gave birth to all three of my children.  And I want them all.] 

Mostly, in spite of the heart ache, right where I am is a good place. Happy even. I can smile with out holding back and wishing there was another expression I could make besides a smile - something between a smile, grimace, scream, sigh and cry - that would better reveal my state of emotion. The sunshine no longer mocks me and the happiness of the rest of the world no longer stings.  In many ways,  I feel myself coming back to the world, as if waking up after a long winter of sadness.  My heart ache for my daughter is ever present, but there is room in my heart now for happiness as well. I feel the urge to travel again, my most beloved of interests, and that desire alone shows me that I am evolving, that I no longer need to spend every night on the couch crying and talking about how we will get through another week. It's hard to believe that every single night for 13 months, we talked about M, about losing her, about surviving with out her. I would say that in a way I grew very used to sadness. So now, in this new spring, it might just take me a little while to remember how to be happy again. But I'm so damn glad it's time.


still life angie said...

This is so beautiful, Kari. Grateful to read your words. I remember reading this quote from a blogger of time past, "I wish someone would have told me that holding my dead baby was the highlight of this fucking experience." And that is what I wanted to tell people every day. Holding her was the highlight, the rest is the hard part. Love to you, Kari. As always.

Mama Bear said...

This is amazing. I want to read it again and share it. You so beautifully express the pull of emotions. The many blessings and the ongoing heartache. Love to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions. I understand the way happiness can feel so welcome and strange at the same time. Everyone of our children challenge us to grow, change, question who we are and what we believe. Each one is a vital part of who we are and who we are becoming. Many blessings of sunshine to you and your family.

Brooke said...

Beautifully written. I love hearing about how Leo has helped you return to yourself, even without "fixing" all that was broken when Margot died. I know what you mean about waking up after a long winter. I'm still feeling that in many ways. Sending love to your whole family.

Veronica said...

What an amazing entry. Beautiful. I am relieved to hear you tell you truth about your daughters ashes. My sons ashes are in his urn, stored in my bedroom, on a shelf in our closet... And often times I want to ingest them, as I feel they are so out of place anywhere else. He does not belong in an urn in a closet - he belongs with me.
So powerful what you said about death. My father died 2 years ago... Quite suddenly too...and it felt like a part of life. But the loss of a child is so terribly wrong. So so unfair.
"I gave birth to all three of my children. And I want them all." perfectly put. No matter how many more come after the fact, I'll still be missing the one that got away.

Jeanette said...

Kari this is such a beautiful post, and so much of it I recognise. Thank you for sharing. x

Hope's Mama said...

This all resonated with me, all of it. Missing a daughter, raising a son and a daughter and trying to make sense of it all. Tasting her ashes - I would so do that. It is one of those things that I'm sure the "others" out there would see as strange, but I get it, I do. I kept the t-shirt I laboured in with Hope which ended up covered in vomit and all other sorts of mess, but I remember smelling it after I lost her, to see if I could smell her.
I too think my world didn't crumble because others held me up. I barely remember that first year, but I know I had a rock solid support network around me, headed up by Simon, my mum, my sister and a few very close friends. I simply don't know how I would have survived that intense time without them.
I've had two living babies since Hope died, and life is so full and joyous now, but she's still dead. And I'm still terribly sad about that and always will be. I wish that was easier for people to understand. I guess that's why I still hang around these parts, four years on, because you all get it, and I'm so grateful for that.
What a treat to read your words here today. You guys are such an adorable couple and I feel honoured to be walking alongside you both and watching your children grow, all the while forever missing your second daughter and my first.

March is for daffodils said...

This is beautiful, Kari. The "invisible umbilical cord" - I remember feeling this whenever I would leave E in the early days: anxiety and an absolute awareness of the exact distance between us - I would know exactly how many blocks and what the best route home would be and part of my mind would always be travelling that route even as I sat with my mom at the coffee shop or went up and down the aisles at the grocery store. Yes, it is so much harder with A - as it is with you for Margot - because I don't have any idea what that distance is and I know I can't travel back to her, ever, no matter how badly I need to know where she is, how she is. Thank you so much for sharing.

Sofia said...

So inspiring Kari. Thank you for articulating so beautifully the intricacies of this damn awful experience. I am at 17 months having lost our beautiful first born baby boy at term, and I am almost 37 weeks with our second precious baby. Standing on that cliff face...hoping so desperately, but knowing that "it could all be taken from me at any moment' and understanding that I will always feel the unmistakeable longing for the son whose ashes sit in a box in his cot.
May your spring time turn into summer, and happiness come gently back to your life again.

Catherine W said...

Oh Kari. This is just so perfect. I love your description of your tethering to Stella and how, for Margot, there is nothing on the receiving end. I feel that very keenly, I ache to be physically near my two living children but, also, to be near to one that I can never be truly near. Or maybe I'm wrong? Maybe she's closest of all.

And it never ceases to amaze me how very little what my brain has to say about things matters to my heart. That organ has a life all of its own and refuses to be ruled over.

I'm also happy. Very much so. But sometimes I wish that there was a facial expression that was something like a smile but not quite? Something wry, with some of the qualities of a grimace. But yes, I'm happy. And happier still to read of your return to the world and a new spring.

Em said...

This is so well-written and spoke my heart in many ways. Thank you Kari.

katie illingworth said...

Beautiful, Kari. This reflects my heart too. I have followed Josh's blog because I too lost my daughter last March. I have followed your family's grief journey as I have walked my own. My son David is two weeks behind Leo. I too felt the lifting of that painful, heavy physical emptiness after Davey was born. There is much more joy, life and light for me now, but in the midst of all of that, my firstborn is still gone. And you're right-- it is a daily trauma to live it.

And on the breastfeeding challenges with Leo, I feel you, sister. That could have been a chapter out of my book.

Love and peace to you as you continue walking this journey.

Kari said...

Thank you so much - each of you - for taking the time to comment. All of your words mean so much to me. Thank you for pointing out the ways that our stories are the same. Its not easy for me to post a blog and be so exposed, but your comments make it a little easier!

Mary Beth said...

This is so beautiful, Kari. I really can relate to so much of it; the tethered-feeling to the babies, and being tethered to seemingly nothing; the physical ache; the grimace-scream-smile. I am so glad Leo's there with you guys, and equally sad that Margot is not. Sending you lots of love. Thanks for this.

Bree said...

Kari, I wish you would write more. Well, write in mediums that I can read without feeling guilty. I mean it would be pretty weird if I went hunting around for your journal.

I've noticed a change in you since Leo has been here. Even with all the hardships you guys have faced there is a sense of peace that just wasn't there before. It is lovely to see but at the same time heartbreaking to know what a hard road it has been.

Thank you for sharing this with us all. Much, much love to you.

Anonymous said...

This is lovely. This is so familiar to me. I've been mad at the sun for shining so many times in the past three months. I can't wrap my head around how the world can be a happy place any more. I also was touched by your statement on strength. I've had so many people say to me "You're so strong." But I know that I'm not, I'm just left with no choice. I feel like the walking wounded, but with no scars to actually show for what I went through, so I look okay on the outside while falling apart on the inside. We don't have any other children, although hopefully will someday, so I follow your journey as a glimpse at what may be in store, where this sad journey may take us in the future.

Thank you for sharing.

Tash said...

Kari, this is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. As I enter a subsequent pregnancy after losing my firstborn, your words bring me comfort.

"I gave birth to all three of my children. And I want them all." Perfectly said. I'm hoping that my second baby will make it safely into the world, but I will always want my firstborn too.

Thinking of you all every day, and sending so much love. xx

Groves said...

Kari, one of many things that have stayed with me - that picture of you, at Margot's river...the most recent, where you were looking straight at the camera.

Reading your words here, like walking on sacred ground. Josh has word-painted so many facets of you. Your comments walk like footprints, here and there, in various places. I always note them, for your kindness, your gentle strength, your warmth, your knowing.

And now, you, speaking here.

Good, good to read. Makes my throat ache. There is so much to you. So much worthwhile to you, and I am thankful for what you want to share.

Brianna sent some Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

"Courage is a first step, but simply to bear the blow bravely is not enough. Stoicism is courageous, but it is only a halfway house on the long road. It is a shield, permissible for a short time only. In the end, one has to discard shields and remain open and vulnerable. Otherwise, scar tissue will seal off the wound and no growth will follow. To grow, to be reborn, one must remain vulnerable-- open to love but also hideously open to the possibility of more suffering." {Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, 1932}

That is how I think of you. Open to love. Open to love. Open to love. In spite of everything.

Thankful that you are Mother of Three,

Cathy in Missouri

Stefanie said...

Wow! Very powerful Kari. Thank you for sharing your inner most feelings. You words resonate with me as come to the end of a subsequent pregnancy-my third after loosing my second child.
Thank you for sharing. Beautifully written.

DandelionBreeze said...

Such beautiful words... thinking of you and all your gorgeous children near and far xoxo

Sapphira said...

Dear Kari-- I am so grateful to know you and that you express yourself so beautifully. I will forever miss your Margot with you and send love to your entire family. xoxo

Fireflyforever said...

This is beautiful Kari. Thank you for writing. Your description of the invisible cord resonated with me - one of the poems we had read at our daughter's funeral was called "The cord". That invisible link, unbroken by death.

And I feel to that my life was held together by the people around me too.

Wishing you peace and happiness in your new spring.

Crystal said...

Beautifully written. Sadly, I understand so many parts of it. Hugs to you all and wishes for a beautiful new spring!

surfjams said...

I've been meaning to comment on this for a while, just haven't had a chance to slow down much and reflect. You are as gifted as Josh in expressing the painfulness and the beauty of it all. You are one strong mama, and I can't even imagine how excruciating this whole year must have been for you. I am grateful that you are finding that place again, of happiness and peacefulness. May the coming months and the coming years be ones of integrating gracefully the darkness and the light, the loss and the life, and all that can come out of this irreconcilable tension.

Glenda said...

Kari, after I lost Butch, someone told me that you can never forget your loss, it only gets less painful as the years go on. I know that losing your child is absolutely unthinkable, but when Butch died, I lost my other half. I was splintered, incomplete, but time, friends, your parents and my unwavering faith kept me going. I rejoice in your love for all 3 of your babies and know your healing from this enormous pain will continue and become a little less painful.
I love you

Courtney Albin said...

Love to you Kari and your beautiful family. Thank you for sharing. Courtney

loribeth said...

I am far behind on my blog reading & commenting (but slowly catching up...!). This is so beautiful, & I'm so glad you wrote this.

Artie said...

I think you are the most amazing woman Kari. I have followed your journey because of this blog and I just have utter and extreme admiration for how amazing you are. To face your pain the way you have is stunning and inspirational. Thank you for your painful honesty. You are beautiful!! I am so so so thrilled for the addition to your family. Margot is there among you of course, smiling, but you just can't see her. She probably wakes Leo up at weird times and makes him stare at corners unexplainably. You're both amazing parents. just amazing. I want to just scoop up your whole family and smoosh you. you are all just a precious gift to this lame planet. I am glad the sunshine no longer mocks you. I know so well what you mean. :)

sending you much love and peace and continued healing from a total stranger,


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