Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Grieving

Last week I had a dream that I cut my hand open on a piece of stray glass. After I got the bleeding to stop, I noticed that the wound was not healing. It was open, and when I looked inside, I could see clear to the bottom of my hand. I dreamt I was rushing around trying to show someone my wound, but no one seemed to notice or care. I have thought about that a great deal since then, and can only confirm that especially with my current grief process I do occasionally feel like I am nursing an open secret wound.

I am not writing now in an effort to discount all the sincere sympathetic recognitions of my grief over the past three weeks, or to necessarily elicit more, but merely to express my own thoughts about grieving, and perhaps create an avenue through which to allow others who may be grieving to feel that they need not suffer silently, as I occasionally feel I am expected to.

Shakespeare said in Macbeth to "Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break." As this quote obviously goes way back, I feel there is a precedent to talk about suffering, but it is often difficult to find a way. I have felt with this recent loss of my baby, and with the loss before that, that when I was grieving it was hard to be around people, especially large groups, because I never know who is aware of my situation, and therefore I feel like I have to go around acting normal when I feel anything but.

Even when I would like to talk about what I am experiencing or how I feel I often lack the words. Recently I have come across some quotes that express it well. Here are two from some books I have been reading,

“Madame and Monsieur Dyson were gone now. They’d crossed over to that continent where grieving parents lived. It looked the same as the rest of the world, but wasn’t. Colors bled pale. Music was just notes. Books no longer transported or comforted, not fully. Never again. Food was nutrition, little more. Breaths were sighed. And they knew something the rest didn’t. They knew how lucky the rest of the world was.” --From A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

and

"It surprised him that his grief was sharper than in the past few days. He had forgotten that grief does not decline in a straight line or along a slow curve like a graph in a child's math book. Instead, it was almost as if his body contained a big pile of garden rubbish full of both heavy lumps of dirt and of sharp thorny brush that would stab him when he least expected it."--From Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

These have resonated with me. But the truth is my findings are not limited to these two quotes. I have been hearing and seeing evidence everywhere of grief in the world, and I have decided two things. The first is that I am not the only person to grieve, nor is my grief the greatest--so many people endure difficulties beyond my ability to comprehend. The second is that talking about my grief may give voice to what someone else could be feeling.

I recognize that it is not always condoned to bare your soul publicly. I have heard private suffering praised, and admired those with "stiff upper lips." I have read Sense and Sensibility. But in spite of all that, I also know that expressing my grief not only validates the way I feel, but helps me slowly, when I'm ready, let go of it. And hopefully it might help someone else, somewhere else do the same.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sam

I am not necessarily desirous to send bad news out onto the wavelengths. But I find that if I don't talk about a lost child, it seems less like he was real. I wrote the following poem two weeks ago. We lost/had Samuel Nielsen two days ago.

Chances

I suppose numbers are easy, simple, clear,
a seemingly accurate measure of something, anything:
your intelligence, your appearance, your worth.
But I have been, and remain evermore skeptical of their truth.

Statistically, only 1 in 10,000 babies conceived have
Trisomy 13--
3 number 13 chromosomes in the cells--
as if that defines, measures
what happened to Annie's body,
as if it tells how she looked, and moved,
how I felt when she was born, dead.
How is it possible 1 in 10,000 was us?

Statistically,only 1 in 100 babies conceived have
Triploidy--
3 of each of the 23 chromosomes,
69 instead of 46 in the cells
1 in 10,000 are born live.
0 live past 10 months of age.
0 known connection between Triploidy and Trisomy
So, how is it possible that 1 in 100 was us?

What are the chances?
Where is the number that describes the likelihood
of losing 2 babies this way?

What are the chances
that this baby will live long enough
that there will be 2 graves side by side?
Or, will this baby be gone in 1 month, 1 week, or 1 day.

Where is the mathematician, the statistician
who could calculate the probability
that I would feel this
heavy, sickening, chocking, ache
again?

Too improbable to be accidental
Too random to be random.
Numbers, like me, can't answer or define this one.

But, I seem to feel that Someone can.
Someone who knows not only what this would do,
but why I should face it once more.
Someone who not merely numbers his children
like the sands of the sea,
But knows each one.

Already I have carried this baby
for 12 weeks
Perhaps someone could figure what the chances are that
I will carry my child one week more.
But no one can measure how this small number of
weeks, and days, and minutes with my child
will affect every other day of my life.
It will be measureless, numberless,
unquantifiable.




Sunday, February 5, 2012

In Defense of Introverts

This post has been a long time in the making, but probably spurs from that night some months ago when I came home from a large gathering where my own social limitations had been particularly obvious to me and said to my husband, “Why did God make introverts!?”

I should probably explain that by “intovert” I am not talking about anti-social unabomber types. I merely refer to those of us who are more private than outgoing, who are more energized by alone time than social gatherings, who prefer small groups of close friends to large parties, who do not rush to answer the phone or door, and who would rather jump off a cliff than host a big social gathering.

This is not to be disparaging to extroverts. In fact, some of my most favorite people are extroverts. We have had good friends over the years who have had us over regularly for social gatherings. These are the kind of people who make small talk easily, and know how to create an atmosphere of hospitality, good food, and conversation. I have watched others who easily take command of conversations, and aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd. I have one sister who holds Halloween costume parties and murder mystery dinners at her house, and loves it. I have another sister who is so unembarrassed, comfortable, and energized by the presence of others that she has taken it upon herself to entertain the world—and she does. It was my brother and I, on the other hand, who used to hide in the kitchen when people came to visit (when we were past old enough to know better) and hope we wouldn’t be called out to ‘say hello.’

As I mentioned before, I have been aware of how my introversion limits me. I have been aware of it when different positions over the years required me to plan and host events. I have really had to get outside myself to plan birthday parties and social engagements for my extrovert son. I rarely want to go to church socials (gasp), and I often find that while acquaintances come and go, it takes me a while to make close friends. Introverts are hard to know well.

However, when I came home frustrated by those very limitations those months ago, my introvert husband not only sympathized, but encouraged me to remember the contributions introverts have made in my life. We listed family members, authors, and ecclesiastical and societal leaders who make great contributions through private thoughtful kinds of lives. In a world that values group work and ‘synergy,’ I think it is easy to forget the great value of individual thought—the kind of thinking that, rather than relying on others to fill in the spaces—works through the questions and complications through solitary focus and reflection.

So, I guess my defense of introverts is this: It may be difficult to get to know us, but give us a chance because, quite likely, we are worth knowing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Why We Believe in Santa

I woke before the rest of the family on Christmas morning this year, just early enough to stare at the ceiling for a few minutes before I heard stirring in the next room. I smiled at the muffled sounds of the excited voice of my almost-six-year-old son as he told his three-and-a-half year old brother to, “Wake up! It’s Christmas!” The boys were soon bounding in and bouncing their dad awake, and I appointed myself to go downstairs to turn on lights to see if Santa had come.

When I came back up with the good news, my oldest son, Jack, said, “I knew it!” then he proceeded to tell us how, just before he fell asleep, he had seen a sort of red light reflected on the wall of his bedroom, and that it must have been Rudolf, guiding Santa’s sleigh. Of course his dad and I smiled conspiratorially about this, especially coming from that particular child.

Just about every morning at breakfast my younger son, Graham, shares some story about the wild things that happened to him at night. These stories—told as truths—could include anything from rocket voyages he’s taken, to ‘bad guys’ he’s fought, to the nocturnal behavior of his stuffed cat and dog. So we’re used to flavored fiction from that child, but Jack prides himself on saying things in an adult way—he wants to tell us something interestingly accurate…which is why it is so fun to hear him talk with excited conviction about a flying reindeer.

I realize this emotion would be shocking, and even distasteful to many parents, as I am aware of a recent parenting trend to abolish the myth of Santa. These parents argue (rightfully) that perpetuating this myth requires parents to lie to their children, and encourage a belief in…that’s right…magic. I fully support these parents’ rights and desires to raise their children in honesty, but I would also like to explain why I plan to continue this particular tradition, notwithstanding.

I would like to provide concrete factual evidence as to why a belief in Santa can benefit a child, and I have come across some psychological material that supports this, but I have come across just as much that supports killing the myth. And, frankly, when it comes to Santa, it’s just not about the facts for me.

Instead, it is about allowing my children to have a chance, however brief, to experience the magical sheen of childhood. It seems to me that the world is becoming increasingly more cynical, especially in Western culture where we are taught to question everything—which is at once both great and dreadful. I hope my children reach a point where they will process information logically and come to their own conclusions. I encourage that now, but I also want them, for as long as they possibly can, to believe in impossibilities. I want them to come to an adult view of the world…but not yet.

I think that the idea of Santa was more important to me as a pre-teen than it was as a young child. I was a very imaginative child, and the idea that I had to leave that world behind was devastating. I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly socially expected to be more interested in makeup, loud music, and boys than I was in…Recess. So, when Christmas came around, even though I was old enough to see the writing on the wall about Santa, I was glad that my parents humored me and allowed me to hold on to the belief in something magical, and in that area, remain a child for a while. It was one time of the year when I wasn’t expected to be logical or reasonable…I could just believe in something magical and impossibly wonderful in the face of all the impossibly horrible truths of the world.

Some parents are concerned that fostering a belief in Santa (who is not real) negates their efforts to foster belief in God (who is). This is a valid concern. However, I don’t know about your kids, but mine are smart :) . There is a difference in the way I talk about Santa versus the way I talk about God at home, and they know that. They know what Christmas is about, and that Santa is only an ancillary—we discuss that the giving and receiving of gifts (both from Santa, and from family members) reminds us of the Gift God gave Earth when His Son was born. I also recognize that if my children believe in God it will be because I have laid a foundation of knowledge, but also that at some point they have felt something themselves—I would be foolish to think their belief system is solely based on what I dictate to them—or want it to be.

I also think that as parents it feels cozy to say things like “I will never raise my voice at my children,” or “I will never be a bad example to my children,” or “I will never lie to them.” We would like to clasp to another dangerous myth that a parent should be perfect—or at least that a child should think their parent is perfect. But the truth is, Santa or not, our children are someday going to realize that sometimes their parents do raise their voices. Sometimes we make mistakes in full view of our children, and sometimes we lie.

I don’t think it is going to be very many years before my Jack figures out the truth concerning Santa. He may be angry at me for lying to him, but that won’t shatter any notions he might have about me. I have been very clear with him that I may be in charge, and have more experience and knowledge at my age than he does at his, but that I am by no means perfect. I have no problem apologizing to him when I do raise my voice unnecessarily, or make a bad call when a situation is tense.

I guess what I have decided is that I am willing to risk his anger. I am willing for him to know that his mother lied, because I think he will also know that I did it to give him a gift that he will never have another chance to receive—a whole-hearted belief in something magical. I wanted to give him an opportunity that will never come again as everyone, inevitably, will “put away childish things.” In actuality, I don’t think he will be angry when he finds out the truth…only a bit sad, like me, that it could not last longer.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kelli's Top Media Picks for 2011

Best Book:

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro—Okay so this was definitely not written this year (1989 actually) but I read it this year, so I’m counting it. And, don’t think just because you’ve seen the movie you know this book. I liked the movie as I’m a fan of Emma Thompson it was well-made. But, it does not hold a light to the book. This book was the best example of unreliable narrator I have ever read. Also, what the movie fails to capture is a very hopeful, look-to-the-future life view that I found very meaningful.

Runner up: Bury your Dead by Louise Penny—not written this year either…but you know. This is one in a Canadian mystery series that are some of my favorite books ever. I’m usually not huge on mystery, but these are interesting, gritty, very character driven and beautifully written.

Best Music:

Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay—I know this is a trendy choice, but a good one. Colplay’s last few albums, especially, have been so well crafted—not merely a list of songs, but a collected work that should be listened to from beginning to end—not unlike the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Also, I appreciate the musicality and the originality—they manage to sound like Colplay, while continuing to create very originally-styled pieces.

My favorite older singles I heard and liked this year: Shine by Black Gold, a cover of This Woman’s Work sung by Greg Laswell, and Breathe in, Breathe Out by Mat Kearney

Best Movie:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II—I think someone should recognize this as something beyond a piece of pop culture. This and several other of the Potter films are, I think, good cinema on a number of levels. I think it is a good adaptation of a book, and that there were some really nice stylistic choices. I also thought that there was a lot of excellent acting, by the main ensemble, but also by those in smaller roles—including Warkwick Davis’ portrayal of the Goblin, Griphook—face makeup notwithstanding, and Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix Lestrange.

Runners up:

Jane Eyre—this is a favorite story anyway, but I particularly liked this version (especially compared to the 2006 Masterpiece edition).

Thor—Okay, I know this is one more superhero show, but I thought they dealt with the fantasy elements of this particular story well, and I thought Kenneth Brannaugh’s directing gave it a classical, Shakespearean feel.

The Help—again, trendy but good, and very close to the book.

Best TV:

So, although I actually did enjoy some American TV this year, my favorites are all, embarrassingly, British:

Downton Abbey—very well done, and fascinating to watch.

Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch—a great modern adaptation of the character. Loved their interpretation of Moriarty.

Doc Martin—This year was series 4, I think. Probably the best thing about this show is the variety of quirky, realistic, and consistent characters.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fireflies

This is an especially good time of year in our part of Indiana for fireflies. I have seen them out my bedroom window at night, hovering and flickering over the grass. We don’t have fireflies in the West where I grew up, so the first time I saw them, at least that I remember, was during the month my family spent living near Houston Texas when I was a young child. It is one of the few memories I have of that period, but I have often recalled an evening walk with my family over a bridge and through some trees and the magic of the glowing creatures floating about in the darkness.

It is the poignancy of that memory that led me to put aside my usual vigilance about early bedtimes for my boys and sanction a late evening firefly walk a few nights ago. The day had been one of those stormy Midwestern days, and we weren’t sure all day if we would be able to have our walk at all, but just around twilight there was an intermission. Jeff and I brushed the boys teeth and put them in the stroller to walk down to the forest path just south of our apartments. The sky was grey and the thunder rumbled distant warnings to walk faster.

When we reached the woods, however, we had slowed and quieted enough to see some baby rabbits in the low grass before they darted for cover. The fireflies were not so bashful. They twinkled in the dark spaces between the trees, and floated lazily about us, unconcerned at our watchful presence. My oldest son was full of awe and excited phrases, and my youngest was quietly observant; and somehow, even without the misty sheen of childhood to coat the moment for me, it was magical.

I felt a strong sense of disappointment that I had not thought to bring a jar. It would have been so easy just to reach out and catch one of the tiny blinking bugs and bring it home to keep. As it was, I could only carry away the memory, and it was a short one. We were merely in the trees for a brief interval before we began to feel raindrops and the tall trees began to sway dramatically in the breeze of the oncoming storm. We rushed home.

The time we spent in the woods was a matter of minutes, but tonight I think that the past two years, this stage in my life, has been, in many ways, equally brief. Like our firefly walk to the woods, it has had its dark clouds and cold breezes, but there have also been extraordinary moments, little flickers of light.

There is a pit in my stomach, an anticipation of the coming storm and the need to hurry on. In less than two weeks we will be starting a new walk. We will be leaving behind some extraordinary and ordinary things. There is no jar that can carry them away with us. My son has been filling his pockets with his favorite rocks from our playground for the past few weeks, almost like he could just take the playground, one rock at a time, to Chicago with him. But, there are a lot of rocks out there.

Tonight as I was taking out the trash I saw the fireflies in the bushes and the low weeds by the fence. I thought of how I could go back inside, and get something to catch one in and keep. But then, something inside me quietly whispered that fireflies do not live long in glass jars. Eventually their light would dwindle and diminish.

However, I do know from experience that they will live for a very long time in my memory.