Jonah's Pictures

Monday, July 20, 2009

Four Months

I recently read an excerpt from Elizabeth Edwards’ book about resilience, a subject she knows a thing or two about after battling breast cancer, surviving the death of her 16-year-old son, and enduring her husband’s infidelity. This was her comment about the loss of her son.

“Right after Wade died, I said to a friend, ‘At least I had him for 16 years.’ And immediately I thought, What a stupid thing to say. It will never be enough, not for him, not for me. But the truth is, I had him for 16 years. And the day I [can’t see] the value in having 16 years with that boy is the day I cut off the edges of my life and narrow it down to a non-feeling middle. And I don’t want to live there.”

I understand. I felt the same way during one of my endless “What if?” conversations with myself. I was thinking about what would have happened if I had gotten pregnant in June or August, not July when I conceived Jonah. I immediately felt a strong sense of regret because if I hadn’t gotten pregnant in July, I wouldn’t have Jonah. We had only 37 weeks and 1 day with him but if the options are to experience his life AND death or never know him at all, I would take the joy and the pain any day. I recently read that most bereaved parents say that they would do it all again, even knowing the outcome and that’s the catch-22 of losing a child: you feel a grief that is beyond measure but it’s a price you’re willing to endure for the privilege of knowing your child.

That’s where I find myself four months after Jonah’s birth. If someone had said, “Well, at least you had 37 weeks with him,” in the days after Jonah died, I would have wanted to punch the person. But as the grief becomes less intense, it becomes easier to embrace the “rightness” of Jonah’s birth on the first day of spring. He is the perfect balance of light and darkness, of joy and pain.

Happy four-month birthday, little dude!


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tackling THAT Question

That Question is the one that every bereaved parent dreads: How many children do you have? This question often requires a split-second decision. Do you answer honestly and create a potentially awkward moment or do you provide an easy answer and move on?

I was feeling anxious about The Question because I had my twice-yearly dental appointment this morning. My last appointment was in December and I had declined x-rays because I was pregnant with Jonah. I wondered if they had noted the pregnancy in my file and I was anticipating/dreading the inquiry about how the baby was doing.

The appointment started with the hygienist asking me if I’ve had any medical changes in the past six months. What do I say? But then she added, “Allergies, medications and so on.” Nope, no changes there.

The dentist came in later, checked my teeth, and gave me a clean bill of dental health. The hygienist and I proceeded to the polishing and I thought I was home-free. But, as she was removing the bib, The Question came: How many children do you have? I considered my options and gave her the easy answer: just one. She then asked if I stayed home with Evan and we talked about the benefits of staying home. I was feeling guilty about not acknowledging Jonah so I buckled and said, “Well, our situation is complicated.” I went on to share with her, through tears, that we had lost a child this spring and it has made my relationship with Evan feel even more precious. As I told Jonah’s story, she put a hand on my shoulder and communicated without saying a word that she understood. She then shared that she had lost a child when she was almost five months pregnant and it was devastating, but she got pregnant soon after. She pointed at the photo of her son and said, “If I hadn’t suffered that loss, I wouldn’t have him.” So, what started out as an average appointment became an experience in which two bereaved parents connected for a few minutes and shared memories of their children. This conversation with her made my day.

I’m realizing that by providing the easy answer I might avoid making someone feel uncomfortable, but I’m also missing an opportunity to acknowledge Jonah and I may miss out on connecting with another human. The easy answer just doesn’t seem worth it.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Evan’s Little Brother

Today would have been Jonah’s two-month birthday. Things have been going okay but this morning was a struggle. Today was also Evan’s last day of preschool for the school year and after I dropped him off, I started thinking about how our lives have changed since September when school started. I was eight weeks pregnant so, by this time, I imagined that John and I would be adjusting to life with a newborn and Evan would be discovering the joys and hassles of a sibling. I never imagined that this school year would have been filled with anxiety, numerous ultrasounds, hospital stays, and the pain that no parent wants to experience.

I feel that we have worked through the intense grief that immediately followed Jonah’s death and life is feeling more okay. Not great or good, but okay. I’ve been trying so hard to look for the goodness in this situation and I’ve found some but I just can’t make peace with the fact that Evan has lost his sibling. When we first told Evan that he was going to have a little brother, he said, “I’m going to teach him EVERYTHING!” He was so excited and it’s just so hard for me to accept that their relationship will not be the one I envisioned. With Jonah’s death, someone lost a child, a grandchild, a nephew, or a future friend but it’s Evan’s loss that hits me the hardest. Perhaps it’s because I’m an only child and I wanted something different for him.

Some of John’s coworkers gave us a gift certificate for a greenhouse and we picked out a tree that was planted in our front yard two weeks ago. The tree has been a real comfort to us. We give it water each day and we’ll be able to watch it grow. I now understand why trees and gardening are so popular with the bereaved. Some of the women from my book group also donated a tree that will be planted in a park in our neighborhood. The tree will be located near the playground where Evan and Jonah would have spent time together.

From time to time, Evan will bring up the subject of Jonah by saying something like “can I go to the hospital and visit baby Jonah?” or “baby Jonah will never come home.” Our hearts break to hear him talk about his brother that way but we are still glad to have included him in Jonah’s life. Maybe he will be able to retain some memories, and maybe he won’t, but we will are all better people for having Jonah in our lives.