Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial

On Memorial Day I didn't know what to take to Jonah's grave.  I felt like I was supposed to take something.  That is what a good grieving mother would do, right?  Surely I could create something meaningful, or at least beautiful, in remembrance of my only child.  Maybe I could take one of his toys, or a picture of our family.  I thought about buying some blue balloons or replacing the wind-worn pinwheels that line his headstone.  Maybe flowers would bring some life and beauty to our little cement and marble slab.  For days I mulled over my responsibilities and desires, and came to the simple conclusion that grave decoration is not for me.

Don't get me wrong.  My heart is healed and strengthened by the small heartfelt mementos that I find at Jonah's grave.  They are evidence to me that you have visited my sweet boy and that you still think of him.  I hope to continually find beautiful little treasures when I visit Jonah's spot.

But there is something so fleeting about the gifts I bring.  I see how they are worn and weathered from one visit to the next. The pinwheels are covered with grass clippings and spin more slowly each day.  The little toys gradually lose their bright color in glare of the sun.  Even the most vibrant flowers wilt and die.  Each item I bring sends a subtle message that death is persistent and inescapable.  I've decided that I do not need more reminders.  I want instead to create a memorial that will last; one that will withstand the eroding forces of time.

So Monday morning, instead of taking flowers to the cemetery, I began to climb Maple Mountain.  I hiked until my legs wobbled and my lungs burned.  I pushed and pulled myself up patches of snow and crumbling rocks.  I tried to stop and noticed the life around me...small purple sedum creeping through the crusty snow, and white aspens towering above us.  After a particularly difficult and steep section I looked up the slope to see Jordan's hand reaching down to help me.  I felt so much love for him and thought about the difficult mountain we climb together each day.  As we approached the summit I kept my eyes on his steady steps, until the intensity of the incredible view lifted my gaze.   

This is the memorial I want to give my precious Jonah.  The lasting gift I can give him is the choice to live a good and abundant life.  I want to climb more mountains.  I want to see the beauty that surrounds me.  I want to spend more joyful and peaceful moments with his amazing father.  I want the joy I felt in being Jonah's mother to radiate into my new life.

At the end of our arduous day, after scarfing down pizza, we went to visit Jonah's grave.  I sat in the cool green grass while Jordan washed and swept the letters of Jonah's name.  We admired the sweet and simple gifts that were left in memory of our little boy.  We brought nothing tangible with us, but carried a feeling of genuine love for each other and for him.  And when we left I took the beautiful flowers that decorated his grave with me, to plant in our garden as a living reminder of our beautiful Jonah.

video
 Our little mountain climber



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Charity

This week charity arrived on my back patio in the form of a profanity-riddled flamingo plate.  That's right a profanity-riddled flamingo plate. 

It's no secret that I had a difficult week last week.  I felt overwhelmed and angry.  I was tired.  I'm sure you could tell from my last post that my coping skills were dwindling.  I spent a few days in a funk, and let my mood match the stormy weather. 

On Friday afternoon I took a long nap, and when I woke up Jordan told me there was something on the back porch for me.  "What is it?" I said.  "Something about going to hell, " he said.  This obviously peaked my interest, so I pulled myself up off the couch and went to the back porch. 

There I found stacks of colorful dishes placed neatly on our bright blue picnic table.  Each plate was defaced with scrawled red profanity (nothing too intense...mostly "hells" and "damns"...we are Mormons after all).  Some were dainty tea saucers, others were more substantial dinner plates.  My favorite was a cream colored plate with a dark brown border.  In the center two pink flamingos are standing under a palm tree.  The red writing on this plate said, "Damn these happy flamingos to hell!"

I laughed out loud as I read each plate, and then I felt overwhelmed by this simple and unusual act of charity.  I knew that the bearers of these plates were seeking to soothe my heart, and acknowledge my pain.  I wrote in my last post about wanting to break dishes, but feeling too responsible and disciplined to do it.  These women heard my cry, and instead of trying to talk me down, they brought me dishes I could break without hesitation.  Perfection.  

As I sat in church today I thought about Paul's letters to the Corinthians.  Paul wrote beautifully about charity, and all of its qualities.  Charity is kind, it envieth not, it seeketh not her own...  In all Paul's wisdom and pondering I doubt he could have envisioned a defaced flamingo plate being a vessel for God's pure love.  But that is exactly what it was for me.  These stacks of thrift store plates reminded me that God loves me and that I am supported in my trials.  It was just the message and gift I needed.


Charity never faileth.
1 Corinthians 13:8





Thursday, May 24, 2012

Reality

I sat in a small office yesterday afternoon crunching very large numbers with a financial counselor.  For a moment my eyes wandered past her, to the framed art hanging on her wall.  It was so strange I couldn't look away.  

The artist depicted a mother and baby floating in a pool of rippling forest green water (yes, forest green).  The oddly-proportioned mother's arms and hands encircle her child, and then... another pair of gigantic, disembodied, very hairy hands emerge from the water around them.  These giant hands looked as if they are scooping her up.  I'm sure they are meant to be God's nurturing hands, but to me they look like the hands of an irritated old man about to slap an unsuspecting fly.  Fertility clinic Rorschach test?  Perhaps. 

I was snapped back from my psychoanalytical art critique by the following sentence:

For the price of $17,500 you get three fresh, three frozen, and the guarantee of a take-home baby, or your money back.

Suddenly, I felt as if I was about to order an extra-value meal.  I'll take three fresh, three frozen, and one take-home baby, to go... 

It was at this point that I realized what a strange world I am entering.  A world of test tubes and vials.  A world of frozen babies.  A world in which I can get pregnant even if my husband is out of town.  It is a world I hoped to avoid, but it is quickly becoming my new reality.

I have already added to my new reality that I am a childless mother, who carries a rare genetic disorder.  I have a 50% chance of passing this disorder onto my children.  I am trying to accept that wanting a healthy baby is not a rejection of my only and very special child.  I am trying to accept that I am a paradox; a young woman who is fully capable of having a healthy pregnancy, yet I spent my afternoon discussing egg retrieval, and hormone injections, and payment plans.

I held it together, and felt pretty good through the appointment.  I tried to stay focused through the financial consultation.  I even laughed as Jordan and I filled out some of the very personal paperwork.  But as the day progressed I began to feel angry.  I felt angry that losing my sweet child is not enough of a trial.  Angry that others around me seem to be so quickly and abundantly blessed with children. Angry that I have to grieve and navigate incredibly difficult moral and financial decisions.

By early evening I felt like ripping whatever was in my hands.  I was tempted by the cathartic motion of smashing dishes on the kitchen floor.  An irritation and anguish rose inside of me that I could not fully voice or silence.  My anger was a whirlwind of intense frustration combined with heartache. 

I tried to tell God that all I wanted was to be a mother to Jonah.  Doesn't He know that I would have been so content just to care for this sweet boy?

Unfortunately I am far too disciplined and peaceful to destroy my possessions in a fit of rage.  And anytime I try to scream, it comes out so pathetic that I resolve never to do it again.  But last night I chose to sit with my anger for awhile; to really feel it; to let it burn instead of dowsing it immediately with gratitude or tears.

This morning my anger has mellowed into the soft heat of burned out coals, and the tears have have helped to dowse it.  I can feel the love of God again, instead of feeling like a fly on the water.  I can recognize my gratitude for the technology that is available to help us.  And I feel like my anger has cleared a place for my new reality to settle in. 

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. 
Maya Angelou

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Intervention


Yesterday I knelt for a moment, eyeliner in hand, on the white rug of my bathroom floor.  I felt overcome with questions in the middle of my morning routine.  Mostly the usual questions.  Mostly beginning with "why?"  "Why do bad things happen to good people?"  "Why are families separated by death?"  "Why couldn't Jonah stay with me longer?" and "Why would God take the mother of three young children?"

Moments earlier I learned about the death of a young mother; a mother who used to bring her little boy to my art class.  Her name was Alice.  I did not know her well, but I remember her kindness when Jonah died, and I remember her amazing smile.  She was one of those women who seemed genuinely joyful.  This beautiful mother recently gave birth to her first daughter, but shortly after her body was overwhelmed by infection.  She passed away, leaving behind two little boys, a sweet baby girl, and a heartbroken husband.  I have found, since Jonah died, the grief of others brings a new heaviness to my heart.  And once again grief brought me to my knees. I asked God to help me understand His purposes.


These "why" questions mingled in my head all day as I thought about Alice.  I thought about her as I planted marigolds. She stayed with me as I made dinner.  And when I closed the blinds in Jonah's room I thought of her husband putting his children to bed, and returning to his own empty room.  I couldn't help but wonder why some prayers for healing are answered, and some seem to drift into a vast and vacant universe.  When and how does God choose to intervene?

In the cool of the evening Jordan and I set out on a directionless bike ride.  We meandered toward the canyon, through neighborhoods, and past the city park.  My questions ruminated with the wheeled motion of my bike and body. As the sun sank, and we turned home, we came upon my lovely neighbor, and had an unexpected but beautiful conversation.  She is a woman I admire greatly.  Lately her days have been filled with the difficult task of helping her son wade through cancer's final days.  He is only 23.  We spoke about the beauties of life and the difficulties of death; about the many practical choices and the constant spiritual questions.

As our conversation surpassed the setting sun a scripture came to my mind. 

For this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
Moses 1:39


All of the questions of my day seemed to filter through the words of this simple scripture.  My mind felt calm as I suddenly and deeply understood that although we often hope, and wait, and pray for God's intervention, He has already intervened on our behalf.  He sent His son to die that we might live again.  His most important work is not to prevent death or pain, but to overcome it.  I felt peace and hope as I contemplated the meaning and promise of that scripture. 

After a few discreet tears and a hug between grieving mothers, Jordan and I peddled home in the dark.  As I approached the lights of my home, I noticed my mind felt clear and my heart felt lighter.  That lightness stayed with me even though a world of pain seemed so present. The weight of my grief was once again balanced by the simplicity of my faith, and by the gift of God's divine intervention.



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Motherhood



Motherhood was once my own selfish pursuit.  When my son was only a beautiful idea, I viewed him as a gift.  I daydreamed about the baby clothes, and soft blankets that would fill our home. I imagined cuddling his tiny body, and pictured the happiness that would arrive at his birth.  I was not mistaken.  Jonah brought a new level of love to our home. But I quickly discovered that motherhood was about more than the joy of a new baby.
My young heart could not anticipate the worry of motherhood.   When Jonah was born we knew something was wrong.  I remember time slowing as the doctor placed Jonah’s long, gooey body on mine.  I gazed at my little stranger, at his red and swollen face, and then noticed his tiny ears.  They were folded, like a flower petal, ready to open.  My mind froze for a moment, until the nurses scooped him off my chest, and I heard the words "cleft palate" and "treacher-collins syndrome."  I told my mom I was so worried, and she soothed me with her gentle words.  The motion of the nurses quickened, and the anxious concern of motherhood settled on me.
When we came home from the hospital my worry was replaced by work.  I knew I could not change our circumstance, but I could work hard to make Jonah’s life beautiful.  So I changed diapers while being tied to a whooshing breast pump.  I met with surgeons, and tried to interpret their jargon.  Tummy time, naptime, bath time, and bedtime began to trump all other activities.  As Jonah got older I chased my naked toddler through the house, laughed at his funny faces, and tried to keep him from throwing everything.  I lost myself in the crazy work of motherhood, and was so grateful to be a mom to such a special boy. 
On a crisp September morning my view of motherhood shifted yet again.  I sat in a sterile hospital room holding my son's precious body.  The words "there is nothing more we can do" seemed to come from a distant voice.  I sang him our lullabies, and whispered in his ear.  My fingers traced the slant of his eyes, and rolled across his folded ears.  I wept, and wailed, and wondered why.  I grasped my chest as I felt my heart being torn from my body.  I knew in that excruciating moment that my heart was tightly sewn to Jonah’s, and that the two could not separate.
Now, seven months later, I continue to feel the tug of Jonah’s heart on mine.  I feel it as I enter the space of his too quiet bedroom, and almost hear his sweet giggle. I feel it as I clean his headstone, instead of reading stories.  I feel it as I search for peace.  It is painful to have your heart stretched across eternities. Yet the pain reminds me that my heart is inextricably tied to his by the worry, work and love of motherhood.  Most of all, the constant pull of my heart to his reminds me that I am still, and will always be, Jonah’s mother. 

Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.  Elizabeth Stone 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Endurance

I couldn't write a blog post on the 29th of April.  Each month as the 29th rolls around I reflect on the passage of time, on another month gone.  But this month, I sat at my keyboard and watched my fingers type whole paragraphs only to be deleted.  I kept writing "seven months" and couldn't get past those two words.  I typed them over and over...not like "The Shining" or anything, just a few times.  I couldn't help but wonder, as they appeared and disappeared before me, which direction I am supposed to be counting.  Is this arbitrary measurement of time moving me towards some finality, or is it merely a record; is it a countdown or just another tally mark on a prison wall?

I was told after Jonah died, that it takes about a year for your mind to accept a devastating loss; that the first year is the hardest.  It seems true.  My mind still does not fully accept or comprehend that Jonah is gone.  When I visit his grave and see the name we chose for him carved in granite I have to remind myself that his body is beneath me instead of beside me.  When I hear the words, "when Jonah died...", follow my breath it takes me a moment to realize the depth and consequence of what I'm saying.  My mind cannot process it, even now, after seven months.  When I am alone it is hard not to feel like he is waiting for me somewhere: in his car seat, at grandma's house, or in his crib.  My heart says, he is really gone, while my eyes scan the corners of his room.

I have subconsciously embedded the year mark as an important milestone in my mind.  So as the months pass I feel like maybe I'm one step closer to a united heart and mind. Until now I have viewed these months of grief like they are the excruciating nipple-bleeding miles of a marathon, painful and challenging, but finite.  But on the 29th, as I typed "seven months," my perspective changed, as it often does.  I realized that I do not really know or comprehend the true distance of the course I am following; there is no clear finish.  Instead I find myself in a state of endurance, a quality which has never been my strong suit.  I seem better suited to short bursts of effort, followed by a nap.  To endure with no promise of quick or timely relief is new territory for me, but seems to me the true nature of grief.

The things we are asked to endure in this life rarely have a definite end.  We each struggle to move forward through our personal struggles with addiction, illness, depression, failed marriages, wayward children, disappointment, pain, and loss.  We long for the promise of pain being lifted, and challenges being removed; a finish line.  But I have come to understand this month that what I have really been promised is strength to endure.

In the New Testament Christ taught:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11: 28-30

We are not always promised that pain will be removed, but that our burdens will be jointly carried.  Our rest does not come from stopping, but from sharing our load.  In my weakest moments I feel the truth of that scripture.

I can no longer view the months that pass as a countdown; I view them as a measure of my strength; they are the measure of a distance traveled.  They show me that I have endured seven months of heartache and grief, and I am still moving.  I have endured great pain and loss, and yet I am still able to love.  The passing months are tally marks, but not on a prison wall.  They are marks on my soul.  They are evidence to me of my new-found ability to endure.