Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Power of Mourning

POMCropWhen I play superheroes with my nephew he declares me Wonder Woman; my name is Dianna after all. I wear two bracelets that protect me and give me power, and I spin around and let my hair twirl. He is Superman and together we can fight evil and save our planet from destruction. I remember watching the TV show, Wonder Woman, as a child. How could my sister and I not love the amazon princess with her invisible plane and lasso of truth? She is beautiful with her long dark hair and she doesn’t need a man to save her.

This July my husband and I took two nights to go away without our son. We became pregnant soon after we met, and our life together has been about being parents. I booked the Rose Room at Shorecrest Bed and Breakfast in Southold, New York, only a few feet from Bayberry Lane where my grandparents built a house in the 80s. My childhood summer memories are there on the North Fork of Long Island where my sister and I would walk to Town Beach along a busy two-lane highway while my yiayia, or grandmother, muttered, “Mesa, mesa, trehounai ta kara.” “Inside, inside, the cars are going so fast,” in her Greenglish dialect, as she pushed us away from the cars with her arms. And the cars were going fast, as my sister and I walked along the road, our beach towels in hand. We often went with our aunt, Matina, who passed away in 2013, and sometimes with our cousins and mother. The house was sold before my grandfather died in 2000.

Last winter my husband took me to Outer Banks, North Carolina. He thought that I would love it so much that I would want to return again and again. I found myself disappointed in the chain restaurants and in the lack of small town charm in the town where we stayed in Kitty Hawk. As we walked along the small town of Greenport this July, adjacent to Southold, he understood what I had missed. No Starbucks. No Home Depot. These old North Fork towns are still quaint, in part because there is no space to build up a Route 1 or Post Road. We visited our dear friend, Vivian, walked to an old lighthouse built in the 1800s, had coffee in a family-owned café and walked along the rocky beach, gathering stones and shells to bring back to our son.

The sun was setting as we walked holding hands and I thought about last summer. I didn’t think that I would still be married in a year last August. My husband and I had very different responses to Mary Rose’s “diagnosis,” to my pregnancy, to the grief of our daughter’s death. I was in the middle of it, finding my footing in the thick molasses of grief. Everything I did took enormous effort. Anchored in the belief that Mary Rose is a blessing, that the experience is beneficial for my soul, that my daughter is with me still, I started to do things slowly, such as attending a MOPS meeting in early September not a month after Mary Rose was born and died. In October I had the courage to attend a birthday party with a Halloween theme. My eyes are sad in the pictures, but I was there and my son played with his friends. The holidays and winter were unbearable, my son’s third birthday, a low point and then I made it through the anniversary of the ultrasound in March. My heart still hurts, still stings, especially seeing photos of all the beautiful, healthy babies born since Mary Rose. Five of my cousins have new babies, the couple who introduced me to Tim have a newborn daughter, and their son, who is the same age as my son holds his living sister. I can’t help but think of the pictures that we have of our small son holding his still sister as we were about to prepare her body for burial. I bless all of these beautiful babies while I miss my daughter. My husband has a good and open heart, but he is able to compartmentalize and stay busy. He didn’t have her milk leaking out of his body after her funeral. Our bodies are different and so are our responses to grief.

So the weekend that we had away felt particularly important. I lived through what I hope was the hardest year of my life. I made it through my birthday and my marriage is intact. Perhaps it is stronger for the wear and tear of such emotional challenges. The innkeeper, Marilyn, prepared a gluten-free breakfast for me. We sat around an antique table in a house built in the 1800s with two other couples speaking of art. I was relaxed and the conversation flowed easily. When we left I was surprised that Mary Rose had not come up in conversation. No one asked me, “How many children do you have?”

We headed back to my parents’ house where our son was enjoying his grandparents and the day before we left for our home in Virginia, I took my husband for a ride to Cold Spring. I love the artistic town and the views of the Hudson River and West Point. We walked into an art gallery and met Maureen Winzig, whose painting “Manifest,” pictured above, caught my attention. In the caption next to the painting Ms. Winzig writes

Power is so subjective. There is power in being illusive, in mourning, in dreaming as much as there is power in fighting for justice. Women and men have their own unique kinds of power. In this series I have chosen to express my thoughts on ‘Finding Power: Women of Courage, Passion, and Character’ in ways that may be overlooked…Women take on the grief of mourning and cleansing the soul and then find the strength to pray for the world and manifest an energy that bursts out from within that most powerful feminine core…

In the painting the woman stands in her light, which is radiated in all directions. Her light is overtaking the darkness, but the darkness is still there in the background. Her posture is one of openness and expansion. Her chin is lifted up as if she is in a power pose. Her chest and shoulders are open. This is a determined woman who knows darkness and light. When I read Ms. Winzig’s words, I thought about the power of mourning. Are we that woman? Could our words and light be illuminating for others going through dark times?

This last year has not been about lessons for me. It has been about walking through inexplicable grief, experiencing the uncomfortable feelings and emotions that came up, many of them from other times in my life. Mary Rose brought up every fear and source of discomfort in my life. Therapy has been vital as we talked and analyzed and blessed so many challenges, the traumas of childhood and a bad first marriage, poverty and abuse in its many forms, and of course grief which has been a theme in my life. Am I more powerful for facing my mourning and allowing my vulnerability to show, creating a space to paint and draw and write about my path?

After Mary Rose died life continued on. A friend was diagnosed with cancer. The young godson of a Facebook friend died of leukemia. Many healthy babies were born, and still more friends are pregnant. My sister moved to another state with her family. Her friend who suffered many miscarriages birthed a healthy girl in her 40s. I wouldn’t know as much as I know if I closed my Facebook account, but I want to stay in touch with my friends and family. I want to bless the beautiful babies and their parents. And I’m glad that not one of their mothers or fathers has experienced a tragic pregnancy as I have.

It is almost August 8th, the one-year anniversary of my beloved daughter’s birth and death. I am writing a book to honor her life and to comfort others. I am whole even as I am aware of my brokenness. This coming Sunday we will offer a memorial service for my baby girl who was buried in her baptismal gown. I will bake a loaf of bread in the Syrian tradition and Father James will read the prayers that my people have read for their ancestors’ souls since the early days of Christianity, and actually before that in the Judaic tradition. My son is almost three and a half and he asks for his sister. But in this time of remembrance my friend is coming to visit, we plan a vacation to be with my sister and her family. The planet continues to turn and our feet are planted on our Earth, roots deepening with each experience.

I am broken and whole.

There is power in words, superheroes and in mourning. Who knew? The power comes from lassoing the intense grief and mourning, which comes from deep, deep love, to fuel our internal Light, even when it is just a spark in our heart center flickering and sputtering to reclaim its shimmering, brilliant light that unites us to Creator and each other. Soon I will travel to visit my nephew and I am packing some cool bracelets. We will walk in our power and make this planet a safer place for all, superhero style. Maybe he will lend me a cape this time.

 

Photograph of “Manifest” is used with permission. Maureen Winzig can be reached through her Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/WinzigArt.

Social Media and Grief

facebooksquareIt is July 2014. I am pregnant with a baby that is dying. I wait and wait. Each day and night is long and feels like a week. By the time my daughter is born in August, I will have had 21 days of contractions. Until then I sit inside most of the summer unable to be active because of pain in my hips and legs and back. I am on my computer where if I cry no one will know. A Facebook friend, who is also a midwife, posts “I hate all things post partum.” She has just given birth to a beautiful healthy son, her second living child. I feel like someone has slapped me in the face. The words sting, and they stay with me for a long time. I know that she does not hate her beautiful new son. What could I say when I knew that I would go through labor to birth a dying baby and walk those long months afterwards healing with my arms empty?

Other Facebook friends complain about their pregnancies. They are uncomfortable or the baby is big and active and kicks once again. I remember how much I wished my daughter would move and grow, how much I wanted a normal pregnancy with kicking and turning. Instead I carried a baby who barely moved and I planned her funeral while I carried her praying that I would meet her alive, even for a moment. After an ectopic pregnancy, a friend listened to her pregnant co-worker complain about the sacrifice of not drinking for nine months. Another friend who suffers from endometriosis and has not conceived a child tells me that she is tired of hearing her pregnant friends complain about the nausea and kicking. “I’m sure that pregnancy is hard,” she says, “but my friends are carrying these miracles.”

There are many women hurting while others seem to take for granted the good fortune of their healthy pregnancies and healthy children. I was childless for 15 years, and remember that constant discussion point around the question “Do you have children?” I could not understand then, and I still do not understand, why this role of motherhood is one that should define us. I was a writer, a grant writer, a teacher, a poetry therapist, but none of that came up in discussions. Mothers talk about their children often. There is no need to ask a woman if she is a mother. She will tell you about her children, even if you don’t ask.

One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage and one in 160 births are still. A certain percentage of newborns and babies die from neonatal illnesses and SIDS, and another percentage of women are infertile. Therefore, there are many of us holding our electronic devices looking at ultrasound photos, birth announcements, and the joys and the complaints of parenthood. How do we take the posts and life trajectories of our friends and colleagues who seem to be clueless about other people’s struggles? They might not mean any harm by their posts, but somehow those words and photos hurt deep inside our broken hearts. It is almost eleven months since Mary Rose was born and pictures of newborns, especially girls, still sting just a little. I bless each baby I see, and remember my sweet Mary Rose, longing to hold her in my arms.

I didn’t know that my friend, Yana, was pregnant at Mary Rose’s funeral. She didn’t tell me for a few months and she never announced her pregnancy on Facebook. She refused to post ultrasound photos. Yana is an academic whose first two pregnancies ended prematurely. Many women work well into their forties putting family on hold until they are established in their field, and sometimes it is too late to conceive then. We discussed Facebook and she said “I won’t put this on Facebook because I don’t know who is looking and who is suffering in her own situation.” Perhaps only those of us who have been on the other side of the “normal” and exhausting joys of parenthood are aware of the pain and emptiness within a woman who wants to hold a living child in her arms.

The way that I have handled social media is to either hide or unfriend anyone who is causing me any disturbance in my inner peace. For people who have hundreds of friends and who are only acquaintances, I don’t think that they will notice when I click “unfriend.” And for those who are closer to me, who might have some interest in my own life, I click “unfollow.” I don’t want to read angry or upsetting posts. I also find myself so overwhelmed by those who post often during the day that I unfollow some dear friends just to limit my exposure and clicking. I can always check back on their wall and I know that my deep and meaningful relationships are alive in person, on the phone, and on Skype.

I know people who have deactivated their Facebook accounts, but I am grateful to my trisomy 18 community and support system that has linked me to other women going through their grieving process. It was in Facebook messages that I got to know my friend, Sindy, who painted “Healing Companion.” I became friends with a dear woman and artist from California, Lakshmi, whose son Siddha was born and died the April before my Mary Rose. I also came to know a woman, Sherri, whose last two pregnancies ended in death due to trisomy 18. Her sons are named Bryson and Ryder. I love these women, though I have never met them. Their babies are in my hearts. We have a mutual understanding in our experiences that few can understand.

One of my friends recently had a grief-related, cyber-bullying experience with one of her Facebook friends and I encouraged her to stay connected online and recognize that she has control over some of the experience by unfriending and unfollowing folks who are causing her any difficult emotions. There are many who look at the dangers of the Internet, but if we use this virtual world to support and encourage each other, then we can use it for good. Most of my support came through a screen as I did not get out much with my pregnancy to Mary Rose. I hated the phone those many long months and am only returning calls recently. I could not control my weeping and I can’t talk while I cry. The phone seemed useless to me after finding out about Mary Rose’s genetic defect. One of my dearest friends, Paige, thought I was upset with her when I didn’t return her calls last spring. I started to cry on the phone thinking that I had hurt my friend. Every word took such effort, and I did not know what would trigger my tears.

It is my hope that we can all be more sensitive to our others, our friends, relatives, bosses, sisters, acquaintances and women who are each walking and maneuvering through their own personal challenges. I don’t have too many answers, but I’m willing to walk and discuss ways that we can become more sensitive to each other’s path. I’m certain that we can make this easier together, by considering the weight of our words and actions, even our inactions. We are connected on the web and in life. Let’s connect our hearts and consider those who are suffering quietly, watching and reading our words through a screen with tears in their eyes.