Not an Unhappy Birthday

June 6, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Posted in Death, Grief, mother, silver lining, traditions | 4 Comments
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“Don’t cry because it is over.  Smile because it happened.”  Dr. Seuss

Today would have been my mother-in-law’s birthday.

Last year at this time the whole family was celebrating her birthday at the beach.  This year is a very different story.  I do not believe that there are any rules in this area.  So, I have made up my own.  On Jake’s and Sawyer’s birthdays I light a candle.   I want to celebrate their birth and their life.

A few other ideas about celebrating a deceased loved one’s birthday are the following:

  • Write the person a letter
  • Visit the cemetery
  • Release balloons
  • Plant a tree in their honor
  • Make a donation in their name
  • Tell stories/look at pictures
  • Whatever brings you any comfort (no matter how slight it might be)

The world is a better place because Jake, Sawyer and my mother-in-law were in it.  Happy Birthday Shelley.

Mixed Up Mother’s Day

May 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Posted in Death, Grief, mother, traditions, twins | 7 Comments
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The definition of a mother is “a woman who has, conceives, gives birth to, or raises a child.”

I am so lucky that I woke up this morning to our two happy twins saying “Happy Mother’s Day!” to me.   I am also so fortunate and grateful that I was able to call my mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day.  I know that there are people whose mothers, grandmothers and/or children have died.  I know that this day can be challenging on many levels.

As I have written about before, I often silently tell myself to “remember the past, hope for the future but live in the present.”  No matter how many times I repeat this saying I cannot help but to think about past Mother’s Days.  .  .

Mother’s Day 2005 – I was pregnant with Jake.  We spent the day with my mom and my grandmother.  My brother, sister-in-law and our 10 month old nephew had the whole family over to their house.  We had not been for the nuchal screening test yet.  I was blissfully ignorant and happy.

Mother’s Day 2006 –  I was in a no (wo)man’s land of mothers.  I was a mother with no child to care for and raise.  Jake had been dead for less than a year.   Evan and I went to the cemetery.  We planned Jake’s unveiling and hoped for the possibility that Jake would one day have a brother or a sister. 

Mother’s Day 2007 – I was pregnant with the twins.  I still felt like I was living in a no (wo)man’s land of motherhood.  Jake had been gone for nearly 2 years.  We went to the cemetery.  We had gone for an OB appointment the Friday before Mother’s Day.  Our OB, who was one of the few people who met Jake, said to me at the end of the appointment that I should be really happy because I was now going to have my first official Mother’s Day.  I still remember how those words cut through me like a knife.

Mother’s Day 2008 – The twins were 10 months old.  According to anyone’s definition I was now a mother.  Jake had been dead for almost 3 years.  I was happily exhausted.  We visited Jake at the cemetery and spent the day with the twins.

Mother’s Day 2009 – I was pregnant with Sawyer.  The twins would be 2 at the end of July.  Jake would have been 4 that August.  We visited Jake at the cemetery and spent the day with the twins.

Mother’s Day 2010 – Sawyer had been dead 4 1/2 months.  The twins were almost 3.  Jake would have been 5.  We visited Jake and Sawyer at the cemetery.  I cried most of the day and tried to play with the twins.

Today we went to the cemetery.  One of the twins left a toy for her brothers.  She said she was leaving the toy to make Jake and Sawyer happy.  As I sit here and write I think she makes me happy.  So do all three of her brothers.

The Unveiling

April 26, 2011 at 6:40 am | Posted in Death, Grief, traditions | 5 Comments
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Since ancient times, it has been the Jewish custom to mark the grave with a stone. After Rachel died, “Jacob erected a monument on Rachel’s grave” (Genesis 35:20). The marker/monument serves to identify the grave so relatives will find it when they visit, honor the memory of the deceased, and identify a place of burial.

It is also the Jewish custom not to place a headstone at the time of burial.  Instead an unveiling is the formal dedication of the headstone. The unveiling usually takes place 12 months after the funeral as a way to mark the end of the formal mourning period. However, the unveiling may take place any time after the first 30 days after the funeral.

June, 2006.  We had an unveiling for Jake 10 months after the funeral.  We made this decision in part because the Rabbi who presided at Jake’s funeral was moving back to California.  Evan and I both wanted the same Rabbi to preside over Jake’s unveiling.  So, Evan agonized over what to write on the headstone before ordering it.  He picked out the font and the border.  I was numb.  My mind did not seem to have the ability to think of anything to write on Jake’s headstone.  Evan did it all and then showed it to me.  We  finalized it and placed the order. 

We knew the headstone would come in a week or 2 before the ceremony was scheduled to take place.  I thought for some reason we would get a call to let us know it had arrived.  There was not a call.  I was still going almost every day to the cemetery.  Evan went with me sometimes and other times I went alone.  One day, we walked up the hill to Jake’s grave and there it was – his headstone.  It was covered with a sheer cloth.  The pit in my stomach which had been there for the past 9 months grew bigger.  We read the headstone over and over.  The dates were wrong.  The font was wrong.

Evan called the cemetery’s office and explained the mistakes.  They assured us that it would be corrected immediately. 

Our families arrived in town for the ceremony.  The day before the unveiling Evan and his mom went to the cemetery.  The sheer cloth was over the headstone.  They read it carefully – JACK.  Evan was beyond furious.  He and his mom went to the office.  The original wrong headstone was still there.  It at least had the right name so it was put back in for Jake’s unveiling.

I do not remember much about the ceremony.  I remember it was hot.  Our family and close friends were there.  Our 1-year-old niece and nephew were also with us and waddling around the cemetery. 

Today, 2011.  It is 16 months since Sawyer died.  In a few days it will be 16 months since his funeral.  We have not ordered a headstone.  We have no plans for an unveiling. Neither of us seem to have the ability to think of what to write on another headstone. I hope to write a post before the end of this year to tell you about Sawyer’s unveiling. . .

Sawyer’s Story (part 14): Seeing Sawyer

March 29, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Posted in Death, funeral, Grief, mourning | 3 Comments
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All I wanted to do was see Sawyer again and hold him.  Somehow I thought none of this would be true if I saw him.  He would not really be dead if I held him and talked to him. 

Me & Sawyer

Evan and I made calls to the funeral home and the cemetery.  Both the people who helped us with Jake’s funeral arrangements were still there.  We made appointments to plan another funeral.  I just wanted to know when we could see Sawyer.  His body had been taken to the medical examiner’s office.  After the autopsy he would be brought to the funeral home. 

We went to the funeral home.   Evan and I sat in the same room we had been in 4 years earlier. We had the meeting about the casket, the service and all the other arrangements.  It was not a long meeting.  Just like with Jake there was no choice of casket.  There is only one size casket for babies. 

The meeting was over and Sawyer had not arrived.  We were told that we would not be able to see him till the next day. 

We thought of you with love today,
but that is nothing new.
We thought about you yesterday,
and the day before that, too.
We think of you in silence,
We often say your name,
But all we have is memories
and your picture in a frame.
Your memory is our keepsake,
with which we’ll never part.
God has you in his keeping,
We have you in our hearts.

We shed tears for what might have been,
a million times we’ve cried.
If love alone could have saved you,
you never would have died.
In life we loved you dearly,
in death we  love you still,
In our hearts you hold a place
no one could ever fill.
It broke our hearts to lose you,
but you didn’t go alone,
For part of us went with you. 
                – Author Unknown

Yahrzeit

December 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Posted in Death, Grief, mourning, traditions | 13 Comments
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As I wrote in this post, I really appreciate most of the Jewish mourning customs.  And for the most part I am on board with observing the Yahrzeit, a time of remembering the dead by reciting the Kaddish, lighting a 24-hour candle, and remembering the person who has died.  The Yahrzeit falls annually on the Hebrew date of the deceased relative’s death according to the Jewish calendar as opposed to the secular calendar.  

My only issue with observing Sawyer’s yahrzeit (not counting the fact that I cannot spell the word) is that according to the Jewish calendar Sawyer’s yahrzeit is tomorrow.  And, like most Jewish holidays it begins at sunset the night before and lasts for 24 hours.  Tonight we will light a candle and say a prayer for our sweet baby boy.  

We will say kaddish, a mourner’s prayer.   Anita Diamant writes in her book Saying Kaddish, that “Kaddish reminds mourners of their obligation both to dream of a world of peace and to build it — without delay.” I think this means that I should continue to repeat to myself the phrase I have already mentioned in an earlier post.  “Remember the past, hope for the future but live in the present.”  And thanks to my very wise and close friend I have a new quote from the movie Kung Fu Panda:

“There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” ”

No promises that I can do this but I will try not to dwell on how different our lives were a year ago.  I will try hard not think about the secular anniversary of Sawyer’s death because it is not today.  I will try to stay focused on today’s gift.

11 Months

October 18, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Posted in mourning, silver lining, traditions | 10 Comments

Yesterday we should have been taking 11 month pictures of Sawyer.   A very close and clever friend told me about taking pictures of her son with a sign of his age.   She said it makes it easier to go back and put the pictures in a scrapbook.   Well, I have yet to make any scrapbooks but I did borrow her idea and take the pictures.  

Every month I would print a sign.  We would put the twins in pottery barn chairs from their great grandparents.  One of us would sing head, shoulders, knees and toes and the other one would snap as many pictures as possible.   Hopefully, we would get both twins looking at the camera and/or smiles.   For example: 

Smiles, sort of looking at the camera

Both looking at the camera, no smiles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day after taking the pictures I would email them to family and friends. Jake only lived 2 weeks so we were not able to take any month pictures. On December 17th, 2009 we did take 1 month pictures of Sawyer. We improvised and used one of the twins’ chairs with a Sawyer towel over the name. Sawyer’s pottery barn chair arrived in the mail the week after he passed away. Here is one of those pictures.

Sawyer - 1 month

Today, the day I should be sending out Sawyer’s 11 month pictures, I  am instead emailing this blog.  And, the twins’ 11 month picture:

1 smiling & looking at camera; both - haircuts

Faith & Hope

October 15, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Posted in silver lining, traditions | 10 Comments

Before I write today’s post I want to amend part of this post with two items. 

1.  The comments from my cousin David and The Good Cook are true.   The ending to our story is not tragic.   There is faith and hope.   There are possibilities for today and for the future.  Forgive me, some days I just have trouble remembering these things.

2.  After the balloon launch the twins asked to go see Sawyer and Jake at the cemetery.  They wanted to make sure that their brothers got the balloons. . .

Now back to today’s post –  At 7 pm tonight we will light candles.   As part of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month parents will light candles in honor of their babies.   The candles we will light tonight are hand-made.  Tara and Megan, the co-founders of the Walk to Remember in which we participate, make the candles.   Very impressive and thank you again for all you both do.

Today I will try extra hard to remember faith and hope. 

“When you come to the edge of all the light you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen:  There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.”   – Author Unknown (borrowed from the Walk to Remember program)

Maybe the light from all the candles will make the darkness of the unknown a little brighter. 

And, as I do every day I will remember all of those no longer physically with us.  

Jake

Sawyer

October

October 13, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Death, Grief, mourning, parents, pregnancy, silver lining, traditions | 15 Comments

Many of you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.   What you might not know is that October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month.  In 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed October to be Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month.

In October of 1988 I was a freshman in college.   Not only did not know about this proclamation or personally know any bereaved parents, I could not have envisioned in a million years that one day I would be a bereaved parent who would bury two children.

This past weekend we participated in a Walk to Remember.  Across the country thousands (maybe millions) of families walked to remember their little loved ones.   Thank you so much to  the organizers of our walk – Tara, Megan and Aimee.

Evan and I have walked since 2006 in memory of Jake.  Now we walk for Sawyer too.   The event starts with a few speeches.  I am always in awe (and in tears) during these speeches given by bereaved parents.   The stories are all unique in many ways but also the same.     They all have the same tragic ending.

This year I looked around the crowd.  So many families.   So many babies who are no longer with us.   So much heart-break, sadness and loss.   We, along with the other families at the walk last weekend, have the “fear of the unknown. . .behind us, for most of us, because we have already taken a long look at hell.” The Bereaved Parent by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff

After the speeches there is a very short walk.   Note:  Just to clarify this year and last year we did not actually walk.   One of the twins had an accident requiring a two adult clean up right before the walking part of the event this year and last year

The twins writing to Sawyer and Jake

The last part of the event is a balloon launch.   We all write notes to our babies on butterfly shaped paper.  This year the twins had a big discussion about what to write on their notes.   We are not exactly sure about the topics covered in the discussion but they both completed their notes to their brothers.   We then had to explain to the twins that we needed to attach the notes to the balloon strings.   Attaching the notes to the balloons was ok with the twins.   The next part, letting go of the balloons, took some convincing.    Evan and I have gone to great lengths to emphasize the importance of holding onto balloons.   We were sending very mixed parenting signals.   However, we finally were able to pry their little hands off of the balloon strings.    And the notes were lovingly sent to Jake, Sawyer and all the other babies we remember.

Emily Post, may I please have an etiquette extension?

October 4, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Posted in Death, Grief, traditions | 12 Comments

I should clarify from my last post, I do open mail.   I just don’t open it until it is screened.   My superior high-tech method of screening is Evan.   As I mentioned in this post, there are many things that I can’t handle these days – which by default (or by choice in some cases) fall to Evan.   Opening mail is in that category.

Writing letters is a different story.   The old me used to be pretty good at writing thank you notes.   From a young age I remember my late Aunt Harriett discussing with me (or maybe talking to my mom about me. . .) the importance of writing notes and cards.   Aunt Harriett definitely inspired me to correspond timely.

After Jake passed away I wrote thank you notes to everyone.   I cried as I wrote.   I felt like I was accomplishing something – or rather doing something for Jake.   The endless list of things I would never do for Jake did not include writing those thank you notes.   

When the twins arrived I diligently wrote thank you notes.   I did not cry writing those notes.   I was pretty sleep deprived so the notes may not have made any sense but they were written and mailed. 

Since Sawyer died I can not write a single note.  I know it is part of my grieving process but I just can’t seem to do it.   I have joked many times that Emily Post does not have a rule for me yet.   Recently, I was surprised to learn that she does have a rule:

“No one expects a long letter, nor does any one look for an early reply. A personal word on a visiting card is all any one asks for. The envelope may be addressed by some one else.”

Luckily for me Emily Post is not super strict:

“There is no official time frame for writing notes of appreciation to those who have extended their condolences and kindness to you.”

I am going to interpret this to mean that Ms. Post has granted me my extension. . .

Jake and Sawyer’s notes have this quote on the front of the card: 

What we have once enjoyed we can never lose;
All that we love deeply, becomes a part of us.
Helen Keller

And this quote applies to all four of our children:

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, not touched.
But are felt in the heart.

Helen Keller

Sitting Shiva

September 16, 2010 at 11:50 pm | Posted in funeral, mourning, traditions | 4 Comments

I am uncertain about my religious beliefs these days – especially since Sawyer passed away.   However, I am very certain that I really appreciate the Jewish mourning customs.   As I mentioned in this post, I am a big fan of the shomerim.  Another Jewish custom that I appreciated was that funerals must be held as soon as possible.   Jake’s funeral was approximately 30 hours after he passed away.

As we left the funeral two rows of people formed.  Evan and I walked through the rows and for the first time I was distracted from my vision of Jake’s casket.   The friends and family surrounded us to offer their condolences.   I had not realized until this point that Jake had impacted so many people. 

After the funeral it is the Jewish custom to sit shiva.  “Shiva” is derived from the word sheva which means seven.   Shiva is the mourning period during the first seven days following a death.  I cannot imagine what would have happened to me and Evan if we had come home from Jake’s funeral to an empty house.   The fact that friends and family were at our house constantly during those first few days was so helpful (not to mention it probably kept me from completely losing it. . .).

In the back of my brain I knew that there would be a day, not so far from then that I would be alone in the house.   Evan would go back to work.  Friends and family would go about their lives (as they should).  I would have to figure out what was next.  How would I get through the days and the nights in a world without Jake (and now Sawyer)?  But, that day – the day of Jake’s funeral I did not have to think about the days ahead.   I felt a bit like Scarlett O’Hara when she wanted to escape reality.   “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

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