Sunday, March 31, 2013

The empty tomb

I spent Easter with my husband and kids, my mom and dad, my uncle, my cousin, and his new girlfriend.  :) We then returned to the gravesite for the first time since the burial; it's covered with some nice grass seed now.  Put up a couple of little angel statues, but I'm man I'm far from keeping up with these new neighbors.  Huge palm crosses, tons of plants and pinwheels, rows of lollipops, Easter eggs on sticks, oh yeah and solar-powered lights and toys.  My friends, the crazy "competition" about "who is the best mom" continues beyond death. :) Though in this case, I think the mothers of section 29 at St. Ann's, at the newest section of "Babyland," definitely have a soft spot for each other. I threw some extra petals on nearby graves. I'm tempted to leave my number on a business cards at nearby spots, or my Facebook contact info, just something to connect with those who mourn beside me.
It's been the most deeply meaningful Easter I've ever had, by a long shot. I've never had a grave I thought of daily before. I never understood in such a personal way how amazing the Resurrection story was before: that a tomb that was occupied is empty, and the person was alive.  I can now get the piercing joy of that thought.
(That's the tomb of the Lord in Israel, above.)  I have been carried by all your prayers, so that the great sadness is still mingled with great hope and joy. I am so grateful.
I am both eager to turn the calendar page tomorrow, and terribly sad to do so.  Perpetua was alive and with me this month; she will not be in April.  But I am being gently drawn away from the past, even now. I need to love her and move on, into the next beautiful full month of spring, while knowing part of me will always stay in March, 2013.
It is Easter, and I took time today by the grave to think of the strange moments of beauty in this terrible journey. The moments where death and sorrow touched eternal joy:
  • Seeing the beautiful ultrasound one last time, my baby so perfectly formed even in that terrible stillness.
  • My wonderful nurse Catherine J, who told me everything my panicked mind needed to hear: that I was doing nothing to hurt my baby.  Assured me that I had done my job, which was to carry Perpetua her entire short life.  That now I just needed to put her to rest.
  • Dan taking my hand after the surgery, while I was still dressed in a faded, blood-stained hospital gown, and asking me to marry him again when he gave me back my diamond. He then gravely and grandly recited that he was "hereby endowing me with all his considerable earthly goods, cattle, lands, etc." and I managed my first real smile since I found out.
  • Hearing on the phone--while alone at my dining room table--from the funeral director, that I had a little girl.  Chuckling because, well, I have girls!
  • Having to quickly come up with a name for girl number five, both of us rushing so it could be put on her coffin plaque.  Finding one quickly that felt exactly right.
  • Having my daughters come up with an awesomely cute nickname for her: "Pepper."
  • Finally, finally, finally being able to see her, shower her with love, and say goodbye.  Being able to walk away peacefully, knowing it was time to do so.
  • Having gorgeous, warm, sunny weather at last for the funeral and burial. Seeing my first two butterflies of the season flying right past my face. Finding tiny white flowers already in bloom at her open grave. Hearing so many birds after the sparrow sermon given for her.
  • Having my girls here around me.  And also having them away from me, :) being cared for by wonderful friends so I could be alone with my thoughts of those in heaven.
  • Deeply experiencing God's love through the extremely kind attentions of all of you.  Stumbling home in tears from some morbid chore to see a meal and flowers on my porch, beautiful cards in the mailbox, offers for babysitting on my phone.
I hope you've all had beautiful Easters with your families. I truly have, with both my earthly and heavenly ones.
I know tomorrow, the moment I need it, I will find the courage I don't have right now: to turn from this tumultuous but so precious March to an emptier but more peaceful April. One day at a time...
"O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting? 
Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 15:55,57

Darkest before the dawn

Okay, I wasn't going to post today, anymore than the following: See what I did with this blog?  Eh?  Eh!  You're impressed, huh?  I got all super freaky geeky on you and changed the template to SPRING.  Woah.  That took all of my computer powers for a good three months.  Happy Easter!

But then this happened:

Well, actually that was this morning so things are darker before tomorrow's dawn I guess...  As I noted on the accident report: "Whilst traversing 195 Eastbound on the bridge, a gentlemen in the right hand lane was thrown into panic at the sight of a blue recycling bin in his path.  Rather than damage the innocent if idiotic container, he braked hard and swerved, losing control of his vehicle.  His car then swirled counterclockwise until it met mine.  But thankfully both he and I are all right, it's a beautiful day, and I have a great view of the water while I wait.  Happy Easter!"

Fortunately, I was alone, and no airbags deployed.  Looks like my little girl is already looking out for me. :)

I even made it home in time to take the kids to their egg hunt

with only the mildest of hitches: a. I have to climb through the driver door to get to the passenger side, at least until the adjuster comes out to inspect on Tuesday and b. Cecilia wanted to get only pink eggs.  In her own dark words, "If anyone takes my light pink eggs, I will GET IT FROM THEM."  It took all my efforts of persuasion to convince her that no, she had to share, all the eggs were as good as the others, and actually the golden eggs had prizes (she was most unimpressed with the latter idea.)  I only think we avoided a loud tantrum because she did end up getting the silly pink egg she had in her sights...
Oh dear.

I am now typing in front of "The Bible" on TV, having just come back from my favorite Mass of the whole year: the Easter Vigil.  I highly recommend it for anyone even mildly curious about what's "really" Catholic... it's the most Scripture-packed and symbol-filled liturgy of the year.  And thus, very long.  The total darkness of the church is slowly lit by candles held by the congregation, fire passed from the Easter candle, representing the new life of the Risen Christ.  The story of Creation, the parting of the Red Sea.  Isaiah 55: "All who thirst, come to the water... including v 8 "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways says the Lord." (You aren't kidding, are You?)  Followed right by Isaiah 12: "God is my salvation, I will trust, and will not be afraid..." (Thank you Lord!)  Psalm 19.  Zephaniah 3.  And that's not even half of it.  :)

The Easter story is read.  The crowd is sprinkled with water representing our baptism into God's life.  In our case, the crowd was soaked.  The priest we had gleefully filled up his bucket to the brim, took the hyssop stick (I'm sure there's a fancier name for it but it's a sprinkler-thingie basically) and took his time shaking water at each row.  He then returned back up the aisle, stopping to ask a couple of elderly ladies if they had gotten them well enough on the way down.  Ha!  Anyway, we sing "Alleluia" for the first time since Lent began.  The church's lights come back on suddenly and every candle is lit and bell is run when we sing the words of the angels in Bethlehem "Glory to God in the highest, peace to His people on earth."  Birth, death, and new life.  Salvation come full circle.

Okay yes, I admit I've got a combo of Easter enthusiasm and a sugar high going on right now... Way-hay too much candy on my way home; kids left it in the car, and I'm a firm believer in natural consequences.:) So I'm gonna wrap this up for tonight... :)

But before I do, one of my most favorite parts of this my most favorite service is my most favorite song of Easter, called the "Exultet."  All hyperness aside, it's so outstandingly beautiful. So here are some parts:

"O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!"

God turns our sins to salvation, our death into life, our sorrow into joy.  Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, March 29, 2013

I Will Carry You

So back to yesterday's bible study... Childcare is great but, frankly, it was boring. A video of a very enthusiastic biblical scholar exclaiming her way through the entire book of Hebrews was simply not reaching me. I've been dazed for days anyway. To stop the blank staring I was doing, I started reading ahead in my workbook... Done that trick since grammar school. And a couple pages past the columns where we were suppose to list references to whom the angels ministered to, I ran into a little article regarding the following book:

Great.  Tears had found me again.  It struck me that I had gotten the book hours before I "found out," that this heart-wrenching story had been waiting for me all along.  Read the story, of course; it involved a woman who got bad news about her pregnancy at 20 weeks: that her baby would not be compatible with life outside the womb. It was awful, but she had faith.

Now usually, I mean, personally, I don't seek out literature like this. Yeah, stuff like my current blogging. I have enough to worry about usually, as a mom, then to entertain thoughts of disaster. I mean the very first thing I look for when I hear a tragic story regarding a child is a reason this wouldn't happen to me and my family.  A reason to make worry needless.

And no, I'm not warming up to saying "this could happen to anybody." That's not exactly true, because... if it's not mysteriously in God's perfect plan for someone, it won't happen to them.  Of course, I certainly didn't imagine this would happen to me, or ever think I could "handle" something like this. I don't even think that now. I'm not handling this; I can't.  I'm trying to get through it.

Especially today--Good Friday--I am thinking how suffering is sometimes part of God's plan. However I do take some issue with the somewhat popular comment I've heard that "it's probably for the best that this happened when it did."  Meaning, I take it, that if something was seriously wrong with Perpetua's health, it might have been better for her to die before birth.  But .. that's a real yes and no. Yes, I can see how the longer I knew about and loved and had this baby with me, the more painful it would be to let her go. But... and those who carried babies to term and lost them say this... I wish I could have seen her as she was supposed to be, and held her warm body close.  I really, really do.  To look into her eyes and have had a better goodbye.  Yet even though I didn't get that chance, I am so grateful, and so honored, to have carried her.

I've thought a lot about "carrying" since. Like today at the service, I received communion, getting to "carry" Him for a few minutes, asking Him to fill my great emptiness. Reflecting on Simon helping Jesus carry his cross. How carrying our crosses with His guides us towards salvation. Because yes, Christ opened heaven for us with his death, but our sufferings can be worthwhile too, pushing and pulling us towards our final goal. I can see that with me now... cuz by golly, heaven just got even more appealing to me this week... Even more to love up there now.  :)

I really have felt that Christ is carrying my cross with me, and also is carrying... me.  Like in pictures of Jesus, if He's not carrying a cross what is He carrying? A sheep! One of us. 

True confession time: I stole something.  Well, sorta.  You know when you get those missionary request mailings that include a (completely unrequested) "gift"; i.e. usually a million return address stickers with a reindeer and your name slightly misspelled?  Well, back in like 2005, I got this, attached to a calendar.

Turns out I owe this poor organization about a hundred bucks because I originally ripped open the envelope, said, "ooo good magnet," slapped it on the side of the fridge and forgot about it.  (If you have kids and keep a fridge primarily for its artwork display properties, you understand the eternal need for solid magnets.)  But a couple years later I actually looked at it, cut off the calendar, and fell in love with it.  I love the picture, Christ's expression ("I love this stupid sheep") and the scripture.  Yes, I would totally send them a check if I could remember where it came from... and if they stopped sending me a million return address stickers every year for "Mrs. Katy Dancusse."

Anyway.  :) One of the biggest things parenthood has done for me is to help me get a better idea of God's relationship with us, and I think that magnet typifies that for me.  Christ carries us, His sheep.  And the cross for us.  And hey, kids can be crosses, no?  But we love them so completely anyway, even if they loudly protest the good and reasonable and outstandingly fun plans we have for them, and instead insist on their own absurd ideas of what is really fun: sticking scissors in sockets, throwing rocks downstairs, etc.  And we take away the scissors and the rocks, and say no, you can't go on that particular sleepover with the crazy pitbull, and they wail and tantrum that it's sooo unfair.  Or like most recently, they become fixated on a display of shiny, empty Easter eggs, not comprehending that you are trying to take them away from Walmart to Chuck E Cheese, and how much better that's going to be.

I'm trying hard to focus on the fact that God must--somehow--have an even better plan for Perpetua and I than I had in mind, as completely inconceivable as that is for this one very upset mommy. Because hey, as much as I do love and do trust Him, I'm upset.  I have my moments of really??  Why this way?  Why this moment?  Why why why?  Not that I read the "Crucify Him!" parts of the Gospel today with any personal fervor, but... I'm at the very least, annoyed at my lack of understanding.  I want to see this amazing glory my daughter is experiencing, the same that's in store for me.  I know I'll get a tiny hint tomorrow at the Easter vigil.  I know He has something much better than an empty egg display for me at Walmart.  I know I'm meant for Chuck E Cheese.  In kiddie language, anyway.  Or heck, Disney World.  Heaven. 

I know we're all on our way there, and I'm grateful I can remember it even in this week of "Good" Fridays.  But for now, I find myself in the middle of that most overused "Footprints" poem:

I'm with my Father.  But I'm so tired. The beach looks so long from here. This cross is too big.  I'm too small for all of this.  So I look up to His strength, His love, and His plan and say:

Carry me.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two white roses

Two fantastic (well, relatively) things happened for me today.  Number one: I had no awful task I had to do!  No terrible doctor appointment!  No surgery!  No plot shopping!  No calls from the funeral home!  Or from pathology!  Or wakes!  Or funerals!  Or burials!  Really, it felt good.

Number two: I started the day with chocolate cake for breakfast.  Which I simply should have done before.  I am not responsible.  It was there.  Pre-cut.  Moist.  I did what I had to do.  It was easier than the tedious process of pouring a bowl of cereal, open and closing a bottle of milk... I mean really!  No, that's not responsible, not irresponsible.  I believe there is a "Carrie" responsible for the cake's presence, from this wild meal train that circles me these days... just recovering from a Dawn dinner of enchilada heaven at the moment, actually.  You all have been too good.  I feel spoiled.  And guilty.  And fatter.  :)

Anyway, after my requisite cocoa infusion, I prepared to take four kids to my Bible Study (it has child care.  Which is AWESOME!:)  One where I could be anonymous (and thus, much safer from a public weeping display) because "no one knew."  Well, one person knew, because I had excitedly told her, last Thursday, that I was pregnant.  And last Bible Study, I was.  I had gone straight from there to a routine Obgyn appointment. 

It felt like maybe, in some parallel universe, I was getting a "do-over."  Everything was so the same as last week.  Except I sat in the back in case something particularly stirring was said.

At least I have discovered the point of my pain.  It's where the "before" touches the "after."  Unfortunately, that is everywhere.  In the salsa jar I must have opened when she was alive.  In notes I wrote to myself about getting more preggo shirts.  In the foolish Christmas cards that, yes, I was trying to send out for Easter... :)  In any place at all I had been that was more than seven days ago.  Ouch!  Ouch.  Ouch... 

But quite enough about me.  (For the moment anyway.)  I am truly longing to focus my attention elsewhere for now.  Like the fact that today, we commemorate when Jesus had the Last Supper with His apostles, washed their feet showing us how to be servants of each other, instituted a couple of major sacraments, agonized in the Garden, was betrayed by Judas, arrested by the Jews, interrogated and imprisoned for the night; in other words, a theologically and liturgically exhausting night that would take more than a lifetime to fully understand and appreciate.  I love trying to, usually.  And I love, love, love the services tonight: the Christian Passover, the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the ceremonial washing of feet, the works. 

However I do not love attending night services with young children.  Therefore, my husband and I take turns attending for these three great nights of the year.  So tonight, he was there, and I was at soccer practice with my older girls at the YMCA (figured they needed an activity break), while my three year old chased three little boys with a hard plastic brontosaurus held by the tail and a shockingly hearty RAAAAHHH!  (I distinctly heard two child care workers say in unison, "Oh. My. (expletive)."

So despite the wealth of meaning this day holds, tonight I'm going to just focus on one thing: Particularly these days, I can really appreciate that the Lord voluntarily suffered for me.  I wouldn't choose suffering, personally. I'm not crazy about it actually.  Or unusually "strong."  No, really, I'm not.  I'm just putting one foot in front of the other and holding on to my faith for dear life like any of you would do in a lousy situation. 

Yet God Himself chose to come down to this vale of tears, live a human life, and die a really lousy death because He loves me and wants me with Him forever.  Me and my whole family, living and deceased.  And all of you.  It helps put the events of the past few days in perspective.  That night, He knew what I would suffer this week, and He suffered with me. 

Now for a couple quick pics of a happy moment from my past with a peaceful moment in my present.  Here is a picture of a solitary white rose in the Garden of Olives, taken when I went to Israel.  Okay, it's grainy and ghostly but still.  It was way more beautiful than the picture implies, so use your imagination. A mild, clear evening among ancient trees, the scent of eucalyptus, Gethsemane. 

And here's another white rose, from my bouquet after I "found out."  Some of the red roses disappeared in petals into a little grave.  But the white rose, the one that was supposed to represent the baby?  Going strong, outlasting the red ones I have left.  Cool. 

Thank you Lord.  I love you back.  Hold her close tonight, and us too.  Cuz I know You can do both at once.  We really aren't so far apart, after all.

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried." Isaiah 53:4

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Where all sparrows get to fly

I'm writing this post on my daughter's burial (a couple hours ago) from my husband's work. Naturally. It's a small company, and they really need him, you see. Heap big meeting tomorrow morning and all.   Since a couple of very good friends have (again) taken initiative to watch my kids so we could recover from the events of the day, I figured the least I could do is go to the office with Dan and make everyone feel blisteringly uncomfortable by my quiet grieving presence. I'm in a rule-breaking mood anyway. Though hubby was able to talk me out of serenely telling his co-workers that I was on suicide watch and could not be left alone; nor was I allowed to start wailing in the elevator on the way up to the top floor downtown. Too bad... It seemed pretty funny to me. It's hard not to take advantage of such rich opportunities for practical jokes to create something to smile about.

To be fair, there were genuine smiles today. It was the first day of spring weather in Cranston, first that I had noticed anyway.  I wasn't looking for it; it was just there. Warm sun. Singing birds. My first sighting of butterflies this year. Two flickered right in front of my face, so close I heard their wings. Of course I took it as a sign... How could I not?

I admit I woke this morning in a cold sweat.  Doing something tragic every day for the past five days has taken its toll.  But I was quickly distracted by a bustling morning of breakfast for six, five darker blue and purple dresses and one suit (okay, four darkish dresses... Cecilia, who is happy as a clam in this atmosphere of extra outings and attention, announced "The baby wants me to wear pink! PINK!!" I wasn't going to argue.)  I put on makeup wondering why the heck I bothered when I knew I was going to cry it all off anyway. But on it went, because hope springs eternal. 
Our arrival at the cemetery chapel only five minutes late (a miracle in itself), met up with my parents, and finally found our chapel was Chapel 4 (with all the saints in heaven, you use numbers, really?? Okay fine.) We entered an empty stone chapel with all of two chairs, and a small table before an enormous crucifix.  And then without warning or ceremony, the funeral personnel walked in carrying a familiar white box and placed it on the table.  And then departed.

The priest was late.  Perpetua was there.  My kids were curious, and immediately dumped all their prepared artwork on top of the coffin. Cecilia was attempting to climb the crucifix.
So what do you do? Take pictures with your iPhone of course! A time-honored ritual for grieving.  Gosh, it's hard to know what's right to do when everything feels so wrong... I kept trying to document whatever I would wish I had done looking back when I'm 70 and thinking of the little one I lost. I hope I did it. Golly, I sure tried.

Fr. Wilson finally came, the same priest who had baptized my oldest when she was born at 32 weeks. So glad he could come! Prayerful and compassionate, he began the prayers for the dead; subsection, the death of a child.

The comfort of the familiar ritual was blessedly soothing. Greeting each other with "the Lord be with you; and with your spirit." The prayers for comfort of the bereaved parents, with a slight hiccup when he prayed for "Katie and Paul" (naturally my husband chimed in, "Uh Katie, who's Paul?") Then the reading of the scripture of how not a sparrow falls without the Father's notice.

The pastor then spoke to my children about how much much more we are worth than sparrows. How it is sad when a sparrow dies, especially before it could fly. How we all wished Perpetua could have had her chance to "fly" in this world. But how she was meant for heaven, was born into heaven, to fly in heaven and live the life God has planned for her.

Gosh I'm glad we believe in heaven.

The short service was ended.  I would have had a Mass said if I knew we had a chapel to use, but everything has been so rushed... and perhaps it's for the best since Cecilia would have most certainly scaled the crucifix.  I asked if I could take Perpetua to her final resting place.  The coffin was small, easily portable, the gravesite a stone's throw away.  But naturally, regulations said no. Thankfully it was the last time they could mess with her. I sighed, picking her up for the last time in a quick hug.

Then we made our way to the burial site at the children's section, a.k.a. "Babyland."  (Yep, "Babyland." Good grief.... Filled with spots which, to any child, were awesome outdoor play stations.

Well if you're 18 months old, I can see where the confusion set in.  Then Cecilia (extremely proud of herself) found lollipops.  Yes, apparently, from grave decorations.  I found out a bit late... Oh.  Dear.

Assuring nothing else was broken or swapped from grave to grave kept me distracted till the truck came with this enormous cement box, with a hook and crane to transport it.  Perpetua did fly for a couple moments there, from the truck bed to the earth, and swung to her final resting place. Finally.
What a huge box! "I didn't put diamonds in there" I tried to joke to the crew, then was instantly sad again because she's much more precious.

Yes, it was sad to see my child in a box on the ground. But I had to chuckle at the immensity of the hole and iron security of the huge box for my little baby. And I was glad at the amount of respect she was being shown. This was what every baby at any stage deserved if they left this world too soon. I was happy Perpetua got that.

FYI, grave digging and filling seems like a great job. Unionized, you know. They take their time. An hour to place the coffin, and another hour to get the dirt. While we waited, we had a blanket spread over the absurdly huge box, and strew petals from my roses.  

I didn't mind waiting. It was the last earthly waiting I could do for her. I'd expected to do so much more waiting for this baby: in pediatrician's offices, to come out of the bathroom, to get out of class, to call me on the phone. As it was, all I could wait for now was to see she was covered up while I watched and loved her. I was happy to wait for Perpetua.

A visitor came to the gravesite my kids had apparently dubbed "Most Entertaining" due to the collection of cool solar powered little animals that wiggled their ears and arms.  Cecilia was imitating them and if I'd been in a different mood, I would totally have filmed it.  The grave was for a baby named Faith, and her mom had come with flowers.  She saw me by the open grave and so naturally we hugged each other on sight. Yes that's what women do. We briefly shared our stories. Hers is, in some way, twice as sad as mine... Faith was lost at 34 weeks due to "fetal distress" which is apparently a catch-all term for "we really don't know." The woman insisted I call her and gave me her phone number, because it would "help her to help me."
I know exactly as she feels. After this experience, I want my number to be considered a miscarriage hotline. Seriously. Women should have someone to call when they are in all kinds of mental and physical pain, bleeding and praying their baby "stays in," instead of calling in to a nurse who just says "come in if you soak two pads."  There is no good reason anyone should suffer this alone. I'm grateful that at least this time, as awful as this loss has been, I was never alone. Thanks in part, to all of you.

Soon came Cecilia's favorite part in what was--for her--a pretty entertaining day: the dump truck. "Oh wow!" She kept shouting. Oddly enough, I felt some of her joy and a strange relief when the roar of dirt and rocks fell over the cement box. I actually managed a faint "Woo hoo!"  Perpetua was at rest in every way. I had done all I could. Now to go home to tend to the kids who still need me here before Felicity robbed any more graves or the preschooler had to go potty, and time to start saving up for a headstone...

And that's when the biggest sister broke down in long, aching sobs.  "Mommy, it's just so sad seeing my little sister get buried!" Damn straight Annemarie.  This is sad.  This has all been so sad. Dan and I sat her down on the bench and hugged her tight and spoke of things eternal. And cool grave decorations with holiday themes.

I know this grief and the grieving of my family will be a process never fully completed.  And I don't ever want to be completely "over it."  Part of me is "lost" to heaven now... funny how that actually doesn't sound so bad, come to think of it?  Nothing is ever truly lost with the Lord.  I thank you all for being here with me on this journey. I appreciate that others have suffered with me, and many more than me. I will be really reflecting on the sufferings of Jesus these next few days, and recalling how He conquered death so that we don't have to fear it. How He did all this because He loves little Perpetua. And me.

"Oh my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you into the land of Israel... I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord." Ezekiel 37:12,14

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Being honest

"Richard, I want you to be honest with me."

"Uh okay.  Uh.  Yeah.  It's Katie, right?  Yeah.  Katie, I've got to be honest with you..."

"Excellent Richard.  Thank you.  Just be upfront and tell me.  I've got a pretty good idea.."

"Now look, I'm afraid I have to be honest with you..."

I couldn't help but smile.  And I feel badly!  For someone who loves to make people laugh (yes, that would be me) I have been making so many people nervous lately.  Or suddenly sad.  Or cry on sight.  Or simply stare.  I wonder if it's written on my forehead... but no, that can't be.  When I'm not crying, people seem normal.  Like the guy who shouted at me, "HEY!  Did you nick my car?" when my open van door barely touched his.  (It hadn't.)

But back to Richard.  I'm glad the undertaker got over falling over himself to be honest with me.  He was.  Which was good, because I needed to know.  I was preparing to say goodbye, to place mementos in a beautifully white arms-length coffin, and arrange a tiny pink blanket.  And I knew a D&C and autopsy was no beauty treatment for a little baby.

I know many would disagree with me, and you would have nurses and surgeons and undertakers on your side: Why put yourself through that Katie?  Just let the professionals "handle it."  But I could not live with that, because I am the mother.  And this child, that had been stolen so suddenly by the hospital and then claimed by the funeral home ever since it left my body was finally to be back in my possession for a few brief moments of care.  And I needed that to make all this real.  To have my baby handled by a mom who loved it rather than all the specialists that have been poking and prodding her for days.

Let me put it this way: suppose you were an artist (okay fine, I'm flattering myself :) who'd been working on a masterpiece, daily, for months.  You thought about it all the time.  You poured your heart and soul into improving and protecting it.  You ached all over from working on every angle of it.  The fumes from the paint made you sick most of the time, but it was worth it for what you were creating. 

And then there was an unexpected flood and somehow, your beloved work was ruined.  Completely destroyed. 

You are told this by a third party.  You are devastated, and ask to see what happened.  But you are told that "it is inadvisable."  That it was impossible.  That it was not allowed, for your own good.

Wouldn't you be like "What the h---??  But it's mineI made it, not you.  It's crucial to my happiness, but it means nothing to you... I understand what this was, not you.  I know how best to deal with this, not you.  Why are you trying to protect me from my precious work?"

Well, that would be my reaction anyway, and you are entitled to your own and I will certainly respect it.  But for me, after this most precious work had been removed and stored and examined and tested and transferred... then, and only then, I was finally allowed to review the damage. 

So what do you say when you finally see your beloved work in this condition?

You... sigh.  And start to cry.  And try to sing a lullaby, but settle for a whisper.  You place a little lamb, a tiny angel, a sweet little cross nearby.  You tuck her in the very softest blanket that your husband had just cut to perfect size.  You place the gentlest kiss on the quiet face.  "I'll see you in heaven, sweet thing."  And you slowly close the lid with trembling fingers, and trace a cross on the casket as it snaps shut.

Then, you pull the rest of the tissues out of this weird ivory box, sniffle and blot and dry, and look at the two copper lamps beside the cross that are emitting a strange amber glow.  "Dan, we gotta get us some of these for our living room.  Very uplifting.  A true mood enhancer." You notice that the coffin has a faint golden "Made in Canada" sticker on the side.  "Abundantly untrue," so you peel that off.  You pray a bit in the large room of empty chairs and plush carpet, and then prepare to leave.

The funeral director escorts you to the front door, looking at you as though you are a stick of dynamite near an open flame.  "Please accept my deepest condolences." 

"No.  I cannot accept them.  Oh okay, fine.  Maybe one.  If it's chocolate."

You drive straight to Pinkberry, and get a large.

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb....your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:13,14

Monday, March 25, 2013

As it turns out, we had...

March 25th.  The Feast of the Annunciation, when we celebrate Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel, with her saying yes to His will that she become the mother of God.  I am told that some celebrate this date as the day the world was created; a Byzantine friend of mine once mentioned that.  In Tolkien, it's the date of the destruction of the Ring and the downfall of Barad-dûr (thanks for the head's up, Mark Shea:).  Around here, it's my sister's 30th birthday.  (And yes, I did call her.)

And it's now the day we bought the earthly resting place of Perpetua Grace.

Yeah.  We had a girl.  :)

Collective sigh of... relief?  That we didn't lose our "only boy"?  Well no. Still sad to miss this littlest sister.  But definitely chuckling because now we've had (at least) girl number 5.  Dan and I had been "sure" all along this was a boy.  Now we found ourselves scurrying around for yet another female name.  Except this time, we didn't have to worry about stupid nicknames their classmates would call them in school.  I know all her buddies up there are better than that... and she has so many friends already.  So very many of you have shared your own losses and heartache; I can really smile knowing what a great playdate they all are having up there right now, our angel kids... And we saw March 7th was the "feast day" of Perpetua and Felicity, two early Christians who died for their faith.  And the name kind of goes with her 18 month old sister's, huh? 

Here's Annemarie and Claire helping Daddy pick out a girl's name... They eventually agreed with our choice, and we smiled thinking of calling a little baby "Perpetua." So it was settled.

"Perpetua" meaning "forever" or "eternal," and grace "the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another; favor bestowed or privilege conferred." Also refers to His mercy.  And the very life of God. 

I love her name.  Sounds like she has a beautiful job in the heavenlies.  I'm so proud to be her mommy.

Dan bought me these roses... He said the white one is our baby, and the red roses are our love.  I truly feel right now that we all are surrounded by Love.

It was a surreal day, nodding at a tiny white coffin shown on an I-Pad at the funeral home, being escorted to the cemetery and told by the older gentlemen, kicking at the grass, "Well, I've got this piece right here, lot 169, or you could have 168 over there... Let's see what else is available..."  I looked around dazed at the evidence of many other aching hearts like mine, and those far more broken.  Two and three and six month olds.  Photos of little infant faces and etchings of cherubs.  Sun-faded toddler toys beside pinwheels, spinning madly in the cold wind.  Flowers and easter eggs and a "Happy Birthday" sign.  So much sorrow.  So much hope.  So much to long for.  So much joy to come.

I find myself blurred at the edge of my realities: Perpetua feeling more real to me than the dinner I'm eating, or the toddler screaming for more chocolate milk.  But the thirsty kid in my kitchen needs me; as for Perpetua, I've done my job.  I'm trying to gently guide my shocked mind and body to that reality.  My baby doesn't need my prenatal vitamins anymore.  Just my love.  And I already feel her love shining back with her dear sibling Gabriel. It's hard to put into words, but I'm so very wonderfully sure she is alive.  Gloriously alive and gloriously herself.  So untouched by the petty miseries of winter weather, and burials, and unneeded maternity clothes. 

The universe is both smaller and more vast than ever to me tonight.  Close and far.  Invisible, yet just by a thin veil.  Present and future and eternal.  Love binding it all together and making it perfect, if still incomprehensible.

I'm going to finish crying for the day, say a prayer, and eat some of this chocolate one of you left me.  You all have been crazy good.  It has made this time more bearable.  And then I'll watch "Once" or something.  Or "Amazing Race." I have to take all of this in small doses after awhile...

It looks like the burial will take place on Wednesday morning.  The plot we chose is right beside a statue of Jesus' Mom, at St. Ann's Cemetery.  I've had relatives buried there for centuries now, grandparents, stillborn twin cousins, immigrants from Ireland; it's likely that's my final resting place too, especially now with Perpetua there.  The plot for children overlooks a river, with ducks and trees and brush.  I got her a front row seat to the nature--it will be gorgeous in spring and fall--just to the left of the bench so visitors could spend time in a peaceful spot.  I'm as "happy" with it as I can be.  Though guess what they call the children's section of the cemetery?  "Babyland."  BABYLAND!  I kid you not...  Sounds like a sketchy daycare, you know?

Sometimes, in the midst of the worst of things, you still can't help having a laugh... :)

I'm so glad Easter is near.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Today, I'm...

...learning about the "new me" in the "new normal."

...dry-eyed in the Target baby aisle, but breaking down in a restaurant.

...anxious to know what happened. What the hell happened. _If_ we can find out...

...still excited to find out the gender. Then sad that I'm excited. Then darn it, I'm excited anyway; I want to name my baby...

...wanting to hold my baby still. To curl up beside wherever they are keeping him/her in the lab. To scream at them to be more gentle, more careful, more sensitive. Because it's my heart. grateful for my husband. More than ever before.

...stunned by the generous, super-thoughtful, overwhelming response of ridiculously amazing friends. Feeling guilty getting so much care. And very grateful.

...staring at nothing. Understanding little.

...forgetting how to sing at church.

...laughing for the first time since I found out. Because my girls are so funny! Trying to show you the video here of Felicity performing spontaneous liturgical dance in the cry room to "Were You There."  Doesn't look like the link wants to work today though, ah well...

...feeling like I have nothing left to fear.

...taking nothing for granted.

...knowing my baby's okay now. And that I will be too.

...believing that God is bigger than all of this. Knowing He loves my baby even more than I do. Loving Him for that.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

I have a lot to fess up to. Remember my last post? Yeah I barely do either. But basically it was me complaining that I didn't have time to write (well) all the things I wanted to.

This was one of them.

We had a day after Christmas surprise this year: a positive pregnancy test. Which was quite funny because, well you've read my Christmas post this year. :) Not a "method" surprise mind you; just one of those stupid moments of "oh you really do have to follow the rules, huh?" I had a whole post planned called "a conception conversation" kinda cheeky you know, with basically like, "How 'end of day' does 'end of day' have to be, huh?  Is there like 5% chance less of getting pregnant with every hour you wait?  Oh well, let's find out!" :) Also had a post joshing about how I had successfully found a way to truly stay a lactating Catholic even after this 18 month old finally weans, as opposed to a figurative the "tlc" Catholic, nourishing, nurturing woman I strive to be. I had posts like "top ten things not to say to a pregnant woman" such as to never say, "Well you're not that far along yet... still got a ways to go."  (Try five weeks of morning sickness and then tell a woman five weeks "isn't that far along." And I was going to announce the news with a post called:"What I really gave up for Lent": Soft cheeses.  Sushi.  (sniff) Shark.  (Okay, that wasn't too hard...) My figure.  Etc. :)

So yes, I've been pregnant. I confess that I hid from you months of intense morning sickness to wait for that magic "you can tell" second trimester. And then I was just waiting for the perfect time to blog the big news and use the line of prewritten posts. Not Ash Wednesday. Not during all the Pope excitement. Everyone was sick on that feast day. No time on St. Paddy's. First day of spring? C'mon, it's snowing. Finally I settled on Easter.

I was pregnant yesterday. Today, I'm not. In other words, this post is long and sad. Dear bloggee, do you like things that are long and sad? Very well. Read on, and read on bravely...

Bored and rushed but determined to keep all my prenatal appointments, I started my 1:45 appointment on Thursday with blood work and the inevitable pee test (Dixie cup and sharpee, really??) at my 17-week obgyn visit.

"Any spotting or swelling?"  "Nope!"  (I'm glancing at my I-Phone.  I could do this in my sleep.)  "Great!  Let's check on the little guy's heartbeat this time."  I hop up on the table, got gelled, and glance at my watch.  Dan's lunch break is over in 20 minutes, and he's spending it in the van with my two little ones.  Hoping this will be over soon, but hey, the heartrate is the fun part.

She slid the wand all over my belly, with no success.  This had happened to me before, and I chuckled with the midwife.  "Aw this just happened to me last week. Little rascals of this age love to swim away from my wand. I'll get you across the aisle to get a quick ultrasound heart read."

Of course I was a little nervous.  You always are in this sort of situation, just for form anyway.  But hey, another ultrasound of my cute little guy or gal! Maybe even to find out if it is a guy or a gal! Hubby needed to come for this! I headed out to van to explain lightly that "either my midwife could be slightly incompetent, or something is horribly wrong." I was being extreme. It's an ultrasound! What fun!!

Wish I could say my little ones were well-behaved as they trooped in with my husband. Games of chase led to chair climbing then to under-chair-tunneling. Then the Holy Grail: a water cooler. With lots of cups. Their behavior did not improve when we were taken to a small room with dimmed lights, where they discovered some tiny ants under a chair. They are such girls sometimes. Ants! Eeek!

"Hi, I'm Jill. Pleased to meet you. So have you been feeling movement?"

I had to tell the ultrasound tech that I hadn't.  Yet.  But like every other oh so subtle sign or symptom I could have picked up, there was truly never enough reason to get all worried. Not in my former way of sanely dealing with life anyway. Always obsessive about where I should be developmentally with my pregnancy and what to have and what to avoid, I'd looked it up. 16-22 weeks is a big window of time. Besides, I'd seen my little guy move three times before on ultrasound. No, I wasn't worried at all.

The tech's name was Jill. The name of my first best friend. My prayer warrior and fellow sister-mom today. A thought flashed "Gosh if anything was wrong, it's nice to have a Jill here." I noticed the thought, and put it aside.

No chasing needed today, the wand found my little one immediately. Classic profile, fetal pose, facing up. No wriggling around today. Must be sleepy. My last ultrasound I had the delight of seeing my little guy spring to his/her feet and jump!  I'd never seen a fetus stand upright before, so annoyed was my infant by the tap of the wand. After giggling I'd asked the tech to stop tapping as my little one seemed scared.  She stopped, and my baby settled back down to lay back, sucking its perfect hand with perfect lips. There's the baby now.  Perfectly still.  Still perfect.

My initial delight in seeing the sweet little hands and feet with ten perfect digits led quickly to horror. Where was the tiny flashing heart? I asked Jill. I asked her again. I saw the sheer concentration in the tech's face as she gently told me to relax and be patient.

This was not a normal response. Nor was it normal when the blood flow screen showed activity all around my baby, bu nothing within. Nor was the heart rate screen, which flatlined.

That's when I started to sob and beg incessantly for answers. I was suddenly on a tightrope, where one side was my status quo of maternity shopping and summer plans of great girth, and the other a pit of misery I could not see the bottom of. I think part of me still can't believe the side I fell off on.

My husband was there, mercifully and annoyingly. He was not the mini ultrasound afficidando I was. Long past I had fallen into despair, he sought to lovingly reassure me and in self-preservation delay his own plunge. Only after the second tech came in to "have a look" which ended abruptly with pursed lips and "get the midwife" and the midwife came in looking shell-shocked and she was saying something like I'm sorry and it's really rare but it can happen... all the while my preschooler and toddler were ever more loudly bewailing the presence of six ants, my younger one wanting to nurse and crying shrilly while my preschooler sought to enter the hallway. And dear Jill was blowing her nose and drying her eyes.

I wasn't crying anymore.  I pulled a "Office" movie comment on the midwife.  "Um, yeahhhh. If you could get a doctor, that would be great." I had found a tiny foothold in the precipice. I love my midwives. But Nothing was real till the doctor said it was. Not on Thursday.

The midwife seemed all too happy to comply. We were scurried through back halls to wait in different rooms. The looks on staff faces alone was a dead giveaway; they had apparently bee informed there was a "family coming through who's experiencing a loss."  But no, I hadn't seen the doctor yet.

Then we did. Cecilia immediately grabbed and employed the stapler on every available paper surface. The two women in the room didn't care. Nothing is worse for discipline than grief.

She said the words while I was trying to latch on my greedy and thoroughly annoyed toddler for a nurse so I didn't see her face as she said the words. She was blunt. "I'm sorry but it's a second trimester miscarriage."

I had the natural response I think: Are. You. Sure???  Her reply: "You saw the ultrasound yourself." The ultrasound where the techs refused to confirm the unbelievable stillness I saw. The perfect little head that nodded slightly in the ripples the wand created, then settled back between the perfect little hands. Not like my last three ultrasounds of gasp-worthy cuteness (for me): head-scratching and rolling and yes even jumping, and sucking thumbs and flexing feet. Not my bouncing baby boy or girl.  Here's the jumping pic:

"I'm getting you in for an emergency D&C tomorrow morning. Got to rush it because it's late in the afternoon and we have no good idea how long this had been inside you like this. Could have been a week or two.  Bear with me..."

D&C??? Tomorrow morning!?!? No. From then till now the air of unreality set in. I got on the phone with Dr. Carpentier, the only Creighton doctor in the area (two hours from me), but the first doctor I'd ever met to care so deeply about life from the moment of conception.

And like my other doctor, though with much more evident sorrow, he was recommending a D&C. Dilation and curettage, scraping and suctioning out the womb I'd carfully vitamined and avoided herbal tea for. An abortion procedure. I mentioned this weeping to the rushing and scheduling doctor, on hold on two phones. "No it's not an abortion procedure. The fetus is deceased." She should really bottle that bedside manner...

There's an odd blur that's takes over when you're rushing towards disaster. Turns out time flies when you're terrified too. The blur held on while I called my parents to come. Now. Take my kids. Please!!!! It held on while I told my oldest two at the kitchen table where I grew up that their sibling had gone to heaven. I held my 9 year old while she sobbed, so disappointed there would be no baby in August. I tried again and again to refuse the dollar my oldest was utterly determined to give me, until I realized that in her grief, she grabbed the dearest thing she had near her to console me.

Dan and I then drove slowly through tears, somehow ending up at Chelos for a soup and a sandwich. Only had till midnight to eat, and my Crohns is cruel when I have to fast. I choked on my favorite soup and stared my burger into a chilled, hardened mass. Putting food in my mouth seemed every bit as unnatural as trying to put it in my ears.

We went to church. To kneel and weep before Jesus in the blessed Sacrament in exposition. To pray aloud for ourselves and each other and our separated family. To give the baby God gave us back to Him, who held my child in heaven as surely as I still carried the tiny body on earth. I have rarely been so grateful for my faith. For having a God who is big enough to handle my rage, fatherly enough to hold me through it, and good and wise enough to know exactly the right thing to do for my ultimate happiness, even when I could not disagree more.

Yesterday started normally. I held an empty hope it would continue that way. But then my parents came. And my husband drove me to Women and Infants hospital where we valey parked our ancient car and admissions gave me an "s" tag for surgery beside the nursing moms' store. Pink balloons were being carried while I walked past the spot I had put my youngest in a cars seat for the first time to take her home. We went to floor 2. The non-delivery floor.

I was first informed that my husband could not come with me since they had been having problems with men fainting during their wife's IV insertion. (Guys, really? :) But fortunately God had picked out an angel of a nurse for me. In my rather vast experience of nurses, it seems about a third are heavenly beings of comfort that somehow walk this earth. And Dan got right in and handled my IV very well.

I don't think I stopped crying once while conscious at the hospital.  So when the D&C surgeon/abortionist asked, "How are we doing today?"... I mean, I originally was hoping to say something profoundly pro-life or something.  But it came out very simply.  "Oh, we are so sad!" He put on a convincingly sympathetic expression; "I understand."

I smiled a bit. "Please be gentle with my uterus doctor; I might need it again." He grinned. "And please be gentle with my baby. We love him so much."

He consented to a last ultrasound; my angel nurse had insisted and was already pulling the little machine in. It was a smaller and briefer glimpse, but just as conclusive. "Nothing. I'm sorry." He couldn't give me a picture, but Jill had. "Are you really sure though?" she had asked. Of course I'm really sure. This is the last picture of my beautiful kid.  If I had my way, I would crash a computer full of photos of their birthdays and trikes and laughs and Christmases. I wil gratefully take what I can get.

After I'd wept in the arms of two strangers, the nurse and the (female:) chaplain who both wept with me, I was finally given a sedative. Well it was supposed to be. It seemed to relax me just enough to quiet my sobs and weaken my body and relax my intellect to let go of the chief inhibition I'd been fighting while rendering me most unable to complete it: to fight to save the baby I had already lost.  In other words, to make a run for it.

So when I was wheeled away to the OR and away from my husband, my rational brain that sadly knew my only other option was to wait for a sudden and incomplete labor, delivering my baby sometime and somewhere soon and then going for a D&C anyway.. Well that part shut down. And my reptilian, primal brain stem which sensed my symptom-free body (no spotting, no cramping, no nothing) was being wheeled in to evacuate the beloved contents of my womb, I panicked like a child and fought like a mother bear to leave, shaking uncontrollably, too "sedated" to stop. (I really have to get the name of that most useless drug.)  Man, I'm both totally embarrassed and proud to think of it now... like seriously, Katie? You go girl!!" Every cell of my body screamed that this was totally uncool, completely not kosher, and SO WRONG. 

So I guess I can't really blame them for flat boards suddenly rising from under the table to strap me down, cruciform. My hands were pried from being clamped around my belly and strapped down. Ankles too. Doctors and nurses were scrubbing down and suiting up, some vaguely sad, others slightly annoyed, all committed to the task at hand. The D&C specialist's face appeared through my wild tears: "You have to cooperate. Deep breaths!" And my nose and mouth were cupped.

I told my baby I loved him. I breathed His name.

No sooner did I sense light from under my heavy eyelids then I realized I was sobbing again. (I overheard, "Oh no, here we go again...") I was empty. My belly was deflated. My baby was gone. I begged to hold him/her and was told this was both impossible and undesirable. I begged to differ, to no avail. Someone handed me a rolled up warm blanket which I rocked and pet and hugged and cuddled till chaplain Nancy cradled me in her arms. She joked that she wasn't a priest but Pope Francis might change that. She prayed that God would make my baby into an angel to watch over me. She promised me He wouldn't have let my baby suffer. She said she sensed my little one was an imp, and that he was now playing with his sibling Gabriel whom I'd lost to four years ago in a very early miscarriage. "You see! They're not alone anymore, they are together now! Maybe that's why this happened even..." Nancy theology was quite iffy. She was just perfect.

Dan came. Meds wore off. Nausea came. And lots of vomiting. Sleep came on and off, cuddled by Dan's side, cradling the quilted teddy bear memory case I'd been given to take home.

I got home. I staggered through the door, flashed a bravely fake thumbs-up to my kids, thanked my parents, begged my mom to tuck me in, said "it was so... Awful" and went to sleep.

It was awful. This is awful. But I fully see the many ways it could have been more awful. I came home to four beautiful, healthy girls to cuddle. My grieving husband was somehow at the fateful ultrasound. I had the best possible nurse, Catherine J (ask for her if you go to Women and Infants, she rocks!) I didn't physically suffer at all, or suddenly go into labor in front of my kids, or have to birth my baby alone, without warning, in a rush of blood on a toilet like I had last time, like most miscarrying moms have to. Yes, a woman's heart is big enough to somehow survive even that.

I don't think my little one suffered either. In life I got to see him or her looking so playful and happy. He or she was always surrounded by love. I held him to the end and longer still. And forever will in my heart.

I'm also keeping the Puffs company in business. (Note wimpy attempt at humor)  Tears are leaking from my eyes even when I don't notice them. I know things will get better. I'm not sure exactly when.

Please pray for us. But don't worry excessively for me. I am trying hard to bounce back with every inch of my everyway deflated self.  Doesn't bounce very well but I'm at it.  I know wonderful people. Like yourself.:) I have lots of kids to love on. And if it comes to it, I know there are better products than "cookoo sedative." Heck, I applied for a job last night.  Okay, then I couldn't sleep because every thought makes me cry (how I was going to tell that person, survive that shower, how I can lie on my stomach, where to return my new pregnancy clothes, to donate or store the infant clothes, how my poor Nana was so excited about this.)  And so I stayed up till four writing this... But still.  I'm trying.

One last sad but sweet moment. Well two.  One was that the choir and orchestra was practicing the songs of Easter in the main church as we knelt alone in the chapel: "He has risen up in triumph from the darkness of the grave." And before, as we finally exited the obgyn office with our awful news and awfully behaved kids, the two little one suddenly started to sing. Together. I'm not joking, they don't do that... Instead they fight over whose turn it is to sing or what to sing. They learned that trick from their older sisters. But instead today they sang together in precious lisping voices "tickle tickle wittle stah" all the way down the hall. And I felt like they were singing an innocent baby-friendly dirge for the sibling they don't know they lost but will get to know in heaven.

I miss you tonight, little one. You aren't inside me anymore. I'm so empty, like a tomb. But in a week we will celebrate the glory that comes from the tomb. The end of death. Eternal life. With you, dear one, and your equally dear sibling.

Twinkle twinkle, little stars. I'll always wonder what you are. Sensitive? Athletic? Witty? Mellow? What your smiles look like, your laughs sound like, your skin feels like, and the color of your hair and eyes. How much I want to hold you. How certainly I will. How grateful that I believe I will with every fiber of my fractured heart.  Pray for us as we all long to go Home someday with you.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

I used to think the above verse was God being a trifle obnoxious.  But I finally think I "get" this verse and find it very comforting.  It reminds me that God truly knows what is good, as impossible as His version of good is to understand at times.  My job isn't to figure out what's best for the universe; that's His job.  Mine is to be just, and merciful, humbling holding my Father's hand as He walks with me on the journey He has chosen for me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

I want to and I can't...

Post, that is!  Yes!  Like this! Currently, I am praying for success of the Backyardigans singing and dancing crap to keep my toddler from playing "skydive off the table"... because it is soooo fun to fly trustingly into mommy's arms; she's just sitting there in front of her laptop after all, what use could that be...

Let's catch up.  :D  Oops, no, wait a minute... a large preschooler head is being shoved between my typing hands.  I WANT TO WRITE AND I CAN'T!!  Seriously!  I have ideas and outlines and no free hands right now, no time...

Okay, back to catching up.  (Yeah, I just asked her, "Please not right now, hon."  I'm going to lose my attachment parenting badge...)  Oh no wait, she's still attached to me: a book is now being shoved between my typing hands.  "The Poems of Wordsworth."  Oh she's in my college books I was sorting, nicceee... Cecilia is now shouting at everyone to be quiet because her pretend friend is sleeping.  And guess who climbed back on the table.

Nick Jr. you have failed me.  (Now getting handed open bottles of water.  WHY?!?  They won't drink it... must be a compulsive gift-giving phase.)  The sounds of ripping paper in the background.  Eh, what do I need college books for...

We will catch up later.  I hope.  ("Do you have any money momma! I need it!" She's brandishing a neglected Rice Bowl at me...)  Cuz I mean what a week: bought a couch, changing the whole house around, baby covered in hives (the don't worry just a reaction to a weird virus type), and all the buzz about the Pope of course, St. Patrick's Day I mean hello...

And you know that open water bottle I was talking about?  All over me and the jumping baby.  The sounds of screaming...

I really tried.  I want to be humorous.  I want to be reflective.  I want to look up a scripture.  I would settle for two minutes of quiet but man, this isn't even slice of life, this is stream of consciousness.  Thinking of you though, you bloggees you.  Thanks for reading. :)

One really cool thing I can leave you with though: found this picture of Pope Francis's favorite image of Mary.  As Our Lady Untier of Knots.  That's wicked cool.  I need that.  Heavenly mom, feel free to start right here! :) TLC

P.S.  This is what the toddler looks like right before she jumps. Charming.  That is, it would look like this if you were tilting your head over... Because will my computer let me rotate the photo?  HAHAHA!  Right.  Maybe tomorrow. :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

You had me at "Our Father"...

HABEMUS PAPAM!!  I'm celebrating with you all!  :) A pope from our continent.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, a pope for our time.

Alerted by a text, I was sweeping with great alacrity as I waited for those curtains to open, watching beautiful St. Peter's Square on TV, packed and flashing with lights on a beautiful Roman evening, flags waving.  Toys flew into place over here...

Then he was there, white in robe and countenance.  He looked so fragile just now when he first came out... wanted to give him a hug, ya know?  It was a blessing to pray live for him with people all over the world.  Praying for his courage while being handed perhaps the world's most terrifying job.

But then he spoke, as casually as if he was addressing a Sunday morning congregation in his home parish.  I loved that he invited us all to join in praying the Our Father.  What a moment.

A moment marred only by the fact that my three-year old was in full-scale, fist and foot floor stomping tantrum because I had stopped Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for a glance at history.  I will remind you of this in a few years, dear Cece.  Meanwhile, glad the threat of corner time worked...

In over-zealous Pope Watch excitement, I had been up at 5:30 this morning, tuning on EWTN to see the smoke.  Around 6:45, I realized that 5:30 did not mean 5:30 smoke, and gave up staring dry-eyed at the plain pipe they call a chimney.  I then resolved to get my Pope news from the Facebook feed page.  But I feel so blessed I was able to watch Pope Francis come out on the balcony for the first time.

I am now going to settle in and watch the comments and conspiracy theories fly around the Catholic world.  As for me, I look forward to what God has in store for us with our new Pope! :)

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matthew 16:18

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

This is NOT a....

zit.  See my nose?  No, it's not.  Nope. That, my friends, is where my sweet petite adorable 17 month old (also pictured here, greatly penitent) slammed a mug when she was "feeding" me.  It was about a week ago; it still hurts I wrinkle my nose, it's still red, and--most irritatingly--looks like a zit. And somehow I can't find time for "nose doctor" on my to-do list.

I don't think any of this holds a candle to the Conclave, huh? And yet I keep writing...

Lets see... This past week I was invaded by truly helpful inlaws. You know, the type of inlaws that take vacation time to come see you, help with your kids, and buy your kids a bunch of new furniture for their room. You know, that type. Along with visits from friends who assemble said furniture for you. May you all have such family and friends! Yeah, I'm super lucky.  No, not always lucky, but this past week, yes.  And very grateful.  We have now finally finally finally moved my two oldest into a renovated attic upstairs for their rooms.  Not that I've been like waiting for this or anything... (wooo hoooo!!!! :)

Other than entertaining these people by providing things for them to do, like rooms to rearrange and kids to shop for, my 9 year old had her first harp recital. Well, a duet. And yes, of course I have the video.  She's wearing a new (very colorful) dress purchased by my invading inlaws, naturally.

To close this seemlessly-themed post, I want to leave you with my pics from Rome.  Yes, we went their right after Israel; it was quite the trip.  First, I have a couple of pictures I took of our last two pontiffs while I was there:

No, I didn't know the above was a picture of a pope at the time; I'm not that good.  :) Here's a pic I took from up on top of St. Peter's Basilica; I'm told the smoke stack we'll be watching this week is visible in it...

Here's my boyfriend Dan who climbed up with me (yes, the walls are all curvy inside the dome like that):

Okay fine, here's the Dome too:

And finally, here's (some) proof I took the picture:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Beautiful in time

If, in the words of Paul Simon, it is "terribly strange to be 70," how much stranger still it must be to turn 97.  Which my grandmother did this past week. 

That's her with my dad there, and my two oldest leading the party.  :) As a kid, my family visited her weekly at her apartment, where she lived alone till she was 92 (while legally blind).  I remember trying to appreciate her every Sunday we came, thinking, "Gosh, who knows how long she'll be with us?" 

At her current rate, she'll outlive us all. 

(Mom and I and she.  I know lot's of exciting pics today. :)  Nowadays when I visit her, it's in the nursing home.  Despite her fierce independence, breaking a hip was the last straw in a series of physical maladies that required her to get daily help.  This still irks her no end. 

She sits most of the day in her big chair, praying her beads.  She wears headphones now to amplify sound for her hearing, so it looks as though she's always "tuned in" to some silent music.  On a ribbon around her neck hangs her watch, which she can read with much squinting; macula degeneration was not kind to her.  She listens for footsteps.  And when she realizes you've entered the room, she'll put on a slight frown and waggle her fingers on her lap. 

"Now, who's this?" 

"Just me, Nana."  Or I'll mention whatever child(ren) I've brought with me.  You have to shout.  Even then, she may not hear what you're saying.  Sometimes she'll pretend she did, and then embark on a completely different conversation.

"Katie!  I haven't seen you in ages!"  She will say this regardless of whether it's been two months, two weeks, or two days. 

"I know, Nana.  It's great to see you.  How've you been?"

"Can't complain."  This is abundantly untrue.  She can, and does, and has reason to.  But she likes to try not to. 

"So, who've you seen that you like better than yourself?"

She's fun to sass with. "Why, no one Nana."

She grins.  "Now Katie... you know I don't expect that of you..."

At some point in our every conversation, she will ask this: "Now I have a question for you: why am I still here?"  She asks it with both humor and true sincerity.  And she's not talking about the nursing home.  She's talking about planet Earth.

What can one say?  "Nana, I don't know.  That's a question to ask the good Lord when you see Him."

"Well, apparently He doesn't want me yet."  She's pouting.

"He wants you here, Nana.  You say so many rosaries for all of us.  Maybe if you quit that, He'd take you." 

She's grinning again, in mock horror.  "Now Katie!  You know I'm not going to do that!"

"I know Nana.  Thank you.  We enjoy having you here, after all."

But she's not enjoying it.  She has outlived all of her siblings and most of her friends.  She's even outlived three of her roommates.  She's grateful for how well she is doing mentally, and for the physical abilities she still has.  Yet for a fiercely independent woman, being confined to walker and chair is awful.  Once a constant knitter, she's stopped because she can't bear to know there's mistakes she can't see to fix.  She tries new craft activities, like stringing beads, but it is hard because her fingers don't work.  Everything is hard.  After almost a century of white bread and butter, lots of black coffee, and grueling physical work, she's still here.  "I never thought I'd get so old," she muses, fumbling for her water cup.

Selfishly, I'm delighted she lived so long, as it's been great to get to know her as an adult.  As a kid, Nana really seemed to hold to "children should be seen and not heard."  The mom of four boys, she always combed my hair the wrong way when she did it.  She would always talk about the same friends, names I didn't know.  She had only a few toys in the apartment.  I didn't really appreciate her when I was young.  But I do now.

Her life is a fascinating one.  Born in 1916 (that's like World War I time; it blows my mind!), she was named Elvira Louise Arans.  She hates her name ("How could you do that to a kid?  Katie, don't you ever name a kid after me, promise now!")  She made her peace with "Vera" as a nickname.  Her earliest memories include wood stoves, oil lamps, and horse and buggies.  Her father Bertrum was in the cavalry; she remembers him picking her up to give her a big hug when she was very small.  And that's the only memory she has of him, since he ran off on the family shortly afterwards.  We still aren't a hundred percent sure where he ended up. 

There is much evidence her mother was Native American, a fact which was busily covered up in those days.  (Now it's like way cool, for scholarship purposes at the very least, and I have cousins and siblings rapidly digging up more evidence and attending pow wows meanwhile.  Okay fine, so I've been to a couple myself.:)  Later her mother remarried a man my grandmother greatly respected for his faithfulness to the family, but who would be considered abusive these days.  He didn't believe girls should read, for instance.  She and her sister had to sneak books into the house.  Since her birthday usually fell during Lent, it was usually not celebrated. 

She had to leave school after eighth grade to work in a factory where she packaged toy pianos; "It was common in those days," she says, without a shred of self-pity.  Later, she worked as a housekeeper in the homes of the wealthy, and kept her ears open.  "I got my college education there," she smiles.  Her love of reading has also made up for her lack of schooling.  Today, she fumbles diligently with her old cassette player till she can hear her books. 

Her husband was the handsome "new boy" in the town of Winchendon, Massachusetts.  His father and he had come down from the north after his mom died, leaving his sister in a convent school in Quebec.  As soon as she saw him, she apparently announced to her friends, "I'm going to marry that boy one day."  "And I did!" she still gloats.  She once chuckled and told me her brother Bert publicly presented her with Vaseline for her honeymoon.  "I was mortified!  That cheeky guy!  Don't tell anyone."  (I'm not Nana, just blogging about it.:)

They were very happy.  Moving to Providence because "Roger Williams Park was so beautiful!" they soon had four boys.  When they could, they would walk to Fox Point to get ice cream.  And my grandfather would take his boys down to watch the trains come into the station.  He worked in "cold storage," which I believe means he helped deliver cold meats and milk and other refrigerated items.  He picked up odd construction jobs around the city as well.  And somewhere, he also acquired tuberculosis.  It was just a few years shy of the knowledge of how to treat it successfully. 

If you are ever in the mood for a nice downer of a documentary, watch "On Walden Pond."  That's where my grandfather was sent with his diagnosis, undergoing months of various treatments thought to be helpful at Zambarano Hospital.  Meanwhile, my grandmother sanitized the house in a panic, terrified her boys would get the same disease.  (They never did, though my dad will still test positive to a TB test from the exposure.)  Nana carried a lifelong repulsion to the smell of Pine Sol from that experience.

She took the train to the hospital as often as she could, though the boys could not get too near their father.  My dad remembers his dad's big hand waving from his hospital window.  Nana remembers "Freddy's" good spirits in her presence, even after he also developed meningitis.  She recalls how he always said, "Love you, darlin'" when she left.  And one morning at 5 AM, she got the call.  My dad was 5.  The youngest was 2.  Nana was 34.

I have a few good pictures of the two of them, and one precious recording of my grandparents singing a song at a county fair, with lots of giggling and teasing: "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane."  My grandpa was a goof, happily blaring the silly song while barely in tune, and was urging my Nana to do a solo.  You can hear my Uncle Richard's two-year old noises in the background.  I find it sadly ironic to think that my grandfather never got old enough to need a walking cane.  I find it somewhat comforting that the song is actually about someone getting handed all his things so that he could take "the midnight train" to paradise. 

Here's video of her party with my Grandpa's voice singing:

She was angry at God for awhile, she said, and for a short time was too mad to attend Mass.  After the funeral, she had to move her four boys to the Chad Brown projects, which today are a place you fear bullets but in those days was simply the poor folks housing.  My father remembers a family friendly neighborhood where many were eager to help the bereaved boys.  She refused to move back to Winchendon, worried she could not be a proper mother to her kids with so much family influence on them.  She wanted to raise them herself. 

At one point, an old beau turned up to court her.  She turned him down too.  But she smiles when she recalls, "For awhile, he tried singing outside my window, 'Are You Lonesome Tonight.'  He eventually gave up pursuing me, but he never married."  (She seems slightly flattered on that point.)

Eventually, she attended a Lentan mission preached at her church, and returned to her faith, choosing to be grateful that her husband did not have to suffer long, nor did he lose his mind to the meningitis.  She took up housework while her boys were at school.  She encouraged each of them to go into the military, and they all did.  They all married and had kids.  She is proud of them.  She should be. 

The rest of her life, she lived alone, but had many friends.  She was the president of the activity council at her apartment complex.  She drove her green Volkswagon bug everywhere.  She cleaned rectories for free.  She stuffed bulletins and counted budgets.  She's still a fierce Bingo player, though she now needs help reading her cards.  When she lost her sight, she still lived alone for another ten years, though the driving was over and the cleaning was limited, just as well since decades of scrubbing floors led to very sore knees and knarled hands as it was.  She continued to cook for herself, though she never knew which can she was opening for dinner.  "It's always a surprise," she says.

I am proud of her.  I see much of her in myself: the stubbornness, the tendencies to perfectionism, the independent spirit, all attributes that can be qualities or curses.  She claims something I said to her once really helped her, which I find hard to believe.  While preparing to go away to college after years of being a homeschooler, I was both nervous and in serious pain; arthritis started early for me.  It seems Nana was very worried, but I told her, "You gotta do what you gotta do Nana."  (I don't remember saying this, and am very sure I was just trying to quickly quiet her so I could focus on getting off to my long-awaited college experience without further family interference.)  But somehow, she found the words profound.  "I've always tried to live by that, ever since."  Yet she'd obviously been living that way long before I was born.

I rather wish, for her, that she had remarried and not had to be alone quite so much, yet I admire her wholeheartedness for her husband of ten years, and her unwillingness to compromise on the parent she felt she should be.  I am honored to know her now, and appreciate her prayers for her whole family: she has almost thirty great grandchildren.  I would appreciate your prayers for her too as she enters her 97th year on this earth, that God will give her increasing peace with His unique will for her as she gets ever closer to meeting Him (and shortly giving Him an earful of the questions she's acquired through life.)  May we all continue to age in grace and wisdom ourselves!  Grace and wisdom sounds a lot better than just "aging," eh?

She received many new clothes for her birthday from my parents, who visit her daily.  My dad looks like his dad, a fact which has always given her comfort.  "It's nice to see how he would have aged," she says.  (Dad's version of aging is just slightly less and whiter hair, so it ain't bad.)  As she opened her gifts, her roommate--slightly less refined in language than Nana--would shout out, "Hey Vera!  That looks sexy!  Better look out for the men around here!" 

She stopped unwrapping the red shirt and frowned, "What's she saying now?"

We told her.  She smirked, looking at the bright shirt, eyes twinkling.  "I think I can handle myself."

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11