Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Giant Step.

Confronted regularly now, and consumed by Lily's persistent inquiries after her dad I summoned up the emotional strength to meet with a professional who has extensive experience with children who have endured loss. It was a challenging yet empowering moment - I have been anticipating these conversations with Lily for some time and thus far, have handled them thoughtfully; but I wanted to make sure the language, and concepts, were appropriate for a two year old.

A precocious two year old with a huge heart, and insatiable curiosity.

The therapist's thoughts were comforting and blunt, truthful and bold.
Honesty, she said was the best, even at an early age.

I just say he died? I asked.
Dada died. He got very very sick, not a sickness like what you or I get when we go to the doctor, but a different kind of sickness. One where medicine doesn't work, and his body stopped working.

His body stopped working - the note I wrote down.

His body stopped working.

Note to self, his body stopped working.

Deep breath.

Okaaaay... So that's what I say? Just like that?

Yes. This will be a long process for her and over the years she'll begin to understand more and more and you can elaborate appropriately. For now she'll take in only what she can handle and she may ask over and over again. She won't understand much of it, but it's a beginning. Some day you'll say he had a disease called cancer, but you'll reassure her that most people die when they're very, very old.

A beginning.
I created her dad for her and now I must take him away.
And her Papi too, who passed away last summer.
Who she knew and paints for frequently.
I have never misled her and always told her we can't and won't see them, but "died" took it to a whole new level. Perhaps more so, for me.

I wonder if I should have mailed Lily's valentine to Alan.
She made him one, I mailed it.
I did.
The address just said Dada.
And I put it in the box on my way to work.

Sure enough, 6:34 the next morning, from the crib, she asked.
Wanna see Dada.
Wanna see Dada on Sunday. (Weekdays now a large part of our vocabulary, in no particular order)

Sitting up in bed, with a cheery voice I said, He died, Pumpkin.
Dada died.
And I gave her the scripted explanation.
She gazed toward the window, processing the information.
Dada died, she said.
And then she asked again.
I repeated myself.
She asked about Papi.
Same thing.

Two deaths, one morning.

But it went OK. I said we can look at pictures of them and talk about them.
That is always a nice idea to her. We do that a lot. A comfort to me too.

And it was OK.

On to talk about the day ahead.

I had told the therapist re. heaven that I believe in a more Buddhist approach - that Alan is everywhere - in our hearts, in the nature all around us, in the fiber of her being.

That his spirit is everywhere.
Can I say that?

Sure she said.
Dada's spirit is still with us. Within us. Around us.
She'll take in what she can.

And so she did.
One large step forward, with Alan by our sides.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wait. What? (for real?)

Confession. After watching an episode of Downton Abbey, I stumbled on a reality show about a woman who I think guides soon-to-be-parents through pregnancy prep. All I caught was one couple who felt as though the arrival of their child was doomsday and were in denial of the the wife's largess and then another couple who HAD A FOCUS GROUP to evaluate names for their child.

Come ON.

OK. Yes, it's a reality show (in NYC) and as "real" as they are they're scripted and staged to the nines so perhaps the couple was roped into this idea.
I hope they were.
I hope they were horrified by the idea but wanted to help a desperate producer/friend out. Because it was... Appalling.

Perhaps I'm bitter.
No... No. No. Not over that.
Who leaves a name, that will carry one through life, up to strangers? The last thing I wanted to know was how strangers might feel about our names. One bad association and it's engrained in you forever. Then you can't use it.


Alan and I chose names from a hospital bed. And the best ones had been mulled over for years. We had options for a girl, a boy, two girls, two boys, a girl and a boy, and triplets.

The twins, Alan decided, George and Gracie.
The triplets? Larry, Curly, Mo.
And no, it wasn't the Fentanyl, or morphine talking.
Lily Alan's dad at his finest.

But I am envious of partners who got to plan their entrance into parenthood together. My pregnancy was pretty dark, with dashes of sunlight. There were family members and friends that wanted to be a part of it - wanted to share it with me - and they did. To an extent. But I didn't want anyone but Alan.
I wanted my husband. I wanted the father. I wanted him.
And I had a minor complication with the pregnancy so nothing seemed like a done deal. I just wanted to get to the finish during what should have been a joyful sabbatical from everyday life. Deep down I was overjoyed at the prospect of our child but it was hard to balance the tangible, death, with the intangible - life-on-the-way.

Life Saver on the way.

Lily was my lighthouse and all I wanted was a healthy child.

So the bitterness? It's more about fortunate people who don't know how good they have it.
Buck up, you got yourself there.
With ease.
And you probably had fun too.
No needles, hormones, ice-packs. Chemo.
So don't whine about how you can't deal with baby-proofing, where your "you time" is going, or the over-tanned man who doesn't like the name... Bowen. Jesus.


(See? Good thing they don't know me.)
Is this really what some lose sleep over?

Lucky people. Lucky kids.
You get a life out of this.

Rant... Over.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Alan Around.

Lily turned two at the end of February and I recently found myself thinking about how her actual birthday celebration didn't break me down emotionally as it might have. And I marveled at how I pulled through it with such joy. And then I remembered a moment during the party in which I did find myself in a bubble - looking out at the families around us - moms and dads doting on their kids - feeding them pizza and cupcakes - snapshots of what the two of us are but also what we might have been.

Had we been three.

It was then as I was kneeling next to Lily, perched at the head of her long long table, that I whispered my gratitude for her in her ear and told her how much she is loved by me and her dad and everyone that was there. It was a fleeting moment but one that the two of us shared.

I am grateful that she is such a happy little person, and that our lives are graced by so many old and new friends and family members. It is beautiful to watch her forge friendships - I love hearing her yell to a friend across a room or playground to come swing with her, to come jump with her - I love to hear her exclaim to her teacher "look at me!!" when she and I are dancing together in a class, or to a neighbor as we gallop down our hallway, to her Tio and Tia as they enter a room or to her Granny when she has something to show her. "Do it!!" she'll say to a friend if she wants them to experience the joy of a party blower, or if she wants you to repeat something you've done that she finds hilarious.

She lives life with the transparency of a two year old.
Confident, shy, ebullient, skeptical.

I hope Alan can see how she's evolving into a little girl. No matter how she and I go about our daily lives together, not an hour goes by that he isn't in my thoughts. In our thoughts, as Lily mentions him too. Often.
I want to ride a bus with Dada.
Dada come to Lily's house.
I wanna go there with Mama and Dada (pointing to a picture of me and Alan in Yankees Stadium).

I never want anyone to forget Alan. In snippets I introduce Lily to him every day. Yet every day as she grows closer to him in knowledge, his physical presence here, is one day further away.

But within the last month I was reminded by two different people - how Alan is remembered. And those moments were the best gifts I could ever receive. One acquaintance who had only mingled with Alan at occasional parties commented to me how she remembered his quiet, ever observational presence, his sweet unassuming demeanor; and a dearer friend mentioned to me that Alan had been on his mind a lot last week and proceeded to reflect on Alan's character in so many nice ways.
Then he launched into his disdain for the overly commercial new Yankee Stadium.
And another friend joined in about the scoreboard crowded with logos, & barely visible scores.
Alan was chiming in from above. Nodding his head.
Spitting out sunflower shells as he did.
I know it.

I heard him. I could see him.

Unexpected, heart-stopping, gifts.
I love to talk and to hear about Alan.
Moments like those help to reassure me that his presence is very much alive.

Yes, he's gone, but he's still here.
And Lily will know him.
Through herself, through me, and through the eyes of others.