“Follow the tugs in your heart. I think that everyone gets these gentle urges and should listen to them. Even if they sound absolutely insane, they may be worth going for.” ~ Victoria Moran

Gerhard Richter, Untitled 1990, oil on photograph

“Untitled, 1990″ (oil on photograph)
by Gerhard Richter

                   

“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul.” ~ Simone Weil

Friday, late afternoon. Sunny and quite windy, 61 degrees.

I’m hoping that I”ll be able to write an actual post today. I mean, I have my quotes, and I have chosen an artist for my images. Let’s just see if the brain can manufacture some cogent thoughts, string them together well enough that I actually have something to say.

Gerhard Richter, Abstrakt 1989, oil on paper

“Abstrakt 1989″ (oil on paper)
by Gerhard Richter

I just came in from playing a rousing game of stick with Tillie. She has been so neglected lately (she says), especially because I keep bringing that new puppy around and paying so much attention to her, holding her, talking to her, playing with her. Tillie just doesn’t understand what the attraction is and quite frankly, she’s very perturbed with me that I am choosing the new puppy over her. I try to explain that Olivia will be leaving to go to her own home soon, but Tillie isn’t having any of it.

Hence, the undivided attention this afternoon. Dogs are funny, as I’ve said many times before, but dogs are also quite possessive and jealous, which I know from experience, but every time I have the baby for more than a few hours, both Tillie and Alfie start doing things to make me pay more attention to them. All of this makes me wonder if Tillie would actually want us to get another lab for her to play with . . . hmm . . . things that make you go hmm . . .

“We have only fragments—but even this seems fitting, for what is the moment but a fragment of greater time?” ~ Mary Ruefle, from Madness, Rack, and Honey

Gerhard Richter, Untitled 1984, oil on paper

“Untitled 1984″ (oil on paper)
by Gerhard Richter

So I have a real treat for Corey when he gets home: the History Channel show “Vikings.” I’ve recorded all of the episodes for him. I know that he’ll really like it. I’ve watched a couple of episodes, but I’ve decided to wait until Corey is back so that we can watch the rest together.

I have always been intrigued by Vikings, how their clans worked, the loyalties and the familial lineage. I have also always found it very unfair that Vikings were not given the proper credit for finding North America. Oh well, at least they are recognized more in recent history for their successes. Anyway, the show is very well done, and I’m so glad that I stumbled upon it late one night while I was channel surfing.

My other recent television obsession has been HLN’s coverage of the Jodi Arias trial. I have never really watched anything on HLN that has anything to do with current trials, and I find Nancy Grace to be so damned annoying. My mother used to watch the Casey Anthony trial coverage on Nancy Grace, and she would call me up and want to talk about it. Not so much. But I happened upon the Dr. Drew show, and it’s not him that I like so much as the women he has on his panels, criminal psychologists and lawyers. They are a funny group of women, biting wit, and they tell it as they see it. I probably won’t continue to watch after this trial is over, but for now, it’s pretty entertaining.

“Vitrac called chance a ‘lyric force.’  He’s absolutely right.  There’s a kind of dreamy exhilaration in not knowing where one is going.” ~ Charles Simic, from section III of The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks

Yes, my life does seem pretty boring most of the time, doesn’t it? Fortunately, I had a very nice afternoon yesterday. After Olivia went home, my friend Rebecca and I had lunch/dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. I used to work with her at the realty company. Now, she runs her own wedding photography business and is quite successful at it. She’s really come so far from being the marketing assistant I met ten years ago.

Gerhard Richter, Untitled 1985, watercolour and oil on paper

“Untitled 1985″ (watercolour and oil on paper)
by Gerhard Richter

Anyway, we/I decided that it’s really unfortunate that we don’t see each other on a regular basis. She was living in Suffolk, and now she lives outside of Richmond in a suburb with her new husband and her son. I’m making a promise to myself that I’m going to make a real effort to see her at least once a month. Friendship has to be maintained, just like a hairstyle or a diet, and frankly, you get a lot more out of a friendship than a workout.

Don’t ask me. I was going somewhere with the metaphor, but it wandered off in the middle, which is happening more lately. I’m really worried that one of my new medicines is beginning to wreak havoc with my cognitive abilities, kind of like the Topamax did. I know that my mind goes all over the place, but it’s really a pain when I’m looking at something on tumblr, and it causes me to think about something else, and then I blink my eyes, and the thought is gone.

I can’t really figure out any other way of explaining it. Simic (above) says that there is a dreamy exhilaration in not knowing where you’re going, and that can be true, but lately, it’s just plain irritating to get lost in the middle over and over again.

“For we are all bound in stories, and as the years pile up they turn to stone, layer upon layer, building our lives.” ~ Steven Erikson, from The Crippled God

Gerhard Richter, Untitled 1994, oil on photograph

“Untitled 1994″ (oil on photograph)
by Gerhard Richter

Along those same lines, I’m wondering if I am actually physically and mentally capable of going back to get my doctorate. I can’t string together coherent thoughts beyond the first couple of levels. Perhaps it’s a temporary thing, tied in with my inability to write, my inability to concentrate. Hell, I wish I knew what was going on. It’s little things, like not being able to find my download file any more.

Here’s a really stupid example of what I mean: I’ve been trying to remember for over a week something minor that I wanted to mention here, nothing of importance, just one of those “oh, by the way” kind of things, and for the life of me, it won’t come, and then I remember what I’ve forgotten at odd times, like at 3 in the morning when Tillie decides that she really needs to go out.

What is it? Nothing really other than I’ve discovered that centipedes can fly. Those nasty little critters of which I am terrified are back with the warm weather. I saw my first one on the bathroom wall, and as I was watching it—I swear this is true—the bugger jumped off the wall, flew towards me, landed at my feet and started scuttling across the floor at me.

Gerhard Richter, Untitled 1991, oil on photograph

“Untitled 1991″ (oil on photograph)
by Gerhard Richter

Our bathroom is small, which means I didn’t really have anywhere to go, and I was trying not to scream out loud because the boys would laugh at me. I stood on the side of the bathtub until it went under the cabinet.

So………………that’s what I’ve been trying to remember to tell you, and now that it’s out there, I kind of wish I had forgotten it.

Speaking of the bathroom, Corey gets to work on it when he gets home, and I know that he’s really excited about it . . . not. The floor is buckling. I think that we’re going to have to go ahead and gut it, even though we don’t have a secondary bath yet. Too much is falling apart in there, directly tied in to water damage, and it’s the kind of thing that can cause mold, dry rot in the wood, all things we can’t let go without dire consequences.

“Her life—that was the only chance she had—the short season between two silences.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from The Voyage Out

Gerhard Richter, Untitled 1985, watercolour and oil on paper2

“Untitled 1985″ (watercolour and oil on paper)
by Gerhard Richter

So I was looking for a file, of course I don’t remember which one now, but in searching I came across a paper I had written for one of my publishing classes. I opened it and gave it a quick read, and this is what I have deduced: I can write one heck of an academic paper if I want to. I’m not bragging—really—because I’m actually astonished. This has happened to me before: reading something I wrote years ago and being kind of surprised that I was the one who wrote it.

Example—I wrote a paper on Algernon Charles Swinburne in graduate school on his poem “Hertha.” When I ran across that paper many years later I was astounded to see that I had tied the poem’s lyric style to a particular symphony (of course, I can’t remember which one, at the moment), and I had brought in Norse mythology as a back story to Swinburne’s meaning. Who does that? I did, I guess, but be damned if I see that academic in me now.

Gerhard Richter, Untitled 1994, oil on paper

“Untitled 1994″ (oil on paper)
by Gerhard Richter

Was I just faking it? Really, was I just playing the game?

I am so lost sometimes when it comes to understanding myself, my abilities, my strengths and my weaknesses. I hate to say this, but I think that I really am the kind of person who needs external validation for just about everything aspect of my self, or rather, the self that I know is created by others, or something like that.

What do I know, anyway.

More later. Peace.

All images are by German visual artist Gerhard Richter (b. 1932). I was particularly intrigued by his overpainted photographs. To see more of his work and to read about his history, click here.

Music by Night Beds, “22”

                   

Waking

Waking, I look at you sleeping beside me.
It is early and the baby in her crib
has begun her conversation with the gods
that direct her, cooing and making small hoots.
Watching you, I see how your face bears the signs
of our time together—for each objective
description, there is the romantic; for each
scientific fact, there’s the subjective truth—
this line was caused by days at a microscope,
this from when you thought I no longer loved you.
Last night a friend called to say that he intends
to move out; so simple, he and his wife splitting
like a cell into two separate creatures.
What would happen if we divided ourselves?
As two colors blend on a white pad, so we
have become a third color; or better,
as a wire bites into the tree it surrounds,
so we have grown together. Can you believe
how frightening I find this, to know I have
no life except with you? It’s almost enough
to make me destroy it just to protest it.
Always we seemed perched on the brink of chaos.
But today there’s just sunlight and the baby’s
chatter, her wonder at the way light dances
on the wall. How lucky to be ignorant,
to greet joy without a trace of suspicion,
to take that first step without worrying what
comes trailing after, as night trails after day,
or winter summer, or confusion where all
seemed clear and each moment was its own reward.

~ Stephen Dobyns

“You do not see the river of mourning because it lacks one tear of your own.” ~ Antonio Porchia

521px-hammarby_angel_statue

Hammarby Angel, Sweden

“Mourning is not forgetting . . . It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the dust.” ~ Margery Allingham

“Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of the field.” ~ William Shakespeare

yellow-minaiture-roses

Yellow Rose: Memory

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago that has stayed on my mind. A professional woman whose opinion I greatly respect told me that I am still grieving. Her comment momentarily took me aback for two reasons: I had not been talking about the loss of Caitlin. And secondly, it’s such an integral part of my life that I never stop to think about my grief.

But the truth of the matter is that yes, I am still grieving for Caitlin as well as for my father. I lost my baby girl many years ago. She was the second child that I carried, after Alexis, and the reality is that if we had not lost Caitlin, we may never have had the boys. But we did lose Caitlin. She was seven months and 16 days old when she died in my arms. Her death was a result of many things, the first being the malignant brain tumor. Everything else that came after only hastened her death.

The operation to remove the brain tumor was successful in that they were able to remove the entire tumor. I was told that it was the size of an orange. Imagine that girth in the skull of a seven-month-old baby . . . After the operation, Caitlin contracted a staff infection. After she had recovered from that, she began her chemotherapy. Essentially, I would have to say that the chemo probably was the real killer: it depressed her immune system so much that she ended up with pneumocystis, a particularly pernicious strain of pneumonia, the type that people suffering from AIDS can contract. The pneumonia led to her being put on a respirator. The respirator led to first one chest tube and then many chest tubes.

Ultimately, this string of events was too much for her small body. She died as she had spent most of her life: in my arms on a Monday afternoon at 2:42 on November 7.

To say that this day changed my life so completely does not even begin to describe the repercussions of losing my child. To say that I have grieved every day since may sound like hyperbole, but I do not think that it is.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”  ~ William Shakespeare

grieving-angel-statue

Grieving Angel

For the first few years after her death, I visited the cemetery almost every day. Some days, I would sit there at her graveside and just keen until it felt as if my heart were completely empty. Other days, I would just sit and listen to the birds and enjoy the quiet communion. At times, I would imagine how I must appear to a casual observer, but then I realized that anyone who was in the cemetery with me, aside from the workers, was there for their own communions and cared little at all how I appeared.

Eventually, the grief became such an intrinsic part of my life that I believed that it no longer consumed me. Sometimes, the realization of her loss would come upon me unexpectedly, and I had no choice but to give in to the tidal wave of mourning. If these moments happened at home, I would take a shower to mask my tears and the ensuing moans that would escape my body so that Alexis and the boys, who were too young to really comprehend what was wrong, would not see or hear these unasked for echoes of my soul’s despair.

These moments assailed me less and less the more that time passed, but the truth is that they still have not completely disappeared. And now, if they come, they are sometimes a mixture of the loss of both my child and my father, and how completely helpless I felt at both of their deaths.

“When our children die, we drop them into the unknown, shuddering with fear. We know that they go out from us, and we stand, and pity, and wonder.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

After Caitlin died, I went into therapy. It was that or be completely consumed by my grief. I learned a morbid fact in therapy: The loss of a child ranks as second or third on the list of the worst things that can happen to a person. Being a concentration camp survivor tops the list, followed by being a prisoner of war. Sometimes the first two are considered equal in how badly the effect of these events can crush the human psyche.

angel-in-irish-cemetery

Angel in Irish Cemetery

The usual platitude, of course, is that losing a child is unnatural in life’s grand scheme. One is not supposed to outlive a child. But I came to realize that life’s grand scheme was a sham, at least for me. My reasoning was thus: What grand scheme could possibly insert the loss of a child into the fabric of being? I’m not talking about religion or a loving deity here, just fate.

Fate truly is fickle. For how many of us actually have exactly the life that we imagined we would have? How many of us have suffered incredible losses that we could never anticipate? And then I had an epiphany: Fate will never be what you expect it to be. The ancient Greeks knew that, which is probably why they referred to fate in the plural: the Fates.

Fate, for me, was my enemy. It insinuated itself into my existence and wrapped itself around my heart like a tightly-fitting glove. And as a result, I found that my capacity for love was forever changed. Or at least that is how it felt for a while. Let me give you an example: After Caitlin died, I realized that I was holding back in my feelings for her surviving older sister—just at the time that she needed me the most.

It was not a deliberate act. Rather, it was an act of self-preservation; i.e., if I do not allow myself to love completely, then if I lose her, it won’t be as devastating.

This is how insidious the loss of a child can be. One begins to view life myopically. Everything is tinged by the loss, even the love that you still bear for those dearest to you.

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” ~ From The Wonder Years

caitlin-and-me

Together With Caitlin In Normal Times

Fortunately, I was able to overcome my fear of loving my daughter. I realized that I could not let loss control my heart, no matter how much it tried to still my affection. I allowed myself to love completely again, and as a result, I had two more children, two boys. And in allowing myself to love again, I began to live again.

In the years that followed, I attempted to focus more on the time that we had with Caitlin, rather than the agonizing period in which we lost her. But again, as with most things, even this approach was faulty. The reverberations of a loss of such magnitude are farther reaching than most people realize, and to deny my memory the loss was to deny Caitlin’s entire life.

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, Remembering thee.” ~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

angel_statueI have found that people who have never suffered the loss of a child cannot possibly understand just how permanently it shapes your life. I once had someone ask me, in total seriousness, if it wasn’t time that I stopped grieving and moved on. What this person could not possibly comprehend was that I had moved on, but that the process of mourning is a never-ending process.

Like an ocean, mourning ebbs and flows, but it cannot be controlled completely. Time does heal, but simultaneously, time stamps forever in memory the life that was lost.

In the end, I suppose that how we grieve is a reflection of how we live. This was one of the things that ultimately drove an unmoving wedge between my former husband and me. There are those stages of grief that every grief counselor and therapist will tell the mourner about, and then they always add that individuals move through these stages differently. This is what happened to us; we moved through our grief differently, and eventually, separately, and few relationships can withstand such vast differences in functioning.

Which brings me full circle. The truth is that I still carry my grief with me. It is compartmentalized and for the most part governable. But it is omnipresent, and to deny that would be to deny my very existence. I fear forgetting, even though to do so is well nigh impossible because Caitlin will always be a part of who I am, of the face that I present to the rest of the world. And losing her does not negate my love for her.

I buried my beautiful, dark-haired daughter on a brisk November morning, but I did not bury myself with her, as much as I wanted to, tried to. I persisted and endured, and I am stronger for it, but my weakness will always be the loss of my baby girl. This is the pattern of life itself. This is a part of my tapestry, the one that I am still weaving. Perhaps, in some ways, it is the largest part, and it took an insightful remark to remind me of that. But while Caitlin colors every part of my life, she does not overshadow it. And this, more than anything, is probably the reason that I have survived.

There will be more later. Peace.