“We inhabit ourselves without valuing ourselves, unable to see that here, now, this very moment is sacred; but once it’s gone—its value is incontestable.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

 

 Judy Garland

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, and a little more loving, have a little more empathy, and maybe we’d like each other a little bit more.” ~ Judy Garland, Little Girl Lost

I had never before seen the following passage by Judy Garland (1922-1969), and I must admit that I don’t remember where I found it (sorry), but I thought it so poignant that I wanted to share it with you. I must mention, though, that after doing a little digging, I realized that it is in fact not one passage, but rather a collection of Garland’s more memorable quotes.

Behind every cloud is another cloud.
I think there’s something peculiar about me that I haven’t died.

I was born at the age of twelve.

When I walk onstage you should hear my balls clank.

I believe in the idea of the rainbow. And I’ve spent my entire life trying to get over it.

If I am a legend, then why am I so lonely?

I am a chemist. I know what pills I am taking!

The most nightmarish feeling in the world is suddenly to feel like throwing up in front of four thousand people.

At least one wall is shaking.

There is fat and there is bloat.

I’ve either been an enormous success or just a down-and-out failure.

I’m not drunk. I am glazed.

I want to finish this, do you mind?


~ Judy Garland

Judy Garland (Library of Congress)

                   

I don’t claim to be a Garland aficionado, but I have always felt a great deal of empathy and sympathy for the woman who spent almost her entire life manipulated and molded by people—including her own mother—who did not necessarily care about Judy the person, Judy the woman, only Judy Garland, the bankable star.

Garland, who died at 47, suffered from a lifelong battle with self-doubt. Studio executive Louis B. Mayer, misogynist that he was, often belittled her, referring to her as his “little hunchback.” Garland, like other female stars of the time, was put on diet pills to control her weight, and then she was given sedatives so that she could sleep. Little wonder that she became drug and alcohol dependent. Her nose was reshaped in some films, and she was made to wear removable caps on her teeth.

Garland’s adult life was a series of emotional and mental breakdowns, failed relationships and marriages, and suicide attempts. Nevertheless, her acting and singing talents firmly place her among the best performers of all time.

I was never big on The Wizard of Oz, but “Over the Rainbow” holds a special place in my heart as it is one of the songs that I sang to Caitlin over and over as she slept in my arms. In spite of my fondness for “Rainbow,” one of my favorite Garland performances is her rendition of “Smile,”  from “The Judy Garland Show,” followed closely by her performance of “Ol Man River.”

My god, what a voice. Perfect and heartbreaking simultaneously.

More later. Peace.

 

Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

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Yellow Roses by Michele Tramontana from Ramsey Art Gallery

Part 5: Yellow Roses

We put our daughter in the cold November ground on a Thursday. I had called Kathleen on Monday when Caitlin died and asked if she could come. She replied that of course she would be there.

On the Tuesday after Caitlin died, Paul’s mother took the two of us to make arrangements. We purchased a lot in the infant cemetery at Forest Lawn, an old cemetery in Norfolk. We went to a headstone place, and Paul’s mom said that she and Paul’s father would like to buy the headstone for Caitlin’s grave. I asked that the following be inscribed under Caitlin’s birth and death dates: “God hold you in the hollow of his hand and give you peace.”

We made arrangements to hold the funeral service in a funeral home in Ghent in downtown Norfolk. We chose this particular place because it was close to the hospital and medical school, and only a few miles from ODU. We knew that people would be coming from work and many would need to go back to work immediately after the service.

Since her coffin was so small, we only needed two pallbearers. We asked Winn, Pat’s husband, and Chris Hunt, one of our best friends since grade school.

On the day of the funeral, I was handing out Valium like they were Sweet Tarts. We did not have an open casket or a viewing. Caitlin had already been through so much that Paul and I thought that it would be intrusive to put her on display. We did request that the casket be left open before the service so that all of the family could say goodbye. I remember looking down into this small white casket and seeing my beautiful brown-haired daughter lying there. It felt as if the ground beneath me were going to open up and swallow me. Part of me wished that it would.

We had given the funeral home one of Alexis’s dresses that she had worn on her first Easter. The white dress had a very thin band of pink piping, and it had an accompanying bonnet that was very large and trimmed in white lace. Part of the reason for choosing Alexis’s dress was my attempt to tie the two girls together in my memory. They had spent so little time together in real life.

However, I did not want Alexis to come to the funeral. Her preschool teacher volunteered to watch her until later that afternoon. Perhaps it was the wrong decision, but at the time, I really did not feel that Alexis was old enough to handle what was sure to be a very emotional atmosphere at her sister’s funeral. I mean, how could a small child handle what her two grown parents could not?

Before they closed the casket, I put one of Caitlin’s small stuffed animals in the casket with her. Then I kissed her for the last time and walked back into the family waiting area.

My mom and dad had bought the spray for the top of the coffin. Paul and I also requested a vase of yellow roses be placed next to her coffin. I had come to associate yellow roses with Caitlin, but to be honest, I cannot remember why.

The minister from my mother-in-law’s church who had baptized Caitlin performed her service. It was a very personal and moving service. He recalled how when he had visited Caitlin in the hospital the few times before she went into PICU, she would smile at him. Then I read a poem that I had written for Caitlin. At first, I had asked Kathleen to read the poem, but on the actual morning of the funeral, I realized that it was something that I needed to do. I made it through the entire poem without breaking down. Then I sat down and began to weep.

So many people showed up for Caitlin’s funeral: people from the medical school, doctors and nurses from the hospital, all of our family and friends. It was amazing, actually. I remember standing in the little bathroom with Kathleen before the service and watching the people park and get out of their cars. I never expected such a turnout. I also remember hearing the organ playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the background. I turned to Kathleen and said, “That song should never be played on an organ,” even though it was one of the songs that I requested.

The drive to the cemetery afterwards seemed to take forever. Kathleen drove Paul and me. I sat in the front with Kathleen, and Paul sat in the back. I rambled on about inconsequential things, but Paul was silent.

The service at the graveside was short. And then afterwards, kind of spontaneously, I stood to the side so that I could be in the sun. People started to line up to talk to me. We hadn’t expected this, and Paul had already walked off a little to the side to speak to a few of his friends. I just remember hugging so many people, and then, out of the blue, Johnny, my former Catholic boyfriend, was there.

He took me in his arms, and I began to weep uncontrollably. I hadn’t expected to see him, but when I did, I was overwhelmed.

After the funeral we went home, and many people came to the house. My uncle ordered an entire spread of Chinese food, on top of all of the food that other people had brought. I ate nothing. Instead, I sat in my Bentwood rocker holding Caitlin’s bear, and drank wine.

As people left, I pressed food on them, assuring them that Paul and I did not need the extra food. Pat and Winn stayed until the end. Chris and his wife also stayed a long time. Sarah was there, and people from work. After the final guests left, Kathleen told me that she was going to drive back to Alexandria. Part of me really wanted her to stay, but another part of me just wanted to be alone.

Finally, when there was no one left in the house, Paul went for a long run, and I laid down on the bed with my black Lab Mokie and wept. I was certain that I would run out of tears, but it was as I had suspected in the hospital: my tears were endless. You see, while we were still in the hospital those last few days, I was on the verge of tears all of the time. Different people, doctors, nurses, friends, would tell me to go ahead and let it out. I would tell them that I was afraid that once I began to cry that I wouldn’t be able to stop.

The next morning, Paul and I realized that we could not stay in the house a moment longer. I packed hastily, and we drove to the mountains. We stopped by the cemetery on our way out of town, and I pulled a carnation from the flowers that still surrounded her grave. We ended up on Skyline Drive. It was our first time there together. At one of the scenic overlooks, I tossed the carnation over the side, but the wind caught it and blew it back towards me. I had wanted to give Caitlin to the mountains symbolically, but my attempt had failed.

We drove and drove and ended up in Front Royal, Virginia, the other end of Skyline Drive. We stayed in a horrible hotel because we couldn’t find any other lodgings. When we got up, we headed for home and uncertainty.

We picked up Alexis from my parents’ house, and we drove home.

I went into the girls’ bedroom and ritually touched everything that had been Caitlin’s. I was trying to absorb her into my body in any way possible. Some of the clothes that we had brought home from he hospital still smelled of her. I took the outfit that she had been wearing when she was first admitted to the hospital and put it in a sealable bag. For months afterwards, I would open that bag and inhale deeply.

I slept with Caitlin’s bear at night. I moved through the days as if I were surfing on quicksand. I honestly don’t remember very many details about the first couple of months after her death.

I remember finishing up the semester at ODU. My students, some of whom had attended the funeral and sent cards, were incredibly kind when it came time to do my evaluations. My colleagues also very gentle with me.

Christmas came, and it was all that I could do to force myself to make merry for Alexis. Somehow, we managed. I had only bought one present for Caitlin for Christmas, and this was early in September when we all thought that she would be coming home. It was one of those baby gyms that an infant can lie under and kick at and pull on. It remained under the bed.

Our lives had been forever changed. We had no idea how to move on except to move through the days as best we could. We went to one group therapy session for parents who had lost children. The pastor from the hospital had invited us. I spoke; Paul did not. After it was over, Paul looked at me and said that he never wanted to go back. We didn’t.

For parents who have lost a child, life becomes a task of mere survival. Some people are better at it than others. Most marriages do not survive such a loss. Ours survived another 10 years and two more children. We really thought that we had beaten the odds, but in the end, we became another statistic.

Next: The final chapter: A Time for Keening.

                                                                                                 

Part One: Young and Seemingly Immortal (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/14/)

Part Two: Anamchara, My Soul Friend (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/14/)

Part Three: I Dream of Oranges (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/14/)

Part Four: When Life Was Forever Changed (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/)

Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

somewhere-over-the-rainbow1

Somewhere Over the Rainbow (nacedesign.com)

Part 4: When life was forever changed

Caitlin’s stay in the intensive care lasted almost four weeks. During that time, I learned how to read more machines, became close to several nurses and one of the PICU’s attending physicians. The hospital chaplain made frequent visits to see how we were doing.

Caitlin was placed in an isolation room because of her pneumonia and her susceptibility to infections. The isolation room allowed me to stay with her throughout the day, but I was no longer allowed to sleep with her at night. Instead, I slept on vinyl sofas in the parents’ waiting room. Sometimes I would go home in the morning to take a shower and change clothes; other times, I would find a shower and stay at the hospital. More often than not, I would go home for at least an hour and clean a house that no one was living in. While I would be vacuuming, I would weep. Then I would finish up, change clothes, and go back to the hospital.

One of the few times that I did go home to sleep, we were called by the hospital to come back because there was an emergency. I remember driving back to the hospital in silence. I was driving, and I had my emergency flashers on. I suppose that I had wanted to drive so that I could feel in control of something, no matter how insignificant. We went in the back door for staff and were stopped by a security guard who did not know us. He took one look at us and realized what was happening and moved aside. Caitlin had developed an infection around her heart. After that, I rarely left the hospital at night.

I remember arriving back at the PICU one morning, and the night nurse had made Caitlin a bow from paper and had put it in her hair. All of the nurses were very attentive, but usually, it was one of two nurses who cared for Caitlin during the day. They asked for her. The consistency they provided was one of the few things in our lives that was consistent.

I taught as many classes as I was able, but more often than not, I had to have someone fill in for me those last few weeks. I couldn’t bear not to be with Caitlin for more than a few hours, and when I was in the classroom, I was useless, and my students knew it. I had told them at the beginning of the semester that my daughter was very ill and that I would probably be missing some classes. I was admittedly surprised that every student was understanding, that they never complained when I wasn’t there. They were truly a wonderful group of students.

Our friends and family were frequent visitors to keep us company at night. People brought us dinner, played cards, anything to pass the long nights. A few times we spent the night in Paul’s office at the medical school, sleeping on air mattresses. Those times, I would take a shower in the room just off the cadaver room where the medical students practices on bodies that had been donated for research. It was unnerving, to say the least.

When we were left to our own devices, we would walk over to the main hospital and get food from the cafeteria. I mostly remember getting extra large cups of coffee. But each time we went to the cafeteria, I would stop in at the chapel. Paul would wait outside while I made my daily, twice daily, sometimes thrice daily pleas to god to spare my little girl. In all of the times that I was in that chapel, not another soul entered.

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Christmas Muppet Babies Fozzy and Kermit

Because she was hooked up to more monitors, I could no longer bathe and dress Caitlin in the mornings as I had once done. The only personal effects that I could fit in the room were a small cassette player on which I played Disney tapes like Pinocchio and Cinderella, and lullabies, and the nurses let me put a miniature Kermit the Frog on the end of her bed.

It was a special edition Christmas Kermit Muppet Baby. McDonald’s was selling them that season. Alexis saw Kermit and wanted one for herself. My dad took her and got her Kermit and then Fozzy Bear. Alexis recalls that when her Papa went through the drive through and ordered Fozzy, the woman taking the order could not understand his Filipino accent and kept asking what size french fries he wanted. Finally, Alexis yelled Fozzy Bear. It was a little bit of humor in an otherwise very unfunny situation.

The staff also found a way for me to hold my daughter in spite of the wires that spidered out and around. Depending upon her condition that day, I would hold her for as long as they would let me, rocking her in the blue vinyl rocker that they had put in the corner of the room for me. I would sing softly to her: “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Wishful songs more for my comfort than hers, I suppose.

But for me, the most painful reality of those days was that Caitlin had been put in a medical coma so that she wouldn’t fight the respirator. She never opened her eyes and looked at me again after that morning when she was rushed down from her former room. She had the most beautiful brown almond-shaped eyes with long lashes. Some days, it would appear that she was crying, but the nurses assured me that she wasn’t. I never believed them.

raggedy-anne
Raggedy Ann

While Caitlin was in PICU, I became familiar with the other children who were there, just from catching snatches of conversations. One boy, Hobie, was very ill, and his parents were there as frequently as we were. Hobie was a teenager, and I don’t really remember what he was suffering from. I only remember the night that he died: Halloween.

Most of the nurses were dressed up for Halloween, and Hobie’s nurse was dressed as Raggedy Ann. I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I went home in the late afternoon to get Alexis ready for Trick or Treat. That year, she was going as a princess. She had a crown and a magic womp (her pronunciation) and a beautiful pink and lace dress that her grandmother had made for her. Her father took her around for candy as I handed out candy to other people’s children. Once Alexis went to bed, I went back to the hospital. Hobie died that night.

Hobie’s death really affected me for a number of reasons, but mostly because he and Caitlin seemed to be on parallel paths. He would get a chest tube, and then she would get a chest tube. You see, one of the more heinous aspects of being on a respirator for a long time is that the lungs rebel. Caitlin’s oxygen levels would start to drop; alarms would go off, and the doctors would come in and listen.

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X-ray Showing Pneumothorax

The portable x-ray machine would be rolled in, and then after looking at the x-rays, someone would tell me Caitlin had developed a pneumothorax—a collapsed lung that occurs when air leaks from inside the lung to the space between the lung and the chest wall. This meant the insertion of a chest tube to help reinflate the lung. Her oxygen saturation would get better, and everyone would calm down.

They put in chest tubes and then removed them when she seemed to be getting better. The same thing was going on with Hobie. But then, it seemed that they both took a bad turn, and chest tubes kept being inserted. At the most, she had 12 in at once. I joked feebly that she would never want to wear a bikini because of all of the little scars that they were putting on her.

By then, the chances of her getting old enough to wear a bikini were diminishing quickly.

After Hobie died, I began to lose the little hope that I had been clinging to so frenetically. Although I never wanted to admit it, I had to face that Caitlin might not make it out of the PICU. I asked for the minister from my mother-in-law’s church to come to the hospital to baptize Caitlin. It wasn’t that I believed that she could not enter heaven if she weren’t baptized, but it was comforting nonetheless.

On the Sunday after Halloween, she had a very bad day. We all had a bad day. Paul and I decided to go home around dawn to get a few hour’s sleep. Caitlin’s nurse called us at 9 o’clock Monday morning to see when we would be coming back. It was November 7. That had never happened before, a call from the hospital when they knew that we were coming back soon. I knew that it was not good news. When we arrived at the unit, the doctor on call that day took us into his office and told us that the time had come to make a decision. Paul looked at me as if he were completely surprised. I was not.

We asked for a little bit of time. I remember that we walked out of the hospital and walked around the medical complex. It was a beautiful day. Paul asked me what I wanted to do. Wanted. What I wanted was anything but what needed to be done. I told him that I believed that it was time to let her go. As I said the words, I literally felt my heart break. I had never felt so much despair as I did at that moment. Ultimately, he made the decision mine. I hated him for that but never told him.

We went back inside and back into the doctor’s office. We told him what we had decided, but we said that we needed a few hours to call all of the family. We called everyone and told them what was happening. My parents and Paul’s parents and sister arrived at the hospital at around 1 in the afternoon. Everyone filed into the room to say their goodbyes. It had to be done in shifts because of the size of the room.

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Caitlin’s Bear

Then when it was time, they placed Caitlin in my arms, and turned off the respirator. I sang to her. We watched as her breathing slowed and then stopped. It was 2:42 in the afternoon. The monitors had been turned off so that the alarms would not sound. Everyone came into the room one more time, and then we were asked to go out for a few minutes.

When they called us back in, my baby girl was no longer hooked up to any machines. She was lying in the middle of the big hospital bed, and she looked peaceful, or at least, that is how it seemed to me because the machines that were supposed to sustain her were no longer invading her body. I took off the hospital gown and dressed Caitlin for the last time. I put her in a pair of pajamas with little flowers on them. I put on a pair of booties.

Then we took her few belongings and left the hospital for the last time.

End of Part 4.