“Remembrance and reflection how allied. What thin partitions divides sense from thought.” ~ Alexander Pope

Antique Grandfather’s Clock Face

    

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Remembrance, reflection, recrimination, and finally, regret. 

Once upon a time, I had four coffee mugs, each with a different quote by Shakespeare. My favorite mug, the one that I used at work for several different jobs, was the one inscribed with the quote above. That mug is gone now, and I have never been able to find another set of mugs like the first one. 

Odd the things you remember when you least expect it. 

“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” ~ St. Augustine
Antique Clock Face

I’m in a melancholy place. I realize that this state is due in part to Jennifer’s situation and my inability to separate completely what is happening to her from what happened to Caitlin. Last night when Alexis called me to give me an update, she said that she was afraid to call me because I always seemed to get upset. I told her that I wanted her to call, that I needed to know what was going on. 

Jennifer isn’t Caitlin. I know that. I also know that I harbor knowledge that no one should have to have imprinted on memory but unfortunately, too many people do: the names and categories of brain tumors, what a shunt is and how it works, the questions to ask a neurosurgeon and an oncologist. It’s the kind of knowledge that I wish I did not own, never had to incorporate into my life. 

I also know fear, real, palpable fear, the kind of fear that takes over life and makes every second a study in emotional torture: Fear of the unknown and the known, fear of the uncontrollable, fear of that which is in our control, fear of time passing too quickly, and fear of not having enough time. It is the kind of fear that you can know intimately but be unable to articulate, and it certainly cannot be described adequately to inform someone who is in the midst of it. 

“There are places in the heart that do not yet exist; suffering has to enter in for them to come to be.” ~ Léon Bloy
Antique Grandfather's Clock in Antique Store

So many decisions still need to be made, decisions about who will care for Reilly permanently should Jennifer not recover. I remember being Jennifer’s age, remember my own fallibilities at that time, and cannot imagine having to make these decisions with my younger sense of self. 

This is part of the unfairness of fate: only having the knowledge to face the worst when the need for that knowledge no longer exists. I do not believe in that saying that a person is never given more to bear than he or she can handle. These onerous loads are almost always placed upon the people who are most unprepared. That is because most people live life forwards, hoping for the best and guarding against the worst. 

Only people who have touched the face of relentless pain and despair realize that the future is dependent upon the past, that normalcy is a myth. When the impossible becomes reality, it is almost always more than any individual is prepared or able to bear.  Survivors, those left behind, almost always wish not to be. Those who survive are forever changed and not necessarily for the better. Survivors muddle along after the life-cleaving event, never again complacent, some small part always thinking about the worst that can happen. 

The truth is that two kinds of people exist in this world: the whole and the broken. And the whole become broken after sharing intimacy with tragedy. 

“Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.” ~ Pearl S. Buck
Late 19th Century Pocket Watch (Swiss)

As sentient beings we make thousands of choices during our lifetimes. Sometimes the choices are easy, requiring little thought or reflection. Other times, the choices that we make ultimately change the courses of our lives. 

I have made too many choices that I regret, choices about Caitlin, choices about my father, but the decision that I made 12 years ago is the one haunting me today. When I found out that Alan had cancer, I called his sister and asked if I could visit him. I set a date, but on that day, I stayed at school late; I don’t remember why. By the time I was supposed to drive to Alan’s house, I was exhausted. I did not go. 

Alan died before I saw him. At his funeral, his sister told me that he had gotten dressed and had come downstairs on the day that I was supposed to visit. He waited for me. It was one of his lucid days. I know that she did not tell me this to shame me; she was trying to let me know how much Alan still cared about our friendship. 

My reasons for not going that day are worthless. Some of you may wonder why I still think about something I did not do 12 years ago. I can only tell you that I am haunted by my bad decisions, particularly those that directly affected someone else important to me. 

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ~ C. S. Lewis
Old Watches

I’m really not certain as to why this post took this turn. I can only say that after talking with Alexis last night, I was overcome with feelings of regret—the insufferable what-if of life. 

And then last night I did sleep, but it was fitful and filled with disturbing dreams: I had a baby, a girl, and I was amazed that she was talking so soon. Then the girl child turned into a boy child. I was sitting in a waiting room while Corey was in a class. Someone said, “Does anyone know whose baby this is?” 

I said that he belonged to me, but he was supposed to be with his father. The boy came running to me, and I swooped him into my arms. Throughout the dream, my ex kept appearing, and I thought it odd that he would want to spend time with me now that he is living with his girlfriend. Corey was not happy to see him. 

Brett, Alexis and Eamonn were helping their father to drag bags of empty cans into a place for recycling. My ex asked if we would help. The baby disappeared. Corey and I turned away and began walking down a sidewalk. 

I woke up with another headache. 

“In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real.” ~ Libba Bray
Time with Shadows and Light

Chiaroscuro ((k-är-skr): The practice of using the contrast of light and dark pictorially; also called clair-obscur. What a great word and also the perfect description of my life. 

Sometimes I think of life in photographic terms: light and dark, what is seen versus what is shadowed. The images that are crystal clear from a distance can become unfathomable when looked at too closely. And some images that are easily interpreted upon first glance later morph into something that cannot be comprehended when revisited. 

Perhaps this accounts for my preoccupation with the sky: my love for blue skies is matched only by my love for night skies. I am a study in contradictions:  I am comforted by the mountains as well as the sea. What wounds me also nourishes me.

Would that I could be the kind of person who accepts things at face value, who moves through life unfettered by the need to question, to analyze, to disseminate, to cull. Would that allow me to move past the past, to bury all of the speculation and regret? Or perhaps it is just as Oscar Wilde once said: “One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.” 

More later. Peace. 

Music by One Eskimo, “Kandi” 

                                                                                                                                         

Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint 

Never let me lose the marvel
of your statue-like eyes, or the accent
the solitary rose of your breath
places on my cheek at night. 

I am afraid of being, on this shore,
a branchless trunk, and what I most regret
is having no flower, pulp, or clay
for the worm of my despair. 

If you are my hidden treasure,
if you are my cross, my dampened pain,
if I am a dog, and you alone my master, 

never let me lose what I have gained,
and adorn the branches of your river
with leaves of my estranged Autumn.

~ Federico Garcia Lorca

“Sleep no more . . .” ~ Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Hitting a Brick Wall, image by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana

 

“Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep’, the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast . . . ”  ~ William Shakespeare (Macbeth II,2)

Just a quick update. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in many nights/days. Today, I had a caudal injection at my Pain Management Center and have spent the day in bed on the heating pad, napping fitfully.

Sorry not to be posting, but I feel absolutely useless. The picture above reflects my current state perfectly: I feel as if I hit a brick wall while traveling 100 mph. Discombobulated, ringing in my ears, throbbing muscles. Not a pretty sight. Hope to be able to post something more meaningful tomorrow, perhaps.

Until then, more later. Peace.

Classic by Sam Cooke: “A Change is Gonna Come”

 

“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.

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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.