Our God is in Control

Today’s the day.

Three years ago today, it was Mother’s Day and I delivered my twin daughters by emergency c-section at 28 weeks and 2 days.

Fiona had died eight weeks earlier and Brigid made her way into the world silently.  She was whisked away to the NICU while I recovered from surgery.  I remember I had to beg to see Fiona because she looked so bad that they didn’t want to show her to me.  I am so thankful that I insisted. I had to tell them that I knew she was not going to look normal, but I still wanted to see her.  The morning before my in utero surgery was the last time I felt her move.  I needed her to stay alive until the surgery or else we couldn’t have it.  That morning, I cried and rubbed the spot on my belly where I knew she was, pressed up against my right side, praying that she had made it through the night.  And she gave me a little kick as if to let me know. Our sweet girl held on just long enough to save the life of her sister, and I wanted to hold her and thank her for that.  The nurse offered to take photographs of her for us.  I am so grateful that she did.

I was wheeled into the NICU to see Brigid and then back to my room to recover.  But that recovery did not include rest.  It involved visits from clergy and bereavement counselors and people asking what we wanted to do with Fiona’s body and NICU doctors giving me updates and packets of information about funeral homes.  It was so much to process – one tiny baby hanging on in the NICU and the other needing me to make decisions about how to “handle” her remains.  I was overwhelmed.

I can remember those feelings every year, trying to be strong and to navigate everything while feeling so emotionally and physically weak.

And this year is no different.  Except that, despite all of my could bes and should bes from the past week, I am reminded, kindly, gently, by a Father who has never been anything but loving and trustworthy and good to me, that He is.  There is no subjunctive with Him. No conditions that need to be met.

He IS.  He WAS then, and He WILL BE.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner, as I was looping my could be and should be thoughts around in my head earlier this week and trying to find relief in the indicative, but this song that we used in Brigid’s memorial service is such a good reminder.  It’s from Steven Curtis Chapman’s album, Beauty Will Rise, which he wrote after the tragic death of his own daughter.

This is not how it should be

This is not how it could be

But this is how it is

And our God is in control.

I believe He was in control from the very beginning, that He has a plan for us that included the death of our girls, and that we will be reunited with them again one day.

I can’t wait for that day.

Happy third birthday, my beautiful girls.  I love you so much.  It is an honor and a privilege to be your mother, and I try to live each day in a way that would make you proud of me.

xoxo Your Mommy

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What Could Have Been

My girls’ birthday is in two days, and I have had a pit in my stomach since the weekend.

They would be three years old this year.  We should be having a party with pretty dresses and streamers and balloons and bubbles, and they should be giggling and twirling and blowing out three candles on two birthday cakes.  Or one.   (I tend to imagine myself being overly ambitious in these daydreams.)

I was listening to NPR on Saturday afternoon as I was organizing our boys’ bedroom.  All three of our boys share a room right now and the mess can get out of hand rather quickly.  As I worked, the TED radio hour came on and they were talking about languages.  I heard this talk by a Vietnamese teacher of Greek and Latin named Phuc Tran. In it, he talks about how our language affects our perceptions.  Specifically, he talked about the subjunctive mood, which is present in English and several other languages, but is not found in his native Vietnamese.  The subjunctive is a verb tense that deals in the hypothetical.  In wishing, in hoping, in possibilities.  Phuc talks about a near miss that his family had when he was a child in Saigon.  They made a last-minute change that saved their lives, as a bus that they were going to take pulled away from the station, was hit by artillery, and exploded.  He implies that because of the subjunctive mood in English, he was able to spend time thinking about what could have happened while his Vietnamese-speaking family, with their indicative mood, could not.  The former French teacher in me was intrigued.  Le subjonctif and I have a love-hate relationship.

Whether or not the lack of the subjunctive in Asian languages prohibits them from being able to contemplate what could have been, this got me thinking about grief and loss and the subjunctive.  When a person lives a full life, grows old and dies, we are not usually left wondering what could have been.  It was.  They were.  They lived their lives and then they died.  But when a child dies, there are so many possibilities that are taken away, from their appearance to their personality to what they would have done with their lives and how our lives would be different with them living in it.  There are an infinite number of possible outcomes, each with its own subtle nuances,  and we will never get to experience any of them.  We are left with this void and wondering what would have filled it.

But is that a good thing?

That is the question that Phuc brings up in his talk.  The “dark side” of the subjunctive is that we spend time thinking about what could have been when the reality is that it just wasn’t.  But I can’t imagine that there are mothers out there, even without the subjunctive mood, who aren’t wondering what life would be like with their children.  Is that just my cultural – or linguistical – bias? It’s hard to imagine life without the subjunctive.  It’s the basis for so much of our film and literature.  Imagine reading an O. Henry story without wondering what would have been if something had not happened.

A particularly trying day with my kids on Sunday left me thinking a lot about those things.  The two hours spent getting everyone dressed and out the door for, and then sitting through, church leave me feeling steamrolled, and maybe it was because of the girls’ upcoming birthday, but on that particular day, I spent a lot of time wondering if I could have managed if my twins were with us. And if they were, would we still have our sweet youngest daughter?  If things are difficult and I feel overwhelmed with four, am I glad that I don’t have two more?  Did God know I couldn’t handle it?

You can imagine that running that loop of questions through your mind for a day is futile and defeating, and doing it while meeting the needs of four little ones is quite exhausting.  It was indeed a dark side and my mood matched it. So it got me thinking about what it would be like to live in the indicative.

Our twins died.  They are not with us.  I don’t spend time dwelling on possibilities because that is a waste of time and effort.

I have to admit that it was a bit refreshing, but I couldn’t maintain it long before the  thought of “Yes, but…” crept in.

So what do you think?  I’d love to hear from someone whose native tongue does not include the subjunctive mood.  How does one grieve the loss of a child without the subjunctive?  And for the rest of us, is the subjunctive why we “dwell?”  Does its usage reflect a lack of contentment or faith?  Does it help our healing or hinder it?

I think that on Thursday, we will be celebrating their birthday the way we always do: by releasing some balloons, having some cake, and imagining what life in our home would be like if Fiona and Brigid were with us.

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Open season

Fall unofficially begins today.  The trees outside my window are starting to show signs of it.  Leaves are touched with yellow.  The morning is crisp and cool.  The new season is here, and with its arrival, I shake off the heaviness of summer.

Fall leaves

Photo by: hirekatsu

Fall has always been my favorite season, but since our loss, it is also the easiest one.  The only one that doesn’t carry with it some anniversary of our babies’ birth or diagnosis or death or burial.  It’s the arms-in-the-air, weightless downhill part of the crazy roller coaster spiral that is grief. The other seasons weigh me down.

Winter is the time we found out we were having identical twins, two days after Christmas.  We were giddy with excitement as we looked at our stockings hung by the stairs and imagined that the following year there would be two more hanging there.  We’ll need a new place to hang them, we thought.  The railing is already full.  Seeing the stockings each year makes my heart ache.  We don’t have a space where theirs are missing, but I know what could have been.  Now, we just have angel ornaments with the names Brigid and Fiona on them.  Treasures in their own right, but not what we had anticipated.  Winter feels bleak.

Spring was the time we were diagnosed with TTTS, the terrible disease that eventually would claim both of our girls.  It was a time of fear and panic attacks.  Bed rest and hospitalizations and preterm labor.  It was when we had in utero surgery in hopes of saving our girls and watched the doctor’s face fall the next day as he told us that Fiona had no heartbeat.  It was when strangers came to our rescue and family abandoned us.  It was when our babies were born silently – one dead and one twelve weeks early – after a traumatic labor and delivery, and we were happy and sad.  Hopeful and terrified.  It was a time of extreme ups and downs, and each year, spring feels so heavy as I remember how impossibly difficult it was for our family and relive those experiences, wondering how we made it through.   Spring comes in like a lion and goes out like a lion, and any lambs that show up are quickly devoured.

Summer was when we buried our stillborn daughter while making daily trips to the NICU to see our preemie.  It was learning that caskets could be so very, very tiny.  And pink.  It was balancing family life and three young boys at home, desperate for a return to normalcy, with the ups and downs of NICU life and a baby who was struggling to survive.   And then it was watching her die, picking out another little pink casket, and burying her, too.  Summer takes the heaviness of spring and then drops an enormous boulder on top of it, completely crushing me.  Summer makes me want to stay in bed and not come out.  To hide out from the world and not have to talk to anyone.  To sit and stare and remember.  The hardest thing about summer is that the kids are all home and looking to me to entertain them.  And I’m feeling like a wet blanket.  It is a huge effort to have fun in the summer, and it is exhausting.  I hope that it won’t always be like that.  But it’s hard to imagine that time.   Summer is sweltering and stagnant and oppressive.

But fall – fall is light and crisp and airy.  Nothing weighs it down.  It is brightly colored leaves dancing through the air.  So today, I’m shaking off the heaviness of summer, crawling out from under my boulder – which, admittedly, has eroded a bit over the past two years – and welcoming the fall with open arms.

However, I know that for some of you, fall is the heavy time.  So if this season carries the weight of loss with it, rest assured that your open season is coming.  As surely as the sun rises and sets each day, this time will pass and a lighter time will follow.   Until then, just put one foot in front of the other and be gentle with yourself.

Two years

Today makes two years since we lost our little Brigid.  I am surprised at how painful it still is.

I feel very alone in the grief of it because it seems everyone else has moved on.  But I can live that night in the NICU, watching her die, like it just happened yesterday.   All the emotions of it are still right here with me, and I feel like I’d give anything for one more chance to hold her.

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Someone shared this beautiful poem on facebook today and I felt like it was exactly what I was feeling.  I asked its author if I might share it here.   Can you relate to these words?

I lost my child today
People came to weep and cry
as I just sat and stared, dry eyed.
They struggled to find words to say
And to try and make the pain go away
I walked the floor in disbelief.
I lost my child today…

I lost my child last month.
Most of the people went away.
some still call and some still stay
I wait to wake up from this dream
This can’t be real, I want to scream
Yet everything is locked inside
God help me, I want to die
I lost my child last month.

I lost my child last year.
Now people who had came, have gone
I sit and struggle all day long
to bear the pain so deep inside.
And now my friends just question.
Why? Why does this mother not move on?
Just sits and sings the same old song.
Good heavens, it has been so long
I lost my child last year.

Time has not moved on for me.
The numbness it has disappeared.
My eyes have now cried many tears.
I see the look upon your face
“You must move on and leave this place ”
Yet I am trapped right here in time,
the songs the same, as is the rhyme.
I lost my child … TODAY….

-by Sophia Kotzamanis