Advice to Myself

Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
-from ‘Advice to Myself’ by Louise Erdrich

My month-long self-imposed spending hiatus has not been going well.  Instead of buying for myself, I started buying for the house.  Little things that had bothered me for a long time suddenly seemed intolerable.  I cleaned out Ger’s entire closet and rid him of decade-old shirts and pants, and then went to the outlet mall to outfit him with a new wardrobe – something we had been discussing in passing for year, but never got around to.  I had an appliance repair man come out and fix the burner on our stove that has not been working for over a year.  I turned an old sandbox in the backyard into a garden bed.

The “little things” became a bigger thing when I decided to make over the man-cave in our basement.  It was a non-functional room and I wanted it to have usefulness.  Rearranging furniture and one new daybed from IKEA later and it had new life.

I felt no guilt about spending on our house, but wondered why I could not keep to my self-prescribed plan.  It was a bit perplexing since usually when I set a goal for myself, I operate with fierce determination.  As I worked on the room makeover, it hit me.  I am not using spending to offset depression or trying to give myself a “pick-me-up.”  I am trying to fix things.  It started with myself, and clothes that made me feel comfortable after losing the babies.  Now it has progressed to fixing and improving the house.  I spoke to my therapist about it this week.  She thinks that my desire to “fix” things is actually very healthy – a sign of wanting things to be better.  Also wanting control when I have felt so out of control for many months.  She did not condemn my actions.

In the very near future, I will have crossed off all of the small “things that have bothered me about this house.”  I also came to the realization that I need a new savings goal.  The money that I have been spending was from a savings account we had set aside for baby purchases.  Another reason why it hurt so much to see it just sitting there.  Coming up with a new savings goal will help me refocus.  But it is also hard to consider when I do not know what my family will look like a year from now…

In the meantime, I am writing this in the newly completed room.  I called it the “woman cave” but I did not like the name.  Instead, I have dubbed it The Creative Lounge (love to Mad Men) because for me, it is a room where I can write and maybe some day paint.


The Art of Love

Even though I wrote recently about being an artist/parent, I have never considered myself an artist.  Writer, sure, but the craft of writing is different than the craft of creating something from colors, textures, materials.  Outside of decorating the house and painting an occasional room wall, I do not have that aspect of creativity.

I have done several wine/painting evenings before, mostly for fun.  Get together with friends, enjoy the wine, and laugh about how un-artistic we all are.  My three previous attempts have all ended up in the garbage.  Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the result was nothing to be proud of.  Last night was another such event.  I approached it with no particular inclination that the canvas would yield anything special.  The prescribed picture of the evening was a sunset, with a silhouette of a branch with two birds.

As I added the silhouette of the gently rolling hills and trees to the bottom of my painting, I thought of where I grew up, in the coulee.  There is a beautiful lookout spot on my aunt and uncle’s land where I could see the entire expanse of the road and the dotted houses of the people who lived there.  As I extended the branch onto my painting, I thought of the tree where Nelle’s ashes are scattered, and where we will soon take Iris’s ashes.

So I made a shift.  Instead of painting the silhouette of two birds, I painted two small hearts.  Black, with a slight tint of white to make them more gray, and a slight hint of red.  The instructor did not walk  by my canvas for the rest of the class, and I wondered if he was displeased with my deviation.  I wanted someone to ask me about the hearts; I wanted to say something about why I made that choice, but no one did.  As I completed my painting, I thought not only of my two girls, but my two boys.  Two children, side by side, both living and not.

When Theo examined the painting he said “But there are hearts on the tree – that’s not right.”  I said that the hearts were for my two kids, for him and Quentin, because they are my heart.  He broke into a grin and said “Awwww… that’s so nice.”  Whichever angle I take, whether my two boys or my two girls, they sit side by side.  One slightly bigger, older than the other.

I hung the painting on the wall in my house.

I Am Not Sorry

I am not sorry that I went to yoga today.  Or yesterday. Or the day before. 4:00 p.m.  8:00 a.m.  6:00 a.m.

I am not sorry that I chose to position myself in the coveted front row, after only six weeks of hot yoga practice. I focused on my postures, making adjustments, corrections, improvements.  Sheer determination drives me forward.  Imperfect body of stretch marks and loose skin cling, grasping to my frame.

I am not sorry for my in-room habits. I bring two towels, while everyone else brings one. Toward the end, at fixed firm pose, I cover my drenched towel with a dry one.  The fresh feeling helps me finish out the class strong.  I bring two water bottles.  I now have specific points in which I drink the water: “party time” (the coordinate water break after the first three poses), before triangle pose, at the first savasana, before fixed firm pose, before head to knee pose.  I hate half locust, often skip it, choosing to stay in savasana, even though I don’t mind full locust. I hate camel pose and if I’m having a bad day, I skip it too.  Some poses come easily for me; I look forward to the stretch.

I am not sorry about making the various facets of my life revolve around my yoga practice, at least not right now.  I need that time to myself. I need the release and break to keep my mind and body healthy and am unapologetic for it. The rest of the world can wait 90 minutes while I sweat out my emotions in the hot room.

Telling a Story

Through the years, I have been blogging as a way to capture the daily events of our lives.  As I would read other blogs that I admire, I would often think “All of these women have a  story and I don’t have a story.”

Well now I have a “story” but I desperately wish that I didn’t.

I would trade being stuck in a perpetual writer’s block, if I could be holding my baby girls.  It isn’t even a question.  I would go back to the mundane recounting of days.  I would easily give up that portion of my life in exchange for their heartbeats.  But that is not a deal that can be made.

There are times when I cannot believe that this is now my story.

Without fully realizing it, I have been searching for my “voice”, my story, for a long time. Why did I need to experience loss to find it?  Why did THIS have to become my story?

Why did a “story” have to emerge from something that should have been so normal: pregnancy?

It is a story that began with the death of Nelle. It continued with a plot twist in the death of Iris. And it is not done yet.  I cannot even see the ending, but my character is being dragged toward it.

Our story before was not one that people would want to read. We were average in our simple love story, our successful jobs, our suburban house, our sweet children.  There was no story, because there was no conflict.  No one wants to read that story, no matter how beautifully written.

It is from the ashes of our idyllic world that a story has risen.  It is from struggle that words have formed.

The most memorable stories leave you changed.  You continue to mull over the words in your head, weeks after setting the book down.  If this is the story that I am now going to tell, then I want it to touch someone.  Being so open in grief is maybe a way to comfort, to inspire, to teach, to heal.  It is a way for my girls to have an impact on the world: to share their story.

This is not the story that I wanted to tell, but I am compelled to tell it.


“The pain, or the memory of pain, that here was literally sucked away by something nameless until only a void was left. The knowledge that this question was possible: pain that turns finally into emptiness. The knowledge that the same equation applied to everything, more or less.”
― Roberto Bolaño, 2666 

From the beginning, I had enough self-awareness that I knew I wanted to be mentally healthy.

I went to my first therapy session six days after learning that Nelle was gone.  It was at the suggestion of a friend.  She said “This is a lot to deal with.  Get yourself into therapy.” I have always tried to take care of myself, so the decision was a relatively easy one.  Knowing also that we wanted to attempt pregnancy again right away, I wanted to be in the best possible place.  I was unprepared for how encompassing the grief was, among so many other truths about profound grief, but I was determined to “work through it.”

If losing Nelle brought me to my knees, losing Iris flattened me.  Any shred of control that I thought I had, or any strides that I had made in coping were flung out the window.  That same friend visited me in the hospital as I suffered through labor for the second time in five months and she said “Get yourself some anti-depressants.  This is going to be too much.”  Again, wanting to take care of myself, I talked to my doctor and left the hospital with a prescription.

Wanting to take care of myself is one thing.  Having the energy and stamina to do so is another.  While I did pay close attention to my mental health, knowing that I have a family and work that depend on me, there are other aspects that I have admittedly let crumble.  I have not been eating well.  Consciously or unconsciously, I am not nourishing my body the way that I should.  I have no reason to now.  Upon losing Nelle, I was preparing my body for pregnancy again, eating balanced meals, drinking lots of water.  While pregnant, I take exquisite care of myself.  Now I just don’t care.  For the first two weeks after losing Iris, eating made me physically nauseous, so intense was my grief.  The two subsequent weeks, I am simply disinterested in food.

There are still days when I cannot face the world. Sadness and anxiety overtake me and I crawl into bed and pull a blanket over my head.  Those days have become fewer so I allow myself that space when I need it.  Yesterday was one of those days.  It may have been the intense morning yoga class that did me in.  It may have been because it was my younger son’s birthday and I was surrounded by memories in the form of baby photos.  I had a similar experience back in September when my older son had his birthday just a few weeks after losing Nelle.  Being upset by baby photos of my own children was unsettling.  To calm myself yesterday, I took an Epsom salt bath.  Then I took another bath in the afternoon.  Then I took a shower in the evening.  Hopeful that maybe somehow the water would energize me and wash away my feelings of heaviness.

From the beginning, I have struggled with the words “moving on.”

I was starting to crawl out of my grief a few months after losing Nelle.  Between being pregnant again and therapy, I could see beyond the days of unending sadness.  “Moving on” did not sit well with me, because “moving on” seemed to imply “forgetting.”  I could never forget, and I would never be the same.  We use the words “moving on” to describe leaving a job, or ending a relationship, or abandoning an argument.  I searched for another descriptor.  With all of the words that rattle around in my head all the time, I could not come up with anything that felt exactly right.  The best I could settle on was “moving forward.”  In “moving forward,” I am bringing grief with me.  When I move forward, I will have learned how to carry the additional weight of grief.

From the beginning, I have known that I would need to move forward, eventually.  It is incremental.  It is accepting that steps forward may also include falling down.  But I care enough for myself to grit my teeth and figure out how to get there, with grief as my companion.