My grandmother died yesterday.

After Dan got home, he said, “I miss her already.”

My feeling is a little different. I’ve been missing my grandmother for years now. I feel like now I can begin to grieve. I wrote about it in this post two years ago:

In contrast, I have been losing Gigi for a number of years now. Her memory started fading probably 10 years ago. Five years ago, it started fleeing. And then about two years ago, she took a fall and fractured her pelvis, and her memory loss was, abruptly, memory lost.

When we visit, she says she remembers who we are, but I have my doubts. These visits are pleasant because my grandmother, despite her complete absence of presence, is cheerful. She isn’t angry, or depressed, or crabby. She just smiles and hmms and nods as we tell her our stories, remark on the weather, or talk about food. She doesn’t seem to be in any pain or discomfort. She is in good health, although my mother reports she is steadily weakening. Unlike Nanny, Gigi isn’t struggling. What would she struggle against?

If I had one wish before Gigi dies, it would be, for one day, to spend it with the grandmother I remember from, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. That woman, my children, and a tape recorder, for 24 hours. I would like Monkey to have something more than the vague woman she has met. Bun may not have any memories of Gigi at all.

Which leaves it up to me, I guess. To remember for all of us.

Olympia was a first generation American. Her parents’ love story is right out of an Italian romance novel — the older man spotting the teenage beauty in the piazza; his travel to America to “make his fortune”; sending for his love and her family. They had children; they lost a daughter in an accident when she was only 6 years old. My grandmother used to tell us how much that hurt her mother. The parents died within a year of each other.

My grandmother grew up in Little Italy in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was a hat check girl at the Italian Club, and later, worked in the Marx Toy factory. My grandfather, Frank, worked there too. I wonder sometimes how he caught my grandmother. She was a classic Italian beauty — small in stature, with dark eyes and hair, a smile that seemed to hold secrets. Not that my grandfather was not a handsome man. I just used to watch them bicker sometimes and wonder.

The story I learned later was that the house in which they lived — the one that wasn’t in Little Italy — was bought by my grandmother after her second son was born. Olympia and Frank had a boy, then a girl (my mother) and then, nine years later, another boy.

With an infant, two school-aged children, herself, her mother-in-law, and her husband all under one roof, my grandma decided it was time to move. Her MIL wasn’t going to budge from Little Italy, and it looked like my grandfather wasn’t going to either. He didn’t think they needed to move and he didn’t look at houses. But my grandmother was a working woman, too, and she had some money put away. So she found the house. My grandma gave my grandpa an ultimatum. She and the kids were moving; he could come with ’em if he wanted. My mom always said that until they moved there, her parents never fought with each other.

It was a great house for grandkids. My grandfather had a garden and there was a huge plum tree in the backyard. They had toys from Marx — a Big Wheel, a two-seated pedaled scooter. The basement and the attic were treasure troves. I remember Sundays of speeding around the driveway with my cousins; exploring upstairs and downstairs (even though we weren’t supposed to be in the attic); of dinners of lasagna and raviolis. I remember my dad eyeing his jelly glass of dago red suspiciously, and the men — my dad, his father-in-law and two brothers-in-law — sitting silently in the living room watching football.

I don’t think my dad ever had more than one glass of that wine each week.

My grandmother was a widow for more than 30 years. Frank died of his second heart attack, in the doctor’s office. She used to joke with my sister and me: “The first time you marry for love; the second for money.” We used to ask her when she was going to find a rich boyfriend.

She never did. She considered herself married…. well, I can’t say until the day she died. I don’t know what was locked inside my grandma’s head in the end.

We had just been in Erie in July, and had celebrated her 92nd birthday on the lawn of her long-term care home. I’m glad, so glad, we had the time with her we had. She may have faded from the lively Italian grandma I knew, but I like to think that somewhere in her heart, she still knew us all and loved us all. That she still remembered. Everything.

Year Seven: Perspective

Yesterday, I got home to realize that Dan had run a half-full dishwasher, while still leaving some dirty dishes in the sink.

Kate pooped in her pants again. I yelled. Again.

Between the two of them, the girls ate half of my salad greens at dinner. Kate had to be bribed to eat two noodles, while Flora cleaned her plate.

Kate spilled her sister’s orange juice all over the floor. Flora sprayed Febreeze in her hair.

This weekend, Dan spent a lot of time with us, his “girls”.

This weekend, Flora was brilliant. And whiny.

This weekend, Kate made me so mad I cried. This weekend, Kate made me laugh so hard I cried.

If Gabriel had lived, he would be 7 years old. I would have stories to tell about him.

As it stands, he doesn’t have much of a story. He lived, he died, he was born.

Last night, we had brownies for dessert — what my older daughter insists on calling brownie lasagna because she thinks brownies are round and come three to a bag. I’ve mentioned I’m not much of a baker, yes? The girls got baths, and a night-time show, and a book. We squabbled at bed time over what light to leave on. Flora insists she will have nightmares.

Grief this year is less like grief qua grief, and more like anxiety and worry. Grief this year is the realization that missing a person, a child, doesn’t mean that other things don’t happen — the crying and laughing and cuddling and frustration. Other babies, and fatigue, nausea, and worry (again).

Grief this year is looking around and realizing that it’s just part of my life, our life. Missing Gabriel is just part of the adventure we are on. For better or worse.

In the meantime:


My priest talked about resurrection, but he also talked about death. He talked about Mary holding her son; he talked about a kid he knew who hemorrhaged on a touch football field after hitting his head and the kid’s mother and her grief.

It was a rough homily for me.

And then he talked about how we would all be restored to our bodies after the second coming. And how the boy’s mother would get to hold her living son again and rejoice in his — in their — resurrection.

And I really wanted to be comforted by that, I did. But I kept wondering how old Gabriel would be. Would he be a baby? In our new bodies, would he grow up? Would we be a family of five (or more?) in the New World?

I know I let the details get in the way of the message of hope. And that’s not like me, especially at this point in my journey. I don’t know what I’m fighting. I’m not 100% sure what all I am grieving.

On the plus side, on Easter morning, Flora walked into the room where her sister and her father were sleeping and declared: “Something wonderful has happened!” She was referring to the Easter bunny’s arrival, of course. But maybe that’s what I need to remember, the root of my Catholic faith: something wonderful happened. Maybe I need to let go of the other stuff — again.

*This is my reaction to this very simple post at Glow in the Woods

Over Here

A while ago, I was asked to write a guest post at Glow in the Woods. Kate of Sweet l Salty and a Glow in the Woods contributor asked me based (partially) on the fact that I’m more than six years out from the death (and birth) of my first baby.

I am constantly sobered and heart-broken over the fact that a site like Glow in the Woods needs to exist. There are new babylost parents out there every day. When I stumble across another mother or father who has lost a baby, I want to reach out to them. Kate asked me what I would tell a newly bereaved parent. What I will tell every newly bereaved parent.

This is my answer.


Given the depth of talent and moving writing on tap at Glow in the Woods, I just want to add that I am terribly humbled by my inclusion. I have not examined my loss (except as a reader of other Glow in the Woods contributors) through Buddhism, for example. I find Chris’ contributions especially helpful; in his words I recognize what happened (is happening) behind my husband’s eyes from that day and forward. I don’t know that I’ve ever thanked him for that. (Thank you, Chris.)

And thank you, Kate. For even considering me worthy of writing at Glow in the Woods. That my writing attracted the attention of such an amazing writer as you is honor enough.

He Sang at Our Wedding

He was a big guy. I mean, when he hugged you, you were rather thoroughly hugged.

He loved music. He traveled with a set of percussion instruments, some of which he showed my daughters on a recent trip to Pittsburgh. Monkey was, of course, fascinated.

He loved my husband. They knew each other for 20-odd years. They used to camp together up at Kinzu. Those are some of my husband’s best memories.

He sang at our wedding, a song by Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe called “The Meeting.” (For those of you keeping track, those are the members of Yes, minus Chris Squire.) I think I cried hardest during that part of our wedding ceremony. It’s a gorgeous song, and he had a beautiful voice.

He had family here, but when he came, he almost always stayed with us. He was fussy: He brought his own pillow, and a little alarm clock. Often his own milk or cereal, too — he was diabetic, so he was careful about what he ate.

He usually came to see us once a year. He loved Penn Brewery, and tried to get here for Ocktoberfest. He came for Christmas every year, to spend a little time with DearDR’s family.

He was such a large soul, such a generous heart. He was beset by troubles and struggles — financial, emotional, health. Yet, he always was smiling, he always was laughing about something.

We don’t know of his last days. The last time I spoke to him it was in early June. He was trying to come see a band playing the Arts Festival. If he wasn’t in too much pain, he said. If it was okay, he said. I was worried because the girls had strep, and I knew he was compromised because of his treatments (he had cancer). He ended up not coming in; on the phone message, he sounded exhausted.

I hope he found peace. I know he found love.

We’ll miss you, Tim. May perpetual light shine upon you.

Hair Affair

The Thursday before our Cape Cod sojourn, Mr. M, our stylist, came to the house for some vacation trims.

And I decided to chop Bun’s hair off.

I had thought that DearDR would kill me — I think I’ve mentioned that I had promised him our girls would have long hair.

But Bun’s hair was this indeterminate length, and it was always in her face.

So I asked Mr. M to do a chin-length bob.

And honestly, it really suits Bun’s style. It seems weird to say that about a 2-year-old, but it’s true.

It’s short and sassy, just like her.

Now I would dearly love to do that to Monkey’s hair, too. But DearDR has ruled a firm “NO” on that, and he would kill me if I decided to do it on my own.

So I guess I’ll just have more pictures like this to show off.

I had meant to post about this — Bun’s hair — and about the loss of my own hair heroine before we left for vacation. It all was related somehow. Anyhoo, Farrah Fawcett was the shining example of beauty when I was a little girl. And when I grew up, she became an example of courage and bravery, and the willingness to fight in the face of pain. RIP, Farrah.

Six Years Out: The Memorial

Six years ago today, my husband read this excerpt from Letters to a Young Poet, by Rilke. This is from the fourth letter.

“…Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that — but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don’t hate anything.”

I don’t know how he did it. I could barely stand up. Actually, I don’t think I did stand up. Someone got me a chair.

I held someone’s hand — or someone held mine. It felt like trying to stay above water. DearDR maybe; maybe my dad. I really don’t remember. My milk came in that day, too, at the restaurant afterward. Talk about insult to injury.

A lot of the accounts I read mention cremation for babylost babies. DearDR and I actually had a burial, with the smallest casket ever — we didn’t make any of the arrangements; my ILs did; and we had a picture of Gabriel framed for people to see him as he was after delivery.

I wish I weren’t thinking of this today. I’m so very tired. Since Saturday at 3 a.m., this week has been the longest month of my life. But the girls are restored to health and daycare, so I have to move forward too. My heart’s having a hard time of it. Grieving has taken a back seat to strep and laundry and work. Well, and Pittsburgh Penguins games. It’s not all a burden.

Miss you, little boy. Watch over us. Let us find peace.

Six Years Out: Birth Day

We went to the cemetery yesterday, a day earlier than usual. The girls ran among the grave stones and picked flowers for DearDR and me. We left them by Gabriel’s marker, along with the lillies I had bought.

I watched the their heads flashing in the sun, and I was sad that I didn’t know what my son looked like as a boy. I suspect he would look very much like Monkey: dark hair and blue eyes, tall. After she was born I marveled how much she looked like her brother, only, you know, alive.

If you have ever held a dead baby — and I hope you have not — the experience of holding a live baby is something you will never take for granted again. Even infants, newborns in their “potted plant” stage, thrum with vitality, weight.

I wasn’t all that grief-stricken as we sat in the grass in the cemetery. When the girls ran to us, I asked Monkey if she knew why we were there. “Mommy had a baby before you,” I told her, as I’ve told her before. “Where is he?” she asked. “He’s in heaven,” DearDR answered. “Oh, man,” she said, downcast.

As we left, I asked DearDR, “Is it less sad, or is it just different?” “It’s just different,” he said, pretty much confirming the way I felt.

I was okay (i.e. not crying) until we were pulling out of the cemetery entrance and Monkey said, “I hope he’s not lonely. I wish he could come home with us.”

Yeah, Monkey, me too.

The song “Will I See You in Heaven” by the Jayhawks was released in 2003. Such a pretty song. I can almost listen to it without weeping.

I Didn’t See That Coming

Thank goodness I had a good time on Friday night. DearDR and I headed to the Three Rivers Arts Festivals to take in the Black Keys. Afterwards we had a beer with this guy. It was a great night.

It all came to a screeching halt when Monkey woke up at three o’clock in the morning complaining about having to throw up. After taking her temperature, which was a lovely 101.3, I tried to get some Tylenol into her. No go. She immediately threw it up (along with whatever else she had in there). DearDR helped her out; we bathed her face with a cool washcloth, then all four of us fell back to sleep in our bed. (Shockingly — not — all the activity woke Bun.)

DearDR took off for work around 8 a.m. Monkey slept on, burning up, now an even lovelier 102.8. I tried some more Tylenol but she sicked that right up too. After a phone consult with my pharmacist mother, I sent Bun to Bella’s and tried to get Monkey in a bath to bring the temperature down. I intended to send Bella for Tylenol suppositories, but I noticed a fine rash all over Monkey’s face, so we headed to the pediatrician’s instead. She was so lethargic, I had to carry her.

I know what the term “glassy eyed” looks like now. A bit of an education I could have done without, thanks.

Turns out the rash on her face was something called pitikia, and generally appears when little blood vessels in the face burst from the heaving of vomiting. Well, she certainly had had that going on. However, one look in her throat, and the doctor declared, “Oh, that’s strep.” He backed off a little saying they would do a culture to be positive, but between her throat and the rash on her torso, it was almost surely strep.

It was.

As I was running the necessary errand to the pharmacy, I reflected that such a day with such a sick child certainly was a distraction from grief.

It also got me to thinking of a post I had read recently at Niobe’s place. Which, summed up, basically says if you put your troubles in a big pile with everyone else’s, you’d take yours right back up again after looking around.

This is pretty much true in my case too, especially now. I love my girls, and my husband, and my life. Yeah, I would tweak a few things here and there — who wouldn’t?

What about six years ago, though? If I had to throw my grief on the pile, my life after babyloss, wouldn’t I quickly snatch up someone else’s bag? I mean, anything had to be better than this.

But then I thought, well that would mean someone else would have to pick up Gabriel. Pick up where I left off. To whom would I do that? One of these families?

I declared on the first day in that hospital room: “If I have to go through this so that no one else I know has to, I’ll do it.” I meant it too. Kind of magical thinking in reverse.

I’d pick my bag right back up. Now, six years ago, anytime. Hell, I have it good. Gabriel’s loss is the worst thing that ever happened to me. But I own my troubles, not the other way around.

What about you?

Six Years Out: Other People’s Children

Over at Glow in the Woods, there is a conversation about dealing with live babies after babyloss. There are a variety of experiences of babyloss, from miscarriage to fetal death and still birth to the loss of a twin. At what level are we able or willing to be around live babies after our own losses? In the case of an absent twin, there is not even a choice. It got me thinking about the year that Gabriel was born.

When I got pregnant with Gabriel, Dr. Bro’s wife (WonderSIL — WSIL for short) was pregnant with her second. DearDR’s best friend’s wife (BFW) was pregnant. H was pregnant. My other SIL, Earthmom, got pregnant.

It was a happy time, right up until June 4.

I got out of the hospital on June 10. We all (my parents and sister, DearDR, my ILs) went out to eat. There was another family there, with young children — one a baby. The looks I was getting from my family were like, “Should we stay?” I smiled wanly and said, “I’m going to have to get used to being around babies sooner or later. May as well start now.”

WSIL’s son A had been born about a month before we lost Gabriel. I don’t know what possessed us (possibly the simplicity of an extended invitation), but DearDR and I went over there on Father’s Day. I looked at my husband with a sleeping baby on his belly. It gave him peace, was healing for him. I couldn’t even hold A.

I kept flashing back to an evening at Dr. Bro’s house when DearDR and I were dealing with A’s diaper change. I was still pregnant. DearDR and I were giggling helplessly at the situation, especially Dr. Bro’s instructions: “Don’t forget to clean well around the balls. That’s very important.” WSIL exclaimed, “These people are going to be parents?” In this context, it sounds cruel, but at the time it was hysterical.

I cried on the way home. I was numb and yet not. DearDR was unsure if he was being true to Gabriel’s memory, to hold another baby. I told him I could tell it had been healing for him. And that was okay.

H had A Boy in late May, but she was in St. Louis. I never saw him as an infant. He’s an adorable boy, though, and even now, he makes me think of mine.

BFW had a boy, also, C, in mid-July. DearDR and I went to the hospital. I was still in shock. I held C — he was the first baby I held after we lost Gabriel. I spoke easily (I think) with BFW. She had had an emergency c-section, and that, more than anything else was the topic of conversation. DearDR also held C. He kept smelling his head. When we left the hospital, he said of the head smelling, “I couldn’t stop. Gabriel smelled just like that.”

Visiting my SIL Earthmom in the hospital after she gave birth in October to my nephew L — whom I love very, very much, just to be clear — was an unmitigated disaster. I burst into tears as soon as I walked through the door to her room. I congratulated her, looked at my nephew, and walked back out. The numbness that had gotten me through my interactions with babies up until this point had disappeared.

I was supposed to be her — in the hospital, with the first grandson (on DearDR’s side), celebrating. But wait, if I felt that way, did that mean I wanted her to be me, the one with a dead baby? No! Jesus Christ, no! But I could not put aside my envy of her, my envy of her live baby, my jealousy that she was granted what I was denied. I don’t remember holding L as an infant; I cried throughout most of his baptism a few weeks later.

(Earthmom had wanted me to be L’s godmother — DearDR is his godfather — but fortunately she talked to DearDR first, and he talked to me. “No,” I said, crying and shaking my head. “No, no, no. I just can’t.” I know it was even more confusing because DearDR and I were C’s godparents. But, looking back, I was still numb from shock at the time of C’s birth and baptism. I spent the majority of that summer in a surreal bubble, truly believing that this was not my life. Thinking I would wake up with my baby restored to me and my poor, hurt husband.)

I survived this time, these babies, not by holding myself away from them or by immersing myself in them. I took it instance by instance. Even today, baby boys — especially infant baby boys — can pierce my heart. Is it any wonder that I want to have another boy?

Also to be clear: my interactions with all these “babies” — now, suddenly, 6-year-old boys — are normal. They no longer hurt my heart in that way. Often when I am with family and all the children, I feel Gabriel’s absence keenly, still. My missing child. But it doesn’t crush me any more; it doesn’t collapse me.

In part, of course, that’s because I’m trying to keep Bun from running into traffic. But primarily I think it’s the passage of time. Time doesn’t erase grief — nothing erases babylost grief — but it eases it. After six years, there is still sadness. But this IS my life. I know that now.