Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Unchanging Days

Someone recently asked me what the hardest thing about our grief after losing Henry.  I responded quickly that the daily realization that nothing will change regarding him now is one of the most difficult things.

Every morning I wake up from the haze of sleep and for a brief second am filled with the prospect of a new day - that outlook quickly slips away though as the fog of the previous night's sleep clears and in the span of seconds, I'm overwhelmed at the prospect of another day without him.

I struggle hard to manage my expectations, my attitude.  After all, there are no guarantees in life.  No one says that each of us gets to have a happy, worry-free time of it.  There are certainly better times than others for us and whether we care to acknowledge it or not, there is always someone worse off.

I frequently remind myself that we'd never, ever, ever trade in the time we had with Henry to avoid the pain we endure now.  I try to focus on the good times we had, the privilege it was to be his daddy, and the person he has made out of me.

There is an unknowable welling up inside though sometimes.  An image of him, a toy of his, a sound or other memory and, like a glass dropping to the floor, my outward composure can shatter and I'm left with no capacity to will myself into submission, no ability to control my emotions.  And most times, there is simply no immediate explanation of what has brought me to that breaking point either.

For a long time I've grieved about what had to change.  Now I'm realizing I grieve too for what cannot.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remembering at Christmas

It's been a bit of a struggle lately to come up with ways to remember Henry at Christmas.  It's the same problem we have in our daily thoughts of him, just that the holidays set a sense of timing about it all.  We want to think of him, but the thoughts inevitably hover on what isn't instead of what is.  I'd love to think that we could control that impulse - to continually be grateful and happy for the time we had with him without feeling a sense of lacking without him.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but somehow I wish it were possible.  Like remembering when your children were younger, recalling how they used to throw food on the floor at dinner or how they used to say certain words in their particular way.  You remember, smile and place that little sticky note memory on the current version of your child and can be happy about the times you've experienced together.  I guess I don't really know what the comparison is, but there's just not a happy place to put those sticky notes for Henry.  We do smile when we think of him, but there is no future with which to be content in additional experiences.  It's an incredibly difficult balance to find.  Perhaps impossible...

Anyway, this year we've opted to spend Christmas in an unconventional way, doing something different than our normal traditions would entail.    It's worked for us to varying degrees at Halloween and Thanksgiving, so we're going to give it a try this December too.  However we still want to include him.  We've mustered the energy to decorate a bit.  We've put his stocking up over the fireplace.  At Thanksgiving, one of the mothers at the bereavement group we go to at Hopkins mentioned she lit candles and kept them burning all day in memory of children she's known who've died.  We adopted that at Thanksgiving as well and expect to do the same at Christmas.  It was comforting.

I wanted something a bit more for Christmas though.  I wanted to feel his presence a bit more tangibly.  I bought a small Christmas tree and we've decorated it with his ornaments and some of the small projects he painted.  It's turned out to be a really nice tribute.

So I guess we're finding ways of coping, strategies for managing grief, which I suppose is all we're able to do.  It's not going away, it's not going to magically one day be 'OK'.  We're not going to suddenly only have happy memories.  It's just not the reality of it all.  But I guess we'll be able to find ways to cope.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I remember as a kid falling or sliding or otherwise injuring myself.  The wound would bleed, we'd wash it and care for it.  Then the scab would form.  For a kid, leaving that darn thing alone is one of the most difficult things in the world.  "Leave that alone!", warnings would come from mom that it would scar.

The holidays this year have been a bit easier to navigate than I expected.   It has been difficult to be sure, but we're managing.  We're learning coping mechanisms to handle the tougher moments.  We learned from a friend in the same situation that lighting a candle on a holiday in memory of their child was helpful.  On Thanksgiving we had a candle burning throughout the day.  The more public acknowledgement of Henry was comforting.

Changing things up completely has been another strategy.  While its good to remember and have traditions, when those traditions have such sharp edges, they're difficult to handle.  Halloween, we more or less avoided and tried to do the minimum possible to give the girls an enjoyable time.  Our pumpkin carving the day before Halloween barely qualified.  So far the girls haven't noticed that they were never lit.

Sometimes I liken grief of this sort to losing a limb.  It changes how we deal with everything.  How I wake, how I brush my teeth (a picture of Henry at Disney is next to my sink), how I interact with people, how I think of myself and my family.  It changes the fabric of experience in such a thorough way that we're forced to learn to live again in this new reality.  How do I keep him close while continuing to live without becoming calloused, distant or apathetic?

So I keep returning to that wound.  It looks like it's healing and then I pick at it.  Think of him.  Wade in his memory.  Stand at his still-perfect room now collecting dust.  See his ashes.  Longingly look at photos of this same time last year.  Remember how it felt to hold him and listen to his conversations.

I keep picking at that scab.  It will definitely leave a scar.