Friday, October 29, 2010

finding rest

(Last December)
The beam of light from the bathroom door stretches across the cold, sterile floor. Angling its way up a dangling blanket, it widens to a dim ray disruptively crossing the foot of my wife's hospital bed before hitting the wall across the room. Just enough light to make the room glow with a sort of half-shut-down-labratory feel.

Little things I don't understand are beeping. The blood pressure cuff is automatically turning on and off every fifteen minutes. Noises from other rooms... The distant sound of urban Minneapolis seeping in through the windows.

It's 1:00 AM. The lab tech is in again to draw blood. It's a new one every night. Some are quiet, but this one throws on the lights and talks far too loud. I put my glasses on in time to see him fill the last vial with my wife's blood. He fixes all the labels, makes her read them to ensure they're correct, then loads up his cart and wheels his strange cargo out of the room.

Still no sleep. I'm twisting and turning in my day clothes underneath a bleached blanket from the nurse. The vinyl pull-out chair/bed is only better than the floor. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for my racing mind. There's no turning it off. Exhaustion has to set in before I will ever fall asleep. What if I wake up and my wife is gone?

6:00 AM. Not much sleep, and very little point in trying to sleep now with the rest of the hospital stirring and the sun pouring in. Another day, another night in the hospital.

Finding rest is still hard. Almost a year later and I feel worn out most of the time by the thinking, the worries, and the constant pondering of what might come next. But I know also that sleeping and resting are so important. So, here's to another week, another night and day of looking for rest.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Faith's Lodge

"It's not the nurse's fault... I'm sure it's just hospital policy," I thought to myself as the nurse held out a handful of pamphlets on grief. I tossed them aside knowing that I may never look at them again. What could a 45 page pamphlet possibly say, what could it possibly offer me in this nightmare of a situation?

As my wife continued to quietly labor towards delivery of our two boys, I sat close by and waited. Out of a need for some distraction I picked the stack of pamphlets back up and began thumbing through them. Passing over the platitudinous titles I came across one that stood above the rest.

That was the first I had heard of Faith's Lodge. And now, almost eight months away from that day in the hospital, we have seen some amazing healing take place in the loss of Asher and Evan. Part of that healing has come through our stay at Faith's Lodge.

I kept having to remind myself that we deserved our time there. As we pulled up to the 15,000 square foot, 4 story, log cabin-style retreat center, I couldn't believe someone had designed so grand a place for people who had lost children. It was beautiful. It was quiet. It was exactly what we had been looking for and exactly what we needed.

We found rest not only in the comfortable rooms, but also in the quiet of the outdoors and in the understanding offered by couples we met throughout the week. It was a time to focus on our grief, on our healing, and on the road ahead of us.

For more information on Faith's Lodge, visit their website at

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

choking on pizza

My first roller coaster was The Screaming Eagle at Six Flags. I remember standing in line, for what seemed like ages, trying to catch glimpses of every climb, drop, and turn the coaster made. My anxiety built as I heard the teenage ride operator repeat the safety instructions over and over. I kept thinking, "They wouldn't offer safety instructions if they weren't needed... This isn't good. Maybe we should all turn back. Save ourselves while we can."

We pressed on. Like cattle being driven to the slaughter we made our way through the germ-infested, ever-winding stanchions. In keeping with the park's theme, Looney Tunes were looping on the mounted monitors above our heads adding to the crazed nightmare. "Is this really happening?", I asked myself as we approached the loading platform. A firmer commitment was needed. Unaware of the sorting process I found myself in lane three separated from my mom and sister. I was alone, and trapped between two germ-infested railings. Things started moving fast, and feeling an overwhelming sensation of nausea/vertigo; I stepped into the coaster. Not sure if I was buckled in right or if the lap guard was secured, I held on for dear life. The clickety-clack of the ride had become familiar as I stood in line. It now brought a renewed terror as I sat emotionally and mentally unprepared for the next two terrifying minutes of my life.

You're maybe wondering at what point I choke on the pizza. Flash forward Christmas Carol style to a new scene at the hospital cafeteria in downtown Minneapolis. It's a snowy, December day. I'm at least fifteen years older. Sitting by myself at a large round table in the back of the room trying to find my appetite. I take my first bite of an oversized piece of pepperoni pizza and every emotion from the story above comes rushing into my gut. I set the pizza down and wonder how I will survive the loss of my two boys. The pizza freezes in my throat. With a quick sip of my third caffeinated beverage of the day I quickly wash it down. Sitting up quickly, I glance around to see if anyone has noticed the crying, choking, mess-of-a-man in the corner, but no. Everyone is absorbed in their little worlds of chicken wild rice soup, smart phones, onion rings, bad Christmas decorations, and Jimmy Buffet holiday tunes on the PA system.

The rest of the world didn't stop, but for me it might as well have. Nothing else mattered. Relationships, work, church, Christmas... it all seemed pointless. I felt like turning around and running back through the "stanchions". I really felt like running, but I pressed on. And just as I survived to write the story of my first roller coaster ride, I have also survived to write about losing my two boys. I may have stumbled, I may have choked on some pizza as I moved forward, but I moved forward.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

holding on

In this scene of the Academy Award winning Japanese film, "Departures", the main character, Daigo, presents a stone-letter to his wife. He tells the story of his long-lost father who presented a similar stone to him when he was just a young boy. His father explained that when paper wasn't available one would find a stone to convey how they felt through the texture, weight, and size. This would then be sent to someone they knew well in place of an actual letter. As his only lasting connection to his father, Daigo held on to the stone to remind him of the relationship they once had.

This concept resonated with me. Not so much the communication possibilities of stones, but the fact that a stone could mean so much to Daigo simply because his father had given it to him. Stones like these are quite possibly the most ordinary, lifeless, emotionally inert objects in our natural world, but given as a gift they can become priceless.

For Daigo, holding on to the stone was holding on to the reality of having a father.

For parents who have lost children, holding on to mementos from the hospital or nursery is holding on to the reality of their child's existence. A simple, receiving blanket can become validation of a life. A "onesie" can become a framed piece of art. Suddenly every ordinary object connected to your baby becomes extraordinarily significant in your grief.

Collect as much as you can. Create remembrances and tributes and memorials and anything you need to have something to hold on to.

Friday, June 25, 2010

letting go

I remember drawing a small wooden giraffe as an out-of-class assignment my first semester in art school. I studied the figure for some time before laying the image down on the 18x24 inch piece of paper. After about an hour of careful drawing and observation, I had a near perfect likeness of the figure centered perfectly on the paper. I thought it looked great. Centered, accurate, detailed. I got a B. The drawing was too neat and controlled. The composition too stagnate. It was then that I started learning about "putting my back into drawing". Digging in, ripping the paper, grinding the charcoal.

There was something beautiful to be found in letting go.

After four years of art school this became a well learned and practiced lesson. Applying it in other areas of my life, well, that hasn't been quite as easy. When challenged with a crisis pregnancy, birth, or illness parents can call hosts of doctors, surgeons, pediatricians, and specialists to their aid. They can hold, kiss, medicate, hope, pray and nurse, but when the finality of death comes and they are left holding the outcome... all control seems lost. Nothing can be done.

For me this was the realization that I was headed down an unexpected path. I could fight it, deny it, try to change directions or even just hide from that truth, or I could go with it and see where it leads me. Opening up to the journey allowed me to see beauty and blessing that might have otherwise slipped by. Yes, even in the midst of the unimaginable reality of losing two children at once there has been blessing and beauty.

Anger is inevitable. Grief is necessary. Let it happen. You may find yourself in a closer relationship with your spouse, your family, a new friend. You may discover a new purpose or a renewed appreciation for your other children. What blessing will you find? What legacy is your child leaving you?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart

Just finishing reading this through with my wife. A great resource for parents, grandparents, and friends who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. You can easily find it on
Summary: The heartache of miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death affects thousands of U.S. families every year. Empty Cradle, Broken Heart offers reassurance to parents who struggle with anger, guilt, and despair after such tragedy. Deborah Davis encourages grieving and makes suggestions for coping. The book includes information on issues such as the death of one or more babies from a multiple birth, pregnancy interruption, and the questioning of aggressive medical intervention. There is also a special chapter for fathers as well as a chapter on "protective parenting" to help anxious parents enjoy their precious living children. Doctors, nurses, relatives, friends, and other support persons can gain special insight. Most importantly, parents facing the death of a baby will find necessary support in this gentle guide. If reading this book moves you to cry, try to accept this reaction. Your tears merge with those of other grieving parents. You are not alone!

About the Author: Deborah L. Davis, PhD., is a development psychologist who specializes in perinatal bereavement, parent education, and child development. She is also a member of the advisory board for Pen-Parents, the international network for bereaved parents.

Friday, June 18, 2010

father's day

My first Father's Day is approaching. It isn't going to be what I expected. It isn't going to be a relaxing Sunday morning reading stories to my sons. It isn't going to be highlighted by that proud moment walking into the church service holding Asher in one arm and Evan in the other. It isn't going to be typical or classic or something recorded later in a scrapbook.

Honestly, I don't know what it's going to be. Confusing probably. I know I'm a father, but no one else does. People who don't know our story don't know that I held my sons in my arms, and kissed them, and told them I love them, and then watched them quietly pass away. If that doesn't make a man a father I don't know what does.

So, I guess, Father's Day will be what I want it to be. A more proactive approach seems needed here. I could sulk, which is valid, or I could celebrate, which is preferred. I could spend the day thankful for the few moments I had with my boys, how they made me a father, how they're making me a stronger man... a better husband. I could spend the day making the memory of Asher and Evan a joyful one. A day enjoying the legacy rather than fixating on the loss.

How have you celebrated Father's Day? Any special traditions? Any favorite memories?