Thursday, December 31, 2009

of pieces and puzzles and quilts

it’s puzzling how important pieces can be.

this week, i delivered a bag of eliza’s clothes--and one bit of bedding, too--to my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law, two exceptional quilters who plan to turn those fabrics into a memory quilt for our family. i had anticipated the selecting of clothes being difficult, so i was not surprised by the flood of emotion with which sam and i were met upon reopening those nine boxes of clothes a year after we packed them away. i was pleased to think that i had completed the emotional work there at home, safely alone with sam, where grief seems right and good and safe and permissible. and so i expected that delivering our choices to our quilters extraordinaire would be far less emotional, as i had done the hard work already.

i was, to some extent, right in my assumption. but just when i think i understand all the pieces, the puzzle seems to change on me every time.

i sorted through the clothes with our quilters. this is the dress eliza wore to her first birthday party; this is what she was wearing when she died. this is the dress she wore in those family photos; this is what she was wearing when we put her in the funeral home’s van. sweet memories, shared without excess of emotion, matter-of-fact as i foolishly pride myself on being almost all the time. almost.

and then we had finished sorting the clothes, my mother-in-law meticulously noting details of significance in the stories behind the clothes, my aunt-in-law fingering the fabrics gently and sorting them by color and texture and thickness. and we were done, so they set to work bundling the clothes by category to be stored in a box from which they will work. and suddenly, i doubted i could part with those clothes. suddenly, those pieces that were just bits of fabric--fabric with memories attached, of course, but still just pieces of fabric--suddenly, the leaving of those clothes felt like tearing bits of fabric from my very soul, pieces of me physically painful to separate.

puzzling, how pieces can change.

it’s not a jigsaw puzzle, this thing called grief, i don’t think. a jigsaw puzzle in which one piece fits with another and with each piece added, the places for more pieces become clear. no, it’s not like a jigsaw puzzle. it’s something from luke’s stocking this year that seems a more fitting metaphor for all these pieces in this big puzzle: a rubik’s cube. a puzzle with many sides, all of which can be--originally were, in fact--completed, but in which rearranging one side has significant, far-reaching, and unpredictable results on several other sides. fix one bit of the puzzle, think you have one bit figured out, and you find out you’ve only made several other pieces of the puzzle that much more muddled, that much more difficult. you’ll likely have to undo some of what you worked so hard to accomplish on that one side.

and you may begin to wonder if there’s actually a solution to this puzzle. in fact, if you hadn’t seen it originally, fresh out of the packaging and still ordered on all sides, if you hadn’t once seen someone solve the puzzle--perhaps one of those speedy youtube videos or your babysitter back when you were a kid--you’d begin to believe it was impossible to complete a rubik's cube. a puzzle that can’t be solved. too many pieces out of place; too many bits that just can’t possibly get where they need to be.

but i’ve seen it done. i have. so i know those pieces will slowly slide into place. i know--when i’m honest with myself--that many of those pieces will slide into place accidentally, just like that rubik’s cube. or if not accidentally, then without my knowledge. oh look! those blue pieces are all in a row. how did that happen while i was so busy lining up the red ones? a puzzle indeed.

meanwhile, those pieces of eliza torn from my soul will be a quilt. warm and soft and comforting and all pieced together. in a pattern i won’t recognize, completing a beautiful, perfect, unique puzzle that i never imagined. because quilts are made of pieces torn apart and fit back together. which makes me wonder whether i should quit working so hard on completing puzzles and just take up quilting.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


laundry chutes
real fisher price little people
delightfully too many presents
big black dogs (one too few this year)
all-you-can-eat treats
sugar cereal and bagels with lox for breakfast
cousins cousins cousins galore
basements with fun secrets
play slaves (aka certain aunties who will remain nameless)
munna munnas
never-quick-enough family photographs (on the porch! in the cold! in the snow! hurry up!)
fun steamy stall showers
babies in stockings
noogies (is that how you spell it? should be)
never-too-much muchering

that's what grandparents' houses are made of. (oh, and there's more, i just know it.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


i've got a photograph in my head. it's a photograph that never got taken and never will. (you may remember i have a thing about un-taken photographs). if i could paint it or sketch it, i would (but you may also know that i have not an artistic bone in my body, so i can't). the thing is, people don't bring cameras to their children's funerals.

there is a lot i don't remember about eliza's funeral. like the names of the hundreds of people i hugged at the end of the service. like who made all the food for the reception afterwards, the reception i never even saw. like how my minivan managed to get to the church, when we arrived in a limousine. like what time the service started. like how i managed to remain upright and composed-ish for all those hours.

but there's a lot that's burned in my memory, too. like this un-taken photograph.

sam, luke, and i arrived at the cemetery. i don't know who was there, though i remember being surprised at how many people were. the un-taken photograph is of that scene, as we arrived. it's something like this one of the cemetery, taken last week...

...only not much at all like that. first of all, there's no snow. the un-taken photograph is black and white and gray, but much less white without all the snow and much more gray because it's drizzling. second of all, there's the tent-thing that funeral homes set up for burials, with chairs filled with faceless people and more faceless people standing behind them underneath, turned sideways from us, facing the casket, which is there in the front of the tent-thing on the right of the photograph, starkly white. a few more faceless people are nearer in the foreground, greeting us as we get out of the limousine. and there's lots of black and white and gray and indistinguishability (is that a word? should be).

but there's one spot of color.

(you've seen photographs like that, right? like my silly blue bin one? where everything is black and white except one thing?) the night before the funeral, i gave eliza's purple coat to our dearest friends' (and eliza's godparents) daughter, who is the closest thing eliza had to a sister. it fit her perfectly, and she was, for a four-year-old, remarkably honored and pleased to have something of her god-sister's to wear. in the foreground of my un-taken photograph is this sweet four-year-old, her back to us, running in the grass in eliza's purple coat, dirty-blond-ish hair flying.

one bright spot of color.

the coat was intended to be a gift to this little girl, but her wearing it that day--and its impression on the un-taken photograph in my mind--was a gift to me. you see, i'm not sure i could have borne, nor could continue to bear, that un-taken photograph if not for that bright spot of color.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

among the many moments i miss in my day

"The Bath" by Laura Gilpin

I stand here bathing her
while she sleeps
in a far place beyond my reaching.

I bathe her
as I have been taught to do:
first the eyes, then the forehead,
the face, the neck.

And as I work
I talk to her--in case she hears me
(believing that hearing is the last to go).

I tell her--I don't know why
but I tell her the time, the day,
the season, what the weather is doing,

lifting each arm to wash and dry it,
laying it down again at her side,
then the chest, the abdomen, each leg.

She offers no resistance,
except that of gravity,
the earth pulling her
down while I lift,
as though something between us
is being weighed.

Then I turn her to wash her back
talking to her about what seems to matter
in this life--though I make no promises.

Only this morning
the promise of spring was in the air
and I tell her that.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

can't make this up, part 2

(remind me, please, if i ever doubt God's provision for me and His attention to the details of my life, of this series of "coincidences" in the past thirty-six hours.)

beginning at the beginning...

today was an intense day. there was no doubt it would be, though our plans for the day were somewhat fluid and not always clear. early this afternoon, everyone needed a break, and so we retired to our corners, as it were: luke to his room to read, sam to his grading and basketball-pick-up-game-planning, and i to my room to rest. but a nap wasn't in order, and i'm not in the middle of reading any book right now.

wait, wait. that's not the beginning.

earlier in the day, as we marked the hour (9:15) of eliza's death, sam asked me how i imagined eliza now. lots of people have asked that question this past year. as much as i appreciate the sentiment, images of eliza dancing or running or playing have never resonated with me. the only image of heaven that has ever gripped me, really, is that in c.s. lewis's great divorce. (have you read it? if not, please do. now. it'll only take you a couple of hours, and i promise it'll be so worth it. then come back and read the rest of this post!)

have you read it? okay, pressing on...

i read it almost ten years ago, so my memories of it are vague. in the book, the narrator has a vision of the afterlife and witnesses in it a series of conversations between those who have already gone to heaven and those who...hmmm...(if you've read it, you'll understand my hesitation here. and if you haven't read it, go do it! you promised you would)...those who haven't (for lack of a better way to describe them). but i didn't remember many details other than the beauty of lewis's vision of what could be. and i've latched onto that beauty from time to time over the past year.

so this afternoon, when i had an hour in which to rest and nothing in particular in mind to do with that hour, i pulled out the book. (there's something you should know about me: i never reread a book. there are way too many books to read in a lifetime to spend time rereading! i'm sure i can count on one hand the books i have reread. suffice it to say, it is entirely out of character for me to pull a book out to reread.) but i reread the first half of the book in that hour this afternoon, and i was struck afresh by its amazing images. amazing. i might even blog about a few of these things, i thought, as i marked a few pages.

and then we went on with our day. to the funeral home, to the cemetery, to friends' house for dinner. home for bedtime. exhausted, sam and i decided to forgo our box-sorting and let the day dwindle to its end. and i sat down to finish the book.

did i mention i remembered none of the details? had i remembered chapter eleven, i would no doubt have feared ever reading it again. certainly not today.

if i could retype the whole chapter here, i would, as summarizing it feels like a betrayal of its beauty. but i'll give it a try (trusting that you've already read it...right?). in this chapter, a woman on the brink, as it were, of choosing heaven or not-heaven, is talking with her brother who has gone before her to heaven. she is eager to see her son, who is also there, but whom she cannot see yet. her conversation with her brother reveals her deep love for her son and her eagerness to get to heaven to be with him.

wait, wait. back up a minute.

en route to the cemetery, after i had started the book but before i had gotten to this chapter, sam and i had a conversation about what we want to know and understand of eliza. while sam talked of wanting to know what she is now--what exactly is her spirit, and where is she, and what does she experience (that's a poor summary)--i stated unequivocally that i wanted her back. period. broken and sick and all. i just wanted her back.

back to the book.

so the woman wants to get to heaven to see her son, and her brother who has preceded her tells her why that won't work. she's going about it the wrong way. but you already know the argument (because you've read the book; you promised), so i won't even attempt to get into the details. her mother-love, which she describes as right and holy, can't supercede her love of God. in fact, her mother-love only is because of God. she can be with her son--and it's good and right that she loves her son--but that can't be her motivation. that can't be her starting point.

so as the narrator and his teacher (lewis and macdonald? the english major in me resists) listen in to this conversation, the narrator asks, "But am I to tell them at home that this man's sensuality [here referring to another conversation they have overheard] proved less of an obstacle than that poor woman's love for her son? For that was, at any rate, an excess of love."

"'Ye'll tell them no such thing,' he replied sternly. 'Excess of love, did ye say? There was no excess, there was defect. She loved her son too little, not too much. If she had loved him more there'd be no difficulty. I do not know how her affair will end. But it may well be that at this moment she's demanding to have him down with her in Hell. That kind is sometimes perfectly ready to plunge the soul they say they love in endless misery if only they can still in some fashion possess it. No, no. Ye must draw another lesson. Ye must ask, if the risen body even of an appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw [referring again to the other conversation], what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?'"

touché. and thank you, Lord.

really? i had no idea why i picked up this book today. what a gift. "what would the risen body of maternal love be?" what a gift.

(read the book. please.)

you can't make this stuff up

i put on a coat yesterday that i haven't worn in a while. as i walked to a school party with a friend who lost a daughter two years ago who was in many ways like eliza, i put my hands in my pockets. what i found there:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

still here, really

more to come, lots more, tomorrow or saturday-ish; check in here:

Monday, December 7, 2009

topping it all

we have a star on top of our tree. see?

oh, and an angel, too.

Friday, December 4, 2009

of an afternoon

oh, how i love linus. remember this part? best ever.
(and i have no idea, by the way, why it gets blurry after the first few frames. amateur videography, indeed. but after twenty-ish takes, this had to be good enough!)


i still can't go to sleep before 10pm.
eliza's last medication dose was at 10pm for most of her life. i'm afraid i'm programmed to stay up until 10pm--and no later--for the rest of mine.

i still am shocked at how dark and quiet our bedroom is at night.
no feeding pump whirring and glowing, no pulse oximeter beeping and lighting the whole room. "our" bedroom, that being eliza's, sam's and mine. luke always called it just eliza's.

i still forget that i can run errands, make playdate plans, stay out in the afternoons.
eliza was always in bed by 3 or 4pm to start her 18-hour feeding time. which meant luke and i never went anywhere in the afternoons. at all. thankfully, my neighbors have always been gracious to share forgotten dinner ingredients!

i still think of the passenger's side back door of the van as luke's door and the driver's side door as eliza's.
you know the little keychain clicker? the passenger's side back door button is bigger than the driver's side door. get it? bigger button for my bigger kid. that's the only way i could ever remember.

i still can't get used to the idea that our whole family can go out together all day on a weekend.
it was always "divide and conquer" around here: one of us out with busy luke, one of us home with sleepy, snuggly eliza.

i still notice when it's 2pm.
meds. always at 2pm. no matter where we were.

i still think friendly hospital parking garage attendants are a blessing and a gift.
just met one today, at my appointment at the hospital. i hate the hospital, and really hate the parking garage (i once upon a time wrote about my experience with parking garages over on eliza's blog. but i just went looking for that post to link it here, and i can't do it. can't read through it all now. maybe i'll find it again one of these days. or maybe you remember it.). but the stories i could tell about parking garage attendants...hugely generous, out-of-nowhere gifts, sweet words of comfort and kindness, prayers offered for our family...yes, parking garage attendants.

i still find miniature purple and pink hair ties in coat pockets and purses.
really. still.

i still am amazed at how quickly luke and i can get out the door to school in the morning.
suffice it to say, the routine has changed dramatically from the wake-up-and-bathe-eliza days. it was a long process, even as streamlined as i had managed to make it.

i still have closets full of medical supplies.
i gave away tons and tons of equipment and supplies in the weeks after eliza died. thousands of dollars worth. i thought i had gotten rid of it all. but i still find stashed-away stashes...still.

i still forget that any babysitter will do just fine.
which was certainly not the case with eliza. mercifully, we have several very generous doctor friends (and a few brave non-doctor-but-grown-up family members and friends) who would stay with her on the very rare occasion when we both needed to be out at the same time. suffice it to say, a teenager would not have been a good fit.

a nearly-whole year later. still.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

because i want to make sure i remember

this is what i love about six.

my big boy--all four feet one inch, fifty-two pounds of him--can climb the climbing structure at school--all the way to the top--without hesitation. gap-toothed, jeans-wearing, soccer-playing, two-wheeler-riding, own-shoe-tying, rough and tumble boy, he is. funny (funny!)--making up jokes that even make sense (sometimes). curious--about everything, really, but especially about math recently (multiplication, division? piece of cake. it's square roots that really interest him these days). consumer of books--yes, long chapter-ish ones like the lord of the rings, but also sweet picture books he'll still read over and over.

i love that he still loves those picture books. and he still loves being read to, even if he reads faster than dad does. and, thankfully, he can climb that climbing structure one-handed...because he still wanted nothing more than to take the class "pet," a lion named cuddles who had his turn to spend the weekend with our family last week, all the way to the top with him. and he definitely wanted dad to take a picture of him up there with cuddles.

that's what i love about six.

on waiting

i made an advent wreath last weekend. this ancient tradition has become a sweet tradition at our church, with members contributing all sorts of greens for the wreath-making and a very talented artist/church member/friend providing guidance on assembling the wreaths. this year, the explanation of the colors of the candles really struck me, however, in a way it never has before.

the first candle, which is purple, represents hope. the second, also purple, stands for peace. the third, the pink one, is for joy. the fourth, again purple, love. and the white candle in the center, not lit until christmas, is the Christ candle.

look at (okay, at least imagine) the calendar with me for a minute.

the first sunday of advent was this past weekend. the candle we lit stood for hope. i was, meanwhile, just a week removed (and not nearly physically recovered) from losing zeph. hope? hardly at the top of the list of what i was feeling this weekend.

this coming sunday will be the second sunday, and the candle we will light represents peace. if you were looking at my calendar with me right now, you would see very little of peace coming this weekend for my family. if we could pack another thing into one more hour, we might. but i don't think we can. 'tis the season of too-much-of-everything, after all. no quiet waiting this advent weekend for us. what i wouldn't do for some peace.

the third sunday is december 13. which is the day after december 12, the anniversary of eliza's death. the candle? joy. really? joy? we will likely attend a children's hospice memorial service that afternoon. joy? for me, the anticipation of that weekend holds dread first and foremost. a year gone by. joy?

as for the fourth candle, the sunday before christmas, and the fifth for christmas day...well, love and Christ, that's what this season is about. i'm looking forward--rushing might not be too strong a word--to getting to those candles, myself.

what i take away from these five candles this year, then, is a good reminder: i cannot look for hope, peace, or joy in this world. i will not find them here. my hope is not in people or places or things, those things that make up what is so apparently real to me. what is really real, the love of God in Christ that advent and christmas point to, is all about what we're anticipating and awaiting. hope, peace, and joy. i, for one, am grateful for the reminder of those things to come.