Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Sadness of Losing a Long Lost Friend

Late yesterday, I found out that a girl that I roomed with in college passed away from cancer. I was scrolling through Facebook and her picture popped up, in full color.

At first, I did not know what I was seeing. I though, OMG! That's Sherri! What ever happened to her? 

We shared a house with seven other girls during our junior and senior years of college. We pledged different sororities, so we did not have all of the same friends, but we shared the walls of the house and more memories than I can begin to fathom.

We graduated in 1996. Email was just becoming something that everyone used – at work. If you had it at home, you used a dial-up connection that took forever. There was no Facebook. There wasn’t even MySpace.

I have kept in touch with many of my college friends. Unfortunately, I have lost touch with even more. One of the reasons I keep my maiden name in my Facebook profile is so that old friends can still find me. 

But I never found Sherri. To be honest, I am not sure if I even looked. We had a lot of fun together, and when I think about her, all I see is a big smile. I remember her being very positive and very happy.

I clicked on the link last night where I saw her picture staring back at me, and I quickly learned that she was diagnosed with cancer back in 2015. A Go Fund Me account was set up by her husband to help defray the cost of her medical bills and to help them support their three children. 

It’s been 21 years since I have seen her. In that time, she got married, had a family, lived a full life and had died. Way way too soon.

I feel so sad today. I wish I had reconnected with her. I wish I could have been there for her.

It’s normal for people to go their separate ways. It’s part of growing up and moving on. Had I not seen the note on social media, I would not even know she had died.

Grief is a familiar emotion for me. Almost as much as joy or pain. However, I do not know what to do with the loss of this friend that I once knew. A friend that I have not known in over two decades.

My solution was to dig out my college things and try to remember the good times. I found photos of us all in our house on S. Walnut Street, just a few blocks from campus. I found pictures of us out to dinner and at a comedy club for my birthday one year. And I found this one of many of the roommates in the kitchen, where we spent so much of our time. Cooking ramen and mac and cheese, having house meetings about rent and utilities, sharing drinks and the occasional cigarette, and laughter.

Thank you, Sherri, for the trip down memory lane. I hope that if you were in any pain, that is gone now. I hope your husband and children got to spend as much quality time with you as was possible. And I hope that some of that light and happiness that I remember about you was with you up until the end.

My deepest condolences to her whole family.

Some of the WCU Girls. Sherri is on the far left.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

When All You Can Do Is Cry...Then Cry

While I believe in the power of a good cry, I do not cry all that much. I feel things, sure, but I don't ugly cry all that much. It's always a relief when I do let it all out because I usually feel so good afterward.

Last week, I took advantage of "Tightwad Tuesday" at our local movie theater and went to see The Glass Castle. I had read the memoir years ago and really appreciated it. Now that I am writing my life story, I thought it might be good research to see the movie. I also just really wanted to see how they took the author's words and translated them to the screen.

I enjoyed the movie. It was not as detailed as the book (how could it be?), and there was a lot that was left out, but I loved the acting and the story as a whole. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours on a cold and wet Tuesday afternoon.

There was an aspect of the movie that made me cry. It was not about babies or stillbirth or anything that makes current day me cry. It was about the relationship between the father and his daughter, and it wrecked me.

I make no secret of the fact that my dad and I had a rocky past. I have spent years of my life dealing with the aftermath of how his words and actions impacted me. I did not think that all these years later, I could still be moved to tears by certain memories.

Once the tears started, I could not get them to stop. The tears about my dad and the sadness that came with them turned into tears about Allie and the fact that she was not going to be in any of the back to school pictures that have been splashed all over my social media accounts. I love seeing how grown up and adorable and fashionable and sassy all the kids in my life have become. But last week, all I felt was sorry that there would be no pictures of my first born. It was like a blanket of grief was sitting on my chest. I found it hard to breathe.

I cried in the car. I cried in the shower. One night I started to cry to Gary, and he looked at me with so much compassion. He was supportive and tried to help, but I felt empty and alone and sad. Grief can be so isolating.

The day after I went to the movies, I drove to a local charity and donated all of my old maternity clothes. I told Gary that they were the last connection I had to Allie and that it tore at my heart to let them go. I knew, though, that they would make some other mom very happy (and well dressed!) and there was no need for them to sit in a box in my basement anymore.

They were not my last connection to her. How dramatic! My head knows that. By my heart just could not take it. And neither could my tears.

Eventually, I ran out of tears. The sadness passed. Happiness found its way back in. I packed up my things and Miranda’s things, and we went to the beach for a few days with some family. We had such a great time soaking up the end of summer, living life, and spending time in the present and not the past.

Now I am home. The tears seem to be gone. There is sand in most of my clothes. I can breathe again. The best way to survive is to work through your grief. I am happy that I did. It sure feels good here on the other side.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Year In the Life

One year ago today, I became a bona fide published writer. I was ecstatic to get my first piece published and to share my words and story with whoever was interested. I knew that writing for sites other than my own would give me more exposure (and money!) and I am proud of each and every piece that I have written.

I started writing for one site, and now I write for three. The rush of seeing my name on the byline never gets old. I have received such tremendous feedback from my work that it sometimes overwhelms me. But in a very good way.

My memoir is a work in progress. It's difficult to go back through my life and determine what is relevant, relatable and exciting to others. I think it is close to where I want it to be and with any luck, I will have it edited and proofed by the Fall and maybe even published by the end of the year. I am still trying to determine the best avenue for it. Don't worry. I will get there.

The hardest part of being a writer is that I spend my writing days (and often those surrounding them), going back over the times and experiences in my life that have been most painful. I want to share the story of my first born daughter. I want other parents like us to know they are not alone and I want other people to get some insight into what it is like to lose a child. I hope that the lessons that I have learned will help others someday. If I can take what I know and possibly help someone else, then I feel like the lesson was worth learning. 

Surviving was not an option for me. It was just something I did. With the help of my family and friends and support group and even my social media friends, I got up every day. I took a shower. I made breakfast. I kept going until it was routine to do all those things again and not something I had to check off a list just to get me through.

Then came our rainbow. Parenting her has been the most exquisite joy of my life. I am so worried about her growing up in her sister's shadow, though. My words help me through some of that anxiety and remind me that I am doing the best that I can and that has to be good enough. I cross my fingers every day that it is.

Being a non-fiction writer means I have an obligation to tell the truth. The truth can change with the story teller, but I owe it to myself and those that read my words to tell the most accurate truth that I can tell. 

Losing a child is torture. Mind-numbing, soul crushing pain.

Raising a child is a privilege. Also sometimes mind-numbing, but the pleasure I get from even the smallest smile is enough to keep me going for days.

Stillbirth, adoption, grief, parenting...all are key words I have used in this past year for my published posts. All are words and ideas that I will continue to explore in my writing.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. 355 personal blog posts since 2011. 40 professional published posts since August 22nd of last year.  Two daughters. One heart. Mine.

Can't wait to see what the next year will bring!

Enjoying life as a paid freelance writer!

Recently found the list we started with baby names. Turns out we did not need to go past the letter A.

Double rainbows!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rainbows Have Nothing To Hide

If you follow me on Facebook, then you probably saw this blog coming a mile away. I have had post after post of a weekend getaway with my Rainbow Moms, and it was nothing short of amazing.

In my life, there has been no greater tragedy than my daughter's death. Learning that my daughter had stopped breathing while she was still inside of me, attached me, was almost more than I could take. I am not sure how my heart kept beating when hers stopped.

Six years later and my ache for her is still so real that I feel like it's sitting next to me some days. I love it when people say her name and when people remember that I had a child before the one they see me with at the mall or at the park.

I miss her with every fiber of my being. My husband feels the longing the same as me. After all, she was as much a part of him as she was of me. I will always remember counting her toes when she was delivered and seeing how they were chubby like a baby, but long like her daddy.

I have come to learn in those years, that there are others that feel the same emptiness. They are the parents who also had to say goodbye before they even barely got to say hello.

I spent the weekend with seven of those moms (and one very courageous dad to put up with us all!). We were together to celebrate a milestone birthday for one of us, and it was just the best.

Those of us that made it to the party all live far apart. We drove hours and hours, made carpools, shared rooms and did not think twice about it. We greeted each other with warm hugs and did not want to let go. We started with some cocktails as soon as we checked in and many of us did not stop celebrating until about eight hours later.

We laughed. We danced. We shared stories. We talked about nothing. We talked about everything.

I do not remember saying Allie's name at all on this weekend. But she was with me, as she always is.

Our shared grief has turned into such a bond that we live in the present and not the past. We tend to talk more about the children we are raising than the ones that stay forever young. We call ourselves the Rainbow Mamas and not the Dead Baby Mamas. We are about living and surviving and not death and dying.

We all know the bonds that brought us together cannot be broken. We all wish that those babies were alive and that we never had to even meet each other. We all know they are not and that the friendships we have formed in their honor is the next best thing to them being here.

It's a crazy kind of club. But it's our club. And I love these women in a way I never thought possible. Even when they get "Despacito" stuck in my head. Even when I have had too much sangria. Even as I belt out all the words to "Hungry Eyes" and "Living on a Prayer" when the cool girls are singing to Bell Biv DeVoe.

I know that they will not bring my daughter back any more than I can bring their babies back. They can, however, help me be a strong and courageous mom for my living child and make sure the memory of my baby born still is never forgotten. 

To Skylar, Leo, R.E., Jameson, Gianni, Evan, Tylee and Allie...thanks for giving us each other.  And thanks for helping us have yet another night to remember!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What My Day Looks Like On The First of Every Month

It's early in the morning on August 1st when I sit down to my computer. First, I invoice my largest freelance client for the work I did last month. Next, I e-mail my daughter's birth mother.

Since today is a Tuesday, Miranda has camp. Gary brought her in today and by 8:15, I have finished both tasks.

The month has barely started, and I am ahead of the game.

It's been four years since we adopted Miranda. Close to five years since we decided to use open adoption. While we know it is in the best interest of our daughter, I know many people wonder how we can do it.

To us, it's simple. One day, Miranda will want to know how we came to be her parents. She may have questions about her birth family. She may want to know certain things that Gary and I just don't know. In those cases, we can direct her to M, with whom we visit twice a year, send monthly emails and have Skype calls when it works with all of our schedules. M can attempt to fill in the blanks.

It's not the traditional way to parent. It's not the easiest way to parent. I think, however, it is what is best for Miranda. And in the end, that is all that matters.

As a parent, your needs often come second. Or third. Or last. It's an adjustment, for sure. It's also what is right and fair for the child or children you are raising. Whether they came from your womb or not.

I wrote a piece on foster care and adoption that should be out later this week. In it, I mention how "love makes a family - not blood." I stand by that. I really do.

Sometimes I wish that I was the only mom in my daughter's life. Sometimes I wish I did not envy her birth mother for the time she got to spend with my daughter before she was born. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself that the daughter I carried is not here with me.

Instead of shaking it off and telling myself to get over it, I am learning to face the things that I do not necessarily want to see. There is only so much I can control and trying to change history and alter the past is not going to do anyone any good.

I was meant to be a mother. Allie, my sweet butterfly, who flutters around so vibrant and bright and Miranda, my precious rainbow, who teaches me about unconditional love, infinite patience, and sweet compassion. I was meant to mother them both.

The rest is just background noise. I can let it in when I need to, and I can tune it out when I need to. That's what works best for me.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Life's A Beach

My daughter looked at me before camp yesterday and said, “I am 100% tired.” She then rested her head on my lap. Unfortunately, it only stayed there for a minute before we had to rush out the door.

I am a planner. I plan my days out so that they can be as productive as possible. As a mom, I am in charge of so much. It falls on me to make sure the laundry gets done,  the meals get planned and often cooked, the house gets cleaned, and the activities get figured out. 

Am I guilty of over planning? Do I want to do too much?

My first daughter was delivered still born before I had a chance even to hear her cry. Her death devastated me changed the course of the rest of my life. I was unable to get pregnant again, even with medical intervention. After physical, emotional, and financial strain, we finally made the decision to adopt as a way to grow our family.

We were picked to be my daughter’s parents within weeks of applying. We passed the home study and background checks and had just started to get our hopes up when we got the call.

I do not take being a mom for granted. It was a much harder journey for me than I ever expected and because of that, I let me true colors shine, and I plan and plan and plan.

All the planning in the world will not bring my first daughter back. But that is not what I am trying to do.

I feel like I was given a second chance. And no way am I wasting a second of it.

My daughter is in preschool three days a week. She can get social skills and learning in that time frame, and I can work on my writing. It’s perfect for us.

On the days that she is home with me, we go to the mall or the library or the playground or the movies or the local pool or a play date or …oh wow. That is a lot of planning.

I want my daughter to want for nothing. I want her to have every opportunity in the world.

So why was she 100% tired? The day before, we drove about four hours roundtrip for just a few hours on the beach. It was worth it to hear her squeal at the waves. It was worth it to see her bury her legs in the sand. It was worth it to feel the way I felt when I watched her play with wild abandon.

So I will keep planning. And we will keep exploring. And when she is tired, I will make time for rest and naps. And when she is awake, then away we shall go. There is far too much to see, too much to do, to sit home and miss it.

Being a mom is the most exhausting thing I have ever done. But it is also the most rewarding. Every day, I look at her face, her shana punim as my mom would say, and I am reminded how lucky I am. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lost and Found: Memories of My Youth

One of our big projects for 2017 has been to turn our basement into a playroom for Miranda. Whether that means to formally finish it or just clear enough space to put an arts and crafts table down there remains to be seen. None of that matters until Gary and I clean out all of our stuff.

When we bought our house in 2009, we were not even engaged yet. He had a lifetime (and U-haul storage locker) full of items, and I had sold my condo and had all that stuff. For the most part, our things merged together nicely and what did not fit, went to the basement.

Over the years, we have purged certain things. We made a baby section for Allie's things when it turned out that she would not need them. Then we made a section for Miranda's things when it turned out that she outgrew toys and furniture and clothes even faster than we could imagine. In time, with a toddler and work and life in general, the basement became a mish-mosh of everything. Order was pretty much lost, and chaos prevailed.

When we were at the beach earlier this summer, Gary came home for a few days to tackle the basement. He generated a lot of trash and started to make sense of the madness. So far, we have donated close to 10 boxes/bags to the Veterans Association of America and sold close to $100 in items that were useful, but just not to us. We also found a family that was not able to spend money on a new foster child that they had taken in and gave them bags of stuffed animals and toys. The feeling of being able to help that family was one of the best feelings I have had yet.

This weekend, it was time to start working on my section of the basement. I quickly found high school yearbooks, my sorority pledge book, prom pictures, USY pictures, handwritten letters and more. I found piles of things from when we cleaned out my dad's house when we first moved him into a nursing home. I discovered haircuts that no one should have ever paid money for and a lot of outfits that, simply put, were not very flattering on me.

I was chock full of emotions, and I opened box after box. Settlement papers from my first house, bank statements reflecting different careers, baseball hats, straw hats, sun hats...none of which did I ever remember wearing so why did I keep buying hats?? Office supplies from different desk jobs, framed art from various walls that used to surround me and boxes and boxes and boxes of books.

In April 1992, two months before my high school graduation, I found a national newspaper in which I had a poem that ran. It was my first published piece. Who would have known it would have taken me until May 2011 to start writing again?

I found so much that was lost to me and also found so much that could have stayed lost. Letters from my dad during the time in which we did not speak that were not very positive. Pictures of myself from when I thought I was heavy or overweight and I really wasn't. And last but not least, a picture of the boy to whom I lost my virginity, and it turns out that he was much hotter in my memory than on faded film.

I have more to go through before I can pack it all away again. My one friend offered me her fire pit and some wine to have a bonfire to get rid of the bad memories. I seriously considered it until I realized that all of my past makes me who I am - the good and the bad. The lost and the found. So for now, I will throw out the trash but keep the memories. For they are all a part of my story. And I still feel like I have a story to tell.

High School Graduation
Junior Prom with Josh Allen. I had a crush on him since at least 9th grade. He was a terrific date.

Most Likely To Be In A Broadway Play - NPHS 1992

Estelle & Me (Her daughter Hannah was the one who was Bat Mitzvahed back in March.) Estelle was the first one who suggested I blog. Friends since 3rd grade.

Kara & Me. Met my sophomore year of high school. Inseparable ever since. Eventually got our own hairstyles. Throws good bonfires.
Bradford & Me. Met in 1997 or so, through our mutual friend, Amy. Miranda wants me to marry him so that she can marry Gary. It's an ongoing conversation.
Miranda playing in her newly renovated, almost-ready play room.

The Sadness of Losing a Long Lost Friend

Late yesterday, I found out that a girl that I roomed with in college passed away from cancer. I was scrolling through Facebook and her pi...