Friday, February 28, 2014

Bears

Meet Fuzzy Freddy and Blue. These guys joined our family last night when the boys won them from a claw machine. They both had one turn at the machine, and they both snagged a bear (this never happens). Elliott pointed out that we have gained a lot of bears since Alaska died--Beary, Oscar, Jeff, Brownie, Spots, Cuddles, and now Asher's Fuzzy Freddy and Elliott's Blue. Each one of these bears is a sweet snuggle from our angel girl.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Because She Lived

Asher: My story is called "The Happy Family."

Me: Is Alaska in your story?

Asher: No, then it would be called "The Sad Family."

Me: Alaska is part of everything in our family. We're happy right now. We are sad that she isn't alive, but we still need to live our best lives. She's with us right now. Alaska is part of all of it, not just the sad.

Asher: Right. Because she's always with us. I just wish everyone believed me that I'm a big brother. Some people still don't believe me.

Me: Those people are wrong, Asher. You are Alaska's big brother. The fact that she died doesn't take that away. Alaska existed. She lived. When my grandpa Neil died, he didn't stop being my grandpa. You and Elliott will be Alaska's big brothers forever.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Healing Hearts

Dear Alaska,       ?!

Today Grandma Dawn told us that she heard good news on her heart! She has been worried that you wouldn't know her as Crazy Grandma Dawn--the grandma who has a bazillion projects going and who thinks that she is "strict." When she told us that she thought she was a strict grandma, we laughed at her. It was so cute! I'm serious. This is why...
If you would have asked her to make a pizza that was in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, she would have found a way to do it (probably by enlisting Grandpa Donnie's help). 
If you would have asked her permission to sled down the stairs, she would have let you (as long as Daddy and I weren't there to stop it). 
If you would have asked her if you could keep a baby lamb, she certainly would have been the one to plant that idea in your head (knowing that it would never happen).
If you would have asked her to read you a story before bed and to snuggle you to sleep, she would have given you the best grandma cuddles.
Alaska, your grandma is about as far from strict as she can get, but she is the best. Her heart might be broken, but it's healing.

Sending you hugs and kisses...I miss you.

                                      Love, Mommy ?!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Time

All day I asked myself: How is it possible that Alaska was born 8 weeks ago?

It has been forever but no time at all.
a band of blue for my December daughter

Monday, February 24, 2014

Michonne's Strength

More evidence that I am changed.

Last night when I was watching The Walking Dead (Spoiler alert!), the highlight of the episode was when a character named Michonne revealed that she had a son who died. Michonne has been mostly closed off since she found the group of survivors on the show a couple seasons ago, but when she spoke her truth in last night's episode, a weight seemed to lift for her. I get it. I walk around in this world and strangers have no idea that my daughter died. As time passes, people who do know will forget or act like it never happened because--it seems--that's what we do with pain that isn't our own.

I have no idea how I would have reacted to Michonne's revelation if I had seen it two months ago. I may have been touched, or I may have skipped through the scene because it would be too difficult to think about her dead son. However, I am changed now, so I celebrate this moment with a fictional character who epitomizes strength--first as a skilled fighter and now as a broken mother who has exposed her damaged heart to love and be loved again. Now that's a story.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Craving Alaska

"Mom, what if a ref kicked someone out of the game for being awesome?"
~Elliott (8)

Countless what if questions are asked in my house each day. I love the silly ones like this and the giggling boys who take turns coming up with hypothetical reasons for how the what if could work. The volume increases until we can't decipher the crazy scenarios with the laughter. I crave Alaska in these moments. I try to remind myself that she is with us, forever part of our family; she holds a piece of every bit of my joy.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I miss you.

Today I am sharing just a few sentences from my letter to Alaska.

2/22/14
Dear Alaska,    ?!
I'm just so tired today. I miss you. There are so many things we don't get to do together. It's not fair. Life isn't fair, though.
                       Love, Mommy   <3              ?!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Censor

Yesterday I was conflicted over whether or not to post the picture of me holding Beary, but I reminded myself why I started this blog. I reminded myself that I didn't start sharing to then censor major aspects of my grief. The only mother-daughter pictures I have with Alaska are my belly pics and now the one with Beary. This entire experience is incredibly messy. It is painful. It is beautiful. To be true to my grief, I share all of these.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Clarity Answered

Throughout each day, I experience moments of clarity. About half of the time, I freeze and know that I absolutely cannot handle my reality. In other moments I am filled with strength and acceptance: I don't want to do this, but I can and will. Occasionally, the clarity of strength will be answered immediately by despair or vice versa.

This mothering a dead baby cannot possibly be my reality. But it is.

Holding Alaska

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why I Write

Today I watched a video of John Green speaking at Kenyon College. His speech is called "Thoughts on How to Make Things and Why" (he admits that this is a terrible title). I watch John's videos and read his books because his words resonate in my life as a nerd, a teacher, a writer, and most importantly a human on this planet. His book The Fault in Our Stars has blown up since the movie promotions started recently. If you haven't read it and you are a human on this planet, you should.

Based on what I have read and heard of John's remarks on The Fault in Our Stars, it originated from his experience as a chaplain working in a children's hospital. The novel's main character, a teenager named Hazel Grace who lives with a terminal cancer diagnosis, was born of his grief over a young friend's death. During his speech John described how his grief and writing connected to become Hazel Grace's story:
"Amid the reality of human horror, I realized that children have always died. That the death of children is as natural as it is unjust. The notion of a plan was revolting to me. The universe, I felt, either is completely disinterested in people or else it acts precisely as if it were. Way down deep in what Robert Warren called the darkness which is you, that cheap hope of encouragements offered me no comfort. What we need are better encouragements. Ones that aren't bullshit. Ones that stand up to scrutiny, and this, I think, is why we tell stories and read them--to light the way down deep darkness which is you."
And this is exactly why I write--because I have to in order to make my way through the bullshit to a place where what I feel is real and where I know I am living my truth. If I weren't writing through my grief, I don't think I would be fully able to participate in life. I would still be as paralyzed as I was in the beginning my life as the mom to a dead baby. In his speech, John called this "That feeling when you need to write. When it feels like it's the only thing that can save you from some sort of physical or psychic pain."

In my first post on this blog, I wrote that I don't know what I think until I write. Every word I have written since Alaska's death has been my truth. Sometimes one part of me is trying to convince another part to believe--that it's ok to be ok; that it's ok to be angry; that it's ok to grieve in the way that is right for me; that it's ok to not be ok; that it's ok to love myself. I have written every day since Alaska died. Some of my writing is shared but some is private. Most of it is clunky. All of it gives me life.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Interrobang Worthy

I went for another walk this evening. This time I left earlier so I didn't feel like I was pressing my luck as a pedestrian wearing a black coat at dusk. Tonight when I reached the edge of town, the sky was on fire. Well, it was pink--that pink that would be the color of fire if we lived in a world with pink fire. As sunsets do, this beauty slowly started slipping away as I walked around the block to turn east.

The sky has captured my attention for my entire life and has always been interrobang worthy.
Did you see that moon?!
Where is the blue sky?!
Why can't we recreate those colors!?
Have you ever felt this close to the stars?!
Today was no exception--pink reflected around the horizon, barely a hint in some places; blue sky directly overhead dotted with puffs of clouds; angry-looking clouds sandwiched between the blue and pink; all of this continuously moving and changing.

The sky, any sky, is a metaphor for life. This sky was my entire experience of Alaska. I realized, though, that I cannot perceive the entire sky in a single moment. I believe this to be true of my grief also. I feel like if I could bear all of it at once, I would implode or explode or disappear or [something dramatic], so I juggle pieces throughout the day:

always surrounded by Alaska love
living with joy as my daughter's mother
forever stewing with gray

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter Air

"Alaska, I can breathe again," this sentence repeated in my mind tonight as I walked to the edge of town to enjoy the sunset and the winter air. I thought about the last time I fully breathed in such crispness.

It was just over eight weeks ago, right around the time Alaska died. We took our kids night sledding a few days after Christmas on my parents' ranch. Alaska may have died that day, maybe even when I was up on the hill watching my kids, husband, nieces, and siblings delight in the thrill of racing down Sheep Mountain. I know it doesn't really matter because dead is dead, but I still wonder if her heart was beating at that time.

Even with this terrible curiosity, I still breathe deeply tonight. I breathe in the healing freshness of the air. I breathe knowing that I carry Alaska with me always. I breathe through my anger at knowing that I will never carry Alaska the way I had planned. I breathe again and again.

 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Can you say Alaska?"

It's the simple moments that bring the most joy.

We had a nice visit this weekend from my cousin Nikki and her beautiful family. This morning during breakfast, Nikki asked her daughter to say our names. Hearing this little one-year-old voice say anything makes me happy because she is such a smart little sweetie. When Nikki asked her to say Alaska, it made my day. Hearing my goddaughter say my daughter's name was a perfect gift.

No Such Thing As Love Etcetera

My cousin Jenn commented on "Thankful Etcetera" through Facebook last night. My response to her evolved into this post. Jenn wrote:
"I hate life gave you this heartache. I love how through the pain you refuse to let it destroy your beautiful heart and spirit. Your words are healing to many people's hearts. Why bad things happen to beautiful wonderful people like you I may never understand. But I do believe your mess is a beautiful message that you have wrapped in these beautiful words that only you can give. Your children are learning true strength the strength that comes deep and is only known by someone with a broken heart. I love you so very much! Alaska has an amazing momma she didn't get to feel that love on this earth long enough but she felt it none the less. I believe she watches over you. Let her see her beautiful momma laugh love and let her eyes dance. Love you sami! Call if you ever need a shoulder or a smile or a hug. I'm always here!"
Thank you, Jenn, for your beautiful love and support. And thank you for shining through your own pain with strength.

I guess bad things happen to good people because great things happen to good people. Life doesn't discriminate. Rather than ask "Why me?" we should ask, "Why not me?" We can't make sense of life no matter how hard we try. I guess this is why people find comfort in the words, "Everything happens for a reason." I'm not there yet, and I don't understand how people get to that point after losing a child. Here I am again trying to make sense of the senseless.

I hate that this pain happens to you and me and so many others, but if the alternative is nothing, I will take the pain because it's all I have of Alaska. Well, it's not all pain. It's pain etcetera which is really love and part of that love is pain. There is no such thing as love etcetera.

I love you!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Thankful Etcetera

I am tired. Tired of being broken and knowing that this is my life now. I cannot go back to the before time when I was simply happy and thankful for my blessings. I can't even remember what that really felt like. Now every emotion I have comes with an etcetera.

For years I have wondered when my brick wall would appear. I knew that my happiness was too complete to last. I knew that, since I felt like I had everything I had ever needed and wanted, something would give. I didn't know that it would be the life of my daughter. I didn't know that it would crash down so unexpectedly. I had hoped that I was wrong and that life would carry on for decades before I found that brick wall. Honestly, brick wall seems too mild a term for this experience, but it's how I thought of this life changer before I rammed into it.

Today I am thankful etcetera for my blessings--thankful, unsure, afraid. I hold on to the fact that I continue to be blessed and feel happiness etcetera.

Friday, February 14, 2014

For My Students

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saying this to anyone other than my husband or my sons was not something that I woke up looking forward to this morning. I have no strong feelings about VDay. I don't hate it; I participate knowing that love should be expressed every day not just today when Hallmark tells us to be mushy. It is typically a good excuse for Brandon and I to have date night since we tend to neglect date night.

I knew that school today would be a bit chaotic with singing valentines and flower deliveries, and I expected the stress that comes with such things these days. I was prepared for a rough day but knew I could handle it. I can handle a lot on the day before a weekend.

During my first class of the day, I was thinking about how great my students are and how I wish I had brought them a little treat. Unfortunately, I am rarely that organized. My seniors have been doing some good work, so I had this urge to gush at them a bit this morning. I didn't, though, because it would have been a distraction. During my study hall with the same students right after first period, I was surprised to have a group of seniors and juniors appear by my desk (Let the chaos of VDay begin, I thought).

They weren't there to deliver flowers or singing valentines, though. They handed me a tote full of goodies and a bouquet of balloons and a teddy bear from the senior class. I was shaking and trying not to cry because it was so unexpected and so kind. And then the juniors handed me more goodies and teddy bears from their class. I don't even have the juniors for class this year.

A couple hours later I held my bowl of hot soup while a group of students delivered a singing valentine to me, and shortly after that, I received an assortment of flowers. These awesome teenagers made my day. I was overwhelmed in the best way.


So I've been thinking about this kindness all day. I tried to write my students a thank you note but deleted most of the sentences I wrote because (along the lines of my blog yesterday) there are no words to truly express how powerful these gifts were. It really has nothing to do with the stuff and everything to do with the people behind the stuff. These are individuals who let me face them with my truth when the semester started, "My baby died last week." Many of them wrote notes or stopped in to show support in the beginning weeks of the semester.

These teenagers are the reason I go to work every day. They are why I have the job that I have. While the days this semester have been hard, it isn't because of my students. It's because my reality is difficult. My students, like my sons, have brought humor and "business as usual" back into my life.

They have helped me feel ok saying to all of you, "Happy Valentine's Day!" And I really mean it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Exploration


This picture cannot fully reflect the beauty of the moment. Actually the picture isn't even close. Similarly, my words fail to completely represent my truth. My words are an exploration in snapshots.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To Be Held

Oscar, Beary, and Jeff

Part of Alaska's job as baby sister would have been to be held by her big brothers. Elliott and Asher were looking forward to holding her and playing with her. Beary, our teddy bear who holds Alaska's urn, has been a comfort for us as we grieve. We decided to order bears for our boys so they could have their own sister snuggles. Elliott wanted Alaska's picture along with her name and her big brothers on his bear's shirt. He named his bear Oscar.

Asher wanted his bear (now named Jeff) to have a shirt with a picture of Jesus holding Alaska. He also decided that we should add pictures of him and Elliott standing with Jesus and Alaska. Jeff's shirt says "BIG BROTHER" because it was important for Asher to know that he is still a big brother even though he will never meet his baby sister.
Jeff's shirt

Teddy bear snuggles are in no way powerful enough, but they're what we have. Well, teddy bears and each other.

Oscar's shirt

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reaching

I have had a few moments recently where I could feel the lightness of contentment. It's a tingling as if I can truly feel the healing stitches to my heart. However brief these moments are, I try to enjoy them fully. I try to project this light out into the world. My guilt usually moves in to weigh me back down, but I swear the guilt is getting sluggish. The light and strength I have gained from Alaska grow more powerful each day.

Because grief is so self-centered, I decided that my ego could use a reminder that I am not the only being in the world. I watched a TEDx talk today called "Getting Free of Self-Importance Is the Key to Happiness" by Polly Young-Eisendrath. She closed her talk with this guidance, "Look up and see if someone needs help, if someone needs a smile, if a door needs to be opened. I can guarantee if you do that you will find that the world is reaching out to you all of the time." Even though I know that she is right, looking up opposes every posture my body would rather choose. My body naturally tries to curl inward. I want to hide away and continue to inspect the floor. I am trying to look up more because I know that, as Young-Eisendrath stated, the world is reaching out to me, and I need to reach back.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Okay Is Relative

Today was okay until it wasn't.

I look fine. I say that I'm fine, but I'm not. Not in the way I used to be. It's all relative.

Before Alaska died, okay meant that I had no complaints. I was almost always more than okay. I was blessed and grateful.

Since Alaska died, okay means that in a specific moment I am holding myself together successfully, but I most certainly have complaints. Sometimes I may even be more than okay, but I am also simultaneously not okay. I am still blessed. I am still grateful. But I am not okay. Not like I used to be.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Second Chances (in my dreams)

I had another Alaska dream last night. This time she was born at 21 weeks (I should be 21 weeks pregnant now). In my dream, we knew that it was too early still. We had already lost her the way we did in real life, but in my dream I guess we got a second chance. We knew that we were going to lose her again. We were ready to say goodbye again, but when she was born in my dream, she was born alive. We knew that the doctors couldn't do anything to save her because it was too early.

But this was a dream, so anything was possible. I held our Alaska and rocked her and tried to feed her even though I knew she was too small. In my dream, though, she wasn't too small. We gave her special dream food for tiny babies, and she grew. She got so big that she was a really fat baby. We laughed at how she had overcome the odds and become a beautifully chubby little baby. She giggled and flapped her dimpled arms. She had gained so much weight that she had to lose 20 pounds. It was ok, though. She was chubby and alive and healthy! She was so strong that she had to LOSE weight because she was so good at living. And then I woke up.

My Alaska dreams make me happy. Even when I wake up to my reality and know that it was a dream. Life doesn't give second chances like that--not from death. I still got to see Alaska and hold her even though it was all in my mind. I probably sound crazy. I don't care.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Break

After surrounding myself with stories of loss, I am realizing how completely broken a person can be and still survive. Yes, some of it is autopilot. You eat because you have to not because you care, or you don't eat because you don't have to and you don't care. You can still do things that came easily before. Before, you know. Before you were broken. Before you shattered. Before some of those pieces were completely destroyed.

Gone.

Those pieces are gone.

You will go on without them because you can. You will go on sometimes when you don't want to go on. You want to just hit the pause button for a day. Just one day to take a time out from everything, but unless you get the flu, you'll go on without that break because you can. You see people who are suffering and wonder how they do it, and you know that you aren't that strong.

But you are.

You would never be able to handle that.

But you would.

You hope that you never have to feel that strength because when you're in it, it doesn't feel like strength. It isn't a choice. You didn't exercise to prepare for needing that strength. But when you see a friend or a stranger who is suffering, you know they are strong.

You're strong, too.

You might have to keep going back to pick up your pieces, and you might have to chew a piece of gum, spit it out, and try to stick some of those pieces back together. You might pour a bottle of glue over your head and then just roll around on your broken pieces and hope that some of them stay this time.

You will keep going because you can.

Because we all can.

Even when we don't want to.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Necklace

When I got home this afternoon, Brandon handed me a box that had come in the mail. My angel wings memorial necklace was here already (I just discovered that the picture of her necklace is featured on Kennebug Boutique's website). Alaska's name looks beautiful surrounded by her December birthstone and the angel wings charm. I find myself wishing the necklace was a ring or bracelet so I could look at it more easily. Memorials are all we have left of our baby girl, and seeing her name makes me happy. I am fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family who honor Alaska Eileen. No one has told me--or in any way implied--that I should "get over it" or "move on." Being allowed and encouraged to live my life as Alaska's mom is a blessing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Holding Silence

Holding my daughter is the chill from a smooth brass heart that warms in my hands, or it's the soft bear heavy with the weight of her urn. Either way is a cool and still embrace. I am thankful to have something to hold and to know where Alaska's ashes are, but I would rather hold her squirming little body. I would rather have her sweaty cheek pressed to my skin and smell her sweetness. What I have of her saves me. It's just enough to hold (better than empty arms and better than never knowing her), but I would rather be covered in her drool and her spit up. I would rather listen to her snore and squeak. I would rather pat her back and shush her cries. Holding Alaska is holding silence where there should be life.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Joy

Today I have to share my joy. This word like so many others has a new meaning. Joy comes in the form of small moments that are often followed by guilt. Grief can try to negate my joy, and it can even knock me down just when I think I am steady. But the thing about living is that we can hold grief, joy, pain, beauty, and love in one space. We can shatter into a million pieces, but we can also be put back together. We can live with missing pieces; we can live with the scars. We keep going because life can rebuild just as it destroys.

Grief will knock me down, but love, in the form of flowers from my friend, will pick me up. The beauty of the sunset or a single feather on my sleeve will ease the pain for a few breaths. My friends who let me talk about my daughter allow me to heal a little more. This picture of Alaska's name written on her uncle's basketball shoe may seem insignificant, but it is love. Love is never insignificant.


 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Stranger

When I posted "Small Talk" yesterday, I didn't imagine that I would be living it today. I finally went to get a haircut this afternoon and faced the exact situation I had been fearing. My kids came up in the conversation right away because I mentioned that they were waiting for me. The stylist, with her adorable blue-haired braid, politely asked how many kids I had. I said two, betraying myself and my daughter right away. I wanted to take it back, but how do you say that? "Never mind. I lied. I actually have three children." This doesn't really work, especially not for the unskilled conversationalist. We moved on to the part of the discussion where we talked about what my job is and where I work and whether I like what I do. At this point I was just trying not to cry in front of this nice girl who had no idea that exactly five weeks before I was in surgery delivering my daughter.

Out of nowhere, she asked, "You just have two?" I knew what she meant, but I needed to be sure that she had just opened the door for Alaska. She clarified, "You just have two kids?" And at that, I told her that I have my two boys, but I also have a daughter who died. She was so kind as I told her that we were grieving and trying to honor Alaska's memory. She asked me questions and listened to my story about how Alaska got her name. She told me that she thought Alaska was a great name. This stranger with her follow-up question was a gift today.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Small Talk

"How many kids do you have?"
Elliott is 8. Asher is 6. Alaska is dead.
This question has been on my mind since I was in labor with Alaska; I started writing this piece before I created my blog.
"How many kids do you have?" 
I have three children.
"How old? Boys? Girls?" 
My sons are 8 and 6. My daughter is dead. An angel baby. I lost her.
I now fear these innocent questions from friendly strangers. For me it comes down to protecting my heart by acknowledging my daughter or protecting a stranger and myself from a potentially uncomfortable conversation. Talking is my weakness. I completely suck at social situations, so I fear that I will panic and choose the second option, the lie.
"How many kids do you have?" 
I have two boys.
If I deny Alaska as my daughter, I will hate myself. I know that when most people ask these questions, they simply mean to ask about living children. The intention is not to start a conversation about dead babies but to make small talk. Talk about dead babies is not small. I know that it's natural to answer the questions about my living children and to swallow my truth, but so often these exchanges include follow-up questions.
"Are you going to try for a girl?" 
I already have a daughter. She died.
I can only keep my head down for so long. For my entire life I have done my best to say as little as possible, to observe and listen, to save my words for the meaningful conversations. So what if I choose to look up and to protect my heart by saying Alaska's name to a stranger? What if my acknowledgement of my daughter is an opening to a true connection with someone who has experienced a loss? What if I just tell the truth even though the truth hurts?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Elliott Wonders

"I just wonder how much easier life would have been if we never even knew about this." ~Elliott, big brother to Asher and Alaska
After Elliott said this last week, I explained to him that I would do all of this every day over and over to have Alaska be part of our lives. No matter how much easier life could be, I wouldn't trade the time we had with Alaska for anything less than having life turn out the way I think it should. We are blessed to have Alaska in our lives even though we have to wait to meet her. A few hours later he read chapter one of Heaven Is for Real to Asher. I hope they continue to wonder and find ways to make sense of life as big brother to an angel.

Today before Elliott went out to ask people for Jump Rope for Heart donations, he told me that he was thinking maybe Alaska had a heart problem, so he wanted to raise more money. I guess it's a way for him to do something that might help another baby; it's a way for him to do something that makes sense. I wish my sons didn't know this pain, but I am thankful that they love Alaska Eileen and honor her memory. She continues to teach us many lessons about life and love. We are forever blessed to have our angel girl.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

An Old Interrobang: Going for Three

When my mom came to visit last September, she teased us that she had been praying for a third Peil baby. I assured her that she should keep praying because we had no plans for such an addition to the family. Well, her prayers were answered a couple weeks later when Brandon and I decided to try for one more. We were soon blessed with a positive pregnancy test and then 5 or 6 YAY-Is-this-REALLY-happening?! tests to confirm that, yes, we were about to be outnumbered. Life has never been more exciting than eagerly waiting with baby number one and baby number two to meet our sweet baby number three.