Books Unread*

My friend Steve Hamburg has written a book, I will never read. It’s painful for me to admit that, because two of the things I most appreciate in the world are books and supporting my friends in their worthy endeavors.

But not all books are for all people, and this book is not a book for me.  It may be a book for you; you can check it out there and decide for yourself: Expectant Fathers are Pregnant Too.

If you haven’t looked at the link yet, or you weren’t able to get the contents from the title, it’s a book about his experiences with his wife of going through their first pregnancy.  My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.  So did my second.  My third pregnancy was a nonstop terror for the life of my child.  I was too scared to believe this would be the time I would walk away with a living, breathing child.  With my second pregnancy, I pleaded every night for the life of my baby.  I can still remember how it felt, night after night; please don’t take my baby.  When those prayers were met with a silent emptiness, I turned away from prayer, refusing even to place enough trust in prayer to pray for that third child.  Some would say I prayed as Hannah prayed.  Voiceless, graceless, with nothing but a silent scream and copious tears. I wouldn’t be able to relate to that experience of someone who’s wife gets pregnant in a due time, without medical intervention, without nosy doctors trying to debate you about the medical ethics of helping you conceive, without nosy friends telling you to “Let go, and let G-d,” or explaining in sad funeral voices that you’re obviously unworthy of the gift of children and you should turn your hand to something you can achieve.

How can I relate to the story that completes itself a pregnancy followed by a healthy child?  Without the pain and fear and agony I experienced.  A pregnancy of hope, as my first one was one, instead of one of terror and pain and loss.

And I might be doing my friend a disservice.  Maybe this wasn’t their first pregnancy.  Maybe their journey was as fraught with anxiety and pain as mine was.  Maybe, like my husband, his thoughts turned to how to support his disconsolate wife again, should the worst happen, even as he struggled to find the strength to live each day without his baby.  I may never know, because I don’t think my heart is strong enough to be put to the test.  If you do read it, you can let me know.

*The original title of this post was Books: both unread and unwritten, and I had thought I might put some thoughts on here on miscarriage as the unfinished book.  But the post feels done to me, so I will save that for another time.

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Final Regrets

When there’s a death, it’s hard to talk about the “worst thing,” there are so many “worst things,” it really is hard to pick one and examine it.

But one of those things is regret.  If your relationship with the deceased isn’t what you hoped it would be, there’s so much regret around that.  When the first of my grandmothers passed away, it was the one I wasn’t super close with, and I experienced a lot of regret around her passing and a constant feeling of a lack of closure in our relationship.  My initial path to acceptance centered around the idea that I had to accept her in the place she was, for who she was and that my memories were special to me, and whether they were special to her or not was not my issue.  I spent a lot of time being angry and resentful that we didn’t have a better relationship and blaming myself for that.  I don’t regret that because it helped me work on deepening other relationships and tossing aside the baggage I didn’t want to continue to carry; the knowledge that *I* get to define my relationships and I don’t have to be angry at someone because of someone else feels.  And that I don’t have to define my relationship the way the other person in the relationship sees it.  (I recognize that valuing a relationship significantly more than the other person in relationship can lead to resentment, I’m not talking about that.  I’m more focusing on the fact that I can love or like people as much as I choose to and I don’t need anyone’s permissions to have familial feelings.)  I’ve recently entered a new phase in my relationship with my deceased grandmother; a recognition that even though I was an adult when she passed, I can’t take sole ownership of the fact that we didn’t have a strong relationship.  I blamed myself so much for not having the kind of relationship I wanted, that I forgot that it takes two to build a relationship and to be quite honest and objective; she didn’t want that kind of relationship with me.  What she wanted was essentially what we had, a card-exchanging relationship where we talked once or twice a year, exchanged pleasantries, and were cordial in each other’s company.  The grandmother/granddaughter relationship I wanted to have, the one I had with my other grandmother, she had with some of her other granddaughters and she didn’t need or want that type of relationship with me.

I came to this new realization when my friend’s grandmother passed away a few weeks ago.  I’ve been trying very hard to be supportive for my friend who was somewhat estranged from her grandmother at the time of her passing.  This has lead to lot of mixed feelings as my friend sorts through similar emotions to what I experienced. No one ever experiences the same things, but I can imagine the feelings of regret my girlfriend is experiencing; the sorrow that they weren’t able to truly reconcile before her passing.  That the opportunity to build a closer more authentic, adult-to-adult relationship has gone forever.  That the bridge spanning childhood to adulthood with that strong authority figure has collapsed.  That my girlfriend will now have to rely on her memories, and hope there are more good ones than bad ones. There will never be another chance to make good memories.

Grief is such an overwhelming emotion that expresses itself in so many ways, in silence, in anger, in knee-jerk reactions, and in carefully considered gestures.  Grief is a giant blanket that settles over all these other emotions; like frustration, regret, anger, love, sorrow, anguish, sympathy, empathy. When I’m mourning, and when I talk to people in mourning, I always try to position myself in a place to give grace, to myself and to others.  To take no offense if they lash out, or to take no offense when I feel like lashing out myself (and try NOT to lash out even when I feel like I want to.)  Because grief is hard and complex and, in a lot of ways, expresses itself meanly, possibly because it comes from a place of pain and wants to strike out.

Clarification to previous

In my previous post, I talked about life changing actions that have consequences and I mentioned three very different things.  The hinge that holds the ideas together is the long-term consequences NOT the things themselves.

When you abuse your spouse or a child, that’s a voluntary act.  It may be a loss of control or whatever excuses you throw at it, but like adultery, you didn’t slip and fall into or onto someone else’s genitals.  It may have been one bad decision or a series of bad decisions, but ultimately, you live with both the responsibility for your actions and the consequences of your actions.

Manslaughter is different. I think of my friend who was killed crossing an expressway at night by a car who was, for the road conditions, driving safely, but not for the condition of my friend randomly crossing the highway, unexpectedly.  The bad decision wasn’t the bad decision of the driver, but the driver still carries the consequences of that action into every day life.  It may not affect every moment of the driver’s life, but the driver is never free of what happened.  My friend’s family and her friends are forever changed by what happened.  There’s no one to blame, it was a bad decision that didn’t have to be fatal, but it was.  99 times out of 100, nothing bad occurs from that action, but, this wasn’t one of those times.

How do you endure the consequences, regardless of whether it was your choices that put you in that situation or not? Many people suffer who are not at fault.  I realize that’s a condition of being in the world.  I don’t think it’s any easier to endure the consequences whether you recognize your fault or whether you have no fault, but you still have to pay the consequences for what happened.

It’s not a pretty solution wrapped in a pretty bow.

Truth and Consequences

There are bad acts for which the consequences are negligible. An apology may or may not fix the problem, but you go on from there, maybe not as beautiful as before, but there is a resolution of sorts.

Then there are other bad acts.  Molestation of a child, for example. A car accident that results in someone’s death.  Domestic violence.  How do you atone for these things.  How do you go back to your life as if you were not responsible.  Some of these actions are intentional, some are psychotic, some are accidental, but the damage and devastation they leave behind don’t care.  They don’t care that you slide on ice.  They don’t care that you experienced a momentary loss of control.  They don’t care that you couldn’t control your impulse.  And in a instant, you life is diminished.  Forever changed.

Your family?  How do they support you?  How can they support you?  It’s complicated. What does support even mean?  Do you deserve comfort, when your victims have none? How do your friends reconcile the you they know what the you they are just now seeing revealed? It’s easy to judge and hard to find compassion.  But even in compassion, there are limits. I can forgive you and still refuse to bring my child around you; that is compassion, even if it’s hard for you to understand that.  I can forgive you, but still refuse to be alone with you; or in a spot where I don’t have an exit strategy.  Because compassion can’t extend blind trust.

The sad reality is that actions have consequences beyond what we can see.  And like a broken leg, the healing is the only the beginning.  Even after the bulk of the healing is complete, you live with the consequences of the break the rest of your life.

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

I read a post on social media that asked what we we looking forward to in 2019.  I tried to convince myself that I was looking forward to things; new school for the child, two special family events…I tried focusing on one of them, all I could think about was the expense, the annoyance of travel, the fighting with family, especially with my mother because she wants to use this occasion to celebrate my child’s birthday; but that’s not the purpose of the celebration and I hate when people coop other people’s parties.  Let the celebrant of the party have his moment.  The worse because my mother is not the type of person who wants to share her parties, so the idea that suddenly she’s okay telling other people they need to share theirs is repugnant and frankly a little self-centered.  She wants to do it so she doesn’t have to feel guilty about not properly celebrating my child’s birthday.  But throwing my child’s birthday onto someone else’s party isn’t properly celebrating my child. We will make some time to celebrate the birthday.  I’m not demanding that everyone travel to my home to worship at the feet of my child with gifts and whatnot.  So I’m not looking forward to any of that.

I’m enjoying the moments in the present as they happen, but I can’t quite work up the energy to look forward to my future.

I know your heart

When I was younger and my friends got married; they would bless me for a husband.  Now that I’m old and their children are getting married, they bless me for the health, happiness, and growth of my child. It’s like I skipped right over that part where I could be blessed for another child.  That’s what I really wanted, but the weddings I’ve been to lately have all been sweet young things who think my time has come and gone.

Most of the time I think so too.  Makes me feel old and sad and broken.  Maybe I am that too.

I am not the end of the story

One of the things that’s the hardest thing to teach to children and also to understand intellectually, is all the of the things that are happening.  We talk about lifecycles, and growth and change, but we’re very experience-based creatures; if we don’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Earlier in the year, one of my child’s friends from another state sent us a Flat Stanley.  The assignment was to spend a few weeks doing things with Flat Stanley and send home an account of his adventures.  It was a really great illustration of temporary and permanent states of being.  Flat Stanley started out in one state, he then went through the post to us, spent time with us doing our things, including a visit to my child’s school and a photo op with the whole class, then went back to his original school, transformed by the experience (since my child decorated Flat Stanley) and with pictures and an account of his experiences.  The experience was presented to school and turned into a poster presentation.  The friend sent back a picture with the poster board showing Flat Stanley’s journey.  Which I shared back to the class.  So they’ll get to see a picture of themselves with Flat Stanley who is back where he was. It’s a very trippy concept when you think about it.

All these things are happening in the world when we’re not paying attention to them.  But then somehow it intersects with our lives, or as in the case of Flat Stanley, we have a short time together, and then the person goes on to do other things.  But we are all changed by our experiences with each other, so it’s not like it never happened.