Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Their Birthday. Chills, times two.
Part Two: Their Birthday This will give you chills. Twice, if you read all of it. So, I apologize that this is a bit convoluted. I shared with you the Elias remembrance event on FB that led up to their birthday and Evelyn’s party at the community center two days after their birthday. What I need to do now is try and document their actual birthday, which is really hard for me to even put into words. Because really, it was just perfect. Absolutely positively perfect. In order for you to get the full effect of it (which is basically impossible), I need to share something ELSE amazing that happened in July when Evelyn was about seven months old. I’ve never written here about it, but it’s time I do. Last July we were at a balloon release for a local woman who had lost her daughter a little over halfway through her pregnancy four years ago. I did not know her well (although I know her better now), but I had talked to her a couple of times online and wanted to help her honor her sweet girl (BLMs stick together like that, you know). I think I had met her through the S.O.B.B.S. forum on FB, and she lived about a half hour away, so we were glad to go. So there we were at her house for the first time, not really knowing anybody else there other than the host, and we weren’t even there for five minutes when we noticed a woman looking at us, transfixed. She slowly approached us, looked at Evelyn, and burst out, “Is she a twin?” with this look of complete shock on her face. My heart was pounding. You can imagine. (Well, maybe you can). I was immediately thrust into the early days of our loss and that feeling of “Everyone knows!” Do you know what I mean? Those early days when you feel like you have a flashy neon sign announcing your dead baby to every cashier lady and every random stranger on the street? I hadn’t felt that self-conscious panicked neon sign-y feeling in months, thankfully, and there it was again! I thought, “How the hell does this lady know Evelyn is a twin??!?!?! Are we branded?! Do I have a freaking tattoo on my forehead that gives it away?!” I admit, I was very self-conscious, and I don’t know where that came from other than I was JUST SO CONFUSED! Who was this woman?! How did she know?! Do we look miserable?! Even so, how do our expressions and appearances translate to ‘lost one twin’ to outsiders?!?!! Are we the walking plague; are we so obvious?!?!! I had a few moments of crazy, but they were much quicker than I’m making them out to be here. Then, I realized, this woman was familiar. But why? Who was she, and where did I know her from? She looked directly at me, put her hand up to her cheek in shock, and said, “I took your son’s photos.” It was the kind, quiet, talented woman, D, from NILMDTS (Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which is a volunteer organization of photographers who photograph stillborn babies and those with fatal diagnoses). She had been there on that day, the best day and worst day of our lives. A stranger with a camera in our most painful and private moments, to capture what we didn’t realize we would later be so grateful to her for having captured. I was shocked. A different kind of shock. I didn’t know what to say or what to do or how to feel about this. Immediately, we hugged, and we were both crying. It was just so absolutely amazing to me that we were both brought together a half a year after our loss. And, well, she thought so, too. She said, “I never get to follow up with the families after I photograph their babies, ever. So this is just incredible for me to see you and talk to you.” She was very kind and respectful, and it was very moving to have a chance to talk to her and reflect on our experiences. Once that initial shock wore off, I tried to piece together why she was here at this other BLM’s house, and so I assumed she had taken photos for her as well. But no. In fact, she knew the women through church. So it was a total “random” thing (or was it?) that we were both there that day and brought together in such a mysterious way. Now, I am typically no longer the “everything happens for a reason” type of person, but I will say that running into her that way made me stop and think. It really didn’t seem or feel like a coincidence. And it gave me chills that stayed with me for some time.. She offered (more like insisted) to do a free photo shoot for Evelyn as a gift to our family, and I couldn’t resist the offer. I hadn’t had professional photos done for Evelyn since her newborn shoot (which was expensive, I’ll add), and to have this woman offer to do them for free was so generous, not to mention meaningful. There was something beautiful, something so poetic, about her having done Elias’s photos in the hospital and then having an opportunity seven months later to do an infant photo shoot for Evelyn. And, I must add, they turned out gorgeous, and I often get asked “Who did Evelyn’s summer photos?!”, and I love telling them the story of D and how we were reunited so unexpectedly. Fast forward to December and the week of their birthday. I received packages in the mail that week, as I mentioned in my last post. One of those packages was from D. Inside was an adorable owl gift box, and inside that gift box were two adorable metal owl ornaments. They were hand-painted white owls with little scarves on them, and each had a name painted on it. One for each of my precious twins. Next, inside the box, we found a chain. On the end of the chain was a black and white photograph of Elias’s precious adorable little feet. His name had been added to the photo, and it hung as a pendant on this chain. D had that made just for me (with a photo she had taken in the hospital). She enclosed a heartfelt message to me about how she knows I’d rather have him snuggling on my chest, but since I can’t, at least I can wear this necklace and keep Elias close to me. I cried my eyes out, and my husband was equally touched, although he rarely cries. He said, “Only D could have given this to us. Only D could have given us such an incredible gift.” And he was right. We both took a day off of work on the twins’ birthday. We had no set plan, and we weren’t sure what to do. In the morning while Evy was napping, we went through Elias’s memory box. I looked at every single card given to us when he had passed away and from his memorial service. I laid them out and took a photo of them, although I’m not sure why. My heart just felt so full of gratitude to all the people who had mourned the loss of our son with us. I reflected on all the thoughts of those early days and how things seem a lot different now in my mind and in my heart. So many irrational thoughts had been put to rest that week of their birthday. Memories and flashbacks had come to me, and upset me, and then I talked about them to my husband and my therapist who both helped me to realize I had been harboring many feelings even one year later that either made no sense, were completely illogical, were irrational, and were simply unhealthy. When those things were realized it was a weight off of my chest, and that happened on the anniversary of the last time I had heard his heartbeat. That in itself was an amazing gift that I feel my son most definitely had a hand in. I thought about how my life was enriched by having known him. I thought about how he was so much a part of me, is a part of me still, and will always be a part of me, and I smiled at that thought. I thought about the amazing support system I have found through other loss parents and how my son has brought me out of my little sheltered bubble and into a global community of people who daily amaze and inspire me with their writing, meditations, and art. I thought about how I am a better person for being my son’s mom, how my life has changed in more ways than I can ever articulate, how I live more fiercely, how I push life against the wall and get what I can from it instead of being a silent witness of others’ lives, how I don’t let my fears hold me back anymore, how I refuse to let my son’s legacy be sadness and darkness and misery. I want him to look down and see that we are survivors, that he has brought us so much more than pain and loss, that he has brought us immeasurable gifts that are endless. I thought about how he has taught me the true meaning of unconditional love, and how amazing that feels, even though it also hurts so much sometimes. My heart was just overflowing with thanks to my sweet boy, all the while missing him intensely and wishing he could be here with us. My sister visited and gave Evelyn her first birthday presents, and we got an adorable shot of her with a big pink bow on her head (which we later used for her thank you cards), wearing a dress with butterflies on it of course. Evelyn loved her presents, and I was so grateful that her auntie was able to shower her with some lovin’ and pampering, as our focus that day was admittedly our son. She gave us a solar butterfly for our yard, and my aunt baked two smash cakes, which we ended up eating Elias’s while Evy smashed hers. (It’s what he would have wanted, right?) We spent most of the day at home as a family, and that felt perfect. However, my parents stopped over, and deliberately at a time when Evelyn was down for a nap. It meant a lot to me that they did that, that they wanted to spend time with us apart from her, to take time to be with us and remember our son, their grandson. My mother gave me a card with a beautiful message in it, and she had written his name on the front (and it was a beach card, so his name was in the sand, so cute). She had bought a butterfly-shaped mirror from Pottery Barn Kids, which seemed the perfect tribute for the day, as I could hang it in Evelyn’s nursery but it would be in memory of Elias. And one day she will look in that mirror and see her reflection and perhaps feel his connection there. The topic of his photos had never come up before really, and I didn’t know how to bring it up, but I managed to do so, telling my parents about D and how generous she had been sending gifts for our twins, and how talented a photographer she is, and then I changed the subject (I didn’t want my parents to feel pressured to view his photos with us). Well, my mom brought it back up, and so the four of us sat and viewed the disc from D of his photos as a slideshow on the TV. Everyone was silent, other than at one point, my mother said, “I’m so glad you have these, Lindsay.” And the best part was that she meant it. And that meant so much to me. After, we had a really nice discussion about how the culture of loss has changed (compared to the old days where they wouldn’t let you see the baby), and I talked to my parents about how inspiring this community is to me. It was a much-needed conversation and felt like we were really clearing the air of a lot of our unspoken thoughts on all sides; it was extremely refreshing. I felt like pieces of my shattered heart were glued back into place, some of them, and I could breathe with more ease. We went to the park where there is a butterfly engraved in stone in our son’s honor (with his name by it), and we released a single baby blue balloon for him and said a prayer. We went out to eat, the five of us, and we weren’t there five minutes but I felt arms around me, someone hugging me from behind. “Oh my God!” my husband exclaimed. I turned to see D standing there, arms extended, tears streaming down her face. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had never been in this restaurant before; it was a last minute thing, and she had NO clue we were going to be there. But, of course, she knew what day it was. For her to be on the other side of town and at the exact same place at the exact same time as us one year to the day that she photographed our twins after one was born alive and one not?!?! It was all just too much to even process, and I’m still tossing that one around in my heart and mind, but I mean it when I say that it made our day. I introduced her to my parents, who had just seen her precious photos, and that warmed my heart, too. It was like the missing piece to our having a perfect day had miraculously fallen into place, and it was a piece we hadn’t known was missing until we saw her. D and I stood in the middle of Olive Garden, hugging and crying, while strangers ate soup and pasta and were ignorant of all that was transpiring in our hearts in that moment. And yes, it made me stop, and think. It still makes me stop, and think, and wonder, and thank my son yet again for his endless gifts and lessons. I do not know how this world works, and that’s going to have to be okay.