Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

"Someday I'll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where trouble melts like lemon drops,
High above the chimney top,
That's where you'll find me."

--"Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole



Dear Thi,
 I see you in rainbows. In the land of Aloha, where the water laps the shore, I hear your strength in the ocean's roar.



You are the fine sand that meets the ocean, past coarse pebbles and driftwood, softened and refined across hundreds of years.



I feel you in my heart at Byodo-In, where the green hills stand, misted by a veil of fog. 

 
There, I rang the brass bell to cleanse the mind and calm the spirit. 



When Luc peered over the bridge to feed a school of koi aglow with the bright colors of the sun, your spirit circled up to meet us and filled him with gleeful giggles.  I hear you in him. I see what you could have been.



Perhaps you heard my secret wish as I lit incense before the towering Amida Buddha.



You perfume the air with lavender and plumeria blossoms--soft, cream-colored petals swirling in a perfect array of symmetry.



You are the thrill of being up-close with nature's animals; you are the carefree shrieks of running through a grassy field, sea-salt-tinged and sun-kissed. How I had wished that you can experience these life joys, and yet I believe you are in a realm that makes these wonders happen, that you are the very essence of these things.




You are the magic of sunrises and sunsets, painting the sky a magnificent array of red and gold.



Your adventurous and fearless spirit is with me when I feel the urge to explore an off-the-path trail to a secluded stream. You propel our family forward, up and across slippery, muddy paths, under the airborne roots of hundred-year-old trees.

 



You are the reward of the 100+feet Manoa Waterfall, flowing strongly with the unstoppable force of love.


You manifest your rainbow colors in the earth's abundance.



You are the jeweled colors of the sea, bright turquoise lit against white sand.



You are the warm tropical breezes that play with my tousled hair.



Dear Thi, grief is a strange creature. In the beginning upon first contact, it rears its ugly head and roars like a tempest so that you cower in fear, riveted by its force coursing through you as you curl up, inept. But with time it mutates, becoming smaller. If you are lucky, you can shape it, molding it into a hard ball that you can contemplate as you pass it back and forth between your raw palms. You can't ever get rid of it, can't throw it away, for it bounces back. If you don't keep close guard, it once again becomes a creature beyond your control. With experience, courage, and strength, you can learn how to rein it in.

Sometimes, it is as if I am walking along the shore, comfortable and dry, and then suddenly a tidal wave washes in and beats me over the head. I stand sodden, shocked from cold, reeling from what just hit me. This is the memory my grief over you, catching me by surprise. But for the first time in a long time--having seen you in the beauty that I am privileged to experience in the Land of Aloha, knowing that you are in nature's fine touches that caress me, comfort me, and soothe me--I feel a sense of peace that was missing for a long time. I am no longer so lost, indecisive, and afraid. I feel your love; I feel your strength. You are not here, but everywhere.

"It'll be alright, Mama," I can hear you say. For you are around me, bigger than me, even as I hold you safely nestled in my heart.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mama

"Mama, you taught me to do the right things
So now you have to let your baby fly...


Mama, there's no way you'll ever lose me
And giving me away is not goodbye”

—“Mama,” Carrie Underwood


Dear Thi,

Today is May 13, 2018. Today is the day you were supposed to have joined us earthside, your official due date, but I have laid you in the ground for four-and-a-half months. Today I live through a very different sort of Mother’s Day. I have dreaded this day since finding out that you were gone. Every mother remembers the ones she lost, and you, my special girl, punctuate this ironic twist of a holiday with your due date.

Daycare crafty gifts from Luc, and flowers from a friend to commemorate Thi

You can’t imagine the sights and memories that bombard me in the weeks that passed. How I see your name belonging to different, living women and think of you. How my throat lumps up when I see little girls teetering around at the park in summer dresses, making me think of what you could have grown up to be like. How my stomach would knot when I realize your big brother is starting to understand, telling me, “Baby gone” when he touches my stomach, or, “Little sister sleeping” when we walk past a serene garden of boulders that remind him of your gravesite.



These days, I distract myself from the pain. I feel too much, followed by the numbness of nothing. I keep busy, but I also catch myself staring into space. I remember to savor the taste of my favorite foods, and then I have no appetite. I sleep entirely too much, or I’d be wide awake in the dead of the night, anxiety causing my heart to pound as my thoughts flutter back to the night of your birth, contractions tightening my body, the awful knowledge that you would soon be expelled from me, already dead. I ride the ups and downs of life, the very gift that was so suddenly ripped from you.

Today, I once again think about what this holiday means to different people. The children of mothers. The mothers with children. Those who yearn to be mothers, like once upon a time when I struggled against a childless fate. And then your brother Luc came into my life and made me a mommy. For that, I’ll always be grateful. I plunged headlong into this role, and I would not give it up for anything.

I live in a duality of worlds; I strive to be present for the living, but often, my thoughts stray to the dead.


Mother's Day Dinner at Strait's


For the past 2.5 years, I learned how to be a mother to a child. But now I also know what it is like to be a mother without one.

We left fresh roses at your gravesite today to honor you






Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Here Without You

A hundred days have made me older
Since the last time that I saw your pretty face. . .

I'm here without you, Baby
But you're still on my lonely mind.
I think about you, Baby, and I dream about you all the time.


--"Here Without You," 3 Doors Down 



Dear Thi,

In the beginning, we grievers count the days. We count to measure the distance of how far we've come on the road of time; we count to see how much further we may need to go to escape the tight claws of pain and hurt. We hope for a salve of nepenthe so we can forget a little, but we count so that we can also remember. Tomorrow is the three-month anniversary since you were born and died, 90 full days. On the same date of March 29th, 17 years ago, was Mommy's and Daddy's get-together date as a couple. Even if I had a crystal ball, I wouldn't quite believe that 17 years later, we'd be husband and wife, standing in front of our daughter's granite headstone to visit after we arranged to have it engraved.

March 30, 2002 also marks an important date in Mommy's heart; it was the day Daddy took Mommy to pick up our late yellow Labrador, Argos, and brought him home into our lives. He lived for 10 years until cancer took him; he would've been 16 this year. He allowed me to witness the full spectrum of a life, from youth to old age. He taught me how it feels to let go, to get through grief, to move on and accept love again in my heart. It's been 6 years since he departed this earth, and yet he still visits me in dreams and in memory. Sometimes, the pain is just as fresh as that warm October day when Mommy and Daddy took him to the vet to finally end his pain. Though time is linear and time aids grief, grief loops and backtracks in unpredictable ways. With the convergence of so many memorable dates around this time of the year, I am assaulted with feelings, my emotions running free reign and out of my control.

Your death cripples me as I'd expect it to. I'd have spontaneous emotional triggers, like when I walk to and from the parking garage at work. I'd think back to the last few weeks when I thought you still lived, nestled in my belly. What were your final sensations? Did I rock you to sleep as we drove home together at the end of a long workday? Did you feel the tremors of my laughs and giggles during my department's White Elephant gift exchange? Did you savor the flavors of our last meals together? Mommy and Daddy need to book a trip to put some physical distance between us and the grief, but whereupon I planned our vacations with gusto and experience before, I am stuck now, with no motivation to look up accommodations or attractions. And so time pulls us forward in the unstoppable waves of days and weeks. At night, we sink into the exhaustion of having to deal with a life laden with fresh grief, catching our breaths in the pause of sleep before facing tomorrow. Not living, but surviving.

But your death liberates me in ways I'd least expect. I was such a planner before, always analytical and following a set schedule. I'd plan out our weekly meals, decide what I'd have for lunch hours before I'd go out, book up our weekends with activities and outings months in advance. Without the energy to plan, I'd succumb to spontaneity, join random coworkers at lunch, jump into the middle of conversations. I'd park my car and randomly take a casual walk or suddenly turn it into a shopping trip. We'd have nothing to eat for dinner, and I would order last-minute takeout or meal deliveries to our door. It feels strange, like I am not entirely in my own skin.

In my heart is always a mother's guilt. I feel guilty that I only get to visit you once a month, and maybe even less as the years go by. I feel guilty seeing the fresh flowers I last left for you wither away, scorched by sun or water-logged from recent rains, and I was not there to tend to your grave, Baby Girl. I feel guilty to be ashamed of losing a pregnancy when I already have a healthy son to look after and love. I was supposed to be eight months along, you weighty with the promise of life, a couple of weeks before my maternity leave, a couple of months before meeting you. I'd subconsciously lay my hand on my belly all the time, before my mind could stop myself with the memory that you are no longer there. I wish I could cuddle your soft, warm body in my arms, free and generous with my hugs and kisses, that I were not standing in front of your grave with a hand laid on hard, cold granite, stroking it softly as I would your hair. I miss you, Baby Girl. I wish could perfect this art of picking up the shattered pieces of my heart and reassembling it like fine glass; sometimes, it shatters anew, and I am on my knees, frantically searching for the fine shards, cutting my hands and bleeding raw in the process of putting myself back together.

I can't visit you always or be with you. My brave girl, your spirit has to to learn to navigate this world without me often by your side. I know you've already spread your wings and explored; friends have said they dreamt of you, felt your presence. Today, I left a little toy airplane at your grave, which will hopefully weather the sun and rain better than those ephemeral flowers. To let you know that Mommy and Daddy have visited, and send their love. To remind you that you are remembered. To let you fly to any parts of the earth to explore, and once in a while come back home to visit me since I am here without you.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fight Song



This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song. . .

'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me


--"Fight Song,” Rachel Platten

I am face-down on the tatami mats, their grassy smell mixed with the salty tinge of human sweat. My body is spent from a good hour’s worth of aikido training.

I am feeling on my cheek the coolness of the laminate flooring of my house, my fists still encased in boxing gloves, muscles shaking from countless jabs and punches.

I am lying on a thin pad at daycare on a remote Indonesian island, the 100-degree heat causing beads of sweat to slide from my temples. My eyes were shut tight as I feigned a nap since those who refused to take one would be beaten. I was wishing, as I wished every day, that my parents would come back for me.

“Get up, Daisy,” said my inner voice. “Get up.” And so I do. I summon the strength to fight gravity, rise to my knees, push up with my palms against the ground. 

“Are you scared?” my friend asked over the phone when I had just recounted to her that my daughter was dead, on a day when I was waiting for the hospital call to be induced. She had suffered a stillbirth around the same time as me, and it was the most candid question I had to answer. Yes, I was scared. Of possibly getting an infection from my baby having died weeks ago inside me. Of not being strong enough to suffer emotional turmoil as I was giving birth. Of needing to be wheeled into emergency surgery if my body did not cooperate. Of not having the courage to look at or touch my little girl. Of having to bare my emotions in front of everyone at her memorial service. 

Yes, I am scared. Of how I’d face life afterward with a death like this hanging over me. Of having to return to work, suffer through traffic, starting again at Ground Zero with a history of infertility and a fetal demise fresh on my reproductive record.

But I am a fighter. It’s what my body knows. It refused to give up on me. During labor, its sole focus was to was to expel what was already lost, and as the pain of contractions seared at my mind like hot coals and my body stiffened up from it, I could feel my spirit grasping at the will to continue. I wanted to live, and I fought for it.

I know grief is not linear, and that with sheer brute force, it could muster up a strength to send me back on my knees. Those days will be hard, days when I will battle time to get everything done and get to where I need to be. Those moments will be frightening, when I could be sitting in a random work meeting and suddenly be assaulted with fresh memories of loss and pain. 

But I am a fighter, and I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Tears in Heaven



Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure
And I know there'll be no more
Tears in heaven


--“Tears in Heaven,” Eric Clapton

I am in line to pay at the Asian grocery store, fresh produce piled on the conveyor belt. I had not made the effort to cook in months. My mom came by weekly to tend to Luc and cook for us, and friends sent meals to our door. I have always associated the act of cooking with love, and lately I had so little left to give. Piled in small cardboard boxes next to the cashier are “lucky money” red envelopes to usher in the Year of the Dog. The lady in front of me quickly picks out a packet, considers the design of golden dogs etched in foil on the bright red envelopes, and tosses a pack into her pile of goods to pay for. Spring comes upon us as Lunar New Year approaches. What has been my favorite holiday is now tinged with a wave of pain for the baby I was also to have ushered in this very year. 

Luc at "Cho Tet" (Spring Market)

It’s been a week since Thi’s memorial. Over a month since her passing. 



 The Bay Area weather suddenly warmed up in the last week. The bitter bite of winter winds eases up to soft and gentle breezes. Rain that slapped the ground gave way to warm sunshine that basked everything in a gentle, golden glow. The hills around our house grow a gentle fuzz of green as cows graze happily in the company of their springtime calves. There is a scent in the air of flower blossoms in bloom, of homecooked meals that drift out more prominently from houses, a scent that hangs more heavily in the warmer air. The grief that visits me now is of a softer kind, like how spring gently and surreptitiously blankets the land. But there is always a keen remembrance of the harsh winter, and every now and again, I feel the slap of memory, its resonating sting pulsing and leaving me reeling.

“When was the first day of your last period?” asked a nurse when I came to see my family doctor for a chronic cough. My mind jumps back to the late-summer day when I took that pregnancy test that eventually ended with me plummeting into despair. 

“How many pregnancies have you had?” asked the routine OB/GYN medical forms. “Any losses?” Even before my own, I always winced at that question, wondering how those who had gone through losses can spare the emotional strength to confess to theirs over and over again.

“When do you think you may want to come by to discuss what you’d like engraved on Thi’s headstone?” asked the funeral arranger at the cemetery we selected for Thi.

“How’s the baby?” people may yet ask if they weren’t informed of our loss.

I’ve been advised that it is normal to bounce around the different stages of grief, sometimes all within the hour, and sometimes spread out across days and weeks, until the grief becomes softer and softer with the passage of time. We are changed forever, having gone through something like this. We’ll never be the same person we were before. We can only look back with acceptance, and move forward with hope.