Apples, Jesus, and Everything Else That Really Matters

I was just quickly grabbing some apples from the produce section, having completed most of my shopping already. An older man – probably in his late seventies – decorated with a veteran hat and plain clothing, asked me which kind I preferred. I replied that I supposed I would go for the Braeburn. He asked me to consider the Gala apples. Afterall, they were less than half the price. I smiled, gave him a friendly glance, and told him he had changed my mind – I would try the Gala today. I thought the exchange would end there.

Looking back, I don’t think it even started there. I think he tried to converse with me on the other side of the produce section over a fallen itemized sign, although I cannot be sure because I did not pay enough attention to my audience. I glazed over that quick communication, thinking nothing more of it than someone wondering what had fallen on the floor, making sure I hadn’t lost something from my cart. This time, I noticed his veteran hat, his blue shirt, and his worn jeans. This time, I stopped to peer into his face. This time, he told me his wife died last March.

How does this happen over apples with a stranger?

As he started the next sentence after we had moved on from the apples, I made a mental note to make sure I thanked him for his service. I asked what he did to celebrate Veteran’s Day. He told me which restaurants he’d gone to this week, with whom…and I think that’s when he started crying. I think that’s when he said he lost his wife this year. So, here I am. Apples in one hand, other hand placed on his back, intending to comfort him, as he tearfully tells me about the hardest year of his life.

I gaze into his eyes, solemnly saying I understand loss because I have experienced it, too. He looks at me, a little confused, and asks if I have lost my husband. With my hand still on his back, I explain that no, I have not lost my husband, but babies. He doesn’t hear what I have said, so he asks me to repeat myself. “BABIES,” I say. In between apples and lemons and grapefruit, I loudly say, “I HAVE LOST BABIES” to him and anyone within ear shot in the supermarket. I wonder who might be listening to our conversation, wondering if this is my grandfather or a family friend, but I don’t look around. It doesn’t really matter.

He understands now. He asks my age. I tell him and he looks surprised I could be so old, as anyone 40+ years younger than him probably starts to blend together in a beautiful, youthful way (well, that’s what I will believe, anyway). He says he will pray for my next babies. He says I should consider having more than one because he has five grandchildren and he loves them just like his children. He says he needs my prayers. He says a lot of other things about heaven and people who don’t know Jesus going to hell and asks me where I go to church and I just let him talk. I nod, I don’t disagree with him because I know the specifics don’t matter*. This connection matters. This moment matters where he feels heard and he can cry with someone instead of crying alone at home like he told me he does “constantly.”

Sometimes, when people ask about apples, they really are just waiting to tell their stories. They are waiting to connect. They are waiting to say, “God bless you” and “Pray for me” and many other pepperings of things that don’t matter outside of context but matter because of the intention…the intention of love…the intention of shaking off our loneliness and trading it in for an exhilarating conversation that is wildly inappropriate by normal standards.

But, who wants to be normal anyway?

*Specifically, though, I do want to use this moment to explain where I stand. Anyone who reads this blog probably knows I believe in a higher power. I practice Catholicism (loosely), but I believe strongly in science reigning everything, an absence of hell, and the complete acceptance/belief of all religions (or even philosophies) founded in love. It’s the rituals and rules that get us into trouble. We all know who/what some of us call God. It’s the deepest part of ourselves. And, for this reason, maybe I can’t be called Catholic, and that’s okay, too. I hate labels anyway. So if you don’t believe in Jesus, that doesn’t bother me. Actually, I don’t think Jesus thinks you need to believe in him either.

Hitting The Restart Button (Whenever It is Needed)

This morning my Facebook news feed reminded me that I had a special memory from two years ago. The caption reads, “[My name here], we care about you and the memories you share here. You posted this photo exactly 2 years ago. We thought you’d like to look back on it today.” The memory is a photo, happily announcing my pregnancy with Adam Gabriel (at over 4 months pregnant). I was given the option to share the memory again with all of my Facebook connections. How thoughtful, Facebook. Really.

Pregnancy Announcement_privacy edit

*Edited family name for privacy.

Many of us whom have experienced loss have numerous instances like this. These moments bring out the immature, “life’s not fair” little girl in me. But, today, that’s all I am going to say about that and I am going to move on to brighter subjects because – in the end – that’s all we can really do. Unattach from the negativity, the sadness, the grief…and remember how lucky we are in so many other ways. Remember that we are loved. Remember that all our experiences give us an opportunity to grow in depth and compassion. Hit our restart buttons and press on, clinging to healthier attitudes and actions.

Life actually feels like it’s taking upward turns (slowly, but it’s happening). The days are long, the sun is vibrant, and – as I’ve mentioned – I’ve been given the opportunity to connect with many loved ones. Furthermore, my husband and I completed our first session with a spiritual director yesterday. We are so excited to have some spiritual guidance – some life-coaching so to speak –  from a woman seeming to know what questions to have us ask ourselves in order to help us flourish in congruence with reality and our faith. After ridding ourselves of some things that weren’t serving us anymore in our conversation with her, we felt relaxed.

And, within the hour, we got a call from our adoption agency. The birth mom of the little boy we are matched with completed her adoption training! This means that everything is still on track for a hopeful referral before 2015 closes. The birth mom still needs to wait 30 days and sign her intentions again, but – for today – we have made progress. Today, we notice that we have moved from the intense, relentless grief of losing our son (and three other, younger babies) to a place that feels like there is a crack of light.

July marks a flood of sadness for me ever since losing A.G. The sadness is still there, but THIS July we are making progress on our adoption. THIS July, we are working on our marriage. THIS July, we are learning hard lessons of perseverance and patience. I look around me and see others hurting more than I am. I think of how this Haitian birth mom is experiencing some of her darkest days and making brave decisions for her family. I say prayers for mercy. I say prayers of thanks. I can’t wait to see what next July brings for all of us.

Life’s Doors and Windows

Hibiscus

Receiving the news that our file is matched with a little boy in Haiti infuses energy into my life. Most of it thrilling, but some of it scared that we will lose this one, too. As I told my parents, it feels like the 5th pregnancy (not counting the Colombian twins to whom we also felt attached). We’ve gone through the whole announcing a pregnancy thing, and it hasn’t worked out so well. But, I opened this blog to create a space to be vulnerable, trying to sort out my thoughts and live more fully in my life. So, we commence the moment. We celebrate. We know there is sadness and uncontrollable situations, but we choose to be present for all the positives along the way.

The only information we have on the match is that a) he is a boy, b) roughly where he is residing now (geographically), and c) his birth date. One of the first things I did was to try to trace my life back through journals, emails, and social media to see what I was doing the day he was born. Life is so paradoxical! The day he was born, I found out my first methotrexate shot didn’t properly abort my baby, my last pregnancy, so I had to scurry around, trying to ensure I could get yet another shot of the poison an hour before boarding a plane to help my sister in need. So, the old saying could not be more true: when God was closing a door (ending my time with one child), he was opening a window (bringing my next child into this world).

I say this early, hoping this match really is the one. But beyond that, I say this to all of you reading this, hurting in one way or another. We just don’t know what life will bring us. We just don’t know the timing of things. We don’t have the whole plan laid out in front of us. However, I do believe in optimism. I believe the plan is out there. I believe our sorrows prepare us to be more of ourselves than we ever thought possible, stronger than our wildest dreams. And that, is beautiful.

Dead Branches

Dead BranchesThis whole blog is about staying positive. Steal nectar no matter what, I say. Here are the ways I am trying, I type. But there is another side to it.

There is a side that is paralyzed, a side that has trouble making use of my senses. A foggy side. There is a side that gets ready to leave the house and, in the end, cannot do it because of the tiniest hiccup in the plan. And I am so disappointed I cry…but then I am so cried out – emotioned out – I stop moments later and go back to my numbness.

I feel like I have dead branches stuck to my trunk, my soul. These dead branches are so heavy. I wish I could melt those words to make them look heavier on the page. They are making it hard for me to breathe under all the dead weight. They are making it hard to stay flexible with even a light breeze.

This deadness has everything to do with a lack of hope. I don’t know when I will be able to mobilize any part of my life, shedding the branches with a ferocious shudder, ripping them off of me. I know I have a lion underneath these layers of debris, but he is hard to find. I know he will win out. But, for the moment, I feel bi-polar. I’ve looked up depression symptoms again and again to make sure there are still boxes left unchecked. I laugh in the morning and by lunchtime I am solemn. I have too much time to think and not enough purpose.

In review, I have tried yoga, meditation, prayer, healthy eating, new projects, volunteering, running, travel, indulgent tv, writing, creating…and I can’t just UN-do, UN-think, UN-hurry my problems away. Time is ticking forward and nothing seems to change, however much I try to force it – or decidedly not force it.

I write this because I am doing well. I pursue health. I shower every day. I connect with dear ones. And I am also not doing well. I waste time. I am negative. I wallow. I think this is common. My relationships are both better and worse. I feel more and I feel less.

If I avoided writing this, I would be compromising the vulnerability I’ve self-promised to have while creating on this platform. I will be okay, but I am not okay. There is nothing concrete to be done to immediately change this phase, but this, too, shall pass, as they say.

What Trauma Sometimes Looks Like

And then there was this moment
tonight
one year and a half later
when you realize

you never told your husband you were having his son

it was just a fleeting thought
a response to something on tv
and you looked over at him, puzzled, and
asked, “When did you know we were having a son?”
he replied, confused, starting his response with “we”
and you stop him and ask him, “Did you know before you got to the doctor’s office? The hospital? Did I tell you over the phone? Did I say “son”?”

And you realize he didn’t. You didn’t. He says, “We found out when he was born, when we held him.”

I am confused now. Trying to put the scattered, blurry pieces together – didn’t I know after the ultrasound, the one where there was no heartbeat? Didn’t the doctor say, “Do you want to know? [Insert my head nodding….?] You were having a son.” (Did she say “You were having” or “You have” or something else that gave more or less meaning to his short life?)

And I tell my husband, “I knew. I knew we were having a son. I knew four days before he was born.” I knew four days before you. I never told you.

Did I say “sorry”? I don’t know. He’s asleep now and I can’t sleep because I am thinking about how we were going to go to dinner to celebrate after finding out the sex together and then decorate with sailboats or flamingos…but I found out four days before him. I found out before calling him to come to the doctor’s office because, it turns out, I wasn’t having a routine appointment. I found out before trying to hide my tears when I walked through the waiting room, putting on a brave face for the still-expectant mothers and fathers.

I knew before the nurse lectured me on the time of day I take my thyroid medicine (since that must have been the reason I was checking into the hospital with a dead fetus) and the “yes, yes please” to drugs over and over again because I wanted to sleep and escape my newfound hell. I knew before I couldn’t talk because I was so weak from not being allowed to eat for days. I knew before starting the ten or so painful hours of labor to deliver my sweet, sleeping son.

I didn’t tell him he was having a son. I couldn’t. And I didn’t know until tonight.

And this is what trauma sometimes looks like. Something is triggered. Something is confusing or sad or scary and your fight or flight response is initiated and your blood pumps faster. And it doesn’t matter how long it’s been because it feels raw, and real. It’s always unexpected and there is fire running through your veins because you are so disappointed with, and unaccepting of, reality.

You never told your husband you were having a son. Not “you never told your husband in a cute way.” Not “you decided together you were going to be surprised.” You just never told him because your world collapsed and you were fighting to get through the thing you couldn’t get through in a hospital bed.

I didn’t tell him I was having his son. I couldn’t. My world collapsed. I was fighting to get through the thing I couldn’t get through.

I suppose that’s a good reason. But it doesn’t feel like one.

The F*!? Is Your Life

GJ_explosion_edited

So, this morning life made me simultaneously giggle and sigh deeply with exhaustion. That photo is my green juice.  That photo is probably a better metaphor for my life than the previous one where the juice is contained in an enormous goblet, resting on a festive napkin. If you’ve read a few of these Stealing Nectar blog posts, you know my “green juice” (a.ka. life) often explodes and leaves me to clean up the mess and salvage what healthy stuff I can from the remaining pieces.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, has another lesser known book (but better in my opinion) titled, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.” Even though I had read Wild, I wasn’t inclined to pick up Tiny Beautiful Things until a close friend urged me to do so, saying she was in tears at the gym while listening to the audio version…and somehow I could tell she was trying to tell me something she needed to express to me.

Turns out, my friend was listening to this column included in the book from The Rumpus where Strayed was an anonymous advice columnist. This is a very moving, but longish read about miscarriage. I read this a few short months after losing Adam Gabriel, and I knew this was my friend’s way of empathizing with me. She was telling me that, on some level because of this column, she understood my pain and my great loss. She was using the column as a bridge, extending her support to my lonely, sad island of miscarriage.

As that column was so very important to my healing, so was this one, also included in Strayed’s book. Although it’s, likewise, a difficult and intense read, it has really stuck with me. Strayed so eloquently answers the vague and frustrating question, “WTF?” with the completely heartbreaking truth: “The F*!? is your life.” But, this can be pivotal. When I realized integration of the f*!? (yes, I really can’t write such a grotesque word out like an adult) – the miscarriages, the job loss, the rest of the negative list I am too tempted to type – was the only way through and passed…well, then, you get busy cleaning up the juice on your cabinets, on the floor, all over your robe…and get ready to do it all over again knowing that there are no guarantees in this life, but you’ll be okay anyway.

Crush

I wish I was over this hurting, this squeezing of my heart. I wish I was over the outbursts of sadness. Because the triggers are unpredictable, the emotional door slams in my face. I haven’t had one of these in quite a while, but today my emotions stole my composure.

Crushed ice background

Today, an old friend texted to say she was expecting her first baby boy…on what would have been my latest due date. Any phrasing of the news that left out the date, and I don’t think I would have turned it around so quickly to be about me and about my loss. I’ve prided myself on being happy for all my friends and family who continue to have healthy pregnancies followed by the cutest little 7 pound miracles. But today my selfishness got the best of me and, although I texted back a joyous response (that I really did mean), the next moment was all about me and my loss, my hurt, my world not being fair (which is a huge joke of a thought since I am so, so fortunate in life).

So, sometimes the crush seemingly comes out of nowhere. I was having a normal – or maybe above average day – and didn’t expect the tears to flood from my eyes today. I didn’t expect to have to expend the energy struggling with my emotions and needing to recenter myself. But wouldn’t it be inhumane of me not to remember the date, the lost joy I had for my family? So, here we continue. I know I am so lucky, but this just sucks. Life is often hard. Life moves on with or without us…so I’ll just keep trying to get unstuck.