Monday, March 9, 2009
Katie's 14th Birthday
Thank you for sharing your memories of Katie, and the many sweet messages you sent to us.
It was a hard day yesterday, but not for the reason you’d think. It was hard because we weren’t in agreement as to how to spend the day, but that wasn’t readily apparent, so it became an unpleasant undercurrent.
I have been thinking about Katie’s birthday for a long time, and trying to figure out a good way to spend it. It’s the day she was born, a big day for any person, especially from the mother’s point of view! I can remember certain specific things about the night before she arrived, going into labor, discussing how close the contractions were on the phone with the midwife. Since we lived about an hour and a half from the hospital, and there was a ferry ride in the middle of that journey, I was a bit concerned that we allow PLENTY of time. It took 36 hours for me to deliver David, and he was finally brought into the world via caesarian section, so we didn’t know what to expect the second time around. In those days, they encouraged V-BACs, so we were going to take that route.
We packed up David’s things (and Katie’s, in anticipation), and took David to my parents’ house around 9:00 p.m. Gregg & I had an argument on the way to the ferry dock, with me asking for him to call ahead and have them “hold the boat,” so we could get right on without waiting, and Gregg refusing (saying that knowing me, there was NO WAY that baby would come before we got to the hospital). I told him, “You don’t argue with a woman in labor!” but you know what? He did, and he won. He was right; Katie was born around noon the next day, but fellas, I still say, Don’t argue with a woman in labor.
Katie was born comfortably (with the help of drugs & support from Gregg & the nurses), and we were overjoyed. It was one of the best days of our lives.
Looking back, I know that I wanted to celebrate that gift. I wanted to recall and revel in the joy that her arrival & her life brought into our family. I wanted to give her the special day, belonging only to her, that she deserves. I can’t help it that she isn’t here to share it; it still feels right and respectful to honor HER DAY.
I asked Gregg & David repeatedly what they wanted to do for her birthday; neither of them had any ideas. They told me each time that I asked that it didn’t matter to them what we did, and that they would do whatever I had planned.
It hurt me to be planning this celebration alone; it hurt. Who can you talk to about that? Who understands how this feels? Who knows how to hold sacred space around such pain? The week leading up to her birthday was very painful and lonely for me, because of these emotions.
I have intentionally chosen a large measure of solitude since Katie first got sick, simply because I cannot have people close to me who cannot cope with this. I cannot carry other people anymore. I used to feel that I had such a surplus of joy and love in my life that it was only right to share what I could with others, and it gave me pleasure to do so. That overflowing of joy and love is from God, and I felt that He wanted me to spread it around, and not hoard it; I still believe this. But for now, it’s all I can do on many days to just take care of myself and my family. I don’t have a sense of balance, - not consistently, anyway - so I keep a lot of solitude. It makes sense, at this point.
Last week, I needed people who could deal with this pain, and God provided what I needed, but not without disappointments and dark voids in between the moments of good companionship. There was suffering, and there were moments of relief. The pain was tangible, and it felt like “two steps forward, one step back.” I felt hot, searing emotions that reminded me of the first months after Katie’s passing. It wasn’t easy to ride it out, but into the void, God brought what I needed.
Yesterday, as I was attempting to create a day of honoring our girl, David had an unstoppable need to ski. I didn’t want him to resent her birthday, so off he went at 6:30 in the morning. He called from the road, and wished me a “Happy Katie’s Birthday,” which was very sweet. He returned in the late afternoon, so that we could go to her bench at Waterfront Park with balloons and set them free.
Gregg & I slept in, had our coffee and breakfast, and went for a beautiful, long walk. We shopped to buy groceries and 14 balloons for Katie. After David returned from the mountains, we drove downtown to Katie’s bench, took photos and let the balloons go, one by one.
As we got nearer to the park, Gregg became grumpy. I felt something was amiss, and –DUH!- suspected what it was. We set the balloons free, and if I posted all of the photos, you would see it clearly in his body language: arms at his sides, face turning away, angry expressions – mixed in with photos of his beautiful, sweet smile.
David and I enjoyed letting go of the balloons, one by one, and watching how fast they flew upward, and how high. I said, “Happy Birthday, Katie” sending wishes for her over & over again. It was a beautiful day, with sunshine and a variety of dramatic clouds in the blue sky. When the balloons were all gone, we drove to Dairy Queen to pick out an ice cream cake, which is one of Katie’s favorite birthday desserts. We came home and made dinner, and Gregg seemed to perk up. We ate slices of the cake for dessert. After dinner, Gregg and I looked at photos of the old days; David didn’t want to do that with us. When the photos had been put away, David and I chose a movie that Katie loved (“The Devil Wears Prada”), and watched it together. It’s a funny movie, and we enjoyed laughing at it. Gregg sat with us, but chose not to watch.
It was as if we couldn’t “get it together,” literally. Everyone wanted something different to happen, and I felt like I was breaking into pieces, trying to create something lovely that just wasn’t going to happen.
When we were getting ready for bed last night, I realized that, although he had not said one word to try to stop me, or to change the course of the day, Gregg’s actions and attitude had said what he was unable to say: he had hated what we were doing, and was just going along with it. He was unhappy about the whole thing, but had not protested verbally; he had protested in his attitude. And by the time he showed that attitude, the “celebrations” were already in motion; by the time I understood what was going on, they were finished.
It gave me enormous pain, at the end of Katie’s birthday, to realize that Gregg would rather not mark the day at all. He would rather have waited for it to be over, than celebrated her birth and her short life. At this point in his grief journey, he doesn’t feel the way I feel about this day, and he couldn’t verbalize it at the time. We can't verbalize things we don't know, and he wasn't aware that he felt this way, until it was already happening.
I tried to honor my daughter’s memory, and I ended up dishonoring my husband’s feelings, without ever intending to do so, or knowing what was in his heart. He has since been able to tell me what was going on inside of him, which helps me to understand. Men grieve differently than women do, and individuals grieve uniquely; we know that, and we allow for it, in our family. We are normally very much in synch with one another, but there is nothing “normal” about these circumstances.
This is yet another aspect of what Maribeth sarcastically calls "The gift that keeps on giving." When she says that, it always makes me smile. I know that we will get through this together; our family is a loving, strong and close one, in spite of this pain. We are still learning how to live with each other in pain. And I'm thankful that I have sweet memories of Katie's life with us.