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.


amanda said...

Your tributes to Katie always bring tears to my eyes. There is so much LOVE that exudes from the words.

I am thinking and praying for all of you.

Busy Bee Suz said...

Karen, I love the pictures and I love the way YOU celebrated her birthday. Funny that you all have different ideas of how to go about this...Men are certainly different and you have 2 of them. (men are from mars...remember that?)
Maybe next year, you will be able to be in sync...or you may have to do this alone, or with your Mom.
Sending you good thoughts my friend.
take care, suz

Jennifer Stumpf said...

happy birthday, katie. karen, you are a good mom and a lovely person. xxoo

Laurie Brandriet Keller said...

Love to you, Karen. One day, one week, one month, one year at a time. It's all about you and what you need. Not that it's not about your two Men as well. I think that wanting to make it Katie's day is a very natural instinct for you, as her Mom. The way out of the pain is through the pain and this is a process. For them, at this time, it must just be too painful to acknowledge in any way. But that might change. Take Care. xoxo.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog often and I am overwhelmed with emotion for you. You seem to be a wonderful mother, wife, companion, friend...
I am feeling pain for you today and will pray that God gives you and your family some peace in the days to come.
Thank you for sharing your journey.

Kay said...

Karen.. I'm so sorry the day didn't flow the way you wanted it to. We've always struggled with what to do on our day too. We usually just give each other 'the knowing eye' and do nothing. :-(

~Hugs to you!

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

My dear friend, I'm sorry that the day turned out so bittersweet. Not that it really could have been anything BUT, really.....
And yes, men are so very different than we women, aren't they?
I remember when Jordan was in the NICU for those 5 1/2 months.... my husband went into his "man cave" and chose not to interact, not to talk, not to share.... NOTHING. I felt so... abandoned, on so many different levels. Of course, he didn't MEAN for me to feel that way, that's just how he processed his feelings.

I agree with Suz... maybe next year you and your husband will be more in tune with one another and can have a tribute that "feels right" for both of you.
Sending much love your way!

Tara said...


I think it was a beautiful idea to release the balloons for her birthday. Sorry it did not quite turn out like you would have wanted it to.

Thank you for sharing the pictures. As women I think we are always trying to make every event. Men just do not always seem to have it in them.

Still have my thoughts and prayers. You are a very special wife and mother!

AnnDeO said...

Karen, since I only have sons I understand the difference in the way they acknowledge things. It doesn't make me love them any less, but it also doesn't fill that chasm that is created which they can't seem to find a way to cross. Grieving is a tricky thing I have found... it is not even a question of balance it feels like basic survival. I wish you the space to breathe. Happy Katie's Day!

Elizabeth said...

i think your generosity is extraordinary -- to your family and perhaps less so, to yourself. it's weird how our expectations sort of get in the way of the present moment and when they don't, and we are very much present, others might not be with us but, rather, experiencing their "present" very differently. i'm not sure that makes sense, and I know you really don't need "comments." Love shines through magnificently, here and I thank you for the generosity you show your readers as well

Stephanie said...

Hi Karen, your daughter is so darling. I told a friend of mine the story of how you felt Katie's spirit leaving her room after you'd been sitting with her a while after she died and the breeze you felt. How did I ever tell that sacred story without crying to my friend but I did and I moved her with the story. Katie is such a blessing to you and I'm sure she could hear and feel you on her birthday because you are such a great mom to her. God Bless.

Jennifer said...

So much adoration and love you express for Katie ... and that comes through even in the midst of crossed wires, independent experiences and different ways of processing. It must be especially jarring to be on a different page from Gregg because it's so outside your guys' normal M.O. of being of one mind, of tracking together. I thought it was particularly wise what you wrote about there being space and acceptance in your family for different ways of processing grief. That is an INCREDIBLY healthy statement to make, because it is so very tempting to say the other person's way is flawed. (Or, the flip side, that your way is flawed and theirs is "right.")

I continue to admire how very, very close your family is without falling into the trap of smothering or enmeshment. It's beautiful to witness, Karen. And the freedom David enjoys, in particular, is a true gift that both you and your husband give him.

Thinking of you and Gregg. Loved the pictures of you all releasing the balloons in honor of sweet and sassy Katie.


A said...

Sending you love...Angela

Anonymous said...

Karen- i come here for affirmation- i am okay in my thoughts and feelings. I loved that you share your person life witgh show so much of what we are going thru so differently. Obvious! They must be in such pain and just do not have the abilities to express or the want to "go there". Mike wants no part of the deepdscussions i frequently purge about on Cb. I know he cares - in a different way. You do too but it is nice to hear from another who makes this walk look easier (don't we always think it's better on another side of the fence??not n t his case though:))You are amazin. You are the best. You are an insiration and i am so thankful we have been on this strange adventure snce the beginning. I recognized in you, alot of my own feelings and experiences. Thank God the lightwent off and I have been given renewed strength from you, everytime we "connect" day, it will be just grand to see you, hug you, laugh with you and drink that wine!!!! lol
much love and keep those entries coming. They are nobel peace prize worthy! Amen to that!
michelle tucker

The Engine of the Family said...

Happy birthday Katie!
I'm sorry things didn't go as you had hoped throughout the day, but everyday is definitely a learning process, I'm sure. Especially when it's the three of you and you are each different in the way you grieve and process things. Maybe in the future, you each think of one thing you would like to do to celebrate the day, that way each person can express their sorrow, their happiness, their grief in whatever way fits themselves. Just an idea!