A letter to my silent sons

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Dear boys,

21 years ago today you were born.  For most moms, that would mean a cheerful greeting of “Happy Birthday” to her boys…and times 2 for twins.  🙂   For this mom, it means visiting your grave.

It’s still so sad for me to know that the day of your births was also the day of your deaths. 21 years later, and I can’t write a line like that without tears.

You should know how very much you were wanted…how very carefully I watched my diet and exercise when I found out you were coming. Uncle J and Auntie B gave you your first teddy bear when they came to California to visit. That teddy bear still sits on a chair in the corner where I see it everyday…a concrete symbol that you were present and here and alive on this earth. J and B were the first ones I told you were coming…we said that I had the “Egyptian flu”…I’d be tired and sick for 9 months and then become a mummy.

But there was no “mummy-ness” at the end of the pregnancy.  Things went so horribly wrong one night…and our desperate attempt to save you at any cost meant that I was on total and complete bed rest with my head substantially lower than my feet.  It wasn’t comfortable…in fact, I didn’t count down the days because they would go by too slow…it was something I hung in there hour by hour because it was uncomfortable and often, downright painful.  But the hours turned into days, and days into weeks…and it seemed that it just might work. As uncomfortable as it was, I longed to be in that state long enough to give you life. One of you had a steady heartbeat, could always be easily found, and stayed pretty still…the other one of you had a wildly fluctuating heart rate and I felt you turn somersaults like some sort of gym-baby. Until one morning there were no heartbeats at all.

Silence.

Heartbreak.

Silent birth.

Careful and gentle holding.  Delighting in each of your perfectness.  Beautiful fingers, the teeniest toenails. Gorgeous, but silent. Both of you.

You were both so beautiful…and holding you was this precious, bittersweet time that I never wanted to end. The nurses were great in giving us lots of time with you before they took you to the morgue.  They kept the blankets you were wrapped in, and gave them to me.  I took those blankets home.  They are still within arms reach in my bedroom closet…those blankets that held you.

The weeks following I thought I might go crazy.  Living in this world without you in it was more than I could handle, more than I wanted to handle. The vivid colours of the world faded silently to black and white…but not the beautiful black and white of classic photographers…more like the washed out, drab, what’s-the-point black and white that has no meaning and makes no sense.

Folks were so kind…a little distant and awkward as they didn’t quite know how to grieve little souls that they had never met…but oh, so kind.  And thoughtful.  We got bereavement cards daily for weeks…but inevitably, the flood of cards slowed to a trickle…and irrationally, I started to panic.  I knew the day was coming when there wouldn’t be a card acknowledging that you had been alive and that you had died…and I dreaded the day because I knew that would signal the world had forgotten you. That freaked me out.

I didn’t want to laugh, or even smile, after you died. I wanted to honour your lives by being sad all the time..and I was tempted to keep that up forever. I wanted to give your lives dignity by being sad forever.

Over time, gradually,I realized that being miserable to honour you wasn’t the best way to remember you. Those around me were paying a price, and making others miserable in your honour seemed to not actually make sense. Eventually that there were other more meaningful ways to honour your lives…there are little remembrances of you in most of the rooms in my house, and in the gardens. I found ways to experience joy and celebrate good things, and to laugh at funny things–I chose life giving ways of making the world more beautiful and more precious as the way to honour you.

Life has passed…21 years now.  I told your younger brothers yesterday that it was your 21st birthdays today. Separately, they each had the same response…”Oh, they’re legal in the USA to drink now”.  And I could laugh at this silly noting, and laughingly respond to them that this was rather irrelevant in your cases, given that you were both dead. They’re silly boys, these live ones…they’ve always known about you, and I’ve always talked about you so matter-of-fact to them that their response seemed just to include you as regular brothers.  I kinda liked their responses, actually.

"Being a good steward of your pain . . . involves being alive to your life. It involves taking the risk of being open, of reaching out, of keeping in touch with the pain as well as the joy of what happens because at no time more than at a painful time do we live out of the depths of who we are instead of out of the shallows." — Frederick Buechner Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winipeg

I want to thank you for being my sons.  You have given so much to me, and I have learned so much by having you, and yes, by losing you. You both meant so much to me, and I’ve sought to honour your memory by being a good steward of my grief for you.  Your lives and deaths pulled me into deep waters…which are more frightening and unnerving and harder than shallow waters…but richer…So. Much. Richer. 

When you died, I thought I would go crazy.  That life would never be worth living.  That I couldn’t do something like living a life without you…it seemed too hard.

But I made it through…it was hard, but I have a good life, filled with joy.  I haven’t forgotten about you, but the pain no longer cripples me. I dance with a limp, but I dance. 

Losing you taught me I can do hard things.  I’ve done some really really hard things since…but nothing was as hard as losing you…so really hard things scare me, but I forge crazily, bravely ahead cuz I figure it can’t be as hard as losing two kids. If that doesn’t finish me off, nothin’ will! And so I’ve made it through other hard things. I’m grateful. Life isn’t something to be taken for granted. I think I didn’t realize how precious life was until you were not. 

Socks on the floor, dishes on the counter, empty gas tanks, and wet towels not hung up…they annoy me…I’m human after all.  But I don’t blow a gasket about these things the way I might have at one time. They are precious signs of life.

I only wish I could tidy up your shoes at the back door, or sweep up the crumbs from where you made a mess.  Gosh, I would have given anything to be frustrated at all the laundry you created, or how you left the toilet seat up…and so when your brothers do that, I am often able to see these petty annoyances as little gifts that tell me they are alive to bug the heck outta me. I suddenly got old when you died. The world stopped being a happy go lucky place. I’m carved different now. And maybe that’s a good thing.

I think it changed me in ways that help me be a better, more compassionate human being to others. Life is hard, and bad things happen…and we need to connect with others during those hard times. Pema Chedron, an American buddhist monk said, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness are we able to be with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity”.

Boys, often people come to see me because of heartbreaks of the sort I cannot know.  But I do know heartbreak. And I think that changes how we relate to each other in good ways.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It

I miss you. I still miss you, and I’d gladly give up all the lessons I learned and the strength it gained if it would have meant you didn’t die.  I’m glad for the brief time I knew you, and it will always be a part of me.
Love,
Your mommy.

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