Friday, February 28, 2014

spring cleaning

In the past eight months or so, seasons have changed. Our family, however, has been sort of stuck in the dead of winter.

We painted the trim on the house a different color, did a few renovations on the house, I got a haircut. But none of these offered enough of a change. The thing with the coming of Spring for me has always marked a new beginning. The grime of winter slow melts away to reveal green grass and budding flowers. The sun has never felt so good. Often one cleans the house, gets rid of what isn't used anymore, all that is old and worn out.

There are a few things I haven't been able to clean out yet. The baby toys in the closet, set back just enough so that I don't see them, but know they are still there. My jeans, which, after two post baby bellies (dead babies) that have now conjured as one, no longer fit me. My body has become this temple of death. The pack n' play, my CDs of reggae music, the infant car seat, maternity clothes. I hold onto these things, just in case. As if some day my life will be different, and better, if I get to use them.

On the way up my hike today the trail was covered in snow and ice. On the way down, it had begun to slowly melt, creating a small stream that ran down the trail. It felt good to follow the stream, which took the place of the trail, as if I was leading me somewhere. I followed it for awhile until it turned back to ice. Still winter here. Still waiting for that stream to lead us all the way to Spring.

seems pretty dark. now where are those stars?

I have been hearing a lot lately that every obstacle comes with a chance to come back. That every loss has a gift. That in the darkest moments, you can see the stars. Now, call me crazy, but since Winnie died I felt deserving of some gift. And have been looking for them in the most hidden places. Around corners, behind closed doors, all the while never leaving my desire for another baby behind.

And then I got pregnant. I found out on the exact same day I had with Winnie. Exactly one year later. The signs were knocking on my door; this was it, this was our gift, our chance to be a family again. Our hope. Our star.

And then she died.

I realize that not every loss comes with a physical gift. Some loss presents you with strength (I am not quite there yet). Some loss gives you presence and an appreciation with what you have without needing to gain anything else. (Not quite there either). My hope is that I will be able to accept this in time.

Now, I have been fortunate in the past two weeks since we lost this baby to have been able to fill my emptiness with art. An upcoming show and a full blown need to create has kept me busy. Engaged. And a little at peace.

In graduate school we talked about semiotics, the philosophies of Heidegger and Bachelard, and the contemporary discourse of blah-blah-blah. We were told to leave emotion with the Expressionists. Emotion is for sissies, for fake artists. Artists have a moral and ethical responsibility to create work that investigates, questions, and puts into effect a stressing issue that mankind is facing. Concept should be at the base of all art. And I whole heartedly agree. However, I think these things come full circle. While my work may be about environmental issues on a broader level, on a deeper level it is about emotions. It is about loss of control and the natural forces that override us. It is about mindfulness. It is about hope. And maybe within the creation of these works I will find that star and I will be able to share it with others.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

to compare is to dispair

I read this post on a blog I follow for grieving parents who have lost children, Glow in the Woods. This post is so perfect as making comparisons is my biggest downfall. Not only do I compare my grief to the grief of others, but I compare what other people have that I don't; their jobs, their looks, the amount of children they have. Just before finding this I was comparing my success, and lack thereof, to the success of another artist. It is a painful habit, but as the writer here points out, something women are very good at.

comparatively speaking

I believe if you got a room full of widows whose husbands had died of the same form of cancer, each woman would still silently compare herself to those around her.
I wish my husband had survived longer after the diagnosis.
Thank goodness my husband went fast and it didn't drag out.
She's lucky, her kids are still young and in the house to lend support.
She's lucky, her kids are grown and she has time and space to grieve by herself.
I wish I had been married longer.
She's so young -- she's got her whole life ahead of her.  No way I'm getting married again.
And so on.
I also believe, especially early on, that it's a good thing -- it's even a healthy thing -- to compare yourself to others in similar situations.  I think it puts parameters on your grief, and helps set the boundaries of exactly what issues you personally need to move through. 
At first, unsurprisingly, you probably think yourself the worst off in the room -- from newness and the raw angry wound if nothing else.  And that's ok, by dint of still bleeding, you probably are.
But the nice thing about support groups, either in person or online is that you realize you're not alone:  others have gone through the same thing.
Well, not quite the same thing.
And there's the rub:  we're all so alike, we occupy a tidy little corner of the internet where we share macabre humor and toss around familiar euphemisms, but then we hang around long enough and realize there are some odd angles and edges.
Some lose babies earlier in the pregnancy than others
Some lose two children -- or more -- in the same event
Some lose two children -- or more -- over time
Some have to birth already dead babies
Some have to make decisions about life support
Some have to make decisions about termination
Some have seemingly healthy babies who are rudely snatched from their hands -- metaphorically -- weeks after their birth
We ponder these differences, and hell, it doesn't really matter does it?  No of course not, many of us pronounce, pain is pain, and we begin to comprehend still other parts of the stories:
Some don't have living children
Some have to explain what happened to living children and help them grieve, too
Some spouses leave
Some suffer infertility along with babyloss
Some subsequent pregnancies don't work, either
Some had horrible medical treatment
Some have long-standing issues with depression
Some were still suffering from other losses in their lives when their child(ren) died
And I think it's still good - and still healthy -- to compare, and realize, you know, I'm not the worst-off person in the room.  
And I speak rather ironically because of course, if you're following my examples here, no one is the worst off person.  Everyone is worse off.  Everyone is better off.  It depends to whom you're referring, to whom you're speaking, whose mind you're in.  Are we counting that refugee I just read about in the paper?  It just depends.
I'm not sure whose particular set of circumstances I'd rather have:  they all suck, and at least I'm familiar with mine.
I gather -- for better or worse -- that this sort of self-comparison is probably a chunk of how we form our identities and selves.  Some comparisons are merely factual, some make you gasp in relief, and some perhaps make you feel a little less of yourself.
He's taller than me.
I'm lucky I like my job.
Her skin is always so clear and smooth, and mine looks like the lunar surface.
And it's what we do with this information that's important:  it shouldn't make you feel like you get a prize of some sort just because your car is a newer model, but nor should it take you in the dumps if your neighbor's lawn looks better this year.  It is what it is.
We sometimes bandy this idea around and call it the Pain Olympics, the idea that some play games to set themselves up as the worst, the bottom of the well, the stink of the trash-heap.  
And I still argue it's good and it's healthy as long as at some point in time -- and it usually takes a bit of time for the wound to cease throbbing and your head to stop spinning -- that you realize maybe, just maybe that person had it worse.  And now that I think about it, that person I read about in the paper?  She did to.  And he did.  And her.  
And suddenly you have perspective, and compassion, depth and breadth to your experience.  You're able to welcome someone with a far different set of circumstances, realizing exactly where your circles cross each other in similar shaded places, and where you diverge.  And you also begin to realize that what one person considers lucky, another considers a cosmic kick in the ass.  What one person deems a lousy situation sounds like a symphony to you, comparatively.  
And before long you're beginning to understand not just how your situation fits into the world, but how your pain does.  And that there are other kinds of pain, and maybe "more" and "less"  and "better" and "worse" really aren't good ways to go about comparing these sorts of things, anyway.  That actor who tried to kill himself when he was 22?  His baby didn't die (he didn't have one as far as I could tell), but you know, in his head, his life was so bad he wanted to die.  My life was never that bad.  That was the day I picked my chin up a bit, felt sympathy for this poor guy, and realized I could keep stumbling.
Who are we to judge what's better and worse, anyway?  Maybe my neighbor uses pesticides on that ultra green lawn.  Maybe my newer car gets lousy mileage.  Maybe I just need to be with my situation and deal with it on it's own terms and use other people for support and inspiration when it suits.
That's the problem with comparisons.  You sometimes don't know the backstory, the consequences of the outcomes.  Maybe we shouldn't do this so much, after all.
Way way back, when I took yoga, in the beginning, the teacher reminded us practically every 5 minutes not to be competitive!  Don't look at your neighbor!  Ok, well go ahead and look if you must, but don't get down on yourself!  Because every person is different, every body is different, every student will have a strength and a weakness.  Work on your weaknesses, don't be ashamed to use props.  Revel in your strengths, but know that you can always grow -- the pose can always be better, made more difficult, held longer.
And I realized, in-shape-runner-me, that my soccer-muscly quads that allowed me to sit in air chair for an eternity outright forbade me from bending over and touching my toes, my hamstrings were so tightly wound.  Meanwhile, the 60 year old lady next to me had her head through her legs and was examining the backs of her ankles.
Grief is like this, I've come to realize.  Pain is like this.  It's mine, it's mine to hold and ponder and hold up and examine.  It's mine to improve.  I appreciate your sympathy in my down moments, and I really appreciate it when you find inspiration in my good moments.   
It's not better or worse, it just is.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Entropostasis, UMOCA

Oscillating between moments of serenity and devastation, Andrea Jensen's mixed media paintings reimagine sublime landscapes as blueprints of impermanence.  Splotches of blue, red, yellow, and green juxtaposed with stark rigid lines evoke structural designs gone dreadfully wrong. The seemingly logical construction of buildings is interrupted by the disjunction of walls, roofs, and foundations, revealing the inevitable consequences of urban sprawl and environmental depredation.

Jensen's treatment of architectural forms as splintered fragments of bygone residences and neighborhoods suggests the uncanny, as notions of home and comfort are undermined by harsh realities of ecological decay and natural catastrophes. Yet from the wreckage and detritus stems new growth and opportunity, a tension between destruction and rejuvenation that is further evoked by the exhibition's title, Entropostasis.  By combining contradictory concepts of entropy and stasis, Jensen plays on the paradoxes of life and death, progress and decline while hinting at the futility of mankind's attempt to separate nature from culture through structural endeavors.

Approaching the act of painting as a restorative process, Jensen's paintings reinvent, and ultimately re-evaluate, relationships between natural environments and material desires for economic prosperity. Entropostasis is a meditation on the uncontrollable force of aberrant environments, revealing how the skeletal remains of crumbling infrastructure become the foundations for future landscapes.

Andrea Jensen
March 14 - May 10, 2014
Projects Gallery
Utah Museum of Contemporary Art

thru thick and thin

These days, we walk separate paths. We drive in opposite directions, dealing with our own grief. The pain runs too deep, the other side too far away. We never anticipated how thin it could get.

A sheer wall of sorrow lines the space between us. Two sides of the couch, weighing separate in its own grief. We know it isn't right, but neither of us has the courage, nor the energy to scoot closer.

When you're married you courageously claim to battle through it all. Love will outweigh anything. Our love. Except you never imagine losing two children. You never imagine your future being swept from under you, leaving you both searching for even ground. You never imagine having this pain, so deep.

Thru thick and thin.

But the thick is courageous. We will battle. We will fill that space on the couch. We will able to see hope in each others eyes. From this wreckage, may we find new hope and opportunity.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I didnt look, but I wouldn't be surprised if I had already titled a post "emptiness" judging by what my life has looked like in the past several months. It is the best word that comes to mind at this time. I have nothing else but emptiness.

I remember other times in my life when I felt empty. Looking back now the reasons were stupid; a break up or some other "life threatening situation." It was much easier to deal with the emptiness then. I was able to walk away and search for fullness somewhere else. I packed my car, left my history in the dust and remembered who I was.

Never have I lived in a single place where I have acquired such a tragic history. Packing up the car, the house, leaving  it all behind is a great temptation. The great salt lake lies just to the west of us. I dream about wandering out there for days, leaving it all behind and remembering who I am.


Monday, February 17, 2014

the good side of grief

As day three begins of me slowing expelling any hope I had left from my body, I can't help but reflect on the past seven months and the grief this little house has endured. We still haven't had that housewarming party to celebrate the first house we have ever owned. Up until last week I thought maybe our party would be to celebrate this baby, a year after losing Winnie. But here we are again. No parties. No laughter. More tears and dreary days. The house we are so proud of feels eerily quiet. No baby crying and a second bedroom still empty.

The good side of grief is this: I love my husband even more than I ever could imagine. Over the past seven months we have grown together. We have talked and cried and embraced and realized how much we can take. The good side of grief is that I spend hours staring at my daughter with awe at what a beautiful miracle she is. I am all hers. She is all mine. The good side of grief is that as another day stuck at home approaches, we work as a team to conquer house project after house project (something we really enjoy by the way). This grief has begun a slow remodel of this old house; we get shit done.

After all this is said, my only hope is that someday we will want to share all our home improvements with friends and families. That we can fill this house to celebrate what we have rather than memorialize what we have lost. How I long for that day. For now, we are painting trim and digging up mulch! (Which sounds just a bit like my dad)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

black cat

This morning, while out for a walk, we had a black cat run in our path. Right in front of us. We couldn't help but think it was a sign for what will come to us in the future. I cringed at the thought. When will we get a break?

I know there are a lot of people out there in this world who ask themselves the same thing. I know I am not alone in this, even though most times I feel this way. Comparisons to those in my immediate circle don't help.

Truth is, I don't believe in much anymore. Signs, omens, wishes, fate, hopes. None of that really matters. What I see now, is that none of it makes any sense. That if good things happen to you, you are just damn lucky. I was damn lucky to have a beautiful and healthy baby girl 3 years ago. At the time, I had no idea how lucky I was. And still, I think most of us have trouble reminding ourselves of how lucky we are to have what we have.

The world is full of chaos, and we are all just mixed up within in. That is all. There is no sense to make of it.

So where do we go from here? We decide to take a leap into the unknown or stay grounded in acceptance. Even in acceptance, nothing is guaranteed. Nobody owes me anything, as much as I would like to believe that is true. So taking a leap doesn't mean shit. I am just a small speck within this chaos, trying to stay afloat.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

how long, how far, how many times?

The last few days have been filled with so many questions. Why us? Why this? Why now? How? Mostly we just ask if the universe is trying to tell us something. Maybe we weren't meant to. . . . . Maybe we shouldn't. . .

Or maybe the universe is just trying to show us how much we can take and how strong we really are.

Sometimes the most you can ask for is strength. And courage.  Today, I am calling all angels.  Give me strength. One step in front of the other as we step out on this road. Listen.....

Friday, February 14, 2014

the thing with feathers

Many of my posts over the past seven or so months have been about hope. And the idea of hope continues to strike me as a bit of an oxymoron. You hold onto this idea or vision that is supposed to give you strength for moving forward. And more often than not that idea is not put into fruition and you are left weaker than before.

Up until Wednesday of this week I was pregnant. It is funny that they tell you not to make the "big announcement" until you pass a certain number of weeks for fear you may lose the baby, but then you lose the baby and you are making a big announcement that you lost a baby most people didn't know you had. But we had her. For 12 weeks she strived in my belly and everything seemed perfect. And for a second I thought maybe this would be it - we would have our rainbow baby. A chance to smile again.  Hope.

This past year has been filled with a whole lot of numbers; 38 weeks, 5 days, 10%, 12 weeks, .0001, 1 in 6, 98%, .11, 7 to 10, 1%. Are these the numbers of hope? Is that all hope can give me are a bunch of numbers? These numbers don't give me hope. The truth is that all these numbers have weaken the strength I ever felt in what I had hoped for.

Maybe the thing about hope is that at a certain point you have to hope for something else. Right now I am hoping that I can focus on what I DO have and not what I don't. I am hoping that I can somehow find something to smile about in the upcoming months as my belly grows smaller rather than larger. Right now I am hoping I can face those around me who have the luxury of not having to think about what these numbers mean. Right now I am hoping to find complete happiness in the presence of my living daughter, an absolute gift. Maybe that is all we should ever hope for. Is to just find happiness in our gifts.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


They told us there was a 1 in 10,000 chance of having a baby with trisomy 13. To most, this chance sounds miniscule; why even bother to think about that chance? But fate, or maybe just how the dice were rolled, decided Winnie would be that 1 out of 10,000. We got struck by lightning. Smack dab in the middle of our souls. Sometimes it helps me to think it was fate, to somehow tell myself that out of all the people around me it was me who was given these circumstances - for a reason. That in someway this makes me special; stronger, more aware of the fragility of life. But other days I can't help but ask why?

We are all just passengers in this incredible journey. We can decide what memories we cling to, whether or not to enjoy our days, what we eat, when we sleep, but ultimately we have to let go. Fate, or chance, taught me that lesson. And I continue to learn it every day.

are we there yet?

 "All I have is all that is gone."

Days are long. Presence is so hard when the "other side" is just knocking on your door. It is also longing for something else, something that isn't now.  And the reality of it is that there is no "other side." Loss is forever and the other side is just a continuation of now.   But restless hearts want to know when it will feel better and how it can be fixed. While the question may be what can I do to feel better, often the answer is it to point your toes forward and look just beyond their tips and keep moving.

A song I wanted to share. It is a beautiful song about loss, about crossing a river, and the fear of never being able to get to the other side.

And although I still may be asking "are we there yet?" it isn't true that all I have is all that is gone. I have much more waiting for me in the next step, in this step.