Sunday, June 23, 2013
"There is nothing special about me. . . My story is a story of very ordinary people during extraordinarily terrible times. Times the like of which I hope with all my heart will never, never come again. It is for all of us ordinary people all over the world to see to it that they do not."
-Miep Gies, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family
"A memoir? I thought memoirs were written by old people or celebreties." That was how I was recently answered when I shared with someone that I would like to write a book. I'd like to write a memoir. I don't believe that such books are only supposed to be written by someone famous, or someone old, or someone who did something huge and important. According to Dictionary.com, a memoir is "A record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation." Memoirs are for someone with a story to tell. And if I've learned one thing over the course of my life, it's that everyone has a story to tell.
Maybe I'm a bit lofty, or even arrogant, for opening this entry with a quote from the woman whose family helped to hide the Frank family. Anne Frank and Miep Gies are two people whose stories have had a tremendous impact on our sense of history. Still, they were just two people, living in the circumstances that found them. They were just living their lives, lives that happened to take place in a time of atrocity that is burned into our impressions of the 20th century.
I'm not especially special, except in the sense that we're all special, and I'm no hero. But I happened to be the one woman in 1,000 who was told her baby had a fatal neural tube defect. I happen to live in a time when babies like mine can be "terminated" just because they happen to be unborn, and they happen to have a certain condition. I happen to be among that ten percent or less of the one in 1,000 women who receive this terminal diagnosis for their child and still carry that child to term. And from there, I happened to be that anomolous mommy who got to keep her terminally ill baby for ten days and have the privilege of sharing in an experience that has touched countless lives. I happened to be part of an experience that's caused people to think twice about what it means to be alive, what it means to be a mother, what it means to be a hero - I'm no hero, but my son is. With all of my heart I firmly believe that the day will come when we view abortion with the same regret and disgust that we view the Holocaust, every human genocide, every instance of human slavery. If my son's sweet, dimpled smile has an impact on that transition in our American and human spirit, then I've simply been blessed to have happened to be a part of it.
I happen to like to write, and I happen to be fairly good at it. I've got many stories to tell, not the least of which is Gabriel's. Through the course of my life I've been fortunate to meet many people who have stories too, whose stories have touched me and changed the way I look at things. Just about anyone has something to share that can touch your heart and change your life, if you let them.
For two years this blog has served me in healing from the death of my son Gabriel. Nearly two years ago, I attended his funeral after holding him while he took his last breath. Nearly one year ago, I watched his father, my husband, fade from my sight as he drove down the street where our family lived for the last time, our recently signed divorce papers waiting on my kitchen table to be filed at the courthouse. I've spent the last two years here, healing, letting an audience of knowns and unknowns witness my healing and through it all I've been told it's helped to heal them too.
I've still got more healing to do. I've still got more to say. But I've decided it's time to take a break. I'll be limiting my blog entries for a while, in exchange for working on a manuscript for my memoir. I hope to have a rough draft by Gabriel's birthday next year. I hope to have it published by the time I am 35, and with my 32nd birthday creeping up on me I'll have just over three years to accomplish the goal.
I'll still need your help. The appeal of maitaining the blog for me has largely been in the instant feedback. So as I set about working on the book, I hope you'll share with me which entries you've found most interesting, which writing styles you've like the most, and which "characters" - who are all real people - you would like to know more about. Thank you in advance for your responses, as they'll be invaluable in helping me craft this book. And thank you for having taken this two-year long walk with me.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Some days, I think it looks easier than it is.
Living without Gabriel, that is.
Every once in a while I have an opportunity to talk about pregnancy and motherhood as though my experience was just like everyone else's. While at a hearing in Long Beach on Monday, I talked with another lawyer who also happens to be an expectant mother, and we compared experiences. I had fun, until she asked the natural follow-up questions.
"Did you have a boy or a girl?"
"Oh! What's his name?"
"How old is Gabriel?"
"He would be two. He passed away when he was ten days old."
"Oh. . . Do you mind if I ask what happened?"
"He had anencephaly, a neural tube defect."
"What does that mean."
I went through the routine explanation of Gabriel's condition. She deduced that I made a choice to carry him to term in spite of his diagnosis and asked a few questions about that too.
"How old are you?"
Knowing what would follow, I responded, "Thirty-one."
"You're still young; you can have more." It's true. God-willing, I can and will have more. But I will never stop missing Gabriel. And when people tell me, "Having another baby won't fill that hole in your heart" I know that they are right - no one knows that better than me - but I want them to know that the hole is so very big and deep that I can't just let it be. If I'd made no attempts to begin to fill it in, I would have died. What is left to do when your child has gone before you? What is left to live for?
I could feel this woman's eyes on me as I flipped through the file in front of me. "I'm really impressed by you. You must be so strong." I looked at her, weakly, and I could see the sympathy in her eyes. Don't crack. Don't break. Don't cry. I pressed my lips into a smile.
"Do you know where the dismissal forms are kept?" She pointed to a shelf behind her, and we went about talking law.
Make no mistake: Every day is a struggle. If you've never experienced the strange blessing of witnessing someone's dying before your eyes, it's nearly impossible to explain the residual feelings. One moment my son was alive, in my arms. The next moment, his heart stopped beating, and mine did too, and I had to make it beat again. I had to make myself keep breathing because I didn't want to. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that my son's soul was at peace, but I missed him immediately. I know that there must be some reason that I'm still here; still, every day I have to look for that reason.
In just a few hours, family, friends, and I will release balloons in celebration of Gabriel's "Angelversary." The balloon release is of course symbolic of the flight of the soul upon death. We will watch the balloons as they make their way towards Heaven, like we did with Gabriel's birthday cupcake last week, fading away until they disappear. Having watched Gabriel die, though, I know now that his passing didn't really work like that. He was here, struggling, dying - But instantly, he was gone. You could have nothing but faith in Heaven in a moment like that, feel nothing but certainty that Heaven is real and that's where Gabriel's soul was swiftly taken, and you could do nothing but want to be there too. Somehow, though, you have to find a way to stay here and a reason to go on.
Lord knows I think about more babies too much. I think about silly television shows. I think about Jodi Arias. I think about the dogs. I drink too much. I eat too much. I function the best I can.
But Gabriel is still at the heart of what drives me to carry on. Spreading his message is, right now, the most important thing I do. Being his mommy is the most important part of me. So, when those balloons are released this evening, a little box will be tied to their strings. Inside that box will be a link to this entry, and a request that anyone who finds the box please log on and tell us where it was found. With luck, we'll get some participants, and we'll be able to see how far this message has gone, and how many more people have been touched today by the baby boy who, against all odds, lived ten days and changed the world.
If you are logging on to share that you've found a balloon, please know that Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude was born on June 10, 2011. He had anencephaly, and at 21 weeks gestation we learned that he would not live long after his birth. Doctors told us we'd be fortunate, if he were even born alive, if he lived for one day. Gabriel died on June 20, 2011. He touched lives. He melted hearts.
He is my first and only born child, and he is missed deeply. And you logging in today - and you who have logged on for two years now - you give me hope that even though my son is gone, life isn't over. It has gone on, it will keep going on, and there is always a reason to live.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
I'm not quite sure how it happened, but somehow I got to be the luckiest girl in the world.
You, known and unknown readers who follow this open and honest telling of the events of my life, might wonder how I can believe the above sentiment. Decidedly unlucky things have happened in my life. But I couldn't be more sincere when I say that I am simply blessed.
I'm lucky and blessed because a week ago I found a birthday card in my mailbox for my son Gabriel, who passed away nearly two years ago. That card had come from a woman in England who also lost her child to anencephaly. Somehow through the tragic and traumatic experience of losing our children, God found a way to bring us together from across the ocean, united in our grief and in our commitment to honor our children's memories.
I'm lucky because ten months ago I walked into the Law Offices of Mullen & Filippi, in need of a job and not in a position to be selective, knowing nothing about Worker's Compensation law except that it seemed like a dull area of practice compared to criminal. I was fortunate enough to not only get a job offer, but to quickly learn that I love my job. I thank God routinely from my office chair for that good fortune.
I'm lucky because I decided to celebrate my dead son's birthday this year, after being told last year by my son's father that a celebration was weird and morbid. I decided to do it up big, and I could not have asked for greater support or a better response than I've received. Birthday wishes, photos of friends and family in the t-shirts sold to raise funds for anencephaly research in Gabriel's honor, all littered my Facebook page on Gabriel's birthday. The day that can be so tough for many moms like me to get through hardly stood still long enough to let me grieve, because it was so filled with all of the reasons that I have to smile. How did I ever get so blessed as to have these people in my life? How is it that I've been so incredibly fortunate?
In the past year, I lost love. I lost the man I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with after he signed our divorce papers, packed up his belongings, and moved across the country. And I felt like I'd lost my whole world. Soon, though, my heart was beating again with that unmistakable feeling, falling harder and faster and still tentatively and nervously, but always with a fervent belief that I had found everything I wanted. That love was met with the dull sting of nonreciprocity; still, it gave me hope - Hope that someday he'll change his mind, hope that if he doesn't I'll find that feeling again, hope that someday someone will love me like I love them and like I want to be loved in return. I have an irrational, dangerous, abiding, relentless hope in even the most hopeless of things and it's a hard way to live - but the only way I know how.
I'm lucky because my life is full - of hope, of love, of family, of friends, with the clicking of eight paws with long claws, with the memory of my beautiful baby boy. My life is fruitful. It has purpose, though I frequently struggle to understand what that purpose is.
Two years ago, that blueberry bush that I had written off proved me wrong, and that baby boy that the world called "incompatible with life" flourished beyond anyone's expectations. And I, I have walked a treacherous road through the heart of make-it-or break it moments - the assault over a decade ago, Sean's death, Gabriel's death, a divorce - and I made it. I am full and I am blessed because from the rain and storm sometimes we find rainbows. And sometimes, we find blueberries.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Inevitably, as I turned the page of the calendar to June, I was struck by the hard-hitting realization that it's been nearly two years since I held my son in my arms. It's been nearly two years since I was able to keep him safe inside of my belly, two years since I felt him move, two years since I heard his strained cries, two years since his hands wrapped around my fingers, two years since I kissed him, stroked his hair, touched his cheek, washed his clothes, made his bottles, soothed him, rocked him - done all of the things that so many people take for granted.
In Huntington Beach this time of year is marked by overcast mornings, leading residents to refer to the "June gloom." Today there's little I wouldn't give to trade this blazing Bakersfield sun for a sticky, misty Orange County morning. It doesn't feel right that the sun should shine, or the birds should sing, or the grass should grow. It doesn't feel right to have life go on as if it wasn't turned upside down nearly two years ago when I buried the child that I once thought I would see crawl, and walk, and graduate high school, and whose hand I would hold when I left this world - not the other way around.
But the sun does shine, and the birds do sing, and life does go on, and the scars on my heart stretch to heal, but they are so fresh even still. Once again, the words seem insufficient, but they are all I have: "I miss my son." I miss him with a longing that is deep, and pervasive, and insatiable, and barely tolerable. I miss him.