Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The last 3 days I have been going through the house, digging out stuff I have shoved places this past year. I am a notorious "saver". I don't want to throw out cards someone sent me. Or cards someone sent Claudia or Craig. I gathered all of the things we have done or were sent this past year in Curtis' memory and put them in his memory box. I filed all our paper work from this past year and so forth.

I also tackled Claudia's photo album. I had it completed through October but needed the last month of her first year done.

It is a red and white album that I just love. It says "Watch me grow" on the front of it. It has openings for photos on the cover that looks like leaves and a little caterpillar on it. It is one of those albums that holds both vertical and horizontal photos on the same page.

I didn't buy it for her. I bought it for Curtis.

It was one of those purchases I was SO excited about it. I got it the week before he was born at Target and was so proud of it. In fact, I frickin' took a picture of it and posted it to an online message board I was on during my pregnancy with him. I couldn't wait to fill it up. Even after his death I showed it to my mom. "Look, isn't this cute?" She just looked at me strangely.

It was one of the things, after his death, that drove me nuts. I would flip through that empty photo album and look at the mocking "Watch me grow!" on the front of it and wanted to light it on fire.

After I had Claudia, I searched in vain for another photo album I loved as much as that one. I couldn't find one. I wanted one to last her her entire first year (which, let's face it, is a TON of pictures). I wanted horizontal and vertical album...

I had this huge debate with myself for weeks. Use it or don't use it. I loved the album. But I bought it for him. But I also bought the crib and bookshelf and dresser for him and was using it for her. But I would reuse those things for the next child anyway. I wouldn't reuse a photo album.

There is a difference. He isn't alive. He never used the album to begin with so it isn't second hand like furniture would be, which is normal. The album wasn't technically used....

Ugh. In the end, the love of the photo album won out.

What a stupid thing I worried about for weeks. How stupid to even have a blog post about a photo album.

But this is my life. Focusing on stupid little things like a photo album that was bought for him but became hers. This is my life. That album has 300 photos of her first year of life. Every time I look at it, I know it was meant for him. Though, I love flipping through the pages and "watching her grow."

I just wish stupid things didn't haunt me. It is just a photo album! But it is tied to him.

In the end, I am glad I used it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Well, I made it through.

We made it through.

It really was such a nice few days, Christmas eve and Christmas. Craig gave me a beautiful Willow Tree Figure called "Guardian" I had never seen it before and asked him "Is it for Claudia or for Curtis?" He said it was up to me. I said I wanted it to be for Curtis and he said that is why he bought it. I then started to cry and he looked a bit horrified. ;) I mean, he is *so* used to me crying but he doesn't like to be the one to make me cry. It just means so much to me when anyone takes 2 minutes out of their day to remember him.... and to have something tangible? Amazing.

Here is the figure:
I will admit to being very hurt when I opened up an ornament from my grandparents that had our family names listed on it, and absent was Curtis. I just cannot hang that on my tree. He is forever my child and forever a part of this family. I know they don't get it, and quite frankly grew up in a different era of sweeping things under the rug.... but I don't care. I want him remembered.
It was hard with the Christmas pictures. The comments about "Let's get a picture of all of the grandkids together..." That just can never happen. In my eyes, that just can never happen.
My mom got us an ornament for Curtis' tree, but it was one we already had. She felt really bad because she had really looked hard and tried to find a special one. But I told her over and over how much it meant. She was able to return it and find another one we both liked. I am excited to hang it on his tree though.
Claudia was spoiled. But, Craig and I had a big hand in that. We didn't mind.
It was more December 26th when I broke down. That is the day I allowed myself to cry, that is the day I allowed myself to say how unfair it all is, how sick I am of grieving, of how life should be so different. How that the picture with the 5 grandkids should be a picture of 6. How if one more person says "look at all the granddaughters they have you think they would be one more boy..." I am going to go absolutely berserk.
But, Christmas itself was filled with joy and laughter. Happy kids, good food, and twinkling lights.
The good. December 25th. The bad, December 26th. You take the good with the bad, right?
Only because I have no choice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Random things.....

1) The next our story post is going to be dealing with my miscarriage. That is something I still haven't wrapped my head around. That is going to be tough to write about. While the miscarriage wasn't the same as losing Curtis, it was about losing hope. I really haven't written much about the miscarriage, it was over before it really started, but the "over" part was a month process that effected me physically.

2) Curtis would be two and a half this Christmas. The magic, the sparkle...it would all be there. I have had to make a conscious decision to enjoy Christmas. I have a child now and I have every reason in the world to enjoy Christmas. But I never, ever, ever get rid of that "dark place' at the back of my mind. Telling me I should have a little boy running down the stairs on Christmas morning. I constantly picture him. A picture of the 3 of us? I see a blond haired boy next to Craig. A blue eyed boy walking between us at the mall. Him holding our hands and us doing "One....two....THREE" and lifting him up by his arms and swinging him.

Constantly. The image of what is suppose to be is forever haunting me.

3) With that, I am going to wish you Merry Christmas. We only get so many Christmases in our lives....so I am lucky I am at a place where I can enjoy it again, despite everything. This is my life now. I have her. For that, I am taking comfort.

I read something recently...."For nine months, I held a piece of heaven. Now, heaven holds a part of me."

While my faith is wavering (which is a post for another day....) I do like that sentiment. It gives me a small amount of comfort on a time I should still be holding my piece(s) of heaven.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our Story Part 20

Christmas 2006

Late in October of 2006, Craig and I made the decision to do something different for Christmas. I had been so looking forward to Christmas when I was pregnant. Christmas of 2005, I went a little nuts buying things on clearance related to Christmas and a baby. We didn't know the gender at that time, so I bought girl Christmas things and boy Christmas things. A little baby Santa suit. (Hey, everything was 75% off....).

I knew damn well all of that stuff was still sitting on a shelf in his bedroom while his ashes were on a shelf in my living room.

A self professed Christmas freak, I needed to skip it. I couldn't handle the thought of sitting with our families and forcing a smile. We have a lot of kids on each side and...well, damn it. It was suppose to be our turn. Our Christmas to have a child. The previous Christmas my parents had given us a "parents to be ornament". My mother in law had given me a book about being a first time mom and an Oh Baby tshirt. My parents gave us a video camera....

There was no way I was going to be able to fake my way through Christmas. Craig and I decided to take a trip, but we needed to make it inexpensive. It had to be short, he had just started a new job after all....so, that was that. Vegas was booked.

It did not go over well with our families. Overall, they were understanding, but for their own reasons they wanted us there. When, for obvious reasons that was the last place we wanted to be.

We needed Christmas to be different. In booking the trip to Vegas and looking at shows to attend, I began to look forward to Christmas. To get away with my husband. It wasn't going to me watching all of my nieces and nephews rip open their presents, it was going to be us eating, playing the slots, and relaxing.

It was exactly what we needed. I refused to set foot into a mall or Target or anywhere Christmas "threw up" for the entire month of December. I did shop for our nieces and nephews, but thanks to the Internet, it was easy. We donated money instead of buying gifts for the adults and asked people to do the same, but no one did. I didn't put up my Christmas decorations. I did end up putting up a small, artificial tree. Mainly because my mom had given us a Curtis ornament at the Angel of Hope ceremony a few weeks prior, and I wanted to hang it up. It became known as our memory tree, all ornaments for Curtis. We hung up that "Parents to be" ornament.

We left early on Christmas eve, and arrived in Vegas early in the day. Most of the trip is a blur of slot machines, funny comedy shows, and eating out. Christmas day I woke up and....it didn't feel like Christmas. Which is exactly what I wanted. Christmas night we went to a showing of Mamma Mia. Everything felt fine. It felt good. A friend who lives in California drove up to meet up with us.

The day before we left, sitting in a Chinese restaurant, Craig and I looked at each other and both of our eyes filled with tears.

"I cannot believe this. How can this be?"

"I don't know. I miss him so much."

We talked, and we talked, and we talked. We talked about our little boy and the weird turn our lives had taken. We talked until our tears stopped and we started joking about the weirdos crying, in Vegas, in front of our sweet 'n sour chicken.

While Vegas did not erase our grief, I have to say, it did make Christmas a heck of a lot easier. I still think our families have no clue how much we needed that trip. The next Christmas....well, Claudia was with us by then and life became much different. Always tears, always someone missing.... but Christmas 2006 will forever be our Christmas. The year we did what we needed to do to get through another day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One of the things I try, really hard, to do is to include Curtis anyway I can. It is almost a desperate kind of thing with me. I know I will never forget him, but I don't want anyone to forget him, or to think I have forgotten him. Or to think they can never mention him.
Christmas is a time I get a bit creative with including him. We do a memorial Christmas tree to him. It started in 2006, I was so disgusted with Christmas (and I am a pretty big Christmas freak so it was a hard time) that I didn't want to put up a tree. I had a small one from my apartment living days, so I out them up and just put a few ornaments on it that reminded me of Curtis. One I had made in support group, one my mom gave me with Curtis' name at the Angel of Hope ceremony...things of that nature.
Last year, I put back up our big tree, but decided to continue to put up the little one in memory of Curtis. A friend has sent me an ornament each year in memory of Curtis as well some I had bought for him. Plus, we have a "parents to be ornament" we got as a Christmas present in 2005.

Last year on our card I included the verbage "and Curtis, who we hold in our hearts" at the bottom above three pictures of our new little family and our names.
This year, in addition to 3 other pictures this one was included:

It just gives me the warmest fuzziest feelings. She loves this stone and is constantly patting at it.

This is our "Curtis" tree. I just love it. Claudia does too. It has twinkling white lights. She constantly points at it and tries to say "tree". What is funny is she pretty much ignores the big one which is in the same general location.

I do worry about the coming years and how I can include him and keep him in people's minds.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Our Story 'The Job'

Part 19

A few weeks into September 2006, I came home to find Craig sitting in our loft. He was at his desk, which he never sat at, on the computer, and a pencil in his mouth. He gave me a quick smile and said "How is your stress level today?"

Not exactly the way you want to be greeted when your life has already been shattered.

"Just give it to me." I responded.

"Well, my boss called me into the office. In the next few weeks I will be laid off."

"Oh, okay."

I took a deep breath. This thing would normally send me into a tailspin. I should be freaking out about money and debt and mortgage, but I didn't have it in me. This wasn't completely unexpected. Craig worked for a home builder and the market was starting to take a turn. And as computer guy he was going to be the first to go. Plus, we had a head's up.

Craig got to work on his resume and applying for jobs. Two weeks later, he was laid off. Was paid a week severance, his vacation, and came home.

Craig worked hard, studied the newest applications and coding (that is some computer stuff I guess!). He got a few interviews quickly and took a job just a week after he was laid off. We were cautiously happy, he wasn't thrilled about the company, but heck: it was a job. It was a pay cut, but it was a job. We felt like he had to keep looking but still take this chance.

His first day on the job was also his first night at a new bowling league. He had stopped bowling with a group of lifelong friends the previous season as the bowling league disbanded. Joining in with an old coworker, he took a chance on a new league.

He came home that Monday night, came up to bed and took one look at me and said "I want my old job back and my old friends back."

It broke my heart. Everything had drastically changed for us. We went from the couple who seemed to have it all, to grieving parents, to losing loved ones, to losing jobs....everything had changed.

Craig always seemed to handle it all much better than myself. Where I am high strung, high emotion, he is even. So for him to actually admit how bad it sucked just made me more pissed off at our situation.

His job continued to suck. He came home and said "A monkey could do what I am doing." Not exactly good for the ego.

Craig had gotten another interview at a much more desirable company a week later. It was a company he had wanted to work at for awhile, a company with a future. He went in for an interview on a Tuesday and was told he would hear within the next few days.

But noon on Wednesday he couldn't stand the anticipation and called. They didn't outright say he had the job but they would be returning his call later in the day.

He came home defeated because they never called back. I was crushed for him, but kept reminding him his interview was just the day before. It was around 8pm at night when he was on the phone with a friend. Someone tried to beep in, but he didn't recognize the number so ignored it.

When he checked the voicemail, and realized it was the HR rep, he hurried out the garage to take the call.

Yes, the garage. He said he couldn't stand the pressure of having me in the same room.

I couldn't stand the pressure of him out in the garage so I went up to our room.

He was gone for a long time. Was that a good thing? Was he on the phone talking salary? Was he upset in the garage, not wanting to come in and tell me the sad news?

I finally heard him make his way up the steps. From the doorway in our room, I saw a hand first, giving a thumbs up.

I jumped up and screamed. He had a HUGE grin on his face. We even drank some champagne that night. I think it was the first time we had truly felt joy since losing Curtis. We needed this so badly. I remember calling my mom to tell her the good news and she burst into tears. I know she was happy for Craig and his new job, but I know it was more that we were excited about something again. That something GOOD had happened for us in the wake of so much.

The job gave us a piece of happiness back. That good things can happen to us again. He started his new job the beginning of October that year and we agree getting laid off was the best thing for him, it pushed him to find a new, much better job. He has been there over two years now and is well liked and very valued.

So, in October 2006 he started a new job and that gave us hope. And with that hope, we started talking about trying again. Trying to get back some more joy. Trying to bring a child, a living child, in this world.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Our Story: part 18

The Memorial Walk.

The year we lost Curtis, 2006, I connected with the Missing Grace organization. My first real event was a 5K Walk/Run they do to raise money for this non profit. Over the years, I have gotten to know the founder well, and they were the ones who put me in touch with doctors who got Claudia here. I truly believe without them, we would have lost Claudia as well. That story will be told in the future, but cord issues can and do repeat. Claudia had a cord issue, the same one that took her brother's life.

So, in August of 2006, I found out about this 5K and contacted our friends and family to see if they wanted to participate. Our parents said yes, some of our siblings joined in and agreed to sign up.

I got the crazy idea I was going to make tshirts that said "Team Curtis" on them. On every one's tshirt I would put things like "Curtis' dad" on the front. I found a picture of Curtis to use.

I designed (and I do use that term loosely) the iron transfers. I went to the store and bought a stack of tshirts. I spent on Saturday night carefully printing everything out and ironing the tshirts. Because I am not talented in the ways of iron transfers, they were less than perfect. A few I had to redo (because I accidentally ironed on the words wrong and it said stuff like "Curtis Team" as opposed to "Team Curtis".

I spent hours, ironing each shirt, and crying as I finished each one. Each shirt was a reflection of something I could "do" for Curtis. I could not parent him like normal people parent. There was nothing for me to do for him. So this. This I could do.

I hadn't even told our families I was making these shirts. One day, a few days before the walk, I just got in my car and delivered the shirts. I was practically shaking when I handed them to people.

What if they thought it was stupid? What if they didn't want to wear them? I wondered all of this out loud to Craig. "Oh. They will wear them. They will have no choice." I almost threw them all away. I didn't want my feelings hurt. I didn't want all of my hard work, all of my parenting of Curtis looked at with disdain.

My sister in law held out the shirt I made for her son and gasped "I cannot WAIT to put this on him."

I can still see her face, her expression in my head. Those few words and her genuine joy in receiving that shirt still mean the world to me.

So, on a chilly day in September, we did the 1st walk as Team Curtis. It was a small crowd that year, their first year with the walk and all. I can say that in comparison because the future years have doubled in size each year. We were the only ones to wear team tshirts and therefore, got a lot of attention for them. The foundation even put pictures of our shirts on their advertising for the event for the following year and pictures up on their website.

In fact, in May of 2007, we were at our support group and I said something about Curtis and a couple new to the group said "Curtis? Of Team Curtis? We saw your shirts!"

I think I just got my 15 minutes of fame.

It felt amazing.

And, at the walk in 2007 and 2008, tons of teams made tshirts. But we were the first. We were the original. A lot of people get "fancy" ones made. Professional printing. Beautiful artwork.

Not me. I continue to make new ones for every member of our team each year. It is one of the very few things I can do for Curtis each year. So, I continue to iron (and continue to have to redo) shirts every year. Each year I cry. Each year I step back and take pictures of each shirt. Even though they don't change from year to year, they are just as important to me as they were back then.

At the end of the walk in 2006, we did a balloon release and I buried my head into Craig's shoulder and sobbed. Sobbed that everyone wore their shirts and were proud. Sobbed because I even had to be at an event like this to begin with... and because I missed my baby boy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It still feels fake about 90% of the time. I have talked about this before, the whole "It was like I played a giant game of pretend for 9 months, everyone indulged me and then one day, we all stopped pretending."

Nine months. I was pregnant for NINE MONTHS. That is a really long time to think about something, and prepare for something. I did everything a pregnant woman, an educated, smart, pregnant woman does. I took my prenatal. I went to every doctor's appointment. I ate decent foods. I took a child birth class. (Okay. We skipped the second day. But it was seriously that boring.) My husband came with to every single doctor's appointment. We prepared a cute little nursery and bought newborn diapers. Happily married. College degree. Families who adore and love us. Families that were so excited about another grandchild.

For nine months we prepared and it was just....gone. In an instant. No time to prepare. Just....gone. How do you undo that in your mind?

I sit here and still think, two and a half years later "what the frick just happened here?"

I did go to therapy, starting in March of 2007. Right around the time I got pregnant with our daughter.

It didn't help. I am not trying to be mean, my therapist was very kind...but I had the feeling she just wanted to see me get my happy ending. She was so interested in my pregnancy and getting me through the end, she did little to help my anxiety, did little to help my guilt (which I got so much of I am running out of room to store it) and did little to help my grief. She just liked my story. The heartbreak of losing Curtis....trying again and miscarrying (which I will blog about in a "our story post" in the future) and then getting pregnant with our daughter. Then, the harrowing pregnancy, the complications we had with her heart and low fluid at 20 weeks. Meeting with the research doctors, the nightly monitoring .... she loved it all. She wanted the celebration and for us to go on our merry way.

Once again, I am not trying to rip on her, because she was kind. And let's admit: I enjoy talking about Curtis and telling our story. I like the attention surrounding him. Even if I am paying for it every 3rd week.

But therapy did little to actually help.

But when I think about it, I have to admit nothing is going to make me feel less guilty about losing him. I believe, hell I *know* it could have been prevented. I know I could have pushed harder, I knew I should and I chose not to. I chose to ignore what was going on inside of me. No matter how many people tell me it was not my fault (I know I didn't do it on purpose. I get that.) I will never let go of the roll I played in Curtis' death. Never.

So, while I think therapy can be helpful, I think in my case, it isn't. Because my guilt and my grief are ways of coping. Sounds odd, but it is true. How I cope is by knowing I could have prevented it and apologizing to Curtis for not doing more. I am sorry my mistakes assisted in his death. I am sorry I did not educate myself on kick counts, which would have saved his life. (See my kick counts post for more info). I am sorry that I worked so hard to get our daughter here and I didn't put the effort into him.

My guilt gets me through. Because if I didn't feel guilty...what would I have? A "well, it just happened" thinking? I can't do that. It isn't me. I am his mom. Moms feel guilty for the things they didn't do. They can't do. Didn't have the knowledge to do to make their child's lives better. Moms feel guilty.

So, while some days it still seems so surreal, I know he was in real. I have the stretch marks I wear on the outside and on the inside, a heavy heart full of guilt.

Curtis and his loss are all too real.