grief vs. movie grief

I guess like anyone most of my ideas about what grief looks like came from movies. The heroine bunched up in her bed with clouds of kleenex piled around her, curtains drawn. Sitting on the floor of the bathroom, head in hands. The floor of the closet–seems to be a very favorite spot for movie-grieving.

When I woke up this morning, my oldest and living youngest crawled into bed with me. My husband was already at work, but it was still early (he works impossibly early). I drank coffee, read board books, poured juices. I read the older girls a book about Australian animals while they ate breakfast. Then we cleaned up toys and played outside in the frosty quiet street, everyone else at work or school. Friends came over and played all morning until it was an hour past the “just twenty more minutes!” mark.

My grieving hasn’t been holed up in dark corners like a spider, but, out of necessity and maybe mercy, constantly in the daylight–changing diapers, wiping noses, finding the other shoe. Sometimes I envy that movie grief–a day to lay in bed and weep and look at pictures and turn the lights all out. But the way I have to grieve may be –for me– the better way–grief is part of life. Because the most horrible aspect of Kit dying is that everything else keeps nonchalantly right on living.

I read a few books by atheists who lost babies to see if they had anything to offer, and I don’t think they do. Ultimately they still hope for a spiritual something, a karma, a regeneration of some kind that doesn’t make sense with true atheism, to me. They seem to want a God without the God. While God still continues to amaze me with his sense of poetry and timing.

I’m not one to look for signs, but there are signs–the snow on the day of her diagnosis and on the day of her memorial were the same unseasonable, unexpected snows. Foreboding…while pregnant I made a friend at church who had a stillborn baby girl. Baby N is in the same cemetery, buried a few spaces over from Kit–two girls who would’ve been in nursery together in church. I read a passage in Psalms and felt distinctly that would happened would happen and that eventually I would find peace with it.

At one point during pregnancy, I asked Bryan if I was just looking so hard I was seeing things that aren’t there, if I was creating a literary arch in my mind which couldn’t possibly be true in the real life world. Then Kit’s CHD book we were going to have the surgeons sign before we went home was ruined by coffee in the chaos and rush of putting her on ECMO. Bryan tried to save it, but we had to throw it away. And I said we could buy another one…but maybe we won’t.

When we moved into room 4, I helped a janitor reach a speck of blood that was on a high cabinet from an emergency surgery that happened in that room a week ago. I wiped off the blood and wondered. 

Even our first day there in the heart center…a little boy passed in room 1. I walked by, looking at the light spilling through, realizing I was in a place where the shadow of death was right in the next room, had been in our room the night before.

I feel an amazing sense of clarity, letting go of the little pockets of fear that I had chalked up to “this needs more research first”. A horrible thing has happened in my life–one of the most horrible things that I thought I would never survive. In the movies, the heroine, the grieving survivor, usually disintegrates, lost, until an outside force–a love, a quirky professor, an endearing neighbor, a catalyst of some sort– comes in to set things right, to move her toward her new life.

Kit is my catalyst.

3 poems in 236 Magazine

We stay inside when it is storming
Failure to Thrive
Open Heart Surgery, 6 Months


During Kit’s hospitalizations..and even now..I’ve written more than I expected to (I expected I’d write nothing). But I find that I’ve been writing a few poems a week, and many more journals. What is strange is that I barely remember writing any of it. I remember sitting down to start the act of writing, but these poems, even looking at them published (and hopefully edited) and surely sent out, and I only vaguely remember the act of writing them. So maybe they are a little messier than I would typically allow, but maybe a little more honest too.


How completely ordinary the days can be. Today I got a haircut for the first time in nearly a year. I bought clothes. Tomorrow I’ll schedule a dentist appointment. I feel like a missionary that has returned from the most remote part of the world, suddenly in civilization again.

Last January at the 20 week ultrasound, Kit was diagnosed with her heart condition. We thought we were going on to find out boy or girl, but instead we found out life or death, likely death. It snowed that day, unexpectedly. People went home early.  Days later, the genetic deletion diagnosis, that led to all of the high risk pregnancy appointments,  her birth and NICU stay, the short difficult and beautiful stay at home, and the three month hospital stay before her death.

This year I’ve learned the language of doctors, immersed myself in medical journals, kept daily tabs on her vitals. Everything a nurse or therapist would take the time to teach me, I learned–changing NG tubes, hep-locking a PICC line, what every single monitor meant, and there were so many monitors; what every potential side effect of a drug was, and there were so many drugs.

I returned the medical equipment a few days after Kit died, along with a note of gratitude for her surgeon, nurses, doctors. Hand-written, thanking by name, on high-school notebook paper: my resignation letter. I felt like I had been part of their team in a high stakes game; I’d been all in, and we lost.

I’ve forgotten what it is like to live this life I gave up last January, on the ultrasound table, when I learned I was having a baby–my fifth daughter!–with a potentially fatal heart condition. I took each role as doctors handed them to me–mom to a heart baby, a special needs baby, a potentially blind baby. I acclimated to native culture.

I didn’t realize, when I brought my daughter in to the hospital for that last stay, that it was her last stay. That it was the last time I would have all my children together earthside, the last time I would cradle her in my arms cord-free before I cradled her lifeless body.

Maybe like every missionary, I am desperate to go back. If I could have another day–even in her most critical days, where I spent hours bent over her bed, rubbing her forehead on the only spot with no monitors and wires–I would take it. I would walk those hall again, sit through the scary talks with doctors again, even, yes, hold her as she died again. I want to go back to that Holy Land.

I’ll always be her mom; but my assignment of mothering her, of raising her, is over. So here I am learning a new language, this incomprehensible dialect of grief.