Thursday, February 26, 2015

Siblings II

I love my brother in a million different ways. As you read in my last post, he has a fun sense of humor and still finds it amusing to harass his older sister. Today I love him for a very specific thing he did many years ago. This Saturday is the 12th anniversary of my son's passing while he was tucked soundly in my womb. It was a pain that came upon me so quickly, and it has never left.

Initially, it felt like my heart had been ripped out. The pain was so severe, I did not think I would survive. Year after year, the loss has become less and less acute, and instead it has become a permanent, deep, somber feeling. I always feel him with me, and I feel so blessed to have had him at all, but the heartache never leaves. He is with me every moment of the day.

Just into my sixth month of pregnancy, I had an appointment with my OB/GYN, and I took Keith with me. I wanted him to hear the baby's heartbeat, as much as did he. That may sound odd for some people, but my brother and I have always been close, and he supported my pregnancy. So we went to my appointment, I had some blood work to test for down's syndrome and spina bifida, and finally Keith and I went in to hear the baby's heartbeat.

I was laying on the table, and Keith was up by my head. The doctor was moving the Doppler all over my belly, and I recall being a slight bit nervous. Then that magical sound of my baby's heartbeat filled the room. I remember the doctor looking relieved, but Keith and I were both drunk on the sound of my baby's life. We left the appointment feeling hopeful and happy!

It was February 28, 2003 when the blood work from earlier in the week came back. I was called in for an emergency ultrasound so they could search for down's syndrome or spina bifida. The doctor called me herself  and prepared me for the baby having a serious genetic defect or illness. When my mom and I went into the ultrasound, we were terrified the baby could be sick. Instead, it showed that the baby had no heartbeat. My mom and I were devastated , as were my dad and brother later that day when they heard the news. When my brother came home that day, he brought me a single rose, and went into the corner and cried.

I was crushed. The baby had to be delivered the next day, but I was asleep. I think the doctor was trying to spare me, but in retrospect, I wish I could have held him just once. I sobbed uncontrollably for days, even weeks. I would wake up in the morning and sob in the shower, the kinds that wrack your body with uncontrolled spasms of heartache. At the time, I was living with my parents and brother, and the whole family was excited for my pregnancy. Every morning would begin with "Good morning, Baby", and every night would end with "Good night, Baby". So when I lost him, it was like we all lost him.

The weeks that followed Gabriel's death, I went into what I can only consider a coma of despair. I cried anytime I saw a baby. My milk came in, yet I had no baby to feed. My brother was so supportive, but no one knew what to do. I walked around in a trance. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be with my child. I wasn't suicidal, I just wanted my baby to come home to me.

As spring came, I would often wake up crying, and I would go to sleep crying, and I would cry in my dreams and try to wake up, but I'd be shackled to my nightmares. It was just so hard to smile when my spirit was weeping so. One spring morning, I woke up to my dad and Keith out at an errand. I didn't think much of it. They soon returned, and I saw them lugging this tree through the yard. I asked my mom what they were doing, and she tried to keep me away from the windows.  I was curious, but had no clue.

An hour or so passed, and my mom told me to look out the west living room window. There was a beautiful tree with buds all over it. My mom told me it was a weeping cherry tree, and that its buds would turn into beautiful flowers each spring. I asked her whose idea it was. She told me it was a gift from Keith in honor of Gabriel. I got teary. When they came inside, I gave Keith a huge hug! He told me I could also see the tree from my bedroom window, and sure enough, I could.

My brother is an amazing individual. He is a kind, creative, selfless and sensitive man. I still remember him as a newborn in my arms. And I also remember him hugging me tight as I cried in his arms when I learned my child was dead. The way he unconditionally loved and supported me after Gabriel's death is nothing short of extraordinary. He was as excited about being an uncle almost as much as I was excited about being a mom.

Gabriel's tree has grown into this huge, weeping display of a beautiful green umbrella. For about one week a year, the most glorious white and pink flowers shower down on the garden around it. I can look outside and see it, and it gives me such joy! Thank you, Keith! Thank you for being my tremendous brother and friend! Thank you for the exquisite gift of Gabriel's tree! I love you, and seeing you as the tremendous father you are, I have no doubt you would have been an amazing uncle. I love you, baby brother!

Monday, February 23, 2015



My brother is the best gift my parents have ever given me. We've each been there for the other every time we've tripped and fallen. And while the fall itself may have been horrible, what remains in my mind is the image of his hand reaching out to help me stand again. That is not to say he hasn't pestered me with his shenanigans over the years. As a child, there were times I would have sold him to the Pizza Plus delivery man for slavery, but I was never quick enough to catch him. As adults, I will tell you this tale as an example of how I handle his peskiness, and how he handles my reaction right back, and how much I love these moments oh so much!

Keith and my nephew were over yesterday, Sunday (for those of you not local, we had just gotten eight inches of snow), and when they were ready to leave, I was trying to help by getting my nephew into his coat and boots and hat. I got the latter two on him without problem. However, as ever seems to be the case with children's coats, their zippers are a challenge for adult fingers. I kept trying, and one side of the zipper would go up, but it wouldn't catch the other side of the zipper.

No matter what I tried, it always ended up all crooked, and Keith towered above, making snarky remarks about my less-than-capable mechanical skills. So I stepped aside, giving Keith or my mom the chance to zip Eli up while I went seeking my revenge for his smart-assed remarks. Not three feet away from where I had been trying to help Eli was my desk were I was going through all kinds of medical supplies left from my various home-care instances over the past year. I found my perfect weapon immediately.

Keith and my mom were standing in the family room, right near the doorway I was coming through. I grabbed a syringe filled with saline, unwrapped it, tip-toed up to the doorway where they were standing, and I got a bulls eye (truly.... it hit the edge of his right eye and bounced a bit off his bald head and got a bit in his right ear.) He was so taken off guard, the look on his face was priceless. He had a grin that read "WTF", when out of his lips came, "What the hell! What was that??"

I could have really f*c*ed with him and told him it blue dye or something else that would leave a mark, but I confirmed that it was just saline. So Keith and Eli walk out the door, and Zoe the Dog followed them. She likes to either get in the car or at least watch it leave. I was in a robe and socks, and when Zoe would not come to my calls, I had to go out, oxygen tubing following me, all the way down the path to where I could see her next to the driveway. I was freezing, but kept calling her. I can see Keith beside the car, making snowballs and throwing them in the direction of our walkway, hoping she would follow them. And slowly, she started to get closer to the house and finally came inside.

I waved Keith and Eli goodbye, and headed back to the house, trying to pull all my oxygen tubing behind me when, "SPLAT!" and the first snowball hits the ground next to me. I raced in the door and tried to pull it shut just in time for another snowball to hit "SPLAT!" on the glass part of the door, but it wasn't closing. Here I was thinking I'm safe, but as I try again to shut the door, I realize my oxygen tubing (it is 52' total) is caught in it. I was going to have to open the door again, enough to get the caught tubing free.

I opened the door enough to scream that cutting of oxygen wasn't fair, although I could breathe enough on my own for the moment. I heard no reply, so I decided it was best to just get it done, and I opened the door enough so that I could pull in the remaining 15'+ of tubing inside. As I push on the door, a snowball whizzes past my head in a perfect rotation, dropping plops of snow here and there until it hits the back wall of our bedroom hallway. At that point the tubing is all in, and thank God for it, because I was laughing so hard I could hardly breathe.  There was snow everywhere, and I was happy to clean it up because the joy of such ballyhoo far outweighed the energy it took to snow-towel.

My mom had no idea what is going on, but she was smiling at the fact that at 34 and 38, her kids could still play just like that... as kids. Keith and I were texting each other last night about our little snow scenario, and we were still laughing. Apparently, according to my mom, Keith sent her a text about how much snow people got this weekend. He went on to say that some people even got snow inside their houses. Nice, Keith..

There was a time when I couldn't imagine Keith going to college or being a dad. It just didn't seem to be what he wanted for a long time. Today, he is blessed with a wife, two boys, a step-daughter and a step-son. He had a Masters degree in Education, and he teaches middle school math and coaches basketball. I am so proud of him, and I believe he's at just the beginning of all the things that he will accomplish.

So often when I see him, he is stressed out and/or exhausted from all the directions in which he's being pulled. And there are many times when I'm in so much pain, I don't even get out of my bed to say "Hi" when he comes to visit. This past weekend, we crossed paths at the perfect time. My bronchitis not withstanding, I felt well enough to come out, and he was feeling mischievous enough to poke fun at my zipper-handicap. AND, given his mischievous mood, I felt he would tend to laugh rather than get pissed off at my saline-filled syringe blitz attack.

Our moods set the wheels in motion for what ended up being the most fun I've had with my little brother in quite awhile. Keith said that Eli was laughing like crazy from his car seat as his dad made the snowballs that were then launched at YaYa . I'm glad our grown-sibling- silliness gave Eli some giggles, as one can never have too many. My nephews are still too young to understand our family tree. It's hard to understand that their YaYa was only 3 years old when their Daddy was born. It's hard to understand that Mum Mum (my mom) is the mommy of both Daddy and YaYa, and that Apa is our dad. It's very complex, but they understand we're all connected.

To my mortification, my nephews have seen YaYa sick, and Keith has had to explain a lot of this to them. So they've seen me at my strongest and funniest, and they've seen me at my weakest, just as they've seen Daddy when he's super tired and at his most energetic and playful. My greatest hope is that Keith and I continue to enjoy our bond, and that we are an example to my nephews that being siblings is lifelong.  It doesn't ever go away. It's a gift that follows you forever. When they're old enough, I hope they'll get it. And I hope I'll see it between them. A sibling's love is like no other.

Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Memories of a Valentine

For me, this date always reminds me of a Valentine's Day eighteen years ago. I was only 19 years old, a sophomore at Miami University, and a friend I'd known since the year before asked me to go to a Grab A Date at a dance bar that no longer exists in Oxford. He had been interested for a time, but I was slow to submit to my own feelings. I wasn't sure where things would go, but the butterflies in my stomach that night as I got ready were telling my heart there was something special in the making.

We spent the evening in a bar with over fifty people, but I only remember his face as he grinned at my attempts at playing pool (I was pretty good.) I remember those sidelong glances between us, during which I'm sure I tried (and failed) to bat my eyelashes and play coy, but we always ended up in these electric stares that made the surroundings disappear. It was just us in those moments.

Towards the end of the evening, fueled by a drink or two, any remaining guard I had up was released. I remember a remix dance version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" coming on at a deafening level of sound. We met on the dance floor and slow danced, singing to each other, even though we couldn't hear a thing. At the end, there was a walk back to my dorm, and there was finally a kiss.

In the weeks and months to come, we fell in love. We couldn't have fallen harder had we sky-dived towards each other. We soon became pathetic but endearing, schmoopified versions of our former selves. We were together throughout most of our college years, taking breaks here and there. When we graduated, we left behind those two young adults who had fallen so much in love. We traded them for older, more mature versions of ourselves. Things like formals and Grab A Dates were no longer, but the memories made live on in us both.

Love comes in a million different packages, each unique. It is an understatement to say that I have been saturated in love my entire life. The young man I fell for 18 years ago was my true Valentine. Our love was almost effortless. Over the years after graduation, our love changed from romantic to friendship, and then back again. It's all a blur in retrospect.

Ultimately, the friendship won. He has been supportive through my ongoing health issues, and he's been a good listener when I've needed one. We write each other still. Even though it's ancient history, Valentine's Day always make me think of him and brings a smile to my face. Such vividly sweet memories are rare. It's not about wanting to go back or wanting him back. It's a celebration of those two kids that shared that night and who had a love story before life's ups and downs had the chance to mess us up. Granted, we may have been in the Miami bubble, but I thank God for it.

After all, how many couples can slow dance to the remix of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in a bubble? Cheers to the memory and to the young man who won my young heart!
Happy Valentine's Day!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015


There is an odd truth about scars. Oftentimes, those scars that remain visible on the body are those from which we can heal. It's those scars you can't see that you remember, and feel, forever. Over my lifetime, I have had major surgery more than two dozen times. I've been cut from breast to pelvis nine times. There is no way to hide those scars. But they fade with time, and become part of your body. It's those emotional scars that cut too deep in the soul to ever forget.

February is my least favorite month of the year, as it is the month I lost my beloved son, Gabriel. I lost him the last day of the month, which is obviously heartbreaking. Every other day of the month reminds me of that last month of pregnancy, those precious last days I was able to enjoy my child in my belly.  There are fairy tales that can't come close to describing the magical power of maternal love. I was into my sixth month, and every fiber of my being had become entwined with all that made up my baby boy. It was delicious, magnificent, eternal love.

As I do on many nights, I spend my last waking minutes holding the last ultrasound picture I have of Gabriel. The other night, I did so and felt moved to put my other hand on my belly. As I felt my abdomen, tracing my scars with my fingers, I realized that there weren't any scars there when Gabriel was within. My belly had a few scars from a few laparoscopic procedures, but otherwise it was a perfect porcelain dome to shelter him.

My physical health has decorated my body with all kinds of graffiti.  Those are scars. Losing Gabriel was the worst pain I've ever felt, but HE is not a scar. He is my child. The internal scars were made the day the ultrasound showed that he had no heartbeat. The scars were made when my brother Keith heard the news, brought me a rose and then retired to a chair where I watched him sob. And even more scars were made that night, as my mom laid in bed with me, trying to console me, and my dad crawled into the bed with us, crying his eyes out.

The worst scars were made the next day when I had to have surgery so they could deliver the baby. The doctor said it would be best that way, for me, but I look back and wish that I could have had the chance to hold him, if only for a moment. Right before surgery, I remember being inconsolably hysterical as I begged my mom not to let them take my child. She was already crying, and my pleas got so desperate that she put her hands over her ears, because it broke her heart to hear me in such pain. As a mother, not being able to do anything to make it better was too much to bear.

No matter how much it hurts to be without him, I would rather have had him than never to have had him at all.  Sometimes we have to sacrifice experiencing great emotional scars in exchange for lifelong gifts. And that's what Gabriel is; my greatest lifelong gift. I am so blessed this angel came into my life, even though his exit almost killed me.

My heart still aches when I see a mother holding her child.  I'm taking baby steps towards healing the wounds to my heart. I'm not a mother in the traditional sense, but he is always cradled against my chest, and our hearts beat in synchronicity.