Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Shadow and the Light

You carry in yourself
All the obstacles necessary
To make your realization perfect.

Always you will see that
within you
the shadow and the light are equal.

If you discover a very black hole
a thick shadow
be sure there's somewhere in you
a great light.

It is up to you
to know how
to use one
to realize
the other.

-Sri Aurobindo


Happy Birthday Dad. I miss you.
Chey, 17 years of loving you have passed but the love has not dwindled or grown weary with time. I have so many, many things to tell you. One day, I hope to awaken with your arms around me.

Thank you, Jimmy, for Starlight.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kindness Project Day

Live your life as a memorial to your beloved dead. -Joanne Cacciatore

One week from today, on July 27, is our International Kindness Project Day. Cards are available absolutely free from now until next Wednesday.

I never imagined, when starting this initiative in the summer of 1997, that more than one million kindness projects would be committed around the globe in only 14 years.

This project was born in my heart on Christmas eve of 1994. I knew I couldn't spend the money that was rightfully Cheyenne's on my other children. So I took that money and bought toys for underprivileged children, and I delivered them alone the day before Christmas. I dropped them off, wanting as much anonymity as possible, got back in my car hurriedly, and wept for nearly an hour.

I sobbed.

It was bittersweet, though much more bitter than sweet at this point.

Some months later, I was in a shoe store buying back-to-school shoes for my children. I overheard a family with many children debating which one of their children needed shoes more than the others. They all needed them, commented the parents, but they couldn't afford them. I found the store manager, bought a gift card with enough funds on it to pay for all the children's shoes, wrote on a little piece of paper "in memory of Chey", and I quickly left before he gave them the surprise.

It was only 18 months later that the MISS Foundation was born. I didn't name the MISS Foundation - or any of our legislative pieces - or our programs- after Cheyenne. I chose, specifically, not to do that. To do so, for me, felt exclusionary and indulgent.

Similarly, I valued helping others anonymously, knowing in my heart that Chey's death had left me with a greater sense of compassion and agape for others, but not wanting "me" to be recognized for it. Truly, it was not about some act of nobility. It was pure love for my child, a strong desire to make meaning, and newfound- profound- compassion for others. I wanted others to know that this little child lived, this little child died, and this little child continued to matter in this world.

And so my anonymous giving grew. And as it did, the paralyzing grief became more manageable, more reflexive, and I felt something in the core of my being- something inexplicable- that moved me.

At some point, I realized these acts- both the little and the big- were helping me. And, I thought perhaps it could help others who were bereaved. Because simply, you cannot serve others without serving yourself. You cannot give to another without giving to yourself. You cannot bring comfort to another without bringing comfort to yourself.

The Kindness Project was born about a year after the inception of the MISS Foundation. Born of pain. Born of compassion. Born of a love bigger than death.

And today, 17 years later, it is much more sweet than bitter.

I invite you all to join us. For them. For each of us. For the entire world.


RSVP for Int'l Kindness Project Day here

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sticks, Stones, and Nomenclature

Warning: This entry is sensitive.

Whoever said "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" was either disillusioned or a liar. In fact, the effects of stigmatizing, isolating, devaluing, and marginalizing language cause deep psychological and social pain that often endures long beyond physical wounding.

In 1994, on her due date to be born, my baby- all 8 lbs and 22" of her- with her long piano fingers and her rolls of wrist fat- her black curly hair and deep olive skin- her long torso and long eyelashes- died. Yes, you heard me: My beloved baby- my child- my daughter. Death came into my body, brutally violating me and my motherhood. I felt psychologically raped.

And then, in a flash, she was gone.

Only moments before I was to give life, my Judas body gave Death.

The shock of her death continues to reverberate through the walls of my life. And my suffering was prolonged and exacerbated by the dismissing responses of others, responses that lingered for many months and even years in the aftermath.

Her death also continues to inspire me to live more fully and joyfully. Nearly 17 years later.

Now, back to "sticks and stones".

Let me say this with great clarity to my academic and research colleagues. To the feminists who read my blog. To other bereaved parents and leaders of support groups. To authors of books about grief. To mental health professionals. To obstetrical physicians and nurses and social workers. To religious leaders worldwide. To anyone who will listen. To the dead and and to the living. To G*d and the constellations and the angels and the birds:

My baby daughter died.

I lost my beloved child.

Did you hear me?

I did not experience

the "loss of a pregnancy" or
a "failed reproductive event" or
a "negative outcome of pregnancy"

and the lying language you continue to foist on me is infuriating. I will never, ever, ever support events, books, research, and any other movement that propagate this lying, offensive, diminishing language.*

This process of naming- the nomenclature of death- has an outcome that can be measured by society's perception to the death of a baby. It's sublime effects are used for social and political manipulation and misappropriation. It is subtly powerful and insidious.

This misuse of language encourages the systemic dismissal of this tragedy, inferring that the traumatic experience of 10 months of pregnancy, hours and hours of excruciating labor, only to then give birth to a dead baby, followed by postpartum reminders such as breast milk, burning arms, sleepless nights, pacing the floors, hormonal insanity, physical recovery, and indescribable grief isn't worthy of mourning just as any other child's death.

Rather, the implicit message is that this trauma was merely an "adverse outcome of pregnancy" or a "pregnancy loss" - and not really the death - or loss if you prefer- of a baby- a son or a daughter. And thus, these children, themselves, are devalued. This translates to the social oppression of thousands of grieving mothers worldwide who are relegated to the depths of despair alone.

And this type of lying language is in part why- in 1994- her death was treated with contempt and disregard.

It is in part why research funds have been channeled elsewhere.

It is in part why women have suffered in silence for decades, fearful to speak their children's names.

It is in part why- even at support groups for grieving parents and in textbooks about death- stillbirth vis-a-vis "fetal demise or fetal deaths" are segregated as the 'other.'

And it takes an enormous emotional toll on women to be faced with constant assaults on their child's dignity, fearful to tell the real story of their child's death for risk of the "Oh, well, at least..." comments, or "no big deal-why are you so upset?- glances." (For the record: I work with many parents who are survivors of suicide and they also face many similar effects of disenfranchised grief).

I implore you- use your voices if you share these feelings. Those who do not help to change this prevaricative language are complicit in this social misconstruing of reality, passively contributing to the suffering of women who will, in the future, face this unspeakable loss.

And to current or future potential colleagues: Please don't email me and ask me to support your research or your event or your whatever if your project makes reference to a baby's death as pregnancy loss or reproductive loss or whatever other lying nomenclature happens to be featured in the literature on that day.

Speak the truth. A beloved baby- a precious child- died. A child who is just as valuable and loved and worth of dignity and mourning as any other child.

Remember that sticks and stones can only break bones. But words can wound forever.

*Note, please read this part carefully: This is not about the use of the words loss vs. death. It is about understanding the difference between the terminology of "pregnancy or reproductive loss or reproductive failure" and "infant or baby loss (or infant death)".

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Emery, Frances, and the Little Wounding

Emery. The baby bird rescued from the Colony, in a nest I constructed from dry grasses.
Two other fledglings died but he's going to make it!

Turn your wounds into wisdom.
-Oprah Winfrey

Today, I nearly took off my toe: Call it an inexperienced, over-zealous tree trimmer gone wild. I should probably have had a stitch or three, but the idea of an emergency room visit on a weekend is powerful demotivation.

You see, I needed to clean the side yard because we saved a very-grateful, very-frightened puppy from certain death on the highway in Grants, New Mexico. He has a happy new home in Sedona, and he's named Frances after Giovanni Francesco di Bernadone aka Frances of Assisi. His rescue, of course, came on the heels of saving Emery, the baby King bird (I am happy to report that Emery is doing well and is safe in a wildlife bird rescue in Denver, also see photo above).

Maybe the luckiest dog in the world. 
He'd been hit by a car, had a broken tail, 
had a rope around his neck six times,
and was covered with exrement and detritus. 
He was dehydrated and very hungry.

I digress. The dog run on the side yard was overgrown with tree branches and needed attention. Note to self: Hire a professional next time.

During the process of the near dismemberment, I realized the stark similarity between physical and emotional wounding. Please pardon the imagery as I tell of my experience:

I felt some pressure on my toe, but didn't realize how badly I was injured.

I looked down and saw flesh hanging from my toe. I actually kept trimming the tree for about 15 seconds thinking, "Oh it's no big deal. This hardly even hurts."

Blood began to drip all over the ground. I was coherent and calm. I thought of how I might put my toe back together. The drippings increased. I realized I would not be able to put my toe back together. "Really?" I thought. "What a bunch of crap."

With astonishing dispassion, I called for aid, not for me, but, for Frances who would be alone in the yard when I went inside to disillusioningly attempt to fix my own toe.

Aid arrived and my gaping wound became the centerpiece of the discussion. I reiterated: "I'm fine, it hardly hurts."

Within ten minutes, my sympathetic nervous system via the endocrine system released glucocorticoids, norepinephrine, adrenaline, GH, and other helpful nasties into my blood stream. I was faint, felt nauseous, and dizzy. But still, no pain.

I desperately needed aid as my brain felt increasingly scrambled and I lost the sense of space and time. I kept insisting I didn't need aid despite my helpless predicament.

All leading to the little toe wounding...

Some insistent, nurturing intervention from caring others put me horizontal on the couch with my foot elevated to slow the bleeding. My clothes were sweat-drenched, respiration was Indy-speed, and my heart was beating furiously. I tried my best to breathe mindfully and slowly to counter the physiological reaction. A cool cloth to my head, kind others, and all the time I needed to reground myself helped me establish chemical homeostasis.

Then, and only then, the shattering pain lambasted me.

The pain radiated from every nerve cell in my foot, up my leg and into my thigh. Ah, but I could think clearly and I felt more in control once the stress hormones began to diminish from this non-life-threatening injury. The pain was literally paralyzing. I could not move. I could not think about anything but the pain. I don't remember much about that hour on the couch other than the pain.

Slowly, the pain began to ease. I noticed, though, that it would ease, then increase again. Ease, then increase again. This happened quite a lot, and I was mesmerized by this pattern. Very, very gradually, the moment of "unpain" grew longer. The moments of pain, shorter.

I'm much better now, bandaged and mostly pain-free. Though life is different today, and will be tomorrow, and probably for the next week.

The things that were once so effortless and manageable now present significant challenge. Walking, for example... my gait has changed, so I'm much slower getting from one place to the next. I'm protective of my injury, aware of its constant presence. I have to change my shoewear and tend to my injuries this week. And of course, there will be a lifelong scar to remind me...

Toe amputation is nothing compared to losing a beloved one to Death. I'd have given all ten toes - and fingers - to save her life. And while physical wounds are quick to heal, the emotional ones are enduring, visible to us, often invisible to others.

So, today I learned that the process of wounding has a cadence. And if I pay close attention, living mindfully in every moment of my life, I grow wiser from those little woundings.

These little woundings teach us about the big woundings. And to understand, just a morsel, our true self in the midst of the wounding is a bittersweet gift.

One I wish no one ever needed to learn.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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