Goodbye, My Brother

DaviidMeD

Last Friday, my brother David went deep sea diving in Turks and Caicos with a guide and a small group. He never came back to the boat. They found his body on Saturday. We don’t know what happened—we’ll have more answers once we get the autopsy report back.

I’m not even sure how to begin processing this loss. With my mom, we knew for months that she wasn’t going to make it. Not that the knowing made her death any easier to bear—it didn’t—but there is something to be said for being prepared.

But this? This was fast and furious and shocking on every level. As of Friday morning, I had two brothers on this earth. Now I only have one. Just like that.

David only lived in the same house as me until I was three years old, and after that he moved to California, where he would reside for the rest of his life. One of my earliest memories is of me begging him not to go. “I’ll stay if you lick my feet,” he said. Then he shoved his foot in my face. Ah, big brothers.

Although we were on opposite ends of a very large sibling age spread—he the eldest, me the youngest—people always told us that we had the most similar personalities out of any of the siblings. As children we were both energetic, fiercely independent, spirited and not afraid to speak our minds. In this way, I’ve always felt a special connection with him. He got me and I got him.

One thing I most definitely did not share with my brother was his sense of adventure. The man was fearless. He tried every extreme sport known to man, and he excelled at them all. I am a total wuss, you guys. One Thanksgiving I went quad riding with David in the California desert. After riding around on some baby dunes for a few minutes, I stopped the quad and started crying. I was terrified of tipping over and dying. My brother turned around, comforted me and then escorted me back to the campsite. He and everyone else in the group spent the rest of the trip riding on serious dunes, and I drove around on the flats near our campsite. This was A-OK with me—my brother could be adventurous for both of us.

In addition to being a badass thrill seeker, David was many things—tough on the outside and a sap on the inside, determined, kind, always up for a good fart joke, outrageously charming, mischievous and the most generous person I’ve ever met.

One day he was all of that, filling the world with his larger-than-life personality, and now he is just gone. I still can’t believe it.

The last time I talked to David was a few weeks ago. He called and said, “Did you notice I haven’t called in a while? I didn’t want you to think I forgot about you.” I’m pretty sure I said something jokingly and unintentionally salty, like, “Well it’s not like you usually call a lot.” He was on his car phone. The connection kept cutting out. I felt like I had to yell so he could hear me. It was, quite honestly, an overall awkward conversation. But damn, am I glad he called. He seemed happy, content and at peace. We talked about how much he loved being a stay-at-home dad. We lamented over our kids growing up too fast. Best of all, I got to say I love you to him, one last time. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

So here’s my one request to you. It’s nothing new. People always say this when someone dies, but I don’t think it can be said too much: call your parents or your sister or that friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Hug your babies. Give your dog a nice, big squeeze. Leave a sweet note for your spouse or partner to find. If you love someone, let them know—as often and in as many ways as you can.

Because life is too precious. And far, far too short.

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My two brothers at my wedding.
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David and his son.
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Hanging with my mom at a Padres game.
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A back-in-the day shot with my sister.
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Family shot at the beach. This was taken the summer Tim and I got engaged.
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David and Lettie.
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David having a moment with his son. This was taken at my mom’s grave site. We all hung around for a while after the service and shared stories about her.
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Goof.
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Last summer: the last time the whole fam was together.
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This is one of my favorites. My siblings, minus one sister.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

Angel

On paper, I’m all set up to have a Norman Rockwell Christmas. I’m a mother to a three year old who has stars in her eyes about the season. I’m approaching the 14th week of what is, as far as I know, a healthy pregnancy. We have a tree with an angel on top and garland around our banister. Our house smells like cinnamon.

But then, underneath, there’s so much sadness.

Last Christmas, I woke up covered in blood. I left my daughter just after opening stockings to get an ultrasound. And at that ultrasound we found out our much-longed-for baby no longer had a heartbeat. It was one of the worst days of my life. I came home from the clinic and put on a good face. I didn’t want to ruin the magic for Lettie, my living child. We opened presents and I exclaimed in excitement over every little thing. I pushed all that grief aside, put it in a neat little box marked “Christmas,” and left it there. And sure, I did grieve some over the next few weeks and months, but my deepest, most secret sadness remained tucked away.

Here’s the thing about grief: it doesn’t like being ignored. It’s stubborn, and it comes out one way or another.

Two weeks ago, we went to the hardware store to pick out our Christmas tree. The same hardware store we went to last Christmas. As we were paying for everything, I found myself in the middle of a panic attack. Last year I was pregnant, just like this year. Last year I felt so much hope for the future, just like this year. It’s going to happen again, I thought, I’m going to lose this baby, too, just like last year.

And it’s not just the miscarriage that is making me melancholy. I miss my mom more than usual this time of year, too. I wish she were here now. I wish she were here last year. I wish she were here always.

Christmas is hard. Pregnancy after infertility and loss is hard. I keep waiting for someone to come along and say, “Just kidding, we’re taking this baby away from you, too! Sorryyyyy!”

There is always something to be fearful about. Last Friday, we met with a genetic counselor, and it’s official: we can’t do any non-invasive blood testing because the vanishing twin could jack up the results. So we’ll be going into our 20-week ultrasound blind. The genetic counselor warned us they might find “soft markers” for genetic disorders at this ultrasound. The markers are pretty common and often mean nothing, but sometimes they’re indicative of downs or trisomy 13 or 18 or whatever else awful thing they’re on the lookout for. I am now terrified of this scan, and it’s still six weeks away.

On Monday, I brought homemade cupcakes to work. I tied a tag around each that said, “Baby B, due June 2016.” I wanted to do something fun to announce my pregnancy. I wanted to give this baby the celebration he or she deserves. But after I carefully placed the cupcakes on my co-workers’ desks, I walked to the bathroom and cried. My pregnancy was out there now, and I couldn’t take it back. No matter what happened, I couldn’t take it back.

And the thing is, I feel guilty for feeling all of this. I’m finally pregnant after wishing for it for so long, and I can’t even embrace it? What is wrong with me? I have a beautiful daughter who is beyond excited for Christmas. Why can’t I be excited right along with her?

I’m having a tough time of it, you guys. I’m trying, I truly am, but some days the ghosts are really loud.

 

38 Years Of Being Alive

Shortly after I turn 38, we fly to San Diego. We arrive at 2 am east coast time. When we emerge, bleary-eyed, from baggage claim into the warm night, Lettie points to the median in front of us and says, “Is that the jungle?”

“No, baby,” I say. “Those are palm trees.”

She turns to Tim and says, “Daddy, there are palm trees here,” and her eyes shine like she’s in on a secret.

**

The next day we gather at my brother’s house to celebrate my dad’s upcoming marriage,  because it’s never too late to find new love or old love or any kind of love. This is one thing I know: there is always more love.

I put on red lipstick and take pictures with my brothers and sisters. A mariachi band plays in the background. Lettie trades shoes with her cousin and together they set about the very important work of filling pails with landscaping rocks. Later, I will wash her dress and find tiny rocks in her pockets. Everywhere I go, I hear the sound of my sister’s distinctive laughter, a sound I have not heard in three years. Listening to it makes me feel two and ten and thirty-eight all at once. It is a reminder that wherever she is, wherever they all are, is home.

**

A couple of days later, I lounge sleepily by the pool with my twenty-two-year-old niece. We pass cans of chips back and forth. She takes pictures on Snapchat. I don’t even fully know what Snapchat is, but it doesn’t matter. We are two halves of kooky whole, her and I, always have been.

There is not one speck of white in the entire sky. The sun is hot, but the air is breezy. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect day in all the days.

“California is the worst,” I say.

“It really is,” she says.

One of my brothers, who has been busy in the kitchen, walks outside and heads to the lemon tree at the edge of the yard.

He pulls two lemons off the branch. “Can you believe it?” he says. “If you need lemons here, you just go pick lemons from a tree!”

I completely understand his excitement. It’s freshness and light, right at our fingertips. To me, it feels like this: in this magical place where tiny suns grow on trees, it’s almost like we are invincible.

**

On the ride to LA to visit Tim’s sister, fresh off a stop at In-N-Out burger, we get the news. Our close friend is losing his battle with brain cancer. It won’t be much longer now. Weeks, at most. I start crying in the backseat, where I am sitting next to Lettie. Tim keeps his eyes on the road, stoic as ever. Dry, cracked hills whiz by the window.

Lettie says, “What’s wrong, mama?”

So I tell her about cancer and dying and losing someone you love – all the things you wish you’d never have to explain to your child.

She looks at me with serious eyes, and then says, “Am I allowed to get cancer?”

I want to tell her, “No, you are not allowed to get cancer, not ever.” I want to be the Great Allower, the one who has control over All Things Terrible, so that I can keep her from them, so that I can keep everyone in the world from them, but I’m not. Not even close. So instead I tell her that it’s mostly older people who get cancer, and most people die when they’re old.

Then she says, “But I don’t want you to be old. I don’t want you to die. I don’t want you to leave me.”

I can’t tell her that this is the stuff of my nightmares — something happening to me, leaving her without a mom. Or something happening to her, leaving me with a moon-sized crater in my heart.

I can’t say any of that, so I say, “I promise you I will do everything in my power to stay with you for a long, long time.”

She points at me with her chubby, stubby finger and says, “Me too. I will do everything in my power to stay with you for a long, long time.” She stumbles over her words a little bit, but I hear her loud and clear.

There are seven stickers on her leg. An In-N-Out hat sits crooked on her head and she has ketchup on her fingers. Looking at her like that, I’ve never been more grateful that in this life where there is always more love, but never more time, she is mine for as long as the Great Allower allows it to be.

**

At the Santa Monica beach, the water is just chilly enough to feel refreshing. I hold Lettie’s hand as the waves wrap themselves around our ankles. Whenever one hits, she yells, “Heeee-YA,” and squeals with delight.

After a while, I pass her off to Tim and walk deeper into the ocean – something I haven’t done in years. I loved swimming in the sea as a child, but as I grew I got nervous about rip tides and creatures lurking in the depths. Today, though, I do it for our friend, who will never swim again. I dive beneath the surf, into the salty cold, feeling wholly alive in a way that I haven’t in a long time. I come back up for air and the sun is putting on a show, reflecting off the waves. It’s as if everything, everywhere is sparkling.

IVF #2: One

And that’s what we’re left with: one embryo. The other two are still alive, but she thinks that they will arrest by tomorrow. And that one “good” one? It’s not even that great. It’s two cells at day two, which is the minimum you can have at this point. The embryologist says that if we want to do a transfer of that one it will have to be on day 3. And that means no genetic testing.

I’m trying to get a hold of my doctor to discuss all of this before making a decision about a day 3 transfer, but it’s been over three hours and she hasn’t back called yet. I get that doctors are busy, but SERIOUSLY?

And that’s it. I don’t understand how this could’ve happened. It went from a pretty good cycle the first time to a really bad cycle this time. No minor variations here. Good to total crap. What the HELL, you guys?

I’m so disillusioned with this entire process. I have no idea if I can ever go through this again. It just breaks my heart. I’m so tired of grieving. I’m so tired of picking myself back up.

I am spent.

Little Girl Gone

We got our genetic test results back today. The baby I miscarried was a genetically normal girl.

The nurse I talked to said that there is a very small chance that my DNA could have contaminated the results, but she thinks it’s highly unlikely in this case. She explained why, but I was too out of it to really pay attention.

A part of me wished the baby had been genetically abnormal because then at least I would have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not meant to be.

But she was normal. She should have had a chance. Instead she is just gone.

I want to scream “Why?” at the Universe. I want to kick down trees and bust through clouds and pound my hands on the street. I want to beg and barter. I want, more than anything, for this not to be true. But it is true. We had a little girl. She was normal, she was alive. And now she is gone.

Her name is Anna Adele Best.

Anna is after my paternal grandmother and Tim’s maternal grandmother. Adele is the name of Tim’s paternal grandmother. All those grandmas are in heaven now, if such a place exists, so hopefully they can keep our Anna close and tell her how much she is loved.

The fact that this baby was a girl is hitting me just as hard as the fact that she was genetically normal. I know just what it’s like to love a little girl and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. I know exactly what I’m missing.

It makes me sad for Lettie, too. She could have had sister to share life with, a best friend, a conspirator.

My Anna. Gone from us too soon, but loved beyond measure.

I love you to the sky and back, sweet girl. I hope to someday hold you on the other side.

We’re Still Us

t&tjokelarson

Tonight, our dear friend came over for dinner. He mentioned that he was planning on taking a trip to Iceland this summer. There are few things that Tim and I get more excited about than Iceland — we’ll talk about it with anyone who will listen. We traveled there in the summer of 2011 and it was the vacation of a lifetime. We, of course, had to immediately show our friend the photo slideshow we had made of the trip.

I hadn’t watched the slideshow in years. My first thought upon viewing it was, Who are these people? The couple in the video looked relaxed and carefree. They looked insanely happy.

They looked madly in love.

t&tkissingvolcano

I am undeniably still in love with Tim, but I can’t remember a time when we last looked that happy. We looked as if all that mattered in the world was each other. And it’s not like we were untouched by sadness during that trip — in fact, Tim’s childhood best friend had just died suddenly a few days before. I remember stopping on a black sand beach outside the town of Vik so Tim could drop a picture of his friend into the waves. We watched and cried together as it drifted out to sea. But even with that loss, I remember the trip as a time of sweetness and light.

To me, Iceland belongs to the time of Before. Before we lost my mom and our babies, before needles, endless doctors visits and drugs whose names I can’t pronounce. Of course, many happy things have also happened in the years since that trip — the most notable being the birth of our sweet Lettie. Despite all the good we’ve been blessed with, I’ve noticed that over the last few years our love has started to have a heaviness to it. What used to feel buoyant is now weighted down by our shared loss.

But here’s the thing I realized tonight. Although my first thought after seeing that slideshow was, Who are these people?, my next thought was Oh! That’s still us! And I started to feel excited. I began to feel hopeful for the first time in weeks.

Underneath all the grief and sadness, we are still those same two people who are madly in love. Our circumstances may have changed, but we didn’t. I believe that the core of who we are as a couple is still solid. We might not feel that giddy Icelandic happiness this very minute, but we’ve felt it before, and that alone is promise enough that we can feel it again. There’s no getting around the fact that we’re in a season of grief right now, but you never know:

A season of light could be just around the corner.

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Another Miscarriage or The Worst Christmas Ever

On Christmas Eve night I woke up with more bleeding. I had also developed some pain in my lower right side. I called the doctor’s office around 7 am on Christmas morning. We weren’t sure what to do. Should we start stockings and presents, knowing that the doctor might ask me to come in? They didn’t end up calling me back for an hour and a half, so we did start. What should have been an amazing Christmas morning with Lettie was tempered by the waiting and the pain in my side.

When they eventually called, they told me to come in. So we left Lettie with her grandparents and went. The whole time we were driving the 45 minutes to get there, I felt terrible for leaving her. Who on earth leaves their kid at Christmas? I looked out the window at the sunny sky and bare tree branches and felt like an asshole. I tried to talk to my embryo. Thump, thump, I thought at it, in an attempt to encourage a strong, beating heart.

The doctor’s office was a ghost town. There was one receptionist, one nurse and one doctor. The doctor did the ultrasound and said the blood clot had grown to twice its size. And the embryo no longer had a heartbeat. He looked for that heartbeat…and looked and looked. But it wasn’t there. The embryo had actually grown the right amount since the last ultrasound, but its heart had given up. The doctor was sorry, the nurse was sorry. Even the receptionist looked like she was about to cry. No one wants to give that news on Christmas morning.

The doctor said the baby might pass on its own or it might not. If I haven’t started bleeding before Monday, I’ll go back there and we can discuss a D & C. I haven’t had a bit of blood since Wednesday night, not even spotting.  I’m still having every pregnancy symptom, including morning sickness. My body, it seems, is trying to hang onto this one. My mind understands — I don’t want to let it go, either.

Now I am faced with the fact that not only do I have trouble getting pregnant, but I also have trouble staying pregnant. The doctor is going to run the panel of tests for recurrent miscarriage. I am praying that we get some answers, but I also have to be realistic and accept that we might not. I can’t help but wonder if Lettie was just a miraculous fluke. Like, maybe the Universe was saying, “Ok, her mom is dying, so we’ll let this one baby slide through for her, just this once.” Trust me,  I am grateful for that fluke every single day, but I’m starting to wonder if another one is just not meant to be.

So here I sit, entering yet another season of grief. There’s been a lot of that these last two and a half years — one mom and two babies. I feel like I know exactly what to expect now. There are those first few weeks of crushing sadness, of hiding in random bathrooms to cry in private. Then there are the months of feeling that you’re carrying a weight on your back because you just can’t shake the heartbreak. It might not be crushing anymore, but it is always there. Then, finally, acceptance and hope. So yeah, I know the drill. But I hate this fucking drill. I will go through it again, though, because I have no other choice.

Sleep in heavenly peace, my little love.