Thursday, December 25, 2008

O Christmas Tree

On the list of things I never imagined on the day we married: Chris and I owning a 4-person cemetery plot in our early 30s. Many parents of lost babies keep their children's ashes near them, on the fireplace mantle or bedroom dresser. We chose to rest Baker's urn at our local cemetery, and I like having a place to go. In the summer, we sometimes walked the round trip 4 miles with grass clippers in tow. We haven't decided on a permanent stone yet, largely because neither of us are ready to commission the giant LAST NAME marker that is common in this resting place. So instead we placed an antique urn and chose a dwarf Alberta spruce for Baker's first Christmas tree. So on this difficult Christmas Day when I am far away visiting family, I know it stands tall and prominent to mark the spot where we laid him nearly 9 months ago.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Two things you won't find in my kitchen: frozen peas and sage. What do I have against them? Let's just say they evoke certain memories-memories that, unlike the feel of Baker's achingly soft cheeks and fuzzy head, I would rather not remember. I read somewhere, perhaps Glow in the Woods, that producing milk to nourish a baby that my body did not know was dead "sucks eternal suckitude". Let me be clear-there is no magic drug for ending lactation. One must wait it out. So at the advice of my midwife, my creative mother came up with new and interesting ways to incorporate sage into my diet. Sage on green beans, vegetable soup with sage, sage in my oatmeal (OK, that last one is not true). Chris special-ordered sage tea from a natural foods store, and I dutifully choked it down. Six bags of frozen peas were put in rotation between two tight sports bras. My days went something like this: insert two bags before bed, fall asleep eventually, wake up to smell of warm mushy peas, gag, return peas to freezer, insert frozen peas, repeat for 7 days.

I trashed the bags of mushy peas long ago, but recently discovered the sage tea bags in the cupboard. In the trash they went, but not before asking Chris to witness my little ceremony of defiance. I'm taking the chance that I will never need them again.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Someone asked me who the Lazy Cat is

Here he is in the fur and flesh. He loves naps, laps, and nose scratches. Hemingway taught me how to properly relax during my pregnancy with Baker. Little does he know that someday soon he will earn his kitty vittles hunting mice at the farm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Structural Work

The “How are you doing?” question is so hard.

I’m breathing.

I got out of bed this morning.

I’m employed.

I think of my lost boy every waking hour.

I’m grieving.

Yes, I’m STILL grieving, get it?

Our external appearances have started to return to some semblance of normalcy, but under the surface, there lies complexity, damage, challenge, and hurt.

We invest energy and time on our structural repairs. We locate the damaged timbers of our hearts and minds and reinforce the weak areas with our memories of the time that we had with Baker, with the kindness of friends and family, and with the knowledge that our boy is with us in spirit.

Like us, the house is riddled with problem areas, rot, weaknesses, and challenges, hidden beneath a reassuring fa├žade. We seek these areas out; we cut back to good wood; we find solutions and patch together the old and the new, to create a new old house that is pieced together like the new old us.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kindness from Strangers

Baker's first ornament was knitted by a kind woman I met online. Amy's baby girl died last year at fullterm. I wasn't sure that I wanted to put up a Christmas tree this year, but it is there and it is lovely. Thank you, Amy, for helping us make Baker a part of the holiday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Giving up secrets

At long last the roofers and carpenters have begun their work, and just in time, too as temperatures have been hovering in the 20s during the day and dropping to the way cold at night.

We think the house was built in 1800, but that’s just a guess. We haven’t completed deed research or definitively dated the structure. We know that it is certainly early 1800’s, but that’s about it.

It was a pleasant surprise this morning when I talked to our carpenter, a local guy who has restored most of the antique homes in Pond Village. He knows old. He told me today that the frame looks “real old.”

He thinks that the house was built in two pieces. We know that there used to be a shed addition that had a two bay garage and probably a woodshed. There certainly were other structures at other times. The barn foundation remains from a time when a small dairy herd roamed our field, back before the fields became forest again. Evidence suggests that part of the house burned at some point, and was rebuilt.

The current best guess is that the oldest part of the house is an 18th Century frame – I hope that it’s pre-Revolution, but only time will tell.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dropping the Bomb

Chris and I were invited to the annual meeting of a land trust recently. We sat down in the last available chairs at a table of eight. I followed along as our fellow diners chit-chatted about the land trust, occupations, people we have in common. I politely answered the question about what I do for work. I stared at my plate when they talked about their kids and thought about how to answer "the question". Just before dessert, Chris' neighbor leaned over and asked, "Do you have any kids?" We both gulped and swallowed and her eyes grew wide with the recognition that she had unintentionally crossed into a place where she didn't mean to go. Chris said that we have a son who died in April. I added that he was a fullterm baby who died in labor. They expressed sympathy. We got through it.

Don't get me wrong, I want people to ask. I want people to know. I need them to know. Like Elizabeth McCracken wrote in her new memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, I want a stack of business cards that say "my first and only child was born still". I wanted to sit down at dinner that night, shake hands, introduce myself as Dalene, the mother of a son who died in April. Get it out in the air. Because without that knowledge, no one can really know me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cousin Hannah

I lit a candle for Baker today at church. I was thinking of Baker for All Souls day. I didn't have any help liting the candle. This was my first time liting a candle with no help. I used a stick and put a flame on it and put the flame on a candle . I told everyone that my prayer was for Baker.
-Hannah, age 8

Monday, November 3, 2008

Custom Grief

200 or so years ago, the craftsman who built our house selected strong timbers from this rugged land, felled the trees, and worked them with an adze – an axe-like tool perfectly suited to this task. This craftsman worked at a time when so-called scribe rule framing was the norm. The frame was completely hand built – and each joint is a custom work of art.

The term scribe rule refers to the precisely fit joints – although every corner post and rafter perform basically the same function, they were shaped by hand and “scribed” to fit in a certain place. “Marriage marks” helped the carpenters reassemble frame – they are essentially numbered to be precisely refit. Our house has those marks – most visible in the rafters in the attic.

This type of framing dates the house pretty well – scribe rule was gone in VT by about 1810, replaced by “square rule” – the frame parts had greater uniformity and interchangeable parts which made construction easier and faster, and compared with our modern milled lumber and balloon frames, was still highly custom.

I think about our grieving process like our scribe ruled house – it’s not mass-produced, but rather it is “Custom Grief.”

Our little one of a kind person has been lost. In the same way that he is a one-off, artisan made, unique boy, we cannot get by with production line off the shelf grieving. Like the frame of our house, we have to carefully fit our grief, and the memory of our boy, into our lives. We try to fit the pieces together precisely, hewing the joints out of the large, heavy, irregular timbers of our pain and creating something strong, square and true to withstand the winter of our loss.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Moo Cows

4” of snow at the Farm. It’s not even November. Mother Nature firing a shot across the bow. Time is marching on.

Cold nights, falling leaves, and SNOW tell us that time is marching on while Baker is forever a newborn in our minds and hearts. It’s soothing on the one hand to know that the earth still turns on its axis and we’re revolving around the sun, moving into shadow for a few months, but on the other hand it’s a cruel reminder of the life that Baker doesn’t get to live – the ghost costumes he won’t wear, the mittens he won’t lose, the snowballs he won’t throw.

He’s forever a baby, our baby, stuck in the suspended animation of his interrupted life.

We’ll put the Farm into suspended animation for a while – draining the pipes and making the old place weathertight against winter storms.

It’s a place apart from our everyday lives where we can think of Baker unencumbered by routine and obligation. At home we think, “Would Baker’s room be warm enough?” “How would it feel to be working part time?”

At the Farm I can think about him at another level– the spiritual level, the universal level. I see my boy in the sunrise and hear him in the rushing brook; I feel him in the wind that rushes up the valley and sweeps under the door, and I laugh at the Holsteins at our neighbor’s farm and think about Baker “mooing” at his cow friends.

Monday, October 27, 2008


There is a road,
no simple highway,
between the dawn and the dark of night,
and if you go,
no one may follow,
that path is for your steps alone.

I included this Grateful Dead lyric in my high school yearbook, and at the time, it was just a favorite line from a favorite song and I thought I was being “deep” by quoting it. In the pre-dawn hours Saturday, as I was driving north on Interstate 89 to pick up a brush mower, the song came on the radio and practically pushed me off the road.

I had been mesmerized by the fog rising from the cold valleys, and the intense magenta sunrise, and the steel blue silhouettes of the Green Mountains – the little sliver of Camel’s Hump that sticks up, and the panorama up through Mt. Mansfield – familiar strangers from better times in my past.

I hadn’t heard the song in years, and it hit me between the eyes – “this is your life!” “This is the new reality.” The old me has been replaced by the new me, the me without the boy, or with the memory of the boy, his spirit in the sunrise and in the morning fog.

We don’t choose our road, and we don’t always get to pick our traveling companions, and some of them get lost on the way, but we keep moving along. I woke up Saturday night after the storm had passed – windows leaking, branches falling on the roof, wind howling – and the stars had come out. I could see the silver maple out the window pure black against the bright starlit sky, and I thought of the Universe and of Baker in heaven and was sad because he should be nearer to us than that. We like to call him our spirit baby, and hope that his baby spirit is with us on our road – if the path is for my steps alone, I hope that’s because Baker is in my arms.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Walk to Remember

We attended this event on Sunday,, held as part of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. There were probably 300 people, including many babies and small children born to bereaved parents, remembering over 150 lost little ones. We cried and walked the steps that Baker will never take.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cousin Gabby

The whole universe is sad.
I'm gonna miss that little dude.

--Gabby, age 8

Happy .5

Today the boy would by 6 months old, a pudgy little pumpkin. I'd be home with him, probably taking him on a long walk in his stroller, introducing him to blowing leaves and to the first chilly air of the season. Might almost be time to break out Aunt Steph's chunky knit hat to keep the ol' noggin warm.

Instead, we find ourselves with empty arms, looking for something to love, and setting our hands to work on another stage of our lives. We bought the farm (!) not to fill Baker's unfillable void, but rather as a place of refuge and renewal where through the process of restoring the old house and bringing the land back to productive use, we may create a space to remember our boy, and welcome family and friends to gather.

There is something timeless about the work that lies ahead of us. We are preparing the house for winter, in much the same way that the original inhabitants did 208 years ago. We'll mow the fields once more, and we'll try to seal out the cold and wind as best we can. A new roof will go on, and will offer protection to a frame that was cut from timber on this very land, and has survived the decades and generations, settled, skewed, and weathered, but strong.

I imagine those people who came before us and lived in this tiny house, the babies that were born here, those that didn't make it, and whose memory is erased to history. Like them, we have no choice but to find a way forward, grieving our lost boy, carrying him with us, and fixing the roof.

Happy .5, Baker.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Birth follows death

We sadly announce
The birth and death
Of our beloved son
Baker Christian
April 3, 2008
7 pounds, 11 ounces; 19 1/2 inches
Interment took place on April 12, 2008, followed by memorial services.
As we cling to the dreams we had for Baker--dreams of any new parent--we cherish the memories of our brief time together, knowing they must now fill a lifetime. We are grateful for your support and understanding as we move forward--always loving, never forgetting.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's official

Chris and I are now proud owners of Lazy Cat Farm, bought in honor of our beloved baby.