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Ok, I have a great story to tell, it is a long one, but its really good. So sit back, relax and enjoy.
It starts with Chris and I and our love for the band Wilco. We started listening to them at the beginning of our relationship about 7 yrs ago, and they had a huge impact on us. We saw their shows every chance we got, all over the country! Jeff Tweedy (the lead singer) also did some of his own solo shows which were always incredible. He is a one of a kind singer/songwriter who loves to banter with his audience. He is hilarious as much as he is soulful and his music has helped us through this incredibly awful time.
A month ago tickets went on sale for his solo show at the Calvin Theatre in Northhamton, MA. Chris managed to get us 2 single tickets in the orchestra, not together. I then had a brilliant idea- I will write to Jeff through his management company, and tell him our story.
I wrote an email, telling him a bit about us, the music, and about Silas. Silas even got to be at a Wilco show at Tanglewood this summer. I requested the song Jesus, Etc. to be played for us and for Silas, because it is just so perfect and we love it.
I received an email back immediately, telling us the the letter was being forwarded to Jeff and that he may or may not play it, but that they really appreciate hearing from their fans and were sorry for our loss. It was very sweet of them and we appreciated it so much. We then began thinking that he actually may play that song for us! Why not? If he read the letter, then he might do it. It was hard to not get my heart set on it, but I also had to be realistic, this guy is a rock star who gets tons of mail, he cannot possibly acquiesce to every request.
We got to the theatre and met our friends Andrea & Chris. They love Wilco, too, and once I told them about the letter, they had to be in there. Luckily, the first person they asked had 2 extras! We got in, had a drink and then found our seats. Now Chris and I did not have seats together but the one next to me was a open so Chris sat there for the moment. We kept waiting for that person to show up and take their seat. I was so nervous. I had no clue how this was going to go, was he going to sing the song? Mention us or Silas? Not play it at all? Ugh, it was all so nerve-racking. On top of that, I kept waiting for someone to kick Chris out of his seat.
The show started, Jeff played about 4 songs, said hi to the crowd, but didn’t really banter. The next song he played was our song, the one we requested. I’ve never heard it played with so much soul, and so much love. We felt it. We held hands and we took it all in. It was beautiful. You could not even hear a pin drop in that room, the energy was incredible. I knew he was thinking about Silas and playing it for us and for our beautiful son. Immediately he goes into another song- called One by One. I LOVE this song and almost requested this to be the one he played for us. How did he know?!!! Next up were 2 new songs and then after that he stopped and started talking to the crowd.
He leaned into the microphone and said, “Some of those songs, actually most of those songs, they are dedicated to Silas.”
I freaked out. I started crying and hyperventilating and couldn’t believe it. We were shocked, stunned, floored, just blown away. He took the time to sing not just the song we requested, but other songs, and picked them out special for us and for him. He was so serious up until this point, just completely into the music and nothing else. But once he declared this dedication to our baby, he relaxed, he let go and the show took a new turn. He began to banter with the crowd, telling anecdotes, taking requests, and really enjoying himself.
He gave everything to us and Silas for those first 8 songs. Yes, 8 songs!!! It was magic. That is the only way to describe it. In my letter, I also told him that our wedding song was California Stars. Later on in the show, he played that, too! He also played a cover of one of our favorite Radiohead songs. We didn’t even know he knew it!
The final piece of amazing-ness happened just before the first encore. The guy in front of us turned around and said “you two seem like big fans, and my brother is recording this so if you want, I can send you a copy.” We were stunned and so excited we would have a copy of this incredibly personal performance. Later on, at the end of the show Chris told him that the Silas dedication was for us. He couldn’t believe it. We received the link to the show today and listened to it on our drive back from the city. If you would like to hear it, you can download a zipped copy of the show here. (that link will break after a certain # of downloads, so if you miss it, drop a note in the comments or in an email and we will make sure you get it.)
We are so thankful that Jeff Tweedy took the time to think of us, to think of our son, and to play his gorgeous music for him and for us. We will never forget that night.
“Fine, I’ll leave you alone,” she says to me and then turns on her side.
“No!” I reply as I finally put the book down and reach for her. “No, tell me. I’m here. What do you want to talk about?”
“Forget it. You don’t want to talk about this now. It can wait,” she finishes, and stays turned.
“Just tell me. It’s fine.”
“It’s not. I know you don’t want to talk about it right now. It’s not a good time.”
“It’s fine,” I reply, again. “You know you won’t be alright until you tell me so just go ahead.”
“And I know you don’t want to talk about this right now.”
The silence stretches and then she speaks.
We are both right, but she can’t wait. She never can. When Lu thinks of something she has to talk about it and it consumes her until she can get it out. Not me. I can take a thought or a discussion I need to have and put it in a box until a later time. And it’s not like it eats me up until then. I just put it away and ignore the mental itch until what seems like a good time to me. Sometimes never turns out to be the right time to say certain things.
But both of us are good communicators and we trust each other completely, so it’s fairly easy for us to talk to each other about how we are feeling and try to figure things out. Still, sometimes I am completely amazed and how differently we deal with the World.
I know that Lu spends every day thinking about how each day would have gone if Silas were here with us. She thinks about child-care, about diapers, about whether or not we’d be sleeping or if he was going to be a screamer and night owl, keeping us up at all hours. Her feelings for him and her powerful longing for her child are intertwined with her every waking minute. She wants to talk about what she is feeling and how things went today, and she often wonders aloud how we would have juggled our lives, our work and our new son.
That is not the case for me. Silas is a constant thought and constant presence in my life, but in a totally different manner. I rarely consider how a particular moment would be different if Silas were here. That happens at times, but mostly it is too painful and impossible to think about. Instead, I think about where I am and what I am doing even though he is not here. That is a subtle and important difference, to me. Our lives would be on such a vastly different trajectory that to attempt to insert him into this brutal reality is painfully futile.
Obviously I feel a need to understand and explore how I’m feeling, but it’s not something I can do all the time. Often, I have to be simply in the moment, dealing with whatever is directly in front of me. I think it is different for Lu. I think thinking about Silas is the #1 thing for her and everything else is incidental. “How does this affect me as a woman that lost a baby, and what would it be like if Silas were here?” is the constant refrain for her.
For me it’s: “I’m a father whose son died and this is what I have to do, now.” Work, plans, getting up, seeing friends, going family events, chores, stores, whatever. Go, go, do it. Don’t think, just get the things done that really need doing and deal directly with exactly what is going on. Not the past, not what I think might happen or could happen or should happen, just what is. Get those things done and put the pain of losing Silas aside for the moment. Not him, never that. He’s always there in my mind and soul and heart. But the pain I can box away when I need to be effective.
The problem is I can’t do that all the time, either. Whenever I take the path of what-if and should-be I have to burrow and hide. All those minor things that still need to get done? Eff that. Dishes? Eh. Bills? Fuckit. Head outside and take or hike or maybe go to the movies? Naw. Don’t feel like it. Just gonna sit here and feel lonely and… self-contained. Friends and family can’t help that much. Not even Lu can penetrate the pervasive aloneness I feel sometimes.
It is the sensation of my life as an ongoing disaster that just chugs along. Losing Silas has transformed not only my future, but also my past. Somehow I have to reconcile all the previous choices in my life to the place where I am right now. And it’s not even a matter of looking back through everything to decide what I could have done different, but rather the fact that this is the way I’ve led my life and here it is where I’ve arrived. This. This disaster is all mine and I’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.
And what do you do in a disaster? You run and then you hide. You take cover until all the flying pieces stop slicing through the air, the ground stops shaking, the fires are put out. Then, once the dust settles and the smoke clears, you crawl back into the sunlight and start sorting all the destruction into piles of “Useful” and “Garbage” and you get to work putting things back together again.
Unfortunately, every time I open my eyes in the morning it’s a brand new disaster to crawl out from under, and it is a harsh and blinding light that burns me in rays of unyielding truth. I see my life amid the destruction and I am daunted by the sheer mess of it all. I am staggered by the number of pieces around me, and the way I long for the shapes they used to form.
It is in all this sorting and reconstruction that I see the difference between Lu and I. I’m rummaging through everything and with a cursory glance tossing it into one pile or another. Friends that get how fucked up we are: Useful, people that forget that we are fucked: Garbage. Couch: Useful, Bills: Garbage. Rock Band: Useful, Traffic: Garbage, and on and on. Lu, on the other hand, wants to pick up every single piece of her life, our life, Silas’ brief life and all the spaces in between, and examine each and every broken shard. She wants to dig in up to her elbows and delve deep into the mess and figure out every impossible speck of this giant, catastrophic puzzle that used to be our coherent lives.
Before bed I need to read, relax and shut down every last lingering thought of daily life. Lu likes to talk and figure things out and dissect her feelings. Just home from work, sometimes I want to chill, collect myself and shut down a bit. Lu usually wants to chat, to ask me questions, to tell me about her day, to ask me about mine. Usually it’s totally fine, but sometimes I’m just stricken mute. When pix go up online of new babies or toddlers Lu absolutely has to check them out. I don’t go anywhere near them. She immerses herself in the emotional stew of her life and the lives of others and I do everything I can to pull myself out of that whirlpool, to wipe both hopes and fears off of me, and to simply tread water, keep my head above the muck and breathe.
The thing of it is, we’re partners in this. Which means that sometimes when all I want to do is stop thinking, read my book and drift away to sleep what Lu really needs is a back scratch and my arms around her and my ears tuned only to the sound of her voice as she tells me about everything she needs to. I can do that for her just like she can step back and let me veg when she sees that’s exactly what I need. We’re good communicators, and this experience has only made us more attuned to one another’s needs, even when the other isn’t sure at all.
Friday Lu had the day off. She spent it clattering away on her computer for hours. As evening rolled around and I yelled at her for the fourth or fifth time to stop working and relax I finally had to storm out of the kitchen, grab her by the shoulders, lift her from her chair, march her into the living room and shove her into the couch. I tossed her favorite blanket on her and she was still laughing when I delivered the glass of wine.
Later on, in bed, I told her everything I was thinking and feeling that day as she read her magazine, and listened to my rambling worries.
“We’ll get through it, Chris,” she said to me. “Somehow we’ll get through this.” In her eyes was all the love and care and concern one could ever hope to see in another and it soothed me to stillness.
She flicked off her light and rolled over on her side and drifted off towards sleep. Silas’ tattoo captured my vision as it always does, and then I burrowed into my book and shut out the World. I had so much more I wanted to say, but I could save it for tomorrow.
I’ve been hiding. Eyes scrunched closed and covers over my head, I’ve been burrowing into the couch in an attempt to become invisible. The pain finds me, though, so I try other methods.
Sleep is a fantastic way to escape. Beer is another. But it has to be good beer like the the amazing 60 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head or Harpoon, my old standby. Flavor counts for me. It’s not just about the buzz.
Food is definitely a refuge. My bulging belly is proof that eating is one way we humans deal with sadness. Extra butter on my sweet potatoes. Ice cream before bed. Bacon in any meal that I feel like because hey, fuck it, my son is dead so I can do whatever the hell I want.
Music is probably my most healthy way to hide. The blasting music surrounds and protects me, but it also infiltrates and releases me. Listening to music that speaks to my pain lets me stand out in the open covered in armor. That others feel this and can put it to music validates my grief. It’s like I’m hiding in plain sight, disguised by the truth of the lyrics and melodies, with the tune looping through my brain. Music is often the catalyst that releases pent up tears that need to flow.
My work is the best and most consistent way I can hide from grief, though. I can’t be depressed and lethargic when there is coffee to roast, bag and deliver. I cannot just vanish. My friends/co-workers are counting on me, and my customers need their beans. I love strolling into a new coffee shop, telling them about us and then seeing their eyes light up when they taste how good it is. Even when I want to spend all day in bed invisible to the world, the fact that I actually love my job always drags me to the shower.
I don’t hide all the time, but recently I have felt that impulse more and more. I think it is the impending Spring. I cannot help but think about way Lu’s belly grew and grew last March and how hopeful and happy and trusting we were. Remembering that blissful joy and excited nervousness is so incredibly painful it makes me sick to my stomach. I look into my past and stare dumbfounded at the fact that it is fixed and permanent. There is nothing I can do to warn myself and no way to erase the blinding naivete I see there.
The sensation of last Spring is still inside me but when I touch it, when I allow myself to access the memory of those feelings, I feel a need to puke.
So I don’t. I hide. Cheers! Hit the lights on the way out. And turn up the stereo. Louder, please.
I had a dream this morning that I was holding Silas. That I didn’t want to put him down, that I couldn’t put him down because if I did, he would disappear. I fed him real food and then he started choking and I had to save him with the Heimlich maneuver. I said to my sister in law Melissa “I guess I shouldn’t have fed him real food.” Then I put him down to sleep and I woke up with my arms empty.
Yesterday I reached a milestone in this grieving process, one that I was anxious about all month. We went to see our friends who were in town visiting from SF. They had their first baby about 6 weeks after Silas was born and we were going to meet him. I had 7 friends who had babies in the fall. I have yet to meet any of them- I’ve been putting it off with the ones who live in the area. Everyone understands, no one has pressured me one bit. I just need to feel ready. The problem is that when I think of meeting the baby, I start to cry. Just the mere thought of it crushes me.
We have had this plan to see our friends for a few weeks now. I have been worried and anxious about it, but it was something I wanted to do. At one point in the day, before we left, Chris told me he didn’t think we should go. He didn’t want to see me sad and depressed (I guess more than usual) all weekend because of it. But I decided that it felt ok, and I wanted to do it.
Our friends knew exactly how we were feeling, they were ok with however it went down. I told them I was going to cry, and to be prepared. But I didn’t. I didn’t cry at all. It felt nice to hold him, though I couldn’t do it for very long. I was very quick to hand him over. He had 4 grandparents and an uncle all cooing over him. And yet I was fine. He wasn’t Silas, he had nothing to do with Silas, he was their baby. For some reason, there was no connection and I guess that was why I didn’t cry and I was able to do it. We spent many hours there, catching up with our good friends who we hadn’t seen in so long. We shared all our tough moments, we laughed, and we cried together. I left there feeling really good, not terribly sad. I was just happy for my friends.
We have been going away a lot on the weekends, but this weekend we were home. Chris had plans with some friends, so I was home alone. I had decided I was going to volunteer for Cityseed, this amazing organization that does the farmer’s markets here in New Haven as well as many other programs. They were doing a really fun event at one of the museums in town. After about 20 min, I realized, I can’t do this. I can’t be around all these families. It was killing me. Here I thought I was so strong for being able to hold my friend’s new baby, and yet, being around all these families I don’t know brought that anxiety back. I walked home completely deflated.
Since that was a bust, I decided it was the perfect time to do a little spring cleaning. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now. I had the music blasting, the doors and windows open, and just scrubbed. It felt like I was getting rid of all these layers of sadness. I had one of those days where I didn’t really talk to anyone except the cats. I was in my own little world, trying to get rid of the shit, the layers of shit that have covered this apt.
This grief is a roller coaster ride. I’ve never felt such an enormous range of emotions in a matter of hours in my life. Every moment I feel like “hey, I can do this,” another one takes its place that just knocks me to the ground and then won’t let me up. Then luckily Chris comes home and makes me laugh and I think to myself “ok, I can handle this.”
We’ve been having a rough few weeks, there has been a lot of other stuff on top of missing Silas so much, that sometimes I feel like I’m just buried in it. Obsessive cleaning and organizing seems to help a bit. Exercising and blog reading & writing also helps. And then I just go lay on the couch with my kitties, my dark chocolate and my crappy tv shows and get through another night.
Had a dream last night and I think it was the first one I’ve ever had with Silas in it. Certainly it is the first I remember with any clarity.
We were in a big complex, some sort of large multi-use space and I was with him, but I was more following him around than taking care of him. He was tiny, a toddler, but he was very agile and competent. We went swimming in this big pool and then he showed me some of the other places in the complex. I remember walking with him down hallways and then stepping into large, open rooms. It was all very nice, but I wasn’t sure what we were doing there, and I was very surprised at how able he was at everything.
When he first jumped in the pool I was like oh shit! What are you doing? But he knew how to swim. I think he even got out and jumped back in a few times and I did, too. That’s how I swim, though. I get in the water for a little while and then get out and do a cannonball in and then float, then sink to the bottom, then bob, then get in a splashfight with someone, then get out and do a cannonball again.
Always before I get out for good I like to float on my back for a little while with my ears underwater and my eyes closed and feel the silence of the World.
We didn’t talk while we walked and swam, Silas and I. He just showed me around. I was glad that he was safe, but I wasn’t thrilled that he was there.
It wasn’t easy to get up today. Obviously.
Recently Lu and I babysat our nephew Oren for several hours while his Mom and Dad went out to see some friends. We volunteered for the job after careful consideration, because we just felt like it was something we needed to do. For us, for them, for Oren, for everything. There were others that could have watched him, but we decided that we could not let Silas’ death come between us and my brother’s son. It is important to us that he know us and love us and trust us, and we can only forge that bond by being with him as much as possible.
Most of the night was easy. Whenever he started to realize that Mama wasn’t around we managed to distract him with balls or busses or an impromptu game of peek-a-boo and we managed to keep him from tears nearly all night. Thoughts of Silas and our lives denied did surface from time to time, but everything and anything can ignite those impossible blazes, and I’m good at quenching those mental firestorms these days. I fought through and had fun.
Love what you have, I kept telling myself. Cherish him, enjoy his adorable smile, shower him with as much love as I would Silas. And it was easy. Oren is my family, my blood. It was wonderful to play with him and watch him and make him laugh and hear his new words. I thought about how he didn’t even know of Silas, and I wondered how all of that would be addressed in the coming years. Then I remembered I didn’t even know how to deal with next month, much less years from now. Then I chased him around and scooped him up and his tiny hysterical laugh melted me inside, again.
Soon it was time for bed. This one was on me, I knew that. Lu and I had discussed that specifically and we decided I would be the one to put him to bed because it was everything Lu had ever wanted with her own child and tonight it was a bit too much, too soon.
I could do it, though. I knew it. I had to.
I gathered him in my arms like my brother Mark does. I put on Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky because Oren loves that. We closed the door and turned the light off and I rocked him around the room, softly swaying to the silken tunes. First up on my shoulder and then in the crook of my arm, I told him I loved him and whispered him to sleep, moving the whole time. Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes in, his arms and legs went twitchy and his breathing slowed, and then just like Mark said to, I waited just a little bit longer. Waited till his REM really kicked in and then gently, gently like a ostrich laying a giant egg, I placed him in his crib and slipped out of the room.
It was extremely intense.
I’m not sure how I wasn’t sobbing, but I wasn’t. I felt hollowed out, almost in a mild state of shock, but I also felt lucid and proud. Did it. Put him to bed. Not even a real dad with an actual son and I can still rock’em to sleep if a baby needs to go to bed. Fuck. Yeah.
I have another step to take, though. But I can do this, too. I must and I will, even though it won’t be easy. Recently our close friends gave birth to a baby girl and even though I see them all the time, I have yet to meet her. I want to. I want to be a wonderful uncle to her and to cherish her amazing existence along with her parents. But I’m scared. I’m scared of the raw sadness I am going to feel when I hold that infant in my arms. I’m scared of the loss I’m going to feel when I look at her and see her innocent soul bared on her face. I’m terrified of how her form will fit perfectly in my arms where Silas should have. I’m horrified of the jealously I feel for all the happy babies and perfect families in the world.
But then I remember to love what I have and so I’m going to kiss her tiny little face and smell her new-baby smell and feel my soul crumple and then blow apart over and over again a million times every instant and somehow I’m going to deal with the fact that this is my life and they are my friends and that is their child. I will recognize how I love them all so much–maybe more now even with Silas gone–and I’m just going to fucking deal with the fact that they have what I want and that somehow I have to be okay with that.
Gingerly I will return her to her mother’s arms and then I’ll go have a beer with Dad and slowly I will learn how to breathe again.
flipflops on her feet
mud in the cracks of our lives
winter stars above
I love watching the snow fall outside. It is so beautiful and really changes everything about the landscape and what we must do to survive in this new white world. It is no longer easy to just step outside and take a walk to the corner store. We need to bundle up, walk gently down the stairs so as not to slip, and trudge through the snow. But then, the cars- ugh, the shoveling out to then get plowed back in. The parking is messed up for weeks until it melts and then starts all over again with the next storm.
We had a fun snow-filled weekend up in New Hampshire which consisted of hours of playing rockband, some wine tasting, pizza making, hiking, and some sledding. Being with our siblings is always fun. We also found out about our friend’s baby being born, which kinda threw us into a tailspin. How can it not? It’s not the baby’s fault, I am thrilled everyone is happy and healthy. Yet it is another reminder of what we don’t but should have. Another month not pregnant, yes, that on top of a new baby, on top of a beautiful snow day can throw any of us in this babylost world into despair. Snow days like today are for hanging with the whole family, inside, with movies, couch time, snuggling and comfort.
I have lost that feeling of comfort. I know how to fake it, how to get as much as I can in these circumstances. Snuggling up on the couch with my dark chocolate and crappy tv makes me feel like everything is temporarily ok. Fortunately we have kitties who love to snuggle, and lucky for them, are reaping the rewards of our longing. I used to love days like today, where we couldn’t go anywhere, we are forced to be inside and cozy. But now, I picture moms and dads with new babies all snuggled up in bed or on the couch and I lose it. I just lose it.
That is the image I pictured for myself throughout my pregnancy. That moment where I got to snuggle with my new baby. Where I had no other responsibilities but to nourish my little one. Yet here I am, sitting at my computer, Chumby sitting across my arms like she always does when I’m here, catching up on emails, blogs and work. I am making myself so ridiculously busy, that I won’t have time to miss the downtime or what I would really have been doing had everything gone according to plan.
Yet on snow days like today, it is a harsh slap in the face to the reality of our situation. Of what we don’t have. Of the longing we have for the family we are not.