Thursday, November 20, 2008

Comfort and Some Knitting

One of my colleagues had given me a book her daughter recommended, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood.

You may recognize Hood as the author of several knitting novels; those novels were shaped by her life. This memoir shared her experience of losing her five-year-old daughter suddenly. With prior losses, like the death of her father, writing had helped her grieve. But she found that she couldn't think, couldn't make sense of letters and words, after Grace died. A friend recommended she learn to do something else with her hands, knowing in time writing and reading would return to her. So Hood learned to knit and the act of working each stitch individually, concentrating just enough on the process, allowed her to retreat when life became too overwhelming.

Reading the dust jacket had me somewhat skeptical. I was worried it would boil down to, "Knitting saved my life." And as much as I enjoy knitting, I knew that theme would leave me empty. I enjoy having it around me and in my hands, but fiber is not redemptive. The book, however, gave the proper amount of credit to knitting. Her memoir was a good outlet for me. Reading about her daughter's sudden death let me relive our own loss. So each day I read a little and cried when I needed.

Regarding knitting, I will say that there are times when I'm tired of feeling emotions, so I pick up some project to allow myself to be mindless and only focus on the pattern. Hood talks of retreating to her needles and being so fearful of being without a project that she stocked up on yarn (to obsessive levels) so as not to be put in such a position. It's not the only time I knit, since I did find enjoyment in it before, but I do like the escape. It gives my fidgeting hands something to do and can calm my racing brain.

I know I'll still share here about how we are coping, but I'll also try to touch on lighter things as I feel them. However, I know the majority of people consistently reading are family and friends, and will thus grant me the grace to dwell on it when I need to.

Keeping up with the knitting vein, I'll quickly share some projects I've accomplished in the last couple months.

First, Heather received a pair of socks for her birthday, a small gratitude for her presence by my side during everything. Everyone has been gracious and sympathetic, but it meant a lot to have had my older sister with me. And were it not for her, we would have far fewer photos of Katherine. When the doctor called me down, Heather thought enough to grab my camera and document our precious minutes with her.

I also made a winter hat to match a scarf completed early this summer:

I had decided that 2008 was going to be the "Year of the Sweater," and I faithfully began in February. My enthusiasm waned with the spring temperatures and my pregnancy. After all, would the cardigan even fit me come fall and winter as temperatures dropped? So it began hibernating until a friend reminded me, as I spoke of 2009 being the "Year of Lace" and also the "Year of a Felted Project," that I still hadn't met 2008's aim. So out it came, and a couple weeks later, it was finished.

Here's a photo of it completely buttoned:

And one with it partially buttoned:

It's made from Paton's Classic Merino Wool, so I can vouch for the toastiness of it, a welcome trait this week. And blocking may be my new (inanimate) best friend. I love how it transformed the sweater, and I'm happily thinking of tackling other sweaters. In my ideal world, sometime this winter I would be snowed in for a week or two with plenty of coffee, food, and yarn.

I joined in a knit-along with some local friends to make Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket, a rite of passage that every knitter should experience. It is knit in one piece and looks like a sloppy blanket until you fold it just so and sew the two final seams. I have yet to attach buttons, but I have a couple of ideas for the delightful insect or flower buttons that could finish it off.

Perhaps it's strange, given my recent experiences, to see me knitting baby clothes or understand how I can distance myself from thinking of babies as I make such a project. It helps that this one was made without any expectations. The white sweater I was working on during my pregnancy has been since put aside. I will return to it, but right now, the memories are too raw.

I associate certain memories and sounds with familiar actions. For instance, when I work outside, I remember what I was last listening to on my iPod when I previously raked the lawn or weeded the garden, or as I drive a familiar stretch of road I will recall a conversation or an interesting NPR story that occurred in that same area. Many hours of anticipation went into that little cabled duffle coat, so I just need some space before I return, knowing they will all flood back. I'm just not ready right now.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Life Now

If I go back to where my last post left off, a couple things have taken place. We held two memorial services: one in Indiana and one in Iowa. We were sometimes surprised at those who showed up, which leads me to again remind myself that it is when times turn for the worse when certain acquaintances step up and invest in you like never expected. That has been one of the blessings during this time.

While I could tell many stories about such surprises and am making an effort to write them down, I'll limit it to one here. First, a brief background. In my office, our Fed Ex driver arrives in the last few minutes of the day to collect packages. Some days he rushes in and out with a rushed word since his schedule is tight, other days he has five minutes to spare with us. Immediately before the Indiana memorial service began, he came up to us to express his condolences, begged off that he couldn't stay, and left. I don't think he even spoke with us for one full minute, but it meant much that he took the time to find out the details and slip in briefly, even though he had a conflict.

Both services were special. In Indiana, the pastor who conducted it had been by us through our whole time in the hospital and had wept and prayed with us when Katherine died. In Iowa, the pastor was one we know from college. We met with him beforehand to finalize details, and he shared how he was fixated on our story as he read Eric's account, and even knowing the ending, he starting from the beginning and it consumed his thoughts for that day. He thought he was collected, but during the slideshow, he became so overcome to the point of being unable to share his original message, instead shortening his words as tears streamed down.

For about a month after Katherine died, every day's mail brought cards, some even from strangers. We both found them cathartic to read and some made me quite emotional, especially when people entrusted us with their own stories of loss, some within the last year, others from decades ago.

I returned to work at the beginning of October. The first week and a half were probably the hardest as people streamed in to welcome me back and express condolences or turned silent and awkward when they were surprised to see me and didn't know what to say. It's not as constant now, but initially it wasn't a matter of whether or not I cried at work, it was how many times in any given day. There were some people who didn't know what had gone on, evidenced by the student who said, "Have you been on a long vacation?" And at least one who knew only the first part of the story and asked, "How's your little one?"

I think I can say Eric and I are doing okay through this. We know the pain won't go away, we still miss our daughter fiercely, but we have been leaning on each other and loved ones around us.

My workplace donated a memorial brick in Katherine's honor at the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden, a memorial for parents who have lost children. It was installed last week and we were invited to be present and even lay the brick. That afternoon was draining for us, but it was also good to cry. We know we need to face our emotions in order to heal, but when that becomes too overwhelming, we both cope by distracting ourselves with thinking of anything but what happened.

When my brother died, I remember a conversation with someone I consider a mentor. Years earlier, she had experienced the sudden deaths of several family members and as she was processing this, someone accused her of not properly grieving. She insisted to me in my own grief that never was anyone to guilt me about not grieving the right way, as there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I can be outwardly demonstrative or a bottler of my emotions, and provided that it's not destructive, no one has grounds to fault me. Some days I can take joy in small pleasures, other times I'm noticeably quiet or sad. I admit that it can be hard to see other pregnant women or young children, even while I seem calm. I don't censure myself for the emotions I'm experiencing, since I know how intensely I wished I could have changed the outcome. I don't lay blame on myself or others, because it doesn't seem that this could have been avoided. So I take each day as it comes.

Being the former English major and teacher, I think in literary references, so I wasn't surprised when I recalled a passage from a book I read earlier this summer. In Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, the father solemnly walks down the street, and the author writes the following:
He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd crowd had come from such a house of mourning. He thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under? You may be elbowed one instant by the girl desperate in her abandonment, laughing in mad merriment with her outward gesture, while her soul is longing for the rest of the dead, and bringing itself to think of the cold flowing river as the only mercy of God remaining to her here. You may pass the criminal, meditating crimes at which you will to-morrow shudder with horror as you read them. You may push against one, humble and unnoticed, the last upon earth, who in heaven will for ever be in the immediate light of God's countenance. Errands of mercy--errands of sin--did you ever think where all the thousands of people you daily meet are bound?

I guess I'll end with that. I sometimes people-watch and wonder what their lives are like and what they're facing, and this also serves as a good reminder to try to keep myself from making judgments or assumptions about those I know.