Back to One

4 Jun

ME: Days off are hard to come by. I was hoping for a little more fun and relaxation when I put in to take today off for my birthday a couple of weeks ago.

CAREY: I know, but Little Man is sick and can’t go to school. That’s the way it goes.

ME: I’m not trying to complain, it’s just a bummer. Stuck at a Pediatrician’s office.

CAREY: Well, maybe later this evening we can do something fun.

ME: Really?

CAREY: Yeah. We can all watch a kid’s movie together. Then we can play that owl board game he likes so much.

ME: …

CAREY: What.

ME: Nothing.

CAREY: What.

ME: Well, those things aren’t fun.

CAREY: I know, but Little Man is sick. That’s the way it goes.

 

She’s right. That’s the way it goes these days. When you have a four-year-old living under your roof, your schedule is more or less spoken for.

You know? I should rewind a little.

My triplet blog has become a reliably annual affair. It’s not that I don’t think about it throughout the rest of the year. It comes to mind often. Six years ago today, we met and lost our triplet sons Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar. I think of them every day and even now I’m occasionally hit with a surprise pain, almost no warning. Gut shot in the middle of a meeting or during my morning commute. You grit your teeth and ride the red wave. You get through it.

And even though grief is never really, truly over, a few years ago we made the decision to move ahead to the next thing. We’d try again. We weren’t, as they say, getting any younger.

Admittedly, my heart was only half in it. And maybe nature knew, because, after about a year and a half, it became clear that our prime fertility years were behind us. Specialists assured us we were ideal candidates for all manner of treatments and procedures and Just say the word, you’ll be in Healthy White Baby Country lickety split.

But on that issue I was firm. My personal philosophy was such that expensive, medically heroic measures in the name of fertility were difficult to justify in these troubled times. Literal millions of children are in desperate need of loving homes inside our own borders, not to mention the profound need overseas. Understand, that sentiment isn’t meant to indict or alienate my good friends who have participated in fertility treatments (all great, loving parents). In fact, the vast majority of triplet parents in the world partly owe their full quiver to advancements in fertility science. But for me, personally, I couldn’t do it.

So, then… what? Overseas adoption? Foster care? Maintain our DINK status and run out the clock, insulated by disposable income?

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of the months and years of vacillation, the tears, the arguments, the starts and stops. In November, we completed our certification and became foster parents to the coolest kid I’ve ever met, a tow-headed four-year-old. I wish I could share his name, his face and his story, but alas. Here’s the best I can do:

Christopher back of head

Carey and I love him. Truly and honestly. When I looked at the remains of my boys six years ago, I remember my own heartbreak about the fact that they’d never grow to become strong, healthy men with big hearts and wise souls. But I look at this kid each morning and it’s my continual prayer for him. “Create in him a clean heart and renew his spirit.” My biggest priority is helping him become the sincere, confident adult my own boys never had the chance to be.

But here’s the thing, and this shouldn’t go unsaid: when we mention our Foster Parent Adventure to people who know about our story, they’ll often give us a satisfied smile and a knowing nod that seems to say, “Yes. That makes sense.”

I promise. It doesn’t.

This journey is the exact opposite of intuitive. Take two reasonably intelligent adults who met and lost their three children on the same day and offer them the chance to involve themselves in a situation that will almost certainly end in tears and heartbreak. A situation fraught with added stressors in the form of court dates, mysterious behavior issues and government accountability. And that’s not even mentioning the surreal experience of saying the word “yes” on a phone call and, two days later, having a four-year-old you’ve never met with issues and traumas and stories you have no idea about dropped off at your house.

“Thanks for parenting him. We’ll let you know when it’s time to give him back.”

It’s a beautiful and difficult thing. I always wondered what sort of a father I would be and I’m finally finding out.

(On a scale of Awful to Awesome, I’d rank my current dad skills at an “Iffy” with signs of slow improvement.)

Again, though, this kid is amazing. I could go into detail, but to sum up: his life is difficult, but he loves it anyway.

Six years ago, I wondered what my future life would be. Could we find or build a situation that would replace what’s lost, that would fill the hole?

Nope. No dice. But maybe that’s okay. This is a whole other thing. A scary, weird, unnatural, fun, frustrating, exhausting, hilarious, ridiculous other thing.

Places, everyone. Back to one. Let’s change things up a bit, try some improv. Everybody set? Still rolling? Sound speeding. Quiet, please. And:

Action.

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An Actual Tip

4 Jun

It’s not inconceivable that part of the modest traffic that this blog manages to attract are new and expectant triplet parents. Maybe, like me years ago, you’re trawling the internet, looking for wisdom and advice about how to handle the task of having and raising three individuals at the same time. Well, today I’m going to try something I haven’t attempted in an awful long while: an actual tip, as it were, on triplets.

But since this is TipsOnTriplets and nothing’s easy-breezy, before I get to the advice, I’ll start with a story. I like to call it My Greatest Moment As A Triplet Parent.

Triplet pregnancies are fraught enough, but Carey’s had the added peril of Lupus, a condition she’s lived with since college. Every moment of our boys’ gestation would need close monitoring, which is what took us to Long Beach’s Magella Medical Group, specialists in high-risk pregnancies.

As you might expect, I had a jones to document everything with an eye toward eventually cutting together a highlight video of the pregnancy and eventual birth of the boys. I was on the lookout for odd moments, hopeful moments, important moments… anything that could communicate the nervous frenzy of the time, assuming we’d one day appreciate the look back.

So we arrived at Magella Medical Group for our initial consult and tests, a situation ripe for the video reel. And since the idea of producing a video had only occurred to me a few days prior, this was going to be one of the very first moments of the eventual edited piece. So I got to work grabbing b-roll of the building, the sign, the elevator ride up to the office. I imagined all of this cut together montage-style atop a heart-swelling music bed.

magella-sign

elevator

We entered and I was getting footage of everything, no matter how mundane. Carey signing in. Carey’s blood pressure being taken. No moment too small.

sign-in

We entered an exam room and an office supervisor told us to have a seat. I pulled out my phone to grab a shot or two of Carey getting situated. The office supervisor said, “Just so you know, we unfortunately can’t allow any video taken here in the office.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s one of our rules. I could explain all of the liabilities behind it, but suffice it to say it’s our policy here.”

“What about photos?”

She hesitated. “Photos are ok, maybe just a couple. It’s video we can’t allow. It looked like you were about to record with your phone, so I have to mention it.”

I thought about it for maybe two seconds. It made sense: an office specializing in high-risk pregnancies meant they’d likely seen quite a few pregnancies go badly. Failed pregnancies = angry parents = looking for someone to blame = “evidence” gathering, however legit, however spurious = legal battles = headaches the Magella Medical Group would just as soon avoid. I should also point out that the good people at Magella are as smart and conscientious as they come. It’s a wonderful place and we were lucky to be there. “I get it,” I said.

And that’s when My Greatest Moment As A Triplet Parent happened:

I lied.

“No problem, I won’t take any video. Maybe just a couple of photos.”

As reasonable as the Magella Medical Group’s policy on video capture was, it was a rule I just wasn’t going to follow. Sure, I thought, I could respect the wishes of the office. It’s their space, they get to decide what’s allowed. On the other hand, I pictured myself a decade in the future, me and three 9-year-olds huddled around a laptop. I would play the video their dad shot when they were still in the womb, showing how excited their parents were to meet them, how committed we were to taking every precaution to keep them safe and healthy.

Or I could tell them the story of why we didn’t have any video because we followed a lame f&%#ing liabilities rule.

The office manager left the room and I started shooting. And that’s how the rest of the morning went. I caught some great moments: The doctor telling us how the placentas work. Our hearing their heartbeats for the first time. Poring over ultrasound prints, relating to the camera what we’d just found out about our then-healthy three.

doctor

ultrasound

And stern looks from the staff. “Nope, just lining up a great photo moment,” I’d tell them, video rolling.

Of course, the video I really wanted to make was never made. But I did use the Magella footage in the memorial video I cut together after the boys passed. And you know? It’s not only my favorite moment in the whole memorial video, it’s footage I wouldn’t trade for all the riches in the whole wide world. While it was the postmortem footage of the boys (4:40) that caught the interest of The Daily Beast, BBC World Update and Good Morning America, it’s the Magella material (1:01) that makes my heart the happiest. Because there it is, in full-color, living, breathing, 24 fps shaky glory: two expectant parents who love their children more than anything, full to the eyeballs with excited, terrified, nervous anticipation. That’s the real stuff. That’s where life is.


Ok, that was quite a wind-up to get to the point of this post and the reason we’re all here: a Tip on Triplets. So here it is.

As a triplet parent, nature has already decided to chuck your special ideas about the traditional way of doing things right out the window. You have to wing it, you have to make it up as you go along. And the world is loaded with rules and philosophies about how you’re supposed to handle these three little aberrations.

These triplet children of yours are a messy, imperfect miracle. Listen to what the critics and the experts have to say. Take it in. Consider carefully. But keep in mind:

These children are yours. You make the rules.

That’s really it. You get to decide. If you need to go rogue, man, go rogue. This isn’t twin parenting and lord knows it sure as hell isn’t singleton parenting. It’s a whole other thing that demands reserves that John and Jane Q. Public don’t fully understand.

If you need to shoot the video, god’s sake, SHOOT THE VIDEO.

Go nuts. It’s up to you. The status quo was miles back, do your own thing.

That’s all.

(But, you know, within reason. Vaccinate your kids. I mean what are you, a bunch of toothless hill people?)

Happy Whatever Day

21 Jun

Happy Avoiding Facebook Day.

Happy Rehearsing Your Response to ‘Happy Father’s Day’ Day.

Happy Uncomfortable Pauses That End With ‘How’s Your Wife Holding Up?’ Day.

Happy Getting Your Story Straight When Asked If You Have Any Kids Day.

Happy Politely Declining The Father’s Day Gift/Special/Award At Stores/Restaurants/Church Day.

Happy Nodding And Shrugging When Loved Ones Tell You What A Great Father You Are/Were/Would’ve Been Day.

Happy Being Happy For Other Fathers Day.

Happy One-Year-Til-Next-Father’s-Day Day.

Happy Avoiding Patronizing Articles And Blog Entries Like This One Day.


A fast note to other dads who have lost, because, damn it, this is our day too: you’re on my mind. If you’re anything like me, Father’s Day isn’t something you look forward to, it’s something you sort of wait out. You don’t want to abolish the day altogether, you just want to cue the music and flash the Oscar speech sign because it’s running long: WRAP IT UP.

Maybe you’ve just lost your child or children and this is your first Father’s Day and all you see is ocean in every direction.

Maybe you lost your child decades ago, but you find yourself stealing a minute alone for the one who should be here but isn’t.

Maybe you have other living children and you love them fiercely and you love this day, but it still stings.

Maybe it’s not a child you lost, but rather a wife or a parent or a sibling and the whole Father’s Day idea seems sort of off, particularly this year.

To you: Happy Whatever Day. On a lonely day like today, I’m glad you’re in the world because it means someone else knows how I feel. Maybe that’s a selfish way to look at it, but I’m going to cut myself some slack because, eh, it’s Whatever Day and we all deserve a break.

Fire, Glass, OH MY GOD

4 Jun

broken_glass

I had a loose mental sketch of this year’s entry. It was going to be called “#braveface” and it was going to be about a new sort of grief (new to us anyway) that we’ve only recently begun to understand and that’s the grief surrounding infertility and miscarriage. Take my word for it: it was going to be a really sensitive and stirring post with fat, salty tears in both the telling and the reading. Boy, were you in for some kind of treat.

But forget all that. I’d rather talk about something that happened a couple of hours ago.

TOT readers will recall that, a year ago, I wrote something to fellow grieving parents who are, like us, trying to figure out how to navigate the unique pain of losing a child or children. I mentioned some of the things we do on June 4. Nothing exotic, but we take time for our boys. We take the day off work. We try to get out of the house. And on the minute of each of their births, we light a candle and say a word or two.

And that happened. We’re blessed to have friends and family who remember three little men who would’ve been four years old today. People are kind and thoughtful with texts, comments, cards and even the occasional gift. “We love you.” “We’re thinking of you and RDO today.” “We remember.”

It genuinely makes the day easier. And in a strange way, I’ve almost begun looking forward to June 4. It’s painful remembering, but it’s also good. It’s a relief. And it fills my heart to hear from people who love us and love children they never got a chance to meet.

Anyhow: a couple of hours ago.

We were doing our thing. Rudyard was born at 6:28 AM, so we lit a candle on our mantle near his urn and said a word or two. Through the years, the mantle has gotten pretty busy with gifts, art and mementos. There’s a lot going on and most of it’s dedicated to the boys, so it makes sense to pick that as our Remembering Place.

7:03. Desmond. We lit a candle, took a moment or two. Oscar wasn’t until 8:40, so after Desmond’s candle, we took some time to do morning things, like brewing tea and replying to a few texts and emails on our phones. My sisters had gone out of their way this year to purchase memorial gifts and we were in the process of thanking them when I discovered our wifi was out. Specifically, our living room wifi extender wasn’t giving a signal.

The wifi extender, I should add, that’s plugged in just above the mantle.

Best thing for that is the old unplug/replug, so, careful as you please, I reached around the artwork, knickknacks, cards, mementos and flaming candles and grabbed the wifi extender. I pulled. It stuck. I worked it back and forth, harder, harder.

If you can see where this is headed, you’re smarter than I was.

One final tug and the extender came flying out of the wall, crashing into our meticulously manicured memorial. The objects of our solemnity flew through the air and exploded onto the ground. Rudyard’s candle burst into a million pieces, with glass, flames and hot wax ricocheting through our living room.

Carey was screaming her head off (they haven’t invented a font big enough):

“OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!!!”

We flew into action, isolating the cat from the scene, sweeping glass, vacuuming rugs, chipping solidified wax from the floor and walls. In the end, we had to move couches and impromptu-redesign the Memorial Area. There was swearing and bickering. At one point, Carey cut her hand. Our Mourning Morning was a mini Roland Emmerich film, a cacophony of injuries and destruction.

We replaced candles and put the room back together in time for Oscar’s moment (whose candle Carey lit, as I can no longer be trusted).

But, you know, as we were in the backyard, beating glass shards from the rug, I told Carey, “I’m glad this happened.”

“What?”

“I’m serious! I am!”

“Well that’s dumb.”

And she’s probably right. But, man, that’s life and that’s grief. You can meticulously plan all you want. You can manufacture all the solemnity in the world, but in the end, you’re gambling against the reality of the chaos curve and you’re going to find that the curve usually wins. Life, grief, whatever you want to call it isn’t as pretty as we’d like it to be. It’s not a Fellini film, it’s a 2nd grade play. The music tends to swell at the wrong time and the actors will likely trip over their costumes, get distracted, flub their lines. Forget all about grace and majesty. Just get through the performance without burning down the stage and call it a win.

Grief sucks. Death is bullshit. Really: it’s a bonafide pile of glistening, sun-kissed bullshit.

And what can you do? My sons are gone, but I get to say I met them. So maybe it was under the messiest possible circumstances. Maybe that’s better than not meeting them at all.

Since that’s pretty weak as a wrap-up, here’s one last thing: my wife has, in the past, had the good taste to post music that reminds her of our triplet sons and I think I’d like to do the same before I go. About a year and change ago, I discovered three songs, all covers, that I found myself playing over and over and I realized each one made me happy because each reminded me of one of my boys.


Rudyard’s song is the last thing anyone would expect me to post, but, man, Josh Weathers destroys it. The big, salty tears I promised earlier are all here and when I hear this, I remember my brave boy:


Desmond’s song is the least surprising thing in the world. It’s his namesake and it’s as fun as he would have been. I think, when the Beatles wrote it, this is what they were going for:


Oscar’s song is how I like to think of Oscar: clever, strange, innovative, funny. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time, performed in a way The King never intended:


Today, boys, you would have been 4.

Love you. Miss you.

The Land of Do-As-You-Please

4 Jun

“Hello. My name is 1)_____.
Today I’m grieving the loss of 2)_____,
who passed away on 3)_____.
He/She/They was/were my 4)_____.
His/Her/Their loss makes me feel 5)_____.
In closing, I’d also like to say 6)__________________.”

 

Three years into grief, it’s not difficult to conjure images and memories of those first days and weeks. “Overwhelming” doesn’t quite say it, it’s a hurricane of cheek-cracking, Shakespearian proportions. You’re asked to dig down into your own guts and scoop out reserves that you’ve never suspected were there. When you’re at your lowest moment, you’re making decisions that, at the time, you imagine will haunt you the rest of your life if you choose poorly.

“Cremation or burial? Urn or Casket?” “Memorial or no memorial and if so, when/where/how and who’s coming?” “Should I begin some sort of tradition?” “Should I join a support group?” “If we still want other children, shouldn’t we take immediate steps in that direction?” “Should I take depression medication?” “How much time should I take off from work?” “How much time do I have to cancel this or return that?” “Should I travel?” “Should I sell the house and move?” “Should I kill myself?”

“What if I do this wrong?”

And you ask for help and guidance and, with luck, you have people in your life who are as helpful as anyone could reasonably be. But their help essentially comes down to one, single, frustrating piece of advice:

DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.

It’s not meant to add to the frustration, but, of course, it does. And to be fair, what else would you expect them to say? It’s your loss, your grief.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve received a handful of emails and blog comments and even one or two in-person questions from people who have become reluctant members of the club Carey and I have belonged to for the past 3 years, namely the Brother/Sisterhood of Grieving Parents. “What should I do?” they want to know. “What did you do?”

What we did and what we continue to do isn’t a guidebook or a roadmap for others by any stretch, but today, on my boys’ third birthday, I thought it might be helpful to get specific.

A few things we’ve done:

 

urns

We decided on cremation and chose urns for our boys. A friend of ours (and client of Carey’s) runs a mortuary and was very helpful in presenting options to us. He suggested mixing their ashes and keeping them in one urn. Since we’d gone to such lengths to preserve their individuality, we preferred to give them separate urns. Rudyard’s is the reddish-bronze, Desmond’s is the silver and Oscar’s is gold. We keep them on our living room mantle.

 

sunflowers

At the memorial, we presented the urns in the center of three sunflowers which were in three square glasses. Since then, each week, Carey brings home three fresh sunflowers from the store. We’ve kept a steady rotation in the glasses ever since. Sometimes they’re in the kitchen, sometimes in the dining room, sometimes near the urns. It lifts our spirits to see them.

 

albums

On the day, we took over 100 photographs of the handful of moments we had with our boys. While, it’s true, we’re choosy and protective of who sees them, we had prints made of all of them and keep them in a couple of small photo albums.

 

carey-tattoo jer-tattoo

We decided on tattoos to remember them. Carey has their names in script on the side of her foot and I designed their first initials with the date of their birth into artwork for my left wrist. It’s the only tattoos either of us have.

 

office-artwork

Recently, Carey and I collaborated on a piece of artwork for our studio/office. The birds are three finches done in black ink and white acrylic. The background is collaged from pages from vintage books by Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde and also some sheet music of the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, which mentions Desmond.

 

Last year, for reasons beyond my understanding, the news media became intrigued by our story. Specifically, our memorial video, which shows footage of our boys’ remains shortly after their passing. We were interviewed by The Daily Beast, BBC World Update and Good Morning America about our story. It was a great opportunity to talk about the pain that parents of stillborn children experience.

Our interview with Dan Damon of BBC World Update:

 

From time to time, I’ll take part in open mic events at a coffee house in Long Beach. In the past, I’ve read a story inspired by the boys and, last week, I mentioned them in a presentation I gave about my personal passion-issue, which is gun violence in the United States. Amid true-life anecdotes, statistics and a brief history of firearms, I spoke about the Sandy Hook tragedy, recalling the blessing it was to have the opportunity to comfort my children as they passed, a privilege taken from many parents whose children are victims of shootings.

In general, whether it’s home decor or small life decisions, we gravitate toward ‘three’. It’s subtle, but visitors will see triads and triptychs of flowers, artwork and other odds and ends around our house. It’s subtle, but it’s our way of remembering.

We did join a support group. In fact, we participated in two of them. Easily the most helpful was New Hope, which offers grief support programs and services. In fact, it introduced us to some of our closest friends.

 

candles

And finally, each year, on June 4, Carey and I take the day off. I’m a guy who, though I’m loathe to admit it, isn’t always above working on Christmas. But, for us, June 4 is sacred. No clients, no freelance, no popping into the office to make sure my art director is meeting his deadlines. We design the day specifically to make sure absolutely nothing is going on. On the minute of each of their births, we light a candle to remember. And we then proceed to do whatever we want, which is often very little.

 

If your’e a grieving parent reading these words, understand that none of the above are obligations. Three years in, Carey and I are winging it, just like you are. If you’re worried you’re going to make the wrong choice, don’t. Your grief is yours and you get to decide how to live in it and through it.

That said, one piece of “don’t” advice for those who have experienced recent loss: don’t put it off. You’ll be tempted to delay decisions about burials and memorials and other things that require fast attention until your head is clearer, but trust me when I say it won’t be easier later. Allow yourself the freedom to choose something less than perfect. Less Than Perfect is going to be the status quo for awhile and you’ll need to find a way to work within that.

Also, one last thing to the newly-grieving parent. It’s been said so many times to Carey and me that we’re in full-blown cliché territory, but it bears repeating, so, begging your forgiveness:

It will always be hard. But it won’t always be this hard.

Today, if you’ve lost a child, you’re in my prayers and my heart is full for you. I’m sorry for your loss. But I’m overjoyed you’re with me, with us, in the world.

 

1) Jeremy
2) Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar
3) Saturday, June 4, 2011
4) sons
5) destroyed, angry, burdened, confused, broken
6) I miss my sons very much

 

 

In The News

6 Nov

There’s a reasonable chance you’re here thanks to recent news articles and segments regarding the memorial video we made for our sons Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar.  If that’s the case, thank you for your interest. It does mean a lot to my wife and me.  In interviews, we’ve tried our best to represent our own experiences and the feelings of those of us in the grief community who’ve chosen to celebrate and remember our loved ones’ lives in the form of online media.

If you’re looking for the video, you can find it here.

Or, if you’re curious about the illustrations I drew of the boys, you can see them in this post.

Or, if you want to know a bit more about the circumstances of our sons’ birth and passing, please refer to the FAQ.

Thank you again.

– Jeremy Bear

The Daily Beast article – Stillbirth and YouTube

4 Nov

daily_beast_logoThis morning, our story is featured in a Daily Beast article about parents of stillborn children and the growing trend to grieve publicly through the use of online media, like tribute videos and blogs.

It was clear from the start of my conversation with journalist Brandy Zadrozny that she had a heart toward presenting the matter well and sensitively and I’m grateful to have been part of a penetrating article, executed beautifully.

You can read the story here.

daily-beast-article-graphic

Thanks to Ms. Zadrozny and all of the grieving parents featured in the piece.