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.

“As Easy As 123?” – An Audio Documentary

5 Jun

Yesterday I made reference to a documentary project about having and raising triplets that contains an interview with me and, with the producer’s permission, I’m posting it below.

It was produced by Andrew Parkinson (a triplet dad himself) through the University of Sussex in England and, frankly, I think it’s great. The material that has specifically to do with Tips On Triplets / our family begins at around 21:40, but the whole thing really is worth a listen.

(Also, be aware of some frank language in parts, as this is the uncensored version of the production.)

Thanks, Andrew.

Where The Fire Began

4 Jun

Last night I dreamed of a fire. I don’t remember everything about the context, but I was outdoors and it seemed to be a fire that sprang up quickly. And it’s hard to say how, but I knew it was a fire covering the whole world.

People were running, shouting “This is it! This is the end!” And a sort of Clint Howard-looking guy pointed to a very specific spot near a tree line that was consumed in flames and said “There! That’s where the fire began, so that’s where it’ll burn out first! It’s our only chance! Go to where the fire began!”

And, listen, I’m the last guy to pull faux-inspirational instruction out of dream logic, but today is a day for trying to make sense out of the senseless, so I guess I’ll follow Clint’s advice.

Today is my boys’ second birthday.

Honest, it was never my intention to turn this blog into an annual affair, but that’s sort of how it worked out. I was interviewed for a documentary project about triplets a couple of months ago and the interviewer asked if I regret writing this blog, what with how things ended and all.  I told him no, I really don’t, because it’s the best chronicle I have of what it was like to anticipate them, to meet them and lose them.  It’s the piece of my sons that’s still out in the world, meeting new people from time to time and occasionally peeping their heads out on page five of a Google search or wedged between pictures of other babies on a Facebook news feed.

In the early days of grief, I spent a lot of time wondering how Future Me would feel about all of this.  Painful as it was, one of my biggest fears was that the pain would go away.  It makes sense, I suppose.  Pain defined my short time with them and if that disappears, well, does that mean they go away too?

But pain is still there.  I have more of a choice than I used to, I guess, about when and how I access it.  I’m of an age where my friends tend to be wrapping up their baby-having and are focused more on child-raising and it’s inevitable: there are lots of stories.  From potty training to homework trouble, there’s an inexhaustible stream of precious moments and with every story, I’m making choices.  Other grieving parents will know what I mean.  We make choices about how deep to let it cut us, whether we’ll be happy for you or bitter for us.  The thing is, by and large, we want you to have your good life and your beautiful children. For the most part, it makes us glad to see things going well, particularly if you love your kids and you’re doing your best to do right by them.  But understand that “happy-for-you” is sometimes a choice and it’s not always a natural one.

Anyhow, that’s a digression.  If today’s theme is Going To Where The Fire Began, it’s easy to see that the fire began in our little hospital room.

A year ago today we made the mistake of… eh.  We made the choice, put it that way, of visiting the hospital to bring hellos and flowers to some of the staff that had helped us in our darkest time. And I guess it sort of caught us by surprise because, after an absent left turn or two we realized we were standing right outside of our old room.

And like a wrecking ball, it came back, too much, all at once.

I’m guilty of romanticizing our small hours with our boys when the truth is it was the opposite of romantic. It was tears and confusion and hesitation.  It was pain and it was awkward fumbling with rushed eulogizing and shaky cell phone pictures, trying to figure out whether or not it was appropriate to wear a smile while posing.

And while the memories I have of our morning with our boys are maybe the most precious memories I have, I feel the need to be honest about it.  Truthfully, in those moments, more than anything, I remember wanting it to be over.

I wanted to be anywhere but there, doing anything but that.  I’m ashamed and embarrassed to say it because it’s so contrary to the sort of man I want to be, but looking at my wife’s anguish, watching Desmond and Oscar trying to grab air into their little pecan lungs that weren’t quite strong enough… I just wanted the pain to stop.  I knew I should be cherishing the time, but instead I wanted to be designing a web site or playing Angry Birds or driving to the grocery store.  I wanted to be at my boys’ memorial, remembering this time instead of right there, right then, actually living it.

I wanted no more pain for Carey, no more pain for Rudyard, Desmond or Oscar.  No more pain for me.

And now I look back at it and I hate how I remember feeling almost as much as I hate what happened.

Anyhow, that’s what I live with.  I wish it were prettier.  The fire began in other places too.  Our living room where Carey’s water broke.  Our room where the doctor gave us the odds.  In the bassinet where we said goodbye to them the morning following their birth.

But this year, two years into grief, if I’m grateful for something, it’s that the pain is still there.  It hurts because it should hurt.  And whatever stupid thing I felt in that little room in those moments, my pain today, right now, reminds me that I love them.

If you’re a reader of this blog and have been waiting a year for an update, thank you for your patience. Particularly if you’ve left a comment or offered love or encouragement to our family over the past couple of years, I can’t tell you what it means to us.  Our story is our boys and our boys is our story.  Following along with us makes all the difference.

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