Out of the mouths of Baxters

Yesterday, right before naptime, Baxter said the following:

"Mama, there are three things that make me sad thinking about Daddy Mike.

1. when people talk about him.
2. when I look at the moon.
3. when I hear about any guys dying."

Then he asked what makes me sad thinking about him. I replied honestly,

"Sometimes, when I look at you and you look so much like him. But mostly, when I spend time with friends of ours who were close friends with Daddy Mike. It makes me feel warm and loved, but also makes me miss him."

Then I asked, " Does it make you sad when I say stuff like how you're a great dancer because daddy mike was? Or when I talk about things he liked to do? Like bake or perform on stage?"

"No. That doesn't make me sad. I get sad thinking about Brain Tumors and when he was sick at the hospital and stuff."

... now THIS is weird, cause I never talk about that with him. Ever. Once a long time ago he asked about how daddy mike died and I told him. But I never talk about it - or the hospital. There's an ad on NPR about Gamma Knife technology at a local hospital for brain tumors and brain disorders. I wonder if that jogs his memory. I don't know.

I asked Bax "Are you sure you're not just thinking about when you went to the hospital to see him? Do you remember going?"

"I don't think I ever went." he said. "Did I?"

"Yes you did - with me."


"Well, every weekend."

"Every Weekend?" his eyes got big.

"Yeah. He was sick for a long time, so we went every weekend."

"Was he happy in the hospital?"


"He was happy when we were there and when friends visited. I think he was happy. Mostly he slept a lot, so I don't think he was thinking about it."

He rolled over in his bed.

"Bax, we don't have to talk about it anymore. If you ever don't want to talk about it, we don't have to talk about it. You just tell me."

quiet for a moment.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore."

And then we moved on to chat about the big show we were about to see later on last night: White Christmas at the Academy of Music with PJ's folks. Which, by the way, was a hit with Bax. 2 and a half hours of live theater and Bax was in heaven. The best part? When the little girl (like 7 or 8 years old) sang and danced solo towards the end of the show.

Wide-eyed baxter: "HOW did she DO that?"

"Lots of practice and singing and dancing lessons."

"I want to do THAT!"

Anything you want, bax.


Big changes, same battles...

May 29, 2009. Danna and PJ tied the knot...

Life has been quite amazing. PJ and I were married in May, surrounded by family and friends, including Mike's family. We honeymooned in New Hampshire in a beautiful tiny cottage on Newfound Lake.

In July we made the decision to try to grow our family and have a baby. So... in September, I learned I was pregnant (due May 19th, placing me at almost 12 weeks). We are thrilled! Baxter is over the moon about it. PJ and I just feel so lucky to have had such luck so fast.

Unfortunately, what has accompanied the pregnancy are many unbridled emotions that I feel ill-equipped to handle, hence my writing here. Unlike my relatively uneventful pregnancy with Bax, this pregnancy has me feeling seriously ill (nauseous) all the time, fatigued, vomiting, and generally miserable. Those factors have rendered me a bit raw - never mind the sheer volatility of hormonal emotions...

The most recent realization is how far I had been keeping PJ from me. For several weeks , I had been emotionally disconnected from him, except for the moments when I criticized him for one random thing after another. When he hugged me, instead of extending my arms around him, I folded them in front of me, hoping to be enveloped, but not left feeling exposed or vulnerable.

After weeks of this, I finally brought the subject up with David (the beloved therapist who I continue to see every 2 weeks to work through lingering issues of trauma and grief). I explained how I am with PJ, and, tears streaming, said, "you and I both know why I'm closing myself off from him."

To which David replied, "I think I know why, but why don't you tell me..."

I couldn't open my mouth. I couldn't just say it.

Like a minute of silenced passed between us with me shaking my head.

Finally he said, "You're scared."

I nodded.

"Can you say that?"

I shook my head. I couldn't say it. If I said it, maybe it would make it real. Maybe it would make something happen to PJ.

After several minutes of heaving sobs, I sputtered out , "I'm afraid He's going to disappear and I'm going to have to do this all by myself. and I don't want to need him. I don't want to be left alone again."

The fucked up thing about this is that thinking PJ is going to die is technically an "irrational" thought. But, based on my experience, the only thing my mind and body know is that getting married and having a baby is followed by acute terminal illness and the death of my spouse.

So, how "irrational" is it really?

If the brain is constantly storing constructs, emotions, events, senses, cognitions and physiological responses in long term memory, and stores them together when they are experienced together, then doesn't it make sense that the thought of early motherhood is hardwired in the same mental model as trauma, death, anxiety, and grief? Absolutely.

The answer? What the answer always is: Time.

Time and communication, honesty, open reflection, and sharing with PJ, which I'm trying to get better at these days. The more I tell Peej, the better it gets, so we're on the right path.

My subconscious is certainly not helping me in this regard though. The vivid dreams that accompany pregnancy should be about puppies and rainbows. I, on the other hand, dreamt last night that Mike returned from the dead, was not quite fully functional, but thought he was. He came back to live in "our house" and raise "our son," unaware that I had remarried, that Baxter knew only PJ as his daddy, and that I was expecting a baby. In the dream, I had to figure out how to integrate Mike into our home and into our lives. I was refitting the basement, finishing it, adding a full bath, getting a separate entrance for Mike. I was trying to figure out if he could get a job at DiscMakers. The feelings I had for him were purely maternal - the dynamic of a care-giver and patient. And my joy at seeing his smiling face was coupled with a dread and a sense of being trapped. After "figuring out" that PJ and I would take care of him here in our house, I said to Mike, "You know what I think we should do?"

And he said, going in to hug me, "Smoosh all day long?"

I couldn't breathe. How do you tell your dead husband that you're not his anymore? It was like that awful scene in castaway where Tom Hanks returns to his house only to find that his wife has moved on to be with someone else.

In the dream, Mike tried to snuggle with Baxter, but Baxter recoiled, grabbing PJ's legs and looking so scared. In his mind, Mike's return meant PJ's departure, and the hurt in Mike's eyes at his son's response ripped me apart.

I have cried on and off all day at this dream. PJ consoled me for about a half hour this morning as I went into all the reasons this dream was fucked up. "I'm not doing anything wrong, right?" i sobbed into PJ's chest.

"No, babe.," he said, trying to hold me close, "Your subconscious is playing some nasty tricks on you. Its asking you to reconcile the irreconcilable."

And finally, "I didn't know him, but I know that someone as practical as Mike would think that you have done exactly what you should have done."

He's right. In 2000, Mike and I watched one of his favorite movies, Truly Madly, Deeply. I loved the film, but hated how it ended.

At the beginning of the movie, Alan Rickman (Jamie) dies, leaving his girlfriend Nina alone, paralyzed with grief, unable to function. Jamie returns as a ghost, to be with Nina - perhaps to help her cope - but slowly becomes a nuisance, with his ghost friends intruding in her home and his constant self-centered actions frustrating Nina more and more over time.

In the end (immediately following the scene below), Jamie leaves Nina, hence setting her free and allowing her to move forward with her own life - and we get a glimpse of a budding relationship forming between Nina and a new man.

Mike tried to explain to me that it had to end the way it did; that we should be glad for Nina; that Jamie was setting her free. But I didn't like it. Because I didn't get it.

And now, I get it. Because I am Nina.

The poem that Nina translates word for word in this clip is by Pabl0 Neruda - the same poet who authored a poem (Your Laughter) read and my wedding to Mike in 2003.

Pablo Neruda (the dead woman)

"No, forgive me.
If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love,
if you have died,
all the leaves will fall in my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but
I shall stay alive,
because above all things
you wanted me indomitable,
and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man
but all mankind."