Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Journey: Coming Home

The first week was the worst.

There was no ribbon on the mailbox. 

I came in the back door to the familiar smell of home. It was quiet, the kids in school. Everything was the same, but nothing was the same. It was a little like being lost, except I knew every detail of this place, the kitchen table my daddy built, the fireplace with the key for the gas starter balanced on the mantle, the Lazy Boy recliner where I had spent so many hours during the last few months.

I walked down the hallway, refusing to let my eyes wander into the children’s rooms. I collapsed onto our bed where Cliff helped me climb under the covers. He stayed with me the rest of the day, holding my hand, bringing me tea, unpacking my bag.

When the children came home, they tiptoed into the room and hugged me tentatively. Jennifer climbed up on the bed beside me and rubbed my hair. They were sad, but more than that, they were worried about their mama.

Over the next few days, friends made dinner, took care of my children, and came and sat with me.

The pain was so fierce it seemed physical, like someone had taken a dinner fork and jammed it into my chest. It was still close to impossible for me to be alone. The second day home, my mother-in-law came for the day. She puttered around in the kitchen, coming in often to check on me. Once when the pain rose to near panic, I cried out for her. She came and held me close and told me I was going to be okay. She had lost a child, too. My husband’s twin, when they came almost three months early. So I believed her and nestled back into bed.

My body had not recovered from the act of childbirth when my milk came in, another exquisite form of agony. Despite the fact that they had given me a shot at the hospital to dry up my milk, my swollen breasts felt like they would explode. The pressure from a pillowcase pulled tight around my chest eased the pain only slightly.

During that first week, a steady stream of friends stopped to see me, listened to me tell my story over and over. I’m a fairly quiet personality. I process things internally for the most part, but I needed to tell somebody, anybody, everybody about this thing that had happened. I was grateful for them, grateful that when I needed arms to hold me, ears to listen, a shoulder for my breaking heart to rest on, someone was always there.

Someone had given me a copy of Empty Arms by Sherokee Ilse. I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t bear to listen to someone else’s story. I was still trying to find the way to live my own.

Later, I was able to look back at this stage of grief, most people label it as denial. I’m not sure that’s the most accurate appellation for my experience of it. There was no way to deny what had happened, but shock insulated me at least some from the intense emotions, giving me time and grace to process, to survive, to choose life.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Journey: Swallowed by Grief

I had held together fairly well through the labor and delivery. I had a job to do and I set my will to do it and get through it. But once the work was done, it was a different story. I was grateful they took me back to the labor room for recovery, rather than into the recovery room where other mothers had live babies on their minds. A garrulous nurse kept me company, leaving little need for me to say anything. Her endless prattle was both a source of comfort and an irritation.

Finally they took me to a room, got me into bed, and left me alone.

I hugged my empty belly and doubled over with sobs. I rocked myself while my mind screamed, “Oh, God. Please send somebody. Let somebody come.” I could not bear this alone.

My dear friend, Sarah walked in the room about that time. She held me and cried with me and sat with me. My mother and dad came. They both hugged me tenderly. Sarah and my mother both offered to stay with me, but I thought I was okay. And honestly, I wanted Sarah to stay, but I wouldn’t hurt my mother’s feelings, so I told them both to go home and sleep. I had pain medication in me by then, and I really thought I would sleep.

I was okay for about half an hour before sobs wracked me again. Again my cry was for God to send someone. My cousin Chris, and his wife Gloria, came. As well as another couple. It was ten o’clock at night. I didn’t know they even let people into the hospital that late, but I was so glad they found a door open.

By then I knew I couldn’t get through the night alone. When Gloria offered to stay with me, I accepted with tremendous relief. Throughout the night, she read to me, rubbed my back, held my hand, and prayed for me.

The next morning the doctor came to see me. She sat down on my bed and wrapped her arms around me. For a moment she wasn’t my doctor, but just another woman who knew what I felt. I was so grateful to her at that moment.

She gave me the option of staying another day in the hospital.

“No,” I told her. “I need to go home. I need to be with my family. I need to see my children.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Journey: How Do You Explain Loss?

I must diverge here from my part of the story and tell you a bit of Cliff’s, because the next labor fell to him—telling the other children.

My mother and dad had kept the children for us. Cliff had called and told them what happened and asked them not to say anything to the kids. He left the hospital and drove to my parents house. Once they were in the car, the kids were full of questions.
“Did mom really have the baby?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“When can we see?”

“What color eyes does the baby have?”

“Who does it look like?”

I don’t know how he managed to keep it together, but he convinced them he wouldn’t answer any questions until they were home and ready for bed. He was stalling for his own sake.

They were bursting with excitement, but managed to get into pajamas. They gathered in Jenifer’s room where the baby bed shared space on the wall with her kid-sized kitchen.

“The baby’s name is Allison.”

Jenifer jumped up and down. “I knew it was a girl! I knew it all along!”

He showed them Allison’s lock of hair and footprint. “I need to tell you another thing.” He paused and they all stared at him. “A blood vessel ruptured in her umbilical cord and she couldn’t get enough air. The baby died.”

Jenifer’s eyes welled with tears. Andrew went pale. Stephen, who was seldom still, didn’t move.

Cliff hugged them while they cried. He knew that as a father he could comfort them, but only a heavenly Father could heal their broken hearts. So he prayed for them and held them close.

“I guess we have to take the baby bed down and put it away,” Jenifer said.

Stephen jumped up on the bed. “That’s okay. God will give us another baby. God’s got plenty of babies.”

Out of the mouth of babes…

They all slept together that night. He read to them. They comforted each other as one or the other would wake and cry.

The next morning, Cliff was sitting on the hearth when Jenifer ran through the den. She stopped when she saw the tears in his eyes.

“I know why you’re crying. I remind you of Allison, don’t I?”

He nodded.

“Two things I’ll tell you,” she said. “You’ve got me and I’ll take care of you.”

Monday, January 28, 2013

My Journey through Grief: Delivery

It was a quick journey to the delivery room. The nurses got me onto the table. The doctor coached me with one hand pressing down on my abdomen. I pushed and as soon as she could get her hands on the baby, she pulled and Allison tumbled forth into that quiet room. One more push to expel the afterbirth and it was done. I had begun labor around 2:30. Allison was born at 4:50.

The doctor handed her to Cliff and said, “I’m so sorry.” She left the room very quickly. We learned later that this was the first child she had ever lost, too.

A very dear woman had been with me in the labor room. She had patted my hand and said, “Darling, I know where you are. I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there twice myself and I just buried a grand baby.” Now she handed Allison to me and left Cliff and I alone.

I held this sweet, lifeless child in my arms and let tears roll down my cheeks. I counted her toes, kissed her head, and and opened her eyes to see the deep blue irises. I wrapped her little fingers around mine and held them there. She was perfect, nothing unformed, nothing distorted, except for the fact that there was no breath in her little body.

I whispered a small, quiet prayer. “Thank you for letting me hold her, for giving her to me. Now I give her back to you.”

My husband, whose faith in God’s love runs deep and true, took her in his arms. Tears streamed down his face, too. I watched him touch her face and kiss her cheeks. I listened as he prayed and asked God for her life back. We’ve seen a miracle or two in our time. My faith for this one was far less than his, but I knew he would ask. I knew there was no harm in asking. That we could ask.

He waited, watching to see if there would be any sign of life returning. After a few minutes, he said, “I think God spoke to me. I think he said that she lived her full life in the womb. And that God would use her death more than he would have used her life.”

I took it as a promise. At that point, in the quiet of the delivery room, holding her, I needed one.

Our kind nurse returned to see if we were alright. “You need to cry, you cry,” she said. “Don’t hold anything inside.” She offered to cut a lock of Allison’s hair and make a footprint. I was so grateful, because I wouldn’t have thought of it in my state of mind.

Then she asked if we wanted a funeral or if we preferred for them to take care of the body. I didn’t know exactly what “take care of the body” meant. I think I shocked family and friends, but I knew I couldn’t handle anything else.

Cliff handed her back to me. I held her for a moment longer and gave her back to the nurse. “Please, you take care of it.”

I have been asked since if I regretted that decision, but I never have. I have wondered sometimes what did happen to her, but I knew, even then in my grief, that which had eternal value was already with God. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Poetry Friday and My Journey

Our Poetry Friday host today is Tabatha Yeats at The Opposite of Indifference. Stop by and enjoy all the poetry on the web today!

We loved big hair in 1985! Christmas, pregnant with  Allison, beside my sweet daddy.


I wait,
as for my first child,
ten days past due,
belly overfull,
tracing the patterned arm
of an overstuffed chair,
phantom pains
predicting birth.

I wait
in a vinyl recliner
beside my father. He jams
an elbow in the hospice bed,
turns to one side,
shoves a bony heel into the sheet
to loosen a cramped corner.

He waits, tethered
by time, until the present
dilates and he slips
beyond the rim of now,
where I wait
for the water to break.

                  © Doraine Bennett, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Journey through Grief: Labor

Several people have commented that this story must be very difficult to write. The truth is that it was very difficult to live, probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But through the journey I learned to grieve well and came out the other side with deep peace. That’s surely the reason I can write it now. And my hope is that through the telling someone else may find their way to the other side. My writer sensibilities ensure that I tell the story from a true perspective, capturing all of the emotion that I can, to be an honest representation of my journey. I do thank you all for you loving concern.

The grief I am embracing currently concerns my father, a man who has loved me well. Five months ago he was working a full time job. Today he can barely walk to the bathroom. There are moments when the anticipated grief surprises me with its ferocity. So I am applying the lessons I learned in my journey with Allison to my last days with my dad.

If you are just joining me, you might want to go back to the last couple of posts and catch up as I share my journey through grief.


I had no idea what the medical world did for a pregnant woman with a dead child in her womb. My mind bounced from the edge of one frightening scenario to another.
The answer: they induce labor.
My doctor asked me if I wanted to start immediately or wait until the following morning. My God, I thought. How could I possibly wait with this child until tomorrow? “We’ll do it now,” I told her.
She told the nurses to prep the pitocin drip. Then she prepared me for a long process. If labor didn’t start or progress by night fall, they would discontinue the drip and begin again in the morning.
Cliff sat with me as we waited, his own sadness showing in his eyes. I don’t remember the words we spoke, but his presence there was healing balm on an open wound.
It was about noon when they started the drip. By 2:30, I was in labor.
I don’t like pain. I’m not a wimp, I just don’t like it one bit. I had been put to sleep on the delivery table with my firstborn, after all the labor, because he was sunny side up and refused to turn. With both Stephen and Jeanetta, I had an epidural, but there were no options this time. Just breathe. Labor isn’t easy on a good day, but what gets you through it is the knowledge that you’ll have a baby to hold at the end. I didn’t have that. All I had to hold was Cliff’s hand.
I had read a Psalm of David often during the last months of my pregnancy. One phrase kept repeating over and over in my head through the ordeal. “His understanding is infinite.” I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to do this. But I had to. So I kept praying those words, asking for strength, and wishing that I could understand.
Somewhere just past 4:30, the intensity of the contractions ratcheted up to about a nine on the Richter scale. Suddenly, I had the urge to push. “Go get the nurse,” I told Cliff. “I think I need to push.”
He explained to me that I couldn’t possibly have to push this soon.
“Just go get the nurse,” I yelled.
Humor, even at the direst of moments, brings relief.
Sure enough, the baby’s head was crowning. They wheeled me into the delivery room.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Journey through Grief: Stillness

"We can imagine two men seated in different parts of a church or theater. Both, when they come out, may tell us their experiences, and both may use the first person. But the one was interested in his seat only because it was his…The other will tell us what could be seen from his seat, choosing to describe this because it is what he knows, and because every seat must give the best view of something.” 
      --C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Literature” 
                      in Christian Reflections.

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis. My hope as I begin this story is that it will offer “the best view of something.”

It was Christmas night, 1985, when I noticed the stillness. I was two weeks from my due date with my fourth child. The day had been a bluster of ripped wrapping paper, remote control cars zipping through the trash,and our simplified turkey dinner. I had been off my feet much of the previous three months due to a strained muscle in my lower abdomen. The kids, Andrew, 9, Jennifer, 6, and Stephen, 4, had helped with clean up, found homes for all their Christmas treasures, and Cliff and I had finally gotten them and ourselves into bed.
I lay there rubbing my swollen belly and thought, “I haven’t felt much movement today.” That was all before I succumbed to sleep.
The next few days I monitored my body for motion. This was my fourth child, so I knew a baby could just decide to rest up a bit before birth. I tried not to let the growing anxiety burst into full-blown fear.
A friend took me to my scheduled doctor’s appointment on December 29. The doctor greeted me with her lovely smile, patted my arm, and asked how I was doing.
“I’m doing well, but this baby has been awfully still the last few days.”
She put the stethoscope into her ears and laid it on my belly. She listened. Then she moved to another spot, then another.
The room was cold. The stethoscope was cold. I could feel my heart pounding, forcing cold blood through my veins.
Finally, she looked up. “I can’t hear a heartbeat. I’m going to send you over to the hospital for an ultrasound. Can you call Cliff and ask him to come?”
A nod was all I could manage.
At the hospital, the nurse took me down for the ultrasound. She tried to be pleasant, but there weren’t many words that could be spoken, and fewer that I wanted to hear. The technician was quiet as she smeared the cold gel on my abdomen. The image on the screen confirmed what I already knew. My baby was dead.
As they wheeled me back up to labor and delivery, we passed the room where chemo and radiation was administered to cancer patients. There was a young man on a stretcher waiting for treatment. Even in my darkness, I realized that I was healthy, my husband was healthy, I had three healthy children. It helped some to remember those faces who loved me and needed me. I closed my eyes and prayed, God help me. We passed on down the corridor for what would come next. I had no idea what that would be. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Journey: Writing from the Dark Places

If you have been reading, you know that I'm aiming to find ways to experience more joy in my writing life. This doesn't necessarily correlate to joy in life. Sometimes the best writing comes from painful life experiences.

A bloom in winter rain.
For me right now, writing is a place for processing where I am in this journey of life, or more to the point, death.

I lost a child many years ago, so the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary brings my journey through that grieving time to the forefront of my memory. And now I am walking down this road again as I watch my father find his way home. The experience of sudden death and the expectation of death are very different, but the journey through grief is much the same.

Here we are a month past the death of so many sweet children and soon the public and the media will have moved on to other things. But a month past the loss of a child, the parents are still in pain. Grief doesn't leave room for much else.

I don't know anyone who wasn't deeply effected by the recent school shootings. I watched as people filled  Twitter and Facebook postings with their responses, jumping on band wagons they felt would bring solutions to the problem. Many found validity for causes they felt personally attached to, whether it was gun control, school safety or mental health. I am not an activist. I never will be. So I have wondered what kind of response this tragedy calls forth from me.

While my own emotional reserves are at a low ebb, I am still searching for ways to write and find joy in the process. I'm not working on any big projects (my WIP is there waiting for me), have no deadlines to meet, cannot bring myself to schedule anything too far in advance. One thought has continued to flutter its tiny wings of hope in my consciousness. Perhaps sharing my journey through grief will give someone else the tools to find their way through.

This takes my writing blog in a little different direction for a while. My posts won’t be so much about writing (although I’m sure that will surface in places along this journey), but more simply the act of writing itself. For some reason I cannot explain at the moment, I know sharing this story here in this setting is important for me as a writer. But if I move too far outside the umbrella of that surety, I can hyperventilate just thinking about it.

So that's my plan over the next few weeks. I have shared this journey with many people, it's actually on a CD that my husband and I have been giving out for 28 years now. But that was never public. The recording was made before a small church community who walked with us through the grief. Whenever we has given the CD away, it has been a private gift shared with those we knew were hurting. It is the public expression that frightens me, while at the same time it bubbles up with the hopeful expectation of joy.

Come take this journey with me and let's see where it leads.

Tomorrow I’ll begin my story.

Friday, January 18, 2013

For My Dad

I only went fishing with my dad a few times, and I usually ended up in the back seat of the car with my nose in a book. Still, this poem captures his heart for me and much of mine for him. My dad has not been well since last August. As I spent these last days with my him, I know that his influence on my life has made me "fit for the future fight" and I am grateful.

A Boy and His Dad

 by Edgar Guest

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
There is a glorious fellowship!
Father and son and the open sky
And the white clouds lazily drifting by,
And the laughing stream as it runs along
With the clicking reel like a martial song,
And the father teaching the youngster gay
How to land a fish in the sportsman's way.

I fancy I hear them talking there
In an open boat, and the speech is fair.
And the boy is learning the ways of men
From the finest man in his youthful ken.
Kings, to the youngster, cannot compare
With the gentle father who's with him there.
And the greatest mind of the human race
Not for one minute could take his place.

Which is happier, man or boy?
The soul of the father is steeped in joy,
For he's finding out, to his heart's delight,
That his son is fit for the future fight.
He is learning the glorious depths of him,
And the thoughts he thinks and his every whim;
And he shall discover, when night comes on,
How close he has grown to his little son.

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
Builders of life's companionship!
Oh, I envy them, as I see them there
Under the sky in the open air,
For out of the old, old long-ago
Come the summer days that I used to know,
When I learned life's truths from my father's lips
As I shared the joy of his fishing-trips.

Violet Nesdoly hosts the round up today. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Writer, Take Care of Your Back

I have dealt with chronic low back pain for a long time. I've learned to manage it well and take care of myself, but occasionally it flares up and I have to slow down and do some specific care for healing. 

As writers we sit a lot. Sometimes too much. I'd love to try one of those treadmill desks, but I'd have a pretty hard time finding room to put it in my house! I have learned, however, that scheduling some kind of movement into my day is necessary in order to remain productive. It's so easy to convince myself that I too much to do and let that exercise element slip to the bottom of the to do list. I may manage without it for a while, but eventually it does come back to bite me. So I try to be consistent with walking, swimming, and yoga, varying my mode of movement during the week.  

Today I'm passing along some of the things I've learned that help. 

1. Spend the money to get a good chair. I bought a floor model and saved about 30% of the price. Mine is by AllSteel.

2. Make your desk space as ergonomically sound as possible. I purchased a glass and steel computer desk with a pull out shelf for a keyboard. Since I use a laptop, I bought a laptop stand for the desk, a wireless keyboard for the pullout shelf, and a foot rest for the floor. It's not perfect, but it's much better than before. 

3. Set a timer and get up from your desk. Take a walk around the block, stretch, do a load of laundry. This is not as easy as it sounds. When you're in the middle of a scene and the creative juices are pumping, it's hard to stop. So get to the end of the scene and get up out of the chair!

4. Try chair savansana after a long stretch of sitting. Note that the calves, hips and torso are NOT at right angles. I usually don't put my feet all the way through the chair, and use a blanket or towel under the heels and/or calves. You can also place weight on the lower abdomen to enhance the release in the back muscles--a sandbag or a pillow or towel with free weights on top. 

I have tried lots of different types of yoga classes; some are not safe. I highly recommend finding a trained Iyengar teacher, but if you choose another style, make sure your teacher is trained. 

5. Tips from Texas Physical Therapy Specialists, where my son, Dr. Andrew Bennett, is clinical director.
How Can You Prevent Low Back Pain?
  • Keep your back, stomach, and leg muscles strong and flexible
  • Keep your body in alignment, so it can be more efficient when you move
  • Don’t slouch-keep good posture
  • Use good body positioning at work, home, or during leisure activities
  • When lifting, keep the load close to your body
  • Ask for help or use an assistive device to lift heavy objects
  • Maintain a regular physical fitness regimen, staying active can help to prevent injuries

6. If you have low back issues, use wisdom in your other activities. Here are some exercises that can make things worse!
  • Straight leg sit-ups.
  • Bent leg sit-ups or partial sit-ups (curl-ups) when you have acute back pain.
  • Lifting both legs while lying on your back (leg lifts).
  • Lifting heavy weights above the waist (standing military press or bicepscurls).
  • Toe touches while standing.

7. Follow this link to a site that shows exercises for dealing with varying degrees of back pain. Go to screen # 4.

8. A peer reviewed journal article on Therapeutic Application of Iyengar Yoga for
Healing Chronic Low Back Pain. 

8. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to recover when you're dealing with back pain. 

9. Face the fact that you have to schedule in time for a strengthening/conditioning routine. Without it, you risk injury.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing in 2013

I usually spend some time during the month of January thinking about what I want in my writing life in the coming year.  My sweet friend, Irene Latham, chooses "one little word" that she expects will embody her experience for the next year. She had hers all picked out by the first of January! I'm not so speedy and have given myself a few weeks to think, wonder, and pray. And I usually don't come up with one word, but more of a feeling, an image, or a phrase.

Last year, I experienced some very real frustration in my writing life. I keep a pretty busy schedule with a sales job (books into schools) and a magazine editing position. It's pretty important to me to do a good job of whatever I'm doing, so I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself. By summer of last year, I was feeling burned out and totally uncreative. I hadn't been unproductive. I wrote three low level biographies for Rourke in the spring. They will be out in a few weeks. And three books on Native Americans for State Standards. Just out and beautiful!

So yes, I'm proud of what I accomplished, but the busy schedule left me weary and worn. I posted in December some of my reflections on the last year and learning not to strive in my writing life (not the same as not working hard!).

This year I want to move forward and find joy in my writing life again.

I have more thoughts on this and will continue to post some specifics in the next few weeks. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Break Over

I've taken a good, long break, but it's time to get back to blogging.

We had a wonderful Christmas with three of our four children here, along with five of the seven grands.
I can't remember what they were watching, but it was riveting!

And managed FaceTime with the Nigerian contingent.

Chili for Christmas. I may never cook a big Christmas dinner again. Simple, delicious, and fun!
This one breaking up the tomatoes!

I hurt my back on New Year's Eve, so I've begun the new year with some enforced quiet days and consistent exercising. I'll be sharing some tips for writers to maintain healthy backs in the next few posts.

I hope you have begun the new year well and wish you many productive words between now and another December!