Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pregnant Widow Shutting Down

Tatiana clings to me, her legs wrapped beneath my 9-month pregnant belly, while the other Marin Day School toddlers push balls, rakes, miniature vacuums, and each other around in the outdoor play area of the preschool.

Primary colored toys are scattered everywhere—many of which Erik had cleaned only two months before, when he donated his time to Tatiana’s school to make some “minor repairs.”

Erik was supposed to fix a couple of loose locks over a weekend, but the teachers returned to a new garden of potted flowers, re-stained benches and sandbox, and a large rainbow play-structure that had been flipped and scrubbed from bottom to top.

When he walked through the metal gate to bring Tatiana there the next day, the entire staff gave him a standing ovation. "Look, Honey!" he said, as he showed me the thank you card made out of red construction paper and a dozen one-year-old hand-prints. "Can you believe they did this for me?"

And now, at Marin Day School, there is still story time, singing circle time, and “tick-tocking” clean-up time, but something has changed. Now there is a solemn understanding between all of us.

It could have been any one of those toddlers' daddies. Any one of those daddies could have dropped dead on the kitchen floor, but it was Tatiana's daddy, the man whose flowers continue to grow, who had his life cut short.

The teachers huddle around me and Tatiana, their tears bringing tears to my eyes.

“I don’t know how I’d survive any of this without you,” I say, as I pass a resistant Tatiana to her primary care-giver, Dani.

Dani’s long, straight blond hair reaches to the bottom of her back. “Whatever I can do. Whatever any of us can do,” she says. “You know how much we love Tatiana. Let me take her after school, over-night if you want.”

Still trying to sort out the details of Erik's death, I could use the break, but the thought of being away from Tatiana too long is unfathomable to me.

“I think she’d freak. But I am so grateful to you. This is the one place she seems happy, unless she’s with me. The routine is good for her.”

When I leave, Tatiana reaches through the gate, smashes her face against the black bars, and screams, “Mama, Mama, Mama.” Her screams are like pin-pricks, sharply threading their way down through my swollen ankles. I hear her wails, again and again, as I pull away in my dark grey VW station wagon.

Sometimes when she cries, it’s like watching Erik fall in a graphic flashback—like I am right there, feeling everything. The blood on the side of his mouth. The pain of his un-medicated amputation from our lives.

Just one month after he died, Tatiana lay on her back, on the kitchen floor, in her purple butterfly dress, and started to shake. She looked all around the room. Then she let out a choking sound. She flipped her head from side to side, the back of her curly blond hair sliding against the white tile.

It took me a minute to realize what she was doing—that she was reenacting what she had watched happen. My 18-month-old daughter was sorting out her daddy’s death.

And now, anytime I lie down, Tatiana says, “Up,up, up,” in a panicky tone, as if she thinks I am going to die, too.

I am not getting sleep because the doctor won’t give me anymore sleeping pills and, at night, my feet itch like I’ve stepped into a huge mound of fire ants—an itching like none I’ve ever felt before. Nothing can stop this itching. Not scratching with my nails, not the pumice stone. I even tried one of those special callous shavers, so I could remove the top layer of the skin. I scrapped and scrapped at my feet until I bled and, still, the itching remains.

So, after I drop Tatiana off at her school, I drive to Diane’s house. Diane is my friend and incredibly gifted massage therapist, who I have been seeing once a week since Erik's death. The grief counselor helps, but Diane gives me something different, something that I can’t get from talking. She gives me her calming touch.

Touch is what I yearn for. I yearn for Erik’s touch. I yearn for him to hold me, for him to curl up behind me in our bed and spoon me one more time. That is what I miss the most. I miss his touch.

Diane knows things about me, about what is going on inside of me, even before I do. She is trained in intuitive therapy and, as long as I stay open to her insight, she has a way of revealing things of which I am not yet aware.

I curl up on my left side, on her massage table, and look up at her wavy brown hair, her green eyes. She has such a presence about her, a universal connection, and I aspire to be as aware as Diane throughout my grief process. I hope to manifest the strength to be a good mother to this unborn child of mine and to continue helping Tatiana through her loss.

I tell Diane about the itching in my feet, about how I can’t sleep.

She stands at the end of the table, holds onto my feet with her soft, powerful hands, and says, “I’m getting that the itching is from your nervous system. Your nervous system is on overload, understandably, and it wants to shut down. Your organs are fighting too hard to stay functional.”

“And that’s making my feet itch?”

“Yes, this is a really hard time. You need to be very gentle with yourself. Your body wants to give up . . . but I know . . . I know you won’t let it.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Do you mind if I take a minute to re-balance your energy?”

“I’m open to anything, if you think it will help.”

“Just close your eyes, now, and feel only love and healing.”

Her hands grow warmer as they make their way, without hurry, from my calves, to my ripe stomach, to my temples, and then, finally, to my chest.

I can feel my heart beneath her touch. The blood pulsating. An echo bouncing within her palms, as if there are things being said, things being resolved.

My breathing slows. My muscles relax.

Tears come. A release.

I am safe right now.

The itching. It isn’t there.

How did she do that?

I stay in that healing state, not a word spoken, for at least five minutes. I feel like I am swimming under clear blue water, tropical fish caressing my naked skin. We circle one another—angel, rainbow, and clown fish—as they effortlessly guide me to the surface.

My eyes open. I notice Diane’s dangling, multi-colored earrings. “I can’t believe how much better I feel,” I say.

We share a respect for the healing, in silence, while a nurturing energy floats between us.

Then Diane says, “Good. Good.” Her hands hover near my belly button. “And, well, the baby . . . Keira . . . she . . .” Diane hesitates.

“What about Keira?”

Is she alright?

“I’m getting the sense that she wants me to check in with her.”

I look into Diane’s eyes. “You can do that?”

“Yes, well, I can connect with her energy, and see how she’s doing, if you don’t mind.”

I feel more peaceful than I’ve felt since Erik died, amazed at my friend’s ethereal powers. “No, I don’t mind. I really want you to. Anything you can sense into would be very helpful to me.”

Diane stretches her arms to her sides, palms up, fingers spread, as if asking for wisdom.

Then she places her hands carefully on my womb.

She speaks in a whisper. “It’s alright, you know. It’s alright that you don't feel connected to the baby right now.”

How does she know?

Tears push themselves down the sides of my face, seeping into the lavender-scented towel.

I want to feel connected to her. I do.

I listen intently, knowing that, somehow, Diane can feel what is going on between this grieving mother and fatherless child.

She continues. “Keira is an understanding, compassionate soul, who will be just fine.”

Guilt overcomes me. During my pregnancy with Tatiana, I always felt close to her, but, now, with Keira, I just feel like an emotional collision.

Diane lets out a slight laugh. A laugh of realization. “Erik is here. Erik is giving her enough love for both of you. I can feel him here, right now, loving her. It’s amazing. Truly exquisite. He is loving her all the time. And loving you . . . and Tatiana.”


  1. So beautiful. The imagine of Tatiana getting you up to keep you alive brings tears to my eyes. You have such a way of expressing something so horrible in a tragically beautiful way. Another great post. Can't wait for the next one!

  2. Oh Hyla....
    You have outdone yourself again. This was so moving and the image you place in my head of Tatiana on your kitchen floor is ingrained in my head- heart wrenching.
    I can't wait for the next one.
    Great job!

  3. Beautifully written, beautifully lived. There is nothing more to say. Your story is better than anything I've ever read, because it is more than a story, it is your incredible journey.

  4. Hyla,
    We have a lot of echoes, we two!
    Hope we can talk sometime. I'll keep up with your blog in the meantime.


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