Friday, May 1, 2009

letting go, or why visits to Tummymuffin will always include gelato

i’m writing this from the belly of a plane hurtling towards Los Angeles from Zurich, Switzerland. we're currently flying over Iceland. i've just finished a whirlwind two-week job in Sweden, Italy, and England, and it occurs to me that one thing that came to me at the same time as Tummymuffin is this renaissance of travelling for me. it is a gift -- but more about that later. maybe i'll split this into a few posts.
heck, i don't even know if anyone is even following this anymore, but it is worthwhile to me to try to make sense of the months that have flown by -- i've stayed unbelievably busy since the beginning of the year, which is an enormous blessing for a freelancer in the middle of a worldwide economic toilet flush. i have tried to stay honest, not hiding in work or activity, but part of that honesty is also admitting that the structure to my days has been helpful. if i am alone too much with my own thoughts and not enough to do, i find myself growing melancholy and falling into old fears and anxieties. but the last post, about the receding of the grief into the background, and how i deliberately pull part of me out of the moment to observe myself, still holds true. overall, i feel more healed as time goes by, but there is also the knowledge that this permanent part of my story will never entirely lose its sting.

i was newly pregnant when i took what i thought was my "last hurrah" work trip to Italy. it was in Umbria, and later in Rome, that i first "felt" pregnant, that the magic and joy and hope and wonder first hit. it was too early for me to be terrified of parenting. i was just amazed at how i felt, how it was incredible to have this secret light inside me, how in some ways i didn't miss Thomas as much because i felt i was carrying a part of him with me. the last day in Rome, i walked to an ancient little church that is by the Colosseum, called Basilica di San Clemente -- it is the site of one of the first house churches in Rome, and has an ancient heritage of worship. under a spectacularly beautiful mosaic of twelve sheep gathered around one Jesus sheep, in front of a surprisingly tasteful painting of Mary the mother with a Holy Spirit dove, i lit a candle and gave thanks for the miracle of Tummymuffin. the day before, people had been partying in the streets over the election of America's first non-white president, and everyone was in a happy mood. i was so full of hope, so full of gratitude.
now, one of the things that helped me deal with the loss of Tummymuffin in the first few weeks was the idea that if her body just wasn't up to living outside of me, maybe she just went back for a retrofit -- that i had lost a sort of beta Tummymuffin and after a good redesign, i might meet her after all. please understand that neither Thomas nor i believe at all in reincarnation, but somehow this idea was comforting. (our counselor points out that Thomas telling me this idea is not surprising, since he is truly a designer, and that's exactly how designers think. Thomas has since confirmed that this is true.) it allowed us to come to grips with the reality of what had happened without having to really say goodbye.

in February, i returned to Italy with the same job. the company was happy with how things went in November, and asked me to come back for another shoot. this time we went to Abruzzo* and Rome, and it was fully winter. high in the Apennine Mountains, town after incredible medieval town nestled in the dips and valleys give a sense of timelessness and serenity. we stayed in a converted old convent from the 1500s, a cavernous stone structure where the cold from the constant snow settled on you like a damp cloak. it was not the easiest place to be fighting through my last stubborn attempts to hold on to someone that was gone.
*if Abruzzo sounds familiar to you, this is because that is where the massive earthquake a few weeks ago devastated Italy. in fact, there are several towns we shot in that literally no longer exist. all the friends we made there are physically okay but two of them lost homes.
it was hard for me to say yes to this job because Italy and Tummymuffin are very emotionally connected. but i knew that i could do healing here and let go in a way that i could not at home...and i was right. i got my period in the middle of a shoot, on Valentine's Day, and there, looking at the valley from the old walls of Caporciano, the truth hit me like a ton of bricks: i had been secretly hoping i would be pregnant again, in Italy. seeing the blood made it utterly real: history is not going to repeat itself; Tummymuffin is not coming back. she is gone, and she is not coming back. i had to have a good, solid cry that night in the shower (always an excellent place to bawl your head off) and really come to grips with accepting that Tummymuffin 2.0 will be a brother or sister but not ever Tummymuffin 1.0. while it was comforting for awhile to think of it the "designer's way," i knew i will not be ready for 2.0 until i accept that i lost a real, individual child.
and so, a few days later, back in Rome, i retraced my steps to the same church. there in the Basilica di San Clemente, under that gorgeous mosaic, i lit another candle for my Tummymuffin, and let go. i left her there. it took me a long, long time to actually be able to physically leave that sanctuary, but i realised: here i am, still full of hope and gratitude. and Tummymuffin is still a miracle. when i finally could stagger out of that lovely layers-of-history church, i felt like i'd just had an amputation of my heart -- but i felt free.

since then, back at home in Los Angeles, whenever i have thought of her, my mind flies over the oceans and she is there in Rome, in this small ancient lovely church under the compassionate gaze of a Jesus Sheep, her candle always burning. i visited her this trip as well, during my all-too-short day in a city that i no longer feel like much of a tourist in (agenda: eat local gelato, go to a tiny jewelry boutique, visit Tummymuffin). she's at peace. to a certain extent, so am i.


Unknown said...

Hi Erika,
I still read your blog! (whenever you write) and they always bring tears to my eyes. I don't know if I have told you, but I have struggled in getting pregnant and it is very discouraging. Two years of trying and nothing. But I haven't felt a loss like yours and I want you to know how strong I think you are and what an amazing woman. I know that we haven't talked 'live' in 4 years come July, but I consider you a dear friend that one day I will visit with in Heaven. When I was reading your blog, I thought about a song that I have recently fell in love with that I have to share with you. The name of it is conveniently titled: Let Go, by Lindsay McCaul. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Miss you lots and I am so glad that you are staying busy in this tough time, I wish I could go to Rome, how fun! :) xoxo

Jenn said...

Dear Erika,

I am so appreciative of you sharing your journey, and so beautifully. I have been grieving and praying for you and Thomas once again today.

Love you,
Jenn P.

Jamie Lives in Tokyo said...

still reading...both this blog and the WONDERFUL books you sent for Misaki, which are being test driven by Koji and Izumi until the day she can show more active interest...and still grieving your little one with you...still thankful and amazed for your willingingness to grapple openly with your loss and all the turmoil it brings. if you're in a renaissance of travel, perhaps you can come our way soon?!

hadashi said...

thank you, my friends, for being such a strong and supportive community. thank you for giving of yourselves and being on this journey with me!

Melissa said...

You're not alone, girl! I'm get updates every time I check my Google Reader. I thank Tummymuffin for a new chapter in our friendship. Beautiful post-very moving. You + Thomas are loved and in my heart this week.

Kimberly said...

I was blindsided again this morning with grief.
The waves hit less often and not always as forceful, but they still bring me to my knees. Guess that's where I'm supposed to be.
Thoughts of--this time last year I was pregnant--about now was when I felt Jimmy have the hiccups for the first time--how I'd like to be holding him now--kissing the top of his sweet little head--how I'd be playing with him on my lap outside while his brothers play in the sandbox instead of planting a garden in memory of him next to the sandbox.
So, instead we light candles and plant flowers, and try to cling to the hope of heaven.


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