Dr. Smak

Monday, November 26, 2012

The stockings were hung...

I've been inspired by a fellow bereaved blogger to write more frequently. I'm not going to make a formal commitment to number of posts or a period of time, but I'm going to try to record my thoughts more frequently. During Henry's illness and after his death, writing blog posts felt akin to getting the poison out at times. As I've written before, I've always loved draining a good abscess. I don't feel that way anymore, like there is something there welling up under the surface that just isn't going to go away until I squeeze it out.

That said, there are lots of moments in an average week where his absence impacts me, though in much smaller ways than it used to. I think it is safe to say that my period of active grieving is over, probably about a year ago. By that, I mean that I am no longer having days where grief overwhelms me, or muddies an entire experience. As I've written before, the "what does that mean?" of not actively grieving my own child gets into my head sometimes...I might explore that more another time.

Today I wanted to write about Christmas stockings. This will be our 4th without Henry, and our first with Baby E. The last three Christmases we have hung Henry's stocking in its usual place on the fireplace mantel. It's emptiness was excruciating the first year, and sad for the last two. I have kicked around filling it with various items; I entertained thoughts of getting gifts for a child his age and donating them to charity, but that somehow seemed too sad to do. (We do make charitable donations in his name every Christmas and for his birthday, which has become very important to me).

 Baby E has taken over Henry's spots in our home, in a very physical sense. She is in his room, uses his locker for storage of her coats and shoes, and is beginning to play with some of his toys. This has not been without pain and tears for me and Mr. Smak, but natural and the way things needed to be. I did not, however, feel it was right for her to "inherit" his Christmas stocking. Every time I began to think about it I got upset.
My solution is here, via UPS today:

It is not often I can find a way to satisfy that hole in my heart, but this one worked. Henry's will still be empty on Christmas, but I like this tangible way to represent him on that family event.

Monday, September 24, 2012

All is well

Despite crafting a number of partial posts in my head, I don't have a post today. However, a few of you have written requesting a brief update, and you deserve one. The Smak family is well, and moving through a number of relatively large (new baby, new job, child in high school) life changes with ease. My oldest is taller than I. For those who know me in real life, it's pretty tall. It also marks her maturity somehow; at scarcely 14, she seems every bit the adult. In a good way. My middling is fantastic. Her word. She has recently spent many moments marveling about how wonderful life is right now. She loves her school, she loves her soccer, she loves her family, she loves her friends. She just doesn't see how it could ever get any better. She is my thinker, and though it tickles me to no end to hear her say such upbeat things, I know the underneath too well. "When will it not be so wonderful? What thing might happen to make me sad?" Still, this is not a bad thing. This is just her, and her joy is delightful. Baby E has been dubbed TCBITW by my sister. The Cutest Baby In The World, for those who are wondering. It just might be true. Big blue eyes. Gorgeous complexion. Easy to get smiles from. She's a delight, and makes us smile, and laugh, and try to make her smile and laugh, which is good all around. Me? I am happy. Truly and thoroughly happy. Fortunate. Blessed. Thankful. Mr. Smak feels the same. We try to love every day, live every day, and think of Henry often.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


We got to know several families through the bereaved family group we attended for about 18 months at Hopkins. What a benefit those meetings were, and what a blessing to get to know those other families. We stopped attending last fall, as life was getting very busy again, and we no longer felt the need to attend as pressing as it had been before. We have peripherally kept in touch with a few of the families.

We were shocked to receive notice that the father of one of the families had died. They had lost a daughter to cancer, and had told the other parents during sessions that Rick also was in treatment. He never discussed particulars, and seemed to not want to. But last we had heard he was doing well.

I am heartbroken for them.

There is always shock when a young parent dies. I would guess Rick was mid-40s, with three children and a wife who still need and love him. The seeming injustice of Rick's death is overwhelming. And terrifying. Of course, I know that Henry's death does not grant my family immunity from tragedy. But it sure as hell seems like it should. And Rick's death now, even after the death of his beloved daughter, doesn't shield his grieving family either.

In my ego- and species-centric mind it really, really should.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

One Month

E is four weeks old tomorrow. She is thriving. I feel so very lucky to have her. It's a real pleasure to have an infant as an (older) mature mom. With the girls being so grown up, it's sort of like having our first again, but this time we already know what we are doing. To boot, E is a pretty relaxed baby, at least so far.

The third anniversary of Henry's death was two weeks ago. It snuck up on me, as consumed as we were with the newness of E. It was, true to form, a very difficult day for me. The first time that I cried about Henry since E was born. After the actual day was over, things have been easier again in general. I did have one difficult episode, where I found myself repeating a soothing mantra to E that I very specifically recall repeating to Henry on his literal deathbed. Those little mines pop up from time to time, so far not overwhelming, but something that I feel I need to experience, acknowledge, and move past.

Today I took E for her first walk through the neighborhood. That walk has been a bit of a looming monster for me....it brings back very clearly the first walk I took with Henry, almost eight years ago now. Eight years. How is that possible? It was a beautiful day, and the walk was nice, and I'm glad it's over. As I've said many times, the firsts are always hard. As I was walking I was thinking of all of the firsts that are to come...playgrounds, pony rides, fairs, etc. There are so many things we haven't revisited since Henry's baby and toddler years. Now when we go to a park we go to play sports, or attend an event, not to hit the playground. So there will be many firsts to come.

What I have learned is that E's arrival and the joy around it does not diminish the pain, sorrow, and grief of Henry's death, but neither does Henry's death tarnish the love and appreciation I have for E. I am glad for this. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Baby E

On February 13, we welcomed baby E into our family. She is amazing, and perfect, and fits into that place in our lives and our arms that was empty without her, without us even being aware.

It is remarkable to have such pure joy in our family again.

I have repeatedly made the conscious decision not to process Henry's absence as we deal with the hormonal shifts, sleep disruption, and general life stress of having a newborn. I will do it when better equipped.

I do know that just as I will always be Henry's mom, I have always been E's.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Nursery, part 3

The nursery is ready for the new baby.

Henry's bed has been disassembled; the crib is up. His clothing is stored; hers is washed, folded, and waiting for her in his old dresser. We did leave a number of his things out, comfort items for us, but the room is most certainly not his anymore.

It was difficult, but not impossible.

Both Mr. Smak and I expressed an unexpected sense of relief at "the putting away" of his things. It brought a physical reality to the emotional moving on that we are all doing.

I see, as the months slip by, my connections to Henry weakening. It's not intentional, it's the way of all things. The longer he's gone, the less I remember. The less I miss him. The less I spend time thinking of him, thinking of sickness, thinking of his death, of the lessons his death taught me.

I have struggled with guilt over this, while knowing that this change is normal, natural, and out of my control. We were talking about it yesterday, and Mr. Smak said, "Just because you miss him less now, doesn't mean you loved him any less then."

I thought about that all day...it was so profound, and comforting.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Nursery, part 2

So this weekend we tackled Henry's room. We packed up his dresser full of clothes, and several toys, before we had to stop. It was okay. It made me remember a lot of things that I had been tucked away in my memory, and it made me sad, but I felt ready to do what we did. There's a good bit left to be done, we will get to it when we get to it.

The baby's due date is less than 8 weeks away. Henry's illness and death has tainted the joy of this approaching event, but no more than the way it has tainted the rest of our lives. I find myself thinking things like, "If I buy a bunch of diapers and the baby dies, I'll just have to return them." My next thought is "What the hell is wrong with you to be thinking that way?!" followed closely by "Why wouldn't you think that way, after what you've been through?" I'm doing my best just to follow my instincts, both maternal and self-care, and so far it is working for me.

We haven't named the baby yet. Historically, we always have a name by now. There have been multiple names, and multiple lists, and a lot of toggling of positions, but we don't have one. I wonder if we're just not ready to commit yet.

I have knitted the baby a sweater, and a pair of booties. I haven't yet purchased a single thing for her. The girls are eager to start; today may be the day.