Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guest Post By Ezra's Daddy: A Homegoing For My Father

My father, Albert C. Love, Jr., passed away on Sunday, June 28, 2009. This is a poem I wrote in his honor.

Welcome to my father’s homegoing!


He was a simple man with an extraordinary life,

A Georgia boy, born and raised in a wooden shack in Augusta, 

In the heart of Jim Crow,

With segregation all around,

And with lynchings always waiting just around the corner,

Born to a Black Mama,

And his old man was Irish, as he always told us.


Was sent to the Korean War and came back with medals, 

Then chose the printing trade, where Black men were mostly kept out,

He married my mother, the love of his life, and found a home in paradise, in Laurelton, Queens.


He was a simple man who had a lot to say,

About anything and everything you can imagine,

You might not have agreed with all he said, 

But what he said often made you laugh.

And he liked to tell jokes, even when the punchline was not apparent,

Except maybe in his own mind…


He had many loves, my father—

He loved his God and he loved his country,

He loved helping others, serving others,

With his church and with his fellow veterans.

He loved Monday night football,

And I dare you to find a bigger Knicks fan,

Actually, I dare you to find any other Knicks fan, anywhere.

And of course, he loved his family, 

And his two grandchildren Kris and Zora,

He bragged about them so much.


We grew up in completely different times,

And I know he didn’t always understand our world, my brother’s and mine,

Of Ivy League opportunities and overseas excursions.

But it didn’t mean he wasn’t proud,

Or that he wasn’t responsible for us being what we had become,

But in any case, he left us with a lot,

With memories of sitting on the back porch in the summertime,

And of the one-dollar matinee, and our shopping trips, 

And that ice cream shop,

And most importantly his work ethic.


I know my father would have preferred a different way to leave,

Maybe in his leather chair at home with a pipe in his hand,

Watching wrestling or listening to B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland,

Maybe with a big plate of lima beans and rice.


But my biggest regret was that he never got to meet my son Ezra,

That baby boy who died last season, on the day before he was born.

But now I know that things have come full circle,

And the two of them have found each other in that spirit world,

That land where the ancestors dwell and conduct their business.

And now my son is sitting on my father’s knee,

Listening to my father’s colorful stories, his life experiences,

And all sorts of jokes of course.  


And all along, that was the way it was supposed to be,

With my son sitting on his grandfather’s knee,

And you can’t ask for a better homegoing than that.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Baby Boy Named Sam

About four and a half weeks after Ezra died, my dear friend A called to say she was four and a half weeks pregnant.

I didn’t handle the news well. Although I managed to have the conversation, I hung up the phone and sobbed for hours. My grief was too raw to manage this information. I was too sad for myself. Even though I was happy for A and knew this was a much desired pregnancy.

I kept my distance for most of those early weeks. I missed A deeply. But when we did talk, the contrast in our emotions was almost too much for me to bear – A needed to be a happy glowing mama-to-be –it’s of course what I wanted for her. I needed to be in the deep dark hole of despair of a grieving mama. I didn’t want to bring her down. But I couldn’t bring myself up to meet her joy.

I should explain that I love A like a sister. We’ve gotten each other through many a rough patch since we met in law school. She zipped down from Boston to be with me after Ezra was gone. She was one of the first people to say to me she wished she had got to meet him. And I knew she meant it.

Even in those early weeks I couldn’t help but think Ezra had something to do with this. That it was no accident that A was as many weeks pregnant as Ezra was gone. And so it came as no surprise when A called to say she was having a boy. Somehow I already knew.

What did come as a surprise is that at that same 20 week ultrasound, A and her husband learned there was a problem. Her baby boy had a heart deformity. Many tests followed. They found there were no other congenital problems. Many babies with this particular heart condition have open heart surgery just days after birth, and live long healthy lives.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that at this point somehow it began to feel easier to talk to A again. Doctors, tests, ruling out congenital disorders…somehow that was a world I could understand. Anxiety, fear, sadness…it was what I was living every day.

But as A got closer to her due date, talking became harder for me again. When A talked about the immediate medical intervention her baby boy would need the moment he took his first breath outside her womb, my own anxiety level would rise to extreme levels. My stomach would knot; I’d wake in the middle of the night thinking about her baby boy. I knew Ezra was watching over him, and in my heart I believed that he would live and be healthy. And yet I was terrified that A would become another babylost mama. And the thought was more than I could handle. I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy, let alone one of my dearest friends.

A gave birth to her beautiful baby boy, Sam, on June 1st. From the photos, he is unbelievably cute, with an adorable full head of hair. Sam had several procedures immediately when he was born, and a few days later had successful open heart surgery. He’s been in the hospital for most of his nearly 4 weeks of life, having gone home only to return 2 ½ days later with an infection in his incision. He’s responding well to antibiotics and hopefully will be able to come home with his mommy and daddy soon. I can only imagine that these past 4 weeks have been unbelievably emotional and draining for each of them. I pray for Sam, A and her husband every day.

Thankfully A has kept a private blog to keep friends and family updated on Sam’s progress. My heart leaps with joy as she posts each positive update, and of course I worry at each bump in the road. I have never seen A look so astoundingly happy (or tired) as she does in the photos with baby Sam. And I can’t stop looking at Sam’s adorable face.

I still know in my heart that Sam is going to be just fine. After all he has Ezra looking out for him.

And I just cannot wait to meet this amazing little boy.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Guest Post By Ezra's Daddy: To The Fathers Who Lost Their Child

I was hoping they would cancel Father’s Day this year, mostly because my son Ezra Malik died.

He was my baby boy, and he died the day before he was born, in a hospital in August of last year. He was a beautiful baby with a full head of hair and flat little feet, and I only got to hold him once. I cannot describe the intense feeling of joy over meeting and holding and kissing my son, and the excruciating pain over seeing him lifeless. His mother and I read him a bedtime story before we put him in the ground, to be with his ancestors. And now I am left lamenting over the birthdays, the graduations and other life events that will never happen, over the laughs and memories of bicycle rides, amusement parks, and ice cream - experiences of seeing him grow up which I will never see because it wasn’t meant to be.

Losing my child was the most traumatic experience of my life. Nothing else comes close. It was like crashing into a brick wall, or having my heart yanked out of my chest. To those who have not had the experience, I pray you will never know the feeling. What makes it particularly difficult is that parents are supposed to protect their children and keep them away from harm, and now we feel as if we’ve failed.

This membership organization is a secret society of sorts, whose members often suffer in silence because society doesn’t care to listen. To be sure, there are many parents in this secret society, many fathers such as myself, those who have that strong fatherhood feeling, who love their child without question. But we are not viewed as fathers in the regular sense because our child died. Maybe there should be a special Father’s Day just for us.

Think of the countless children in this world that die every year from one of any number of causes, whether disease or famine, or homicide or suicide or war, or causes unknown. For example, every year in the U.S., 5,000 children die from gun violence, and African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected. Homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American males between ages 15-34, the second leading cause of death for Blacks ages 10-14, and the third leading cause of death for the 5-9 age range, with guns accounting for 90%, 70% and 34% of these deaths, respectively. That’s a lot of children. That’s a lot of mourning parents, and an army of grieving fathers, often at war with their emotions, and shunned by a society that doesn’t support them through their painful journey.

This is a society where value is placed on looking good rather than feeling good. People ask “how are you feeling?” without really caring about your response. In a society that does not deal well with death, particularly the death of children - and wants people to just “get over it” and feel better, mistakenly believing that simply forgetting the loss will make the pain go away - parents of lost children have a rough time of it.

Mothers who grieve over a lost child tend to have a more supportive network than fathers to help them through their pain, not that they always receive the support that they need. Men are told to buck up, walk it off and “be a man”. After all, we are told, it is hardest on the mothers.

As a result, fathers of lost children are lost in the wilderness. We must grapple with the fact that our child has died, yet often we are ill-equipped to do so. Many men have been conditioned to hide and deny their emotions, their pain and their sorrow, with unhealthy consequences. Think of all of the people - especially men - who are behind bars because they could not deal with what was on their mind. Unable to manage their emotions, they cracked up, and perhaps even hurt those around them. Maybe they were unaware of the counseling and support services available to them (two online support groups for babylost parents are MISS Foundation and Glow In The Woods). Or they were reluctant to seek those services because of the social stigma of being labeled weak, unstable or crazy.

As for those of us who are coping with the loss of a child, the pain will never go away. It might get easier to live with, but that is not the point. The stages of grief don’t always progress in a straight line. Years after our child’s death, the bad days may still sneak up on us and assault us out of the blue. Hopefully, healing will come, and we can find ways to incorporate the loss into our daily lives. But the bar has been lowered on the highest level of joy that we are able to experience.

So, finally, to those fathers who can physically hold your child on Father’s Day, I tell you to hold them tight and don’t let go. Do not take your child for granted. To those fathers whose children remain with you in spirit, I say hold them tight in your heart, in your memories, and in your daily life, and don’t let go.

But if you are someone who knows a daddy of a lost child, don’t hesitate to go up to him and feel free to acknowledge his loss. Bringing up the tragedy won’t make him feel worse, because he is already living the hell that is the most traumatic experience of his life. But when others pretend that he is not a suffering father, that will almost certainly make him feel worse. We grieving fathers need to know we are not alone this Father’s Day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Wise Daddy

Ezra's Daddy is another year wiser today. And what a year it was. Happy 41st birthday my sweet husband.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How is it possible?

How is it possible that THREE times this week I've been brightly asked: "how's your baby?" (Um...DEAD) Not malicious, just oblivious. It's hard to imagine that nine and a half months later there is anyone left in the universe who hasn't heard my screams from the rooftops. MY PRECIOUS SON DIED!!!

And how is it possible this question no longer melts me into a pool of tears? Calmly and precisely I clarify. I've grown such thick skin.

When did the rough sharp edges of my grief settle into the core of my being? My what a journey this has been.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Guest Post By Ezra’s Daddy: Don’t Try This At Home

Yesterday just didn’t make any sense. Just about everything I did was tainted with badness, badness I tell ya. I knew I was off on the wrong foot when I cut myself shaving—actually I stabbed myself in the side of the face with a pair of scissors, a first. But it was just the beginning…

So early in the evening, I was driving in the car, on my way to pick up Ezra’s Mommy at her office downtown. We were going to a social event. As I was approaching my destination, I received a call from Ezra’s Mommy, reminding me that I was supposed to pick her up at the court that day (not the office), in another part of town, and that we would be late. She had reminded me numerous times to pick her up at that location that day, but with the onset of senility and all, I forgot. So I regrouped, turned around, and maneuvered to get through the rush hour traffic so I could get to Ezra’s Mommy. I managed to maneuver my way through all sorts of buses and cars that were in my way. I thought I was home free.

Then a police car pulled me over, no doubt as part of the city’s recession-era, revenue enhancement efforts. I was still on the phone with Ezra’s Mommy, told her where I was, and that there was a law enforcement situation that required my attention and I would talk to her later. Apparently, or allegedly, as I was told, I had made an improper right turn. As I waited for what seemed to be hours, as the officer wrote what could have been a full-length novel, given the time he spent writing it, an exasperated Ezra’s Mommy, who had travelled miles it seemed to find me, walked up to the car and asked if she could get in. I wasn’t sure—the officer hadn’t completed my application to participate in the city’s revenue enhancement program— but I told her I thought it was ok.

Finally we were on our way, and we made it to our event. One of the attendees, the first person to speak to me, asked me inappropriate personal questions, while another person congratulated Ezra’s Mommy on the birth of our new baby. Other things might have happened, but I was in a fog for the rest of the evening, just singing the lyrics to “Ooh Child” to myself.

The event was over and we went home. And the proofs for Ezra’s gravestone had come in the mail, waiting for us. Finally, my tears started flowing. What a way to end a day. What a way to spend a day. I repeat, do not try this at home.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How I'm really feeling

The past few weeks have unearthed new layers of sadness and anxiety. It doesn't help that work has been manic. Or that we've had so many additional life stressors thrown our way these last 9+ months. But I haven't slept through the night in weeks. I wake up in the middle of the night to cry, or worry. Sometimes I eventually fall back to sleep. Sometimes I'm done with sleeping for the night. Not surprisingly, I'm exhausted.

I still carry so much sadness, anger, disappointment...and yet most people don't seem to recognize it or ask about it anymore. Everyone comments on how much weight I've lost or how well I look. As if looking good were the same as feeling good. It's true I've lost weight - because ever since my baby died I've barely had an appetite. Its gotten better, I now eat healthily, but I still don't eat much. I also have lost my sweet tooth (except for ice cream!) since losing Ezra. Its really fine, I was above a healthy weight before. But how I look has nothing to do with how I feel.

Ezra feels so far away now. A few weeks ago we picked out the bronze plaque we will have placed on his grave around the 1 year anniversary of his death. I'm happy with what we picked out...though still find it surreal that this is all we can do for our son.

Although we're only a little beyond 9 months, I worry about hitting the 1 year mark. Other than my babylost friends and a few amazing others, almost no one seems to remember Ezra anymore. Almost no one asks how I am feeling and truly sticks around to hear the answer. Almost no one speaks my little boy's name. Will anyone remember Ezra's birthday?

I've been thinking lately that perhaps no one really asks anymore because they read this blog so they think they know how I'm feeling. I wonder if this blog has created a false sense of intimacy so that people are under the impression I've already told them how I feel. But with rare exceptions, it's only my babylost friends who comment on this blog, so I never know who in my day-to-day life is reading. Sometimes friends IRL will mention they read my blog, and it sometimes takes me by surprise because its no longer clear to me if anyone is reading. In the meantime, there's a distance that's grown into so many of my friendships, a chasm that may never again be bridged since there's no way to go back an re-live the past 9 months a different way.

If it sounds like I'm sad and bitter, I am. Many of those middle-of-the-night tears have been shed out of sadness and disappointment at relationships lost or changed immutably. These past 9 months have been the most isolating and alienating of my life.

Because I guess what no one sees because I look so good, is that to the extent possible, I now avoid social situations all together. Formerly an outgoing sociable person, I now experience such acute social anxiety at the most casual of gatherings big or small, that I prefer to just stay home. Not that we really get invited anywhere anymore anyway. My evenings and weekends consist of quiet time to myself and with David. And at this point, that's just how I like it.

Its not that I want every conversation to be about my dead baby. With those few amazing friends who have stuck by me through this entire journey, I talk about plenty of other things. I just don't want the conversation to stop the minute I say his name. Better yet, I wish someone else would say his name. I don't want the topic changed the minute I admit I'm feeling sad or anxious. Or an immediate query about whether I'm still in counseling (of course I am).

Its amazing to me how poorly people deal with the dark emotions. These days they intermingle with the light ones. I can be happy/sad. I can be calm/anxious. I'm not sure I ever envision it being any different. And no that doesn't make me clinically depressed. Every happy moment is a happy moment I have without my son. Every adventure is an adventure he's missed. And every beautiful day...he. is. still. gone.