Saying goodbye to Papa Lou

Once upon a time, whenever something of significance happened in my life, I made sense of it by blogging about it. Though I don’t blog as regularly or as intimately as I used to, I still feel the need to share a seismic shift in our lives, but each time I start to write, I falter. I don’t even know where to start.

My dad died on Saturday morning. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that he had been sick on and off through the years. He had a liver transplant when I was pregnant with Tristan, but in the end it was heart and kidney failure that took him. He went into the hospital in June for a fairly routine concern and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure; he never really recovered. We were graced with a full summer to say goodbye, and for that I am deeply grateful. He died in his sleep at home in the early hours of Saturday, at peace in his own bed and with his family nearby.

My dad and I spent quite a few hours together in the past few weeks. Though he was mostly confined to his bed, we figured out that if we were careful navigating the stairs, we could get him into my car for a little change of scenery by driving the back country roads around Barrhaven. I’ll be forever grateful for those quiet moments we spent together.

Quite a few years ago now, I wrote a post for my Dad’s 65th birthday that says a lot of what I’d like to say today. And last year, I wrote this post for my parents’ 50th (!!) wedding anniversary. Threaded through the years of blog posts in the archives, you’ll find dozens of stories and vignettes and photos featuring him, because he has always been a huge part of my life.

My mom and I wrote an obituary that ended up being way too long to publish, but I thought I’d share it here. I can’t come up with anything close to eloquent today, but with this and what’s already in the archives, I don’t need to.

With sadness in our hearts, we share the news that Lou Donders has passed away. Lou was born in May 1944 in Dusseldorf, Germany, the only son of Katie and Harry Donders. The family moved to London, Ontario when Lou was a boy after spending a few years in Tilburg, Holland. It was at Catholic Central High School in London that he met the love of his life, Frances (nee Conlin). Lou and Fran were married in 1966 and had a long and happy marriage filled with love and laughter. They moved to Ottawa to be closer to family when their first grandson was born.

As a six year old boy in Tilburg, Lou formed a boy’s marching band which is still performing to this day. At 16, Lou began teaching drums and later became a professional musician, playing all types of music including symphony. He had a quick, dry wit and a curious mind. Lou, who became affectionately known as Papa Lou to his five grandchildren, leaves behind his wife Fran, his daughter Danielle (Mark), his son Sean (Natalie) and his grandchildren Tristan, Simon, Noah, Brooke and Lucas. He will be remembered by countless friends in London and Ottawa. Although there will be no service, whenever you see a dog happily wagging its tail, full of the joy of life, we invite you celebrate Lou’s life with fond memories of a life well lived.

This is a transitional blog post

I‘m looking for a way to put a buffer between the blog post about the dog and the blog post I’m going to write in a few days for Tristan’s birthday. They don’t seem like they should be juxtaposed, although that really is a metaphor for how life works, isn’t it? The joy and the grief all tangled up in an ugly and lovely mess.

Except for the life of me I can’t think of anything to write about. We’ve come a long way from the days when I’d put up a fresh post every single day and an placeholder of an apology on the rare days when I couldn’t. Now it feels awkward and forced to write something just to take up some space. There are issues about work-life balance and a photographer’s copyright that I’ve been following and would have commented on in other circumstances – but I just can’t muster the heart to throw into it. I’ve even got a new camera a few days before Katie died and I can’t bring myself to show it off quite yet. It just doesn’t seem right.

Life seems to be settling back into its routine, with a giant doggy-shaped gap in the middle of it. I imagine over time the edges of the gap will be less jagged, and I’ll stop gazing mournfully at the spot where she’d sleep each night. It’s funny, not really funny at all, how her absence asserts itself. She wasn’t there begging for the discarded bits of the peppers I cut up for dinner, and she’s not there taking up space on the carpet when Beloved and I watch TV after the kids have gone to bed, and she’s not there at the top of the stairs waiting for us when we open the front door.

So apparently this post is about Katie after all, although I suppose I have hit a few notes of transition, so I won’t change the title. I have been caught off guard by the depth and breadth of my grief, of our loss. With that comes a host of conflicting emotions: I don’t like to be sad, but I don’t want to dishonour her memory by being happy too soon. I want to restore what was lost, but no dog can ever be Katie. I want to get past the hurting but not forget the feel of her ruff in my fingers. I don’t want to wallow in this miasma of loss, but can’t quite find my way out of it just yet.

Has it only been a couple of days? Oh Katie, I miss you so much.

And I know that this too, shall pass…

A love letter to Katie, 1999 to 2013

My darling Miss Katie,

You arrived in our lives when our lives were just coming together. Before we were married, before three noisy boys, before we owned a house, before it all came lovely Miss Katie, our first baby. When a friend of a friend had a litter of pups in need of a home, we went out expecting to take home one of the litter with your mother’s black and tan shepherd markings. But you, you joyfully yellow little pup, stole our hearts.

Katie, 1999 to 2013

You came home to live in our new home just a few days after our honeymoon, and promptly turned our lives upside down. Rambunctious and clever, you failed puppy kindergarten not once but twice. You ate shoes, eyeglasses and, memorably, a can of coffee, among many other things in your puppyhood. One night I called my mother in tears, wondering how I would ever raise children if I couldn’t train this insane bundle of energy wrapped in yellow fur. And then, finally, we brought you to proper obedience class, and you became the dog you were destined to be – the perfect companion, save a few bad choices over the years. The unfortunate eating of the meringue from a lemon meringue pie comes to mind.

Poor Katie

Once upon a time, when we thought we would never have children, I cried into your patient fur and imagined myself pushing you in a pram at the mall, a pink frilled bonnet on your head. I knew you wouldn’t mind.


Then, miraculously, there was a baby, and you welcomed him with spirited curiosity. I still remember our first night home with Tristan, how you held vigil over the mewling thing in the cradle, and how you drew my attention urgently to him with every move and sound he made. “Did you see?” you seemed to ask. “Look, it’s moving. What is it? What should we do with it?”


And then came two more babies, and you welcomed them too. Toddler Tristan howled with glee from his exersaucer as you raced silly doggy loops around the house. Curious babies pried open your lips to examine your teeth, lifted your ears and pulled your feet and tail, even used you as a step to climb onto the sofa, and you simply looked at me with your patient doggy face: “I get extra treats for this, right?” When they went too far, you opened your giant toothy jaw and used your head to shove them carefully away without even so much as a snarl.

25:365 One for you and one for me

We lost two cats and many years later found another, and you welcomed Willie with the same patience you welcomed the boys. He hissed and spat, and you sniffed curiously, and when he wanted to wrestle you rolled him across the floor like a beanbag with your careful paw. To our ongoing surprise, you never tolerated him cuddling you, though. Only people were allowed that privilege.

Willie for the blog

I miss you deeply, Katie. I miss you so much I can’t really even get my head around it yet. There’s a giant gaping hole in our lives where you’ve been for the past 14 years. Even knowing you could not, would not last forever doesn’t seem to ease the grief. Neither does knowing that in the end, you did not suffer. We think maybe you had a stroke, because yesterday morning you were more or less fine, and then you were not. And the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to bring you to that end, and hold you until it was done. And then walk away without you.

554:1000 Miss Katie

Katie, I’m not sure I know how to say goodbye to you. Everyone who met you knows what an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime sort of dog you were. Even as I type this, I’m still listening for the sound of your endlessly growing claws on the hardwood, and picking your ubiquitous fur out of the weave of my sweater. Waking up this morning and knowing you were not on your blanket at the foot of the bed was heartbreaking all over again. I wish you were still here, that I could turn back time and that we could go for a walk together in the woods, like we did when you were a pup and had so much extra energy to burn.

468:1000 Doggy love

Katie, you were truly an amazing dog. You taught me so much about love, and you were such an extraordinary gift in our lives. Thank you, my sweet friend. Sleep well. You are deeply and dearly loved.

Katie’s story

A couple of weeks before Beloved and I got married in the summer of 1999, a friend who knew that I was desperate for a dog called me up. “I hear you’re moving from an apartment to a townhouse when you guys get married,” she said. “A friend of mine has a litter of puppies who need homes. Are you interested?”

Was I ever! Katie was the product of a chance encounter between a purebred Golden Retriever who escaped from his yard one day and the German Shepherd-mix mutt who lived at the farm next door. When we set out to see the litter of puppies out near Sharbot Lake one gorgeous June afternoon, I had my heart set on a black and tan pup, but sweet Katie stole my heart from the minute we met her. She was only four weeks old, and my friend agreed to foster her until we returned from our wedding and honeymoon and moved into our new townhouse.

Katie was about 11 weeks old when she came home to us in August of 1999, and our lives haven’t been the same since. She was the oddest combination of submissive and stubborn. To this day, at 100+ pounds, she’ll drop to her belly in submission when a bite-sized dog the size of a Yorkie approaches. And yet she was so stubborn and so mischevious that she failed puppy obedience class the first time, and I clearly remember bawling on the phone to my mother that if I could not tame this wild dog whose antics had me at my wit’s end then there was simply no way I’d ever have the stamina to raise children.
362:365 Peekaboo Katie

In the darkest days of our infertility, I used to joke in an “it’s not really funny” sort of way that if we didn’t have kids soon, you’d find me at the mall pushing a pram with Katie in it, a bonnet on her lovely yellow head.

In many ways, she has been our first child. As each baby arrived, she adopted him into the family with good grace and patience, never begrudging the need to share her space in our home and our hearts. She has endured boys who lift her lips to examine her teeth and tongue, who yelp and yip and gambol like puppies while tumbling over her, and who have on more than one occasion used her like a step-stool to clamber up onto the sofa. She is part dog, part sister, part babysitter, part mama bear.


She is the world’s worst shedder. I simply cannot fathom how she has any hair left on her body at the end of the day, so much of it is left in tumbleweeds under every piece of furniture in the house despite daily and sometimes twice-daily swiffering. And she is the most prolific pooper you have ever seen, pooping out her own body weight at least thrice weekly.

She has mastered the fine art of Jedi mind tricks, and can induce any of us to feeding her simply by looking at us. I’m sure she averages four meals a day, not including the toddler high-chair buffet.

Poor Katie

And now, Katie is old. As she passed her 11th birthday this past May, I tried not to think about it. There is a chart in our vet’s office that shows the lifespan and equivalent age in human years of small, medium and large dogs. The graph for the large-sized dog actually ends just past eight years, but if you follow where the curve leaves off, when you cross 11 years it is equivalent to more than a hundred years of human time.

That’s old, no matter how you slice it. She’s aging with remarkable grace, and has virtually no significant health issues despite a family history of and breed tendency toward hip displasia. That is, until now. At an appointment last week, the vet found a lump near the joint in her back leg. They did an aspiration that came back inconclusive, but his recommendation is surgery to remove what he suspects is a “mass cell tumour.”


Given her current vitality, there’s no reason to believe she doesn’t have two or maybe even more good years. But the surgery is not free, of course. The cost for the surgery alone is in the range of $1,000. How can I possibly put a value on this dog’s life? It’s the ageless dilemma of the pet owner. Will I pay $1,000 to spend more time with her, to try to make sure that she remains healthy and vital and lovely for as long as possible? Of course I will. I simply couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. It’s a pittance compared to the value of what she’s given us over the years.

468:1000 Doggy love

But even if the surgery successfully removes all of the tumour, at best it buys us just a little bit more time. I’ve seen this day coming for 11 years and have been denying it ever since. This will be the boys’ first face-to-face encounter with mortality, and I don’t think any of us are ready, nor will we ever be.

Saying goodbye to Sassy

My dad is taking his dog to be put down today, and my heart aches for both of them.

Sassy is a gorgeous malamute, the kind of dog that other people stop you on the street to tell you how beautiful she is. She was also dumb as a bag of hammers, and stubborn as the day is long, but it was all a part of her charm. (I’m drifting between present and past tense, I know. It’s hard to think of her in the past tense, but her hours are numbered as I type this.)

My parents adopted Sassy from the Humane Society not long after they moved to Ottawa five years ago. At the time, they figured she was youngish – more than a pup, but barely. Over the years, though, they came to believe she was older than they first thought, and now they suspect she’s in the range of 10 years old. Just before Christmas, she developed some sort of tumor in her nose and in just a few short weeks, it has grown enough to obstruct both her nostrils and distort her snout. It’s obvious she’s in pain now, and can no longer breath through her nose. It’s time to let her go.

My parents have a knack for picking out good dogs from the Humane Society. When they moved up here, having just recently had to put down their previous dog, my dad was still recovering from liver transplant surgery in 2001 and his health was sketchy. Sassy, good natured though she was, also turned out to be a needy creature who craved long walks every day. Before long, my dad was walking her several kilometers a day, in all sorts of weather. All that walking reaped some impressive health benefits, and before long the chronic mystery pain he had been suffering for years had abated and then disappeared entirely. There’s little doubt that his daily walk with Sassy was the contributing factor to the disappearance of what had been a debilitating pain.

When I was Tristan’s age, we had a Shepherd-mix mutt named Happy, and my folks had to put Happy down at the insistence of a neighbour when Happy nipped a little girl. I clearly remember the entire incident, and the dog had acted only in playfulness – a playfulness that got out of hand, yes, but even at that age I knew the difference between aggression and accident. I was in my twenties when I found out that Happy hadn’t in fact run away, but had been put down. I thought about this last night as I debated whether to be completely honest with the boys about Sassy, or to cop out with a story about Sassy going to live with another family or some other fiction.

I’ll be honest with them, I think. Death is an inevitability, and losing a pet is the price we pay for loving them and letting them into our hearts. But if it moves me to tears at my age, with my capability to rationalize, it breaks my heart to think of how they’ll feel. And I’m breathless with grief for my dad today, bringing his companion in for this final act of compassion.

Goodbye, Sassy, and thank you for being a part of all of our lives. You were loved, and you will be missed.

A box of raisins

The forecast called for a mild day with drizzle, a nice change from the month-long deep freeze we had been enduring. I happily dug my long spring coat from the back of the closet where it had been languishing behind our heavy winter gear. I shrugged into it and ran out the door, late as usual for the bus that was just pulling up to the curb. It was only when I got off the bus downtown and was walking with my face turned up to the newly softened spring breeze that I shoved my hands into my pockets and encountered the cardboard box. I pulled out my hand and opened my fingers. A small green box of organic raisins. In a heartbeat, my upbeat mood turned melancholy.

Of course, I thought to myself. I haven’t worn this coat since last fall. Last fall, when I was pregnant, I never went anywhere without a stash of granola bars and raisins to stave off that sudden lurch of nausea brought on by an empty stomach. I would have been switching to my winter gear just about the time we lost the baby. The last time I wore this coat, I was pregnant.

It’s only been four months. Amazing to think that if I hadn’t lost the baby, I’d still be pregnant right now, not even all that close to my May 8 due date. I’d be huge and uncomfortable and obviously pregnant, able to feel even the smallest of the baby’s movements. I’d be having trouble finding a comfortable way to sit, let alone sleep, and would be deep into preparing the boys for the impending arrival of chaos. I’d be pulling out the old cartons of baby clothes again, picking through to find sentimental favourites and reminiscing about how my giant boys used to practically swim in the tiny sleepers. I’d be hating my maternity clothes and missing my old favourites that no longer came close to stretching across the vast expanse of my stomach. I’d have forgotten what my feet look like. I’d be uncomfortable and crabby and glowing, all at the same time.

But, that’s not how it turned out. Instead, on the weekend that would have been baby’s first weekend at home, by a coincidence of timing we’ll be enjoying the company of my extended family on the free camping weekend. It’s taken a very long time for me to be able to consider the month of May without a sharp constriction of my throat. May finally no longer means the birthday that won’t happen. It means the month with the fun getaway, the month before our big vacation, the month when the boys switch to their new (sshhhhh!) caregiver.

Even though the shock and pain and immediate grief of the miscarriage have faded to a gentle melancholy, it only takes a little box of stale raisins to bring it to the fore again. And every month, the red tide of disappointment spills forth, dashing once again my hopes for another chance to be pregnant.

My feelings on getting pregnant again are complex, not clear even to me. I would like to be pregnant, love the mechanics by which one gets pregnant, but am so very afraid to become embroiled in the emotional maelstrom that is Trying. And every month since January, when we officially started Trying again, I’ve been heartbroken to find myself not pregnant again, even as I wonder in the bright light of day whether I am ready or able to risk going through it all again.

How ironic it all is. When I was speaking to the writer for the upcoming Chatelaine article, she seemed intrigued by my statement that I still consider myself in the camp of the infertile, even having conceived three babies naturally and Tristan and his twin through IVF. (I was still pregnant at the time.) For someone who considered herself infertile, we had really only spent that one year trying to conceive – and then a bunch of other stuff happened.

Sure, it took us more than a year and more than $10,000 of medical intervention (including the IVF and two IUIs) to conceive Tristan, but both Simon and the baby lost in November were conceived without concerted effort on our part. We weren’t really even Trying with Simon – in fact, we were celebrating the sign-off of waivers on our new house. Oops! We didn’t Try before Frostie either, because we had high hopes for that to work out, and when it didn’t I became pregnant the very next month anyway.

And now, so ironically, for the first time since before Tristan was born, seven long years after we tumbled into the land of the infertile, here we are again. We are Trying and it’s Not Working.

It’s different, of course. Back in those dark, lonely, scary days when we were first struggling with infertility, I was wracked with fear that we would never have the family we so dearly wanted. Now, the cruel and abrupt arrival of the monthly red messenger is disappointing, but not crushing.

With each month, as we drift further and further away from the last pregnancy, the urgency to replace and restore my pregnant condition subsides. All things being equal, I think I’d like to have that third child some day, and so we’ll keep trying for a while. Keep trying, without Trying, maybe.

That’s a whole lot of emotional detritus to stuff into one little box of raisins.

On helping a friend through a miscarriage

I was blissfully engrossed in the task of finally getting around to framing some old photos, while also making dinner and tidying the living room, when the phone rang late one Saturday afternoon. I was so engaged in what I was doing that even though I had picked up the phone and said “hello”, my mind was still on everything but the telephone.

The voice on the other end, breathless with surpressed excitement and without preamble, announced “I’m pregnant!!”

I knew instantly who it was, and struggled against a flood of conflicting emotions to make any sort of response. After a moment of silence that stretched on half beat too long, I gushed with excitement and asked the obligatory questions, but I could hear the strain in my own voice.

It’s still hard. This is one of my best friends in the world: the woman who had the courage to tell me that my ex-husband was being unfaithful when none of my other friends could; the woman who held me when I cried over our infertility diagnosis; the woman who asked me to be the godparent of her two boys; the woman I asked to be in the delivery room when Tristan arrived. She’s suffered through at least four miscarriages (how horrible is it that past a certain point, I’ve lost count) and I couldn’t be happier that she’s pregnant. And yet, in that first shocked moment, I froze.

I froze because what I thought was deeply buried was actually just below the surface. While I am overjoyed at my friend’s wonderful news, I guess I’m still not quite ‘over’ the miscarriage, despite my best efforts to leave it behind. And it took me that long and breathless heartbeat to slam closed Pandora’s box and recompartmentalize my own latent grief so I could properly celebrate her joy.

I mention all of this because twice in the past week or so, I’ve been approached by sweet, caring women who have asked me for advice on how to help a friend deal with a miscarriage. And I thought that maybe by reflecting on it here, I could both share my own insight and solicit yours. After all, I wouldn’t dare assume that even after three loses I could understand what another person is going through, but maybe collectively we can offer some varied perspectives.

My first thought was that you have to keep reaching out to someone who just experienced a loss. She might not be able to reach back just yet, and she might not be ready, but I think it’s important that you keep sending her notes, or giving her a call, just to let her know that you are there and that you care. Do what you can to make a ‘safe’ place for her to tell you about her feelings, no matter how dark. On the flip side, it’s also okay to try to make the world normal again, it’s okay to laugh if she’s ready (laughter being one of my main coping mechanisms), and it’s okay if she wants to ignore the grief and pretend all is well – for a while, at least. In other words, take your cues from her, but keep reaching out to make sure she knows she can come to you if she needs to.

One of the most important things is to simply acknowledge the miscarriage, even with a casual acquaintance. In the days and weeks after the miscarriage, I found it awkward talking to people if I wasn’t sure if they knew about the miscarriage or not. A simple “I’m so sorry” at least lets her know you know, and you care. I used to think that by saying something, you might be reminding someone of their grief in a time when they weren’t thinking about it, but I’ve realized that for much longer than I would have thought, you are always thinking about it, even in the back of your mind. So don’t be shy about approaching her. It was hard, so hard, accepting people’s sympathy those first few weeks, but I think it would have been worse if nobody acknowledged my grief.

When I lost the first baby, back in 2001, a friend of Beloved’s called to say hello and share his sympathy, and he told me about losing his mother when he was very young. I still remember that conversation, and how much it meant to me. He wasn’t equating the two losses, just saying in his own way that he had grieved, too, and I was more comforted by the attempt than the substance of his call.

So what do you say? That’s the hardest part. Say that you are sorry, tell your friend you love her and that she can talk to you if she needs to. Say what’s in your heart. Tell her how sad you are and share your feelings. Mostly, though, listen to her. Make sure she isn’t feeling guilty, that she doesn’t feel like the miscarriage is a failure on her part. Make sure she knows she can come to you. And don’t forget to acknowledge her partner’s grief, too.

I can share a couple of thoughts on what not to do, too. Don’t avoid her because you don’t know what to say. Don’t minimize her loss by saying things like, “You can always get pregnant again” or “It wasn’t meant to be” or by thinking that because she was just a few weeks pregnant that the loss is any less traumatic. Don’t judge her behaviour or her coping mechanisms, because everybody reacts to grief differently and moves through the stages of grief in different ways. And, in my humble opinion, don’t send flowers. A well-meaning friend sent a huge bouquet when we lost our first baby, and I hated the sight of them. I had to throw them away after a couple of days.

Finally, keep reaching out to her. She’ll probably get a lot of support in the first couple of days, but after that first period of grieving, people tend to stop talking about the baby and the loss. While it’s true that an insensitive comment can be hurtful, silence is worse. And keep talking to her about it. When you’re going through it, you need to talk it out to make it real. After a while, you need to talk to remember and heal. It takes a long time, much longer than I would have imagined. I truly appreciated the effots of a few friends who asked me, weeks later, how I was feeling and making sure I was okay.

After I wrote this, I did I little surfing and found this link to a fact sheet on American Pregnancy .org on supporting someone after a miscarriage, and it might have been more expedient for me to just link to them in the first place – it’s a good resource.

Anybody else care to share some thoughts?

How do you know?

How do you know your family is complete? How did you decide? Did you always know? Did you just stop? Were you forced to stop by circumstance, or forced to accept more than you expected?

What’s it like for families who don’t have the spectres of infertility and loss lurking in the shadows of their hearts? How different would all this be if we hadn’t struggled so hard to earn the two precious boys we have?

In one minute, I’m perfectly content to stop. Two beautiful boys is a lifetime of blessings. And then the pendulum swings, and with entirely the same amount of conviction, I know that we’ll have another child. Know it in my bones. It’s a truth, a certainty. That lasts about an hour, and then I don’t know again.

When I look at Tristan and Simon and how truly wonderful they are, I can’t help but think that having another child – boy or girl – would be more of the same, therefore wonderful. How can I say no to the idea of more of the most amazing thing that ever happened to me?

And then the fear kicks in. The fear of pain, the fear of loss, but mostly the fear of really fucking things up. It’s not the idea of the third child that scares me. It’s the risk. The what-ifs.

What if we decide to try, we commit to the idea of that third child, and then we can’t conceive? How long do we try? How do we decide to stop trying? Can I face month after month of not conceiving – again? Can Beloved?

And if we can get past the fear of trying (and let me tell you, even after Tristan and Simon, the struggle with infertility has left deep and painful scars on my heart. Mine, and Beloved’s too)… even if we get past the fear of trying, there are so very many things that can go wrong.

If we are lucky enough to conceive again, I’m now 37 years old and officially of advanced maternal age – and with a history of infertility and miscarriage. Can I deal with nine months of paranoia? What if I have another miscarriage? What if I don’t have another miscarriage, but something is wrong with the baby and we have to face a horrible decision? What if the baby is born, but that baby has needs beyond our ability to cope? Do I even have the right to risk my family’s collective future simply because I selfishly want that which was denied to me?

And these are beyond the more pedestrian worries of whether the boys will be content with another sibling, whether Simon be okay as a middle child, whether I’ll have enough time and energy for a whole other person in the family, how we’ll cope with the logistics of five in a world that favours families of four. All these things seem trivial now, but just six weeks ago seemed like epic problems.

I need closure, trite as that expression may be. I need to know that I can give away my maternity clothes, get rid of the crib, and pack up the baby gear for good. I need to be able to pick out a few favourite things that I’ll keep for sentimental sake, and get rid of the rest of it. I have boxes on boxes of baby and toddler clothes, toys, bottles and spoons and bowls, a baby tub and a cradle and a playpen. I have baby gates and booster seats, stacks of bibs and blankets and towels, and shoes in every size. I have three strollers and three car seats and a beautiful pine crib – and I just to know whether I’ll ever need them again.

That’s a lot of clutter in my house, but mostly it’s a lot of clutter in my heart. I need to know. I can’t just let the idea of my next child drift away like the sunlight fades out of a summer day, dragging on for months or years. I don’t want to feel this sad yearning uncertainty forever. I need to know.

Dani and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day*

All I can say at this point is thank the deity of your choice that November is finally over.

A new page on the calendar is as good a place for a fresh start as any. And December means the ramp-up to the holidays is in full glorious swing. I’m happy to leave November, with Nablopomo and grey skies and rivers of tears behind me.

But first, I have to tell you about my day yesterday, the day that is really the only kind of day that could end a month like this month has been. And since the other hallmark of this November has been my incessant nagging for your votes for the Canadian Blog Awards, it seems appropriate that I trade this story for the last of your votes on this, the last day of voting. I like to think that despite everything, I never once asked for a sympathy vote. Today, I ask for your pity vote. After reading the story of my day yesterday (you’ll have to click the ‘more please’ button to read it), I’m hoping you can acknowledge with your vote this new high in lows, this bad day to end all bad days, a day lamentable for its utter wretchedness.

As you know, the day started without power. It also started with rain. And in the crepuscular dimness of our foyer, I overlooked the umbrella left hanging to dry overnight by the front door.

By lunch time, the day was looking up. It was still raining, and I was still embarrassingly bedraggled, but I made my way to the mall on my lunch break and ended the hour with arms loaded to breaking with gifts for Christmas, for myself, and for Beloved’s birthday on the weekend. It was a great day for shopping, but because the outside temperatures were near 16C, I was stewing in rivers of my own sweat by the time I made it back to the office. Not to mention, of course, the rain and the lack of umbrella.

Midafternoon, I left the office for my final OB appointment with a heavy heart and more than a little dread. After peering through the window and seeing that the rain continued to pour down, I decided to leave my two large shopping bags in the office overnight, rather than haul them all over town. In the rain.

As I walked through the mall and considered the 10-minute walk from the last bus stop to the OB’s office – did I mention the pouring rain? – I had decided to just buy myself a new umbrella. I stopped at Sears, choked when I saw the price tag ($35.99!), but sucked it up and decided to buy one anyway. I got to the cashier – and realized I had left my wallet in one of the shopping bags tucked carefully under my desk.

It was too late to go back, so I decided to just go ahead. I walked across the street to the bus stop and huddled under the shelter, waiting for the 97 bus to come. Before the 97 could arrive, the 87 South Keys pulled in. The 97 and the 87 both go to the stop where I would catch the second connection, so I hopped on the 87.

Two stops later, the bus driver informed us there was a problem with the bus and we would have to disembark. Into the rain. Fortunately, less than a minute later, another 87 South Keys pulled in. For less than a moment, I debated just waiting for the 97 that I was originally going to catch, but I wanted to get out of the rain and just be sitting on the bus rather than standing in cold breeze.

It was just as the bus pulled out of the Billings Bridge transit station that I realized my mistake. The 97 goes directly to the South Keys station on the designated transitway – maybe a 10-minute ride. The 87, however, the bus I chose to ride, goes to the same stop after looping through several neighbourhoods. Three years ago, I used to take the 87 every day. You’d think that an important detail like that would have burbled to the forefront of my consciousness sometime before the instant when it was irrevocably too late.

There was no way I’d make my connection at South Keys. The connector bus only runs every 30 minutes. I had the OB’s last appointment of the day. I was going to miss it entirely. My only hope was a taxi, which would be about a $20 fare from that end of town.

I had about a minute to think about it, and in the end decided to get off the bus at the next stop, which just happened to be next to a large government complex (the Canada Post building on Heron, for you locals) where I knew I could catch a taxi. I hopped off the bus – into the rain – and made my way through a tunnel under the road and across a sopping wet field. There was probably a concrete path somewhere, but I had the taxi stand in my sights and I made a beeline for it, across the marshy lawn.

I made it to the cab, pulled open the door, dropped into the seat, and just as I was about to swing my legs into the taxi, I remembered. No wallet. No credit cards. Not a single red cent on me.

I was more or less stranded. I could have caught another bus, but I’d completely miss my appointment. My mother was supposed to pick me up after the appointment to give me a lift home, and I wasn’t even sure I could make it there in time for the ride by this point. And my cell phone had been dead for a week.

I can’t imagine what I must have looked like to the driver, but I explained to him that I had forgot my wallet downtown, that I was trying to get to an appointment near Merivale and Hunt Club, and that if he could help me at all, I’d repay him somehow. If he would consider an IOU, or let me call him later in the day with my credit card number, or let me pay him in cash later in the day I’d be grateful, I told him, but I understand if he couldn’t do it.

He told me to shut the door, as the rain was running all over the back seat of the cab. And me. He never clarified what his expectations were, but he started driving in the direction of my destination. I was so embarrassed, so grateful, so filled with dread about the upcoming appointment that I burst into tears. I sat in the back of the cab, trying hard to cry in complete silence, and absolutely unable to get enough control on my emotions to explain anything to him, not even the precise location of my destination.

Eventually, just half a block from my destination, I managed to ask him how I could pay him. He gestured toward his credit card reader and said he’d need the card to charge the ride, so I told him I would send him cash, a cheque, whatever he wanted. I gave him my business card, and told him to call me when he was near my office building and I would give him the money.

By that time, we were in front of the medical building. The meter said the fare was $18.05. I am still not sure whether he intends to follow up with me to collect the fare or not. Only when I stepped out of the cab did it occur to me to take note of his plate number so I could find him again, but by that time he had pulled away. I only saw the number painted on the side of his cab.

I’m going to call the taxi company today and see if I can find him, and I’m going to try to think of places I can commend him. Maybe a note to the newspaper. I just don’t want to get him in trouble for not collecting a fare.

Taxi drivers often get a bad rap, but the kindness of one stranger for a soaking wet, nearly hysterical, and badly embarrassed woman on the last day of a very bad month is a story worth telling, don’t you think? And isn’t it at least worthy of a vote?

(*with apologies to Judith Viorst)

Loose ends

I have my follow-up with my OB today. I don’t expect to learn anything, really. Maybe the pathology report can explain what happened, but mostly I’m expecting her to check that my parts are healing well and have yet another conversation about how these things just happen sometimes.

For the most part, I’ve let the gravity of normalacy compell me further and further from sorrow. It’s hard to wallow and wax philosophical on the nature of loss when one boy needs a diaper change and the other has spilled chocolate milk on the dog.

There are moments, though, when the grief breaks through and catches me by surprise. A little bit behind on my laundry, just last night I pulled a load of dark clothes out of the dryer that contained two brand-new but instantly-favourite maternity shirts that I wore Before, and I cried. Dammit, I wanted to wear those shirts more than once. I wanted to wear them a lot, to wear them until I was sick of them and desperate for anything that didn’t have an empire waist or ties around the back.

And yet, I can’t quite bring myself to stow them away somewhere. I just moved all the maternity stuff to one side, and I try not to linger too long at that end of the closet, idly rubbing the fabric and thinking of what might have been.

Other peoples’ kids are hard, too. Even with my two beautiful boys, I still find myself resenting anybody pushing a stroller, whether the passenger is a newborn or a wriggling preschooler. I could understand this response after our first miscarriage, when our dream of a family suddenly seemed impossibly distant. But I have my boys, and I’m surprised that my impatience extends beyond babies to strangers with children everywhere.

The hardest part has been reconciling the loss of one baby with the appearnace of another. I am beyond delighted to have my beautiful neice Brooke in our lives. And yet… well, you get it. Above everything else, I just wish I could have found out about our own loss the day before, or the day after – any time except the same day. I know with time this will fade away. I just wish I could make it fade faster. They say she has my dimples. I love her already.

A miscarriage is a physical loss, no doubt. I’m just now starting to get over the idea that I feel physically hollow inside. But mostly, it’s an emotional loss. It’s the loss of a dream, the loss of your vision of a future that included someone you haven’t even met yet, but someone you were expecting to profoundly alter your life. The first few raw days, I couldn’t bear the thought of a future without this baby in my life for more than a moment, but with time, I’ve slowly been adjusting to the alternate reality. The reality where nothing special happens this coming May. It’s a slow process, but at least I can consider the idea without panicked regret squeezing my chest.

From the day I found out that the baby’s heart had stopped beating, the idea of trying again skulked about in the shadows of my heart. The more time passes – and when you think of something a thousand times in a day, 10 days can seem like a long time – the more concrete this desire becomes. For me. Beloved is not so sure. He’s understandably reluctant to open himself to the risk of this kind of loss again. He’s not even really ready to talk about it, and I’m not ready to decide on anything yet either.

That’s the other thing I want to talk to my OB about today. About the maybe, the what if, the possibility.

Edited to add: the integrated prenatal screening results showed an almost 8 in 9 chance that the baby had Trisomy 18, the presence of a third set of the 18 chromosonal pair, which is, in the unsettlingly direct words of the OB, “not compatible with life.” The blood test results are only a predictive screening, of course, based on my hormone levels and may not have been 100% accurate because the baby had been dead when the second blood test was taken. Only an amniocentisis would have told us definitively, but it now seems more like an act of grace that we lost the baby when we did and not later. I will try so very hard to forget that I read in the page to which I linked that Trisomy 18 is three times more likely to occur in girls.

The occurence of Trisomy 18 is random but increases with maternal age. Its occurence once is not predictive of a second occurence. In fact, the OB said that if we were emotionally prepared to do so, we could try again as soon as after the arrival of my next period.

All this gives me some closure, inasmuch as I can now understand why the baby died. It doesn’t do much to answer the bigger questions, like why did it happen in the first place and could I possibly be brave enough or foolish enough to risk having it happen again. I don’t know yet. I don’t know.

You might have noticed that I changed the title of this post. It was originally called “Moving on” but from the time I pressed the publish button, I knew that was the wrong title.