Eli's Corner

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full circle

Wow.  I am circling right back around to where I was when I started this blog.  In June of last year I was getting an HSG to prep for a superov IUI (my apologies to anyone who doesn’t speak infertility).  At that point, I’d been officially trying for a little over a year (but had been off the pill for three), had had surgery for endo and had done three unsuccessful rounds of Clomid.  Amazingly, the IUI worked.  Shortly thereafter, I miscarried.  And here I am 8 1/2 months later wrapping up another round of superov IUI.

It’s amazing to me how quickly time goes in this process – partly because everything happens in months. Two months to get in for HSG, one month to get in for IUI, one month to complete process to know if it works, 2 months of being pregnant,  1 month of physically recovering from miscarriage, 3 months waiting for toxicology reports (and letting your ovaries rest from being hyper stimulated for the last several months), 1 month of new tests, etc., etc…and you find another year has gone by.

I guess I should back up a little.  One of the things that happened during my recent blog hiatus was that I got my toxicology reports back from my miscarriage: a male, genetically normal.  Such sterile language; so completely loaded.  I didn’t realize I was going to learn the baby’s gender, so when the doctor said those words on the phone, it took a moment for me to find air and words again.

I had a little boy.  So you know how you have silly things that you know don’t really matter but you kind of fixate on anyway?  One of mine was wanting to have a boy first.  I always loved having an older brother and have always thought that one should, generally speaking, have one. Plus, in my family, people always have boys first.  (In my husband’s family, they always have girls first, and that just seems all wrong to me.)  I wanted my future daughter to have a big brother with a lot of protective friends to escort her through adolescence.  That’s the way it worked for me, and it just felt to me that that’s the way it should be.  Somewhere during my short pregnancy, I had decided that I was having a girl, and I had a girl name picked out and was preparing to fall head over heels for my girl.  Now, suddenly, it was a boy.  It was plan A.

Genetically normal.  Over and over I’d been told that this was my body’s way of preventing an unhealthy baby from being born, that there was most likely a genetic problem with my baby.  Now I was hearing that this was a baby who should have made it.  There was nothing wrong with him.  In a flash, I went from mourning the baby that wasn’t meant to be to mourning the child that I desperately wanted.  The healthy baby boy.  (I would hate for my future daughter to come across this and feel in any way that she was less wanted or less important than a boy…that is not the case.  It was just that in my mind, this was the order of things.  In my mind, I would have many children, and in the birth order of this hypothetical construct, there would be a brother as wonderful as my own looking out for his precious little sister(s).  That’s all.  It was a small thing, but somehow it hit hard when I heard “male, genetically normal.”)

So I mourned again.  A different baby this time.  And I took a bunch of tests, because they wanted to know why my body had killed the baby.  They found nothing.  The only small hiccup in all of my tests was that my thyroid was underperforming.  TSH levels of 4.1 when they should be under 2.5 for a woman trying to get pregnant.  So they put me on Synthroid, but the doctor told me that she didn’t believe that was the reason I lost the baby.  She said as frustrating as it is to not have answers, all that we can do is try again and hope and pray.

So I am.  All of the above.  I was inseminated yesterday.  My two week wait ends on my due date.  Such an odd coincidence.  I’m hoping there’s some bittersweet redemption on that day instead of confounded sorrow, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

When I was in South America, I took a good long walk down a lonely Chilean beach and said goodbye to my boy.  I named him, I released him.  I allowed myself to believe that he was meant to be and that he was alright.  I allowed myself to imagine that my grandmother was looking out for him.  I allowed myself to think that I’d meet him someday and he would just have bypassed all the pain that growing up in this world entails and would have infinitely deep eyes, completely devoid of sorrow.

I willed myself to let go of any parallel reality and own the one that is.  To not cling to what might have been.  So much of life is not clinging to what might have been.  To the future you had imagined for yourself.  Sometimes it’s hard to pry your cold fingers off a dead dream, but in order to grab ahold of a new one, you must.  And, I’m learning, from the kindness of my surrogate mother in Argentina, from the wisdom of a counsellor here at home, that it’s important to grieve the loss of what might have been.  To own that sorrow, to pour out all of your grief before God and spare him nothing.  But, like King David when he lost his son, when the fight is done, to get up, dry your eyes, soften your heart again and open it to the possibility of a new dream.  Oh it’s hard.  It’s so hard.  But I do believe it is the only way to continue living.

So I’m here.  The two week wait.  Taking it moment by moment.  So desperately hoping that I will be opening my heart to my second child soon.  Hope is such a violent thing.  Even when you fight it, sometimes it sweeps you up to crazy heights.  You know that any moment, it may drop you.  And the higher you’ve flown, the farther you’ll fall, so you try to curb the ascent, but it’s stronger than you are and it sweeps you up until you’re inches from the sun and miles from the earth and the hope and the terror are almost one and the same at that point, so you just try to keep breathing.  Breathe, Eli.


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Sarah Elline in her own words

If you haven’t read my earlier post about Sarah Elline, please do.  Not because it’s so great, but because this one is all the more amazing with that context.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Ok.  So I read that piece I wrote about my Grandmother at her memorial service.  And in retrospect, it was a mistake.  When I got to my mom’s house before the service, she gave me a 3-ring binder full of photos of my grandparents, as well as news clippings and other treasures.  Tucked away in this meticulously assembled binder (my mother does nothing if not meticulously) was also a series of memories that my grandma had written about her own mother when I was about a year old.  I did not know this document existed.  Later at home when I sat down to read it, it was a matter of moments before I was weeping (I do that).  Had I read this before the service, I would never have bothered with my own words.  I would have shared hers instead.

What really gets me about these writings is how very similar the things she says about her own mother are to the things I most treasured about her.  The power of a heritage is astounding.

I would love to see the entirety of what my grandma wrote published one day, but for now, I’d like to just share a few passages:

First of all, you will need to know that Mama had an indomitable spirit.  Even when she seemed dominated she never lost her desire for experiencing the finer things in life – reading, music, plays and even movies (back when they were wholesome).

When [our town] came to have a movie theater, it was in the silent movie days, and she liked to take us occasionally.  Daddy looked on the thing with disdain.  On one rare trip to the theater, Mama pointed to a spot to the right of us, about three miles out of town.  We were rounding a curve that went downhill.  She said, ” I want a house on that hill!  I was reared on a hill, and I”ll never feel at home until I am on one again!”

That was the first inkling we had that she was not satisfied with the old house that was our home.  Life for us had been full and interesting but we were unaware that it was her influence that helped make it so.  She is the one who first introduced us to the wonder of the pastures and the woods.  The one who would go outdoors with us son a moonlit night and skip down the lane; the one who read Pollyana, Elsie Dinsmore, Helen’s Babies and Bible stories aloud to us.  She taught us to play indoor games such as Thimble, Hide-the-Scissors, Tall Betsy and many others.  These things were reserved for rainy days and nights when Daddy was out on a call.

Once, late at night on the way back from the theater, she playfully asked, “Well, shall we go home?” as her eyes looked toward the place she had mentioned earlier on the hill.

Those were the only references I ever heard her make to “the Hill”, but somewhere along the way, she quietly had the land surveyed and put some money down on the purchase of 40 acres.  When she paid it off in bits and pieces, she told Daddy.

My grandma goes on to tell the story of how her mother, in the middle of the Great Depression, through ingenuity, creativity, and her trademark indomitable spirit, managed to build a house on that hill.  A house that would be her home until the day she died.

Mama had a favorite poem by Edgar A Guest.  It was, It Takes A Heap O’ Livin’ In A House To Make A Home.  Our house was a home because it had a heap o’ livin’ – anticipation, fulfillment, joy, disappointment, suspense and sorrow – marriages, births and deaths…Overall, there was love that just never stopped.

Though her splendid traits were not always apparent because of her quick tongue and her ability to trigger tempers, she had a magnificent strength in times of crisis and sorrow.  When [my brother] left home to go away to college at Knoxville, I saw her face after she had just come from his bedroom.  Her eyes did not meet mine, but I saw them dazed with pain, and for an instant she just stood seemingly transfixed to the spot, but then shook herself into motion and went about her business as usual.  It came as a shock to me that she was suffering such loneliness for her only son.

When Red and I were married she shad a quiet sweetness about her that actually radiated; though, I knew she did not really want me to marry my U.S.N. lover and go off into an unknown world.

When Daddy died, she greeted people at the door.  Everyone cried on her shoulder, including me, but she remained strong and comforting to those around her.  The only emotion she showed during those days was at the burial when the casket was about to be lowered into the ground.  She started forward and put her hands out to grasp [my sister] on one side and me on the other, but there was not a word or sound.

I was not there for my brother’s funeral, but Oh how I wanted to be so that if I had any source of strength that could help, she might tap it.  (More than likely, it would have been the other way around.)  This time her only son was leaving forever.

Our final journey and reunion at the House on the Hill was just preceding her death.  We three sisters had stayed up late that night, and had just gone to bed when the telephone rang.  It was Dr. Littleton Eubanks saying that Mama had died.

An era had come to an end.  But Mama’s spirit had not ended.  I remember how briskly she used to walk when we walked together and how she would have to stop and wait for me to catch up.  In later years that process was reversed.  She seemed to sort of dawdle, and I would stop and wait for her to catch up.  The few times we were together, it became so ingrained in me that as we were leaving the church from her funeral, I involuntarily stopped to wait for Mama to catch up.  It was only on looking back I realized that she had preceded me, and that I would never again wait for her to catch up with me.

On going back to the precious place we had called home for so long, I wandered from room to room.  It seemed the walls were crying out, “She’s still here!  As long as I stand, she’ll still be here.  So will all of you, for it was within these walls that I sheltered you.  I knew your joys, your dreams, your ambitions, your secrets, and your fulfillments.”

Your own children have memories interwoven in the overall pattern of the lives lived here.  Never forget!  Never let them forget how precious it was.

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explaining myself

Hi All!  (I say that very optimistically.)  I just wanted to say that I had written a post acknowledging the fact that I haven’t written a thing in months, offering up lamely that there has really been an awful lot going on, and stating that some of the things were important and write-worthy and that I would in fact be writing about some of them.  That post vanished.  Probably owing to my own ineptitude rather than internet gremlins, but I suspect gremlins nevertheless (as I swear I published it and only noticed it was missing after publishing my last post).  Anyhoo….my post about my Grandma probably came out of left field without that explanation, so I’m just letting you know what’s going on.  I have more to say about my Grandma, actually and will be doing that shortly.  Now you know.

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Sarah Elline

I awoke on a Saturday morning in January suddenly perplexed about my long-planned trip to South America which was coming up in a couple of weeks.  “I can’t go!” I thought, “What if Grandma dies while I’m gone?”  It was a strange thought, considering that my grandma wasn’t ill.  We’d all known for years that she could go at any time on account of the fact that she was well into her nineties, but this sudden urgency was very strange.  While I was still lying in bed, the phone rang.  My grandma was dying.  They’d given her 24-48 hours.  

I scrambled searching for flights, calling my siblings and my mom and trying to figure out what to do.  Faced with the choice of flying out a day later on the next available flight and possibly seeing or possibly missing my grandma (who was no longer responsive) or flying down in two weeks when the family gathered for her memorial (and seeing, possibly for the last time all together, my far-flung aunts, uncles and cousins), I decided to stay home.  

My sister, who drove up from Los Angeles to be at my Grandma’s bedside, got me on facetime so I could talk to her.  Amazingly, she responded.  She couldn’t open her eyes, but she was clearly trying to speak.  I told her she didn’t need to say anything, that I knew that she loved me, and she settled back against her pillow.  I was able to tell her that I loved her just so, so much, that I was so happy for her that she was finally getting to go home, and I was able to thank her for loving all of us so well.  My sister and I, and the others in the room, sang a her a song.  Singing was her favorite.  I was desperately hoping that someone would be singing when she died, but I could see that I wasn’t going to be the one to do it.  As long as I was on the phone, everyone felt the need to interact with me, and it made everything less peaceful, so I said my goodbyes, thanked my sister and hung up.

I sat at home.  It seemed impossible to go about normal weekend business knowing that she was passing.  So I canceled my plans, I prayed a little and eventually decided that the best way for me to engage the moment was to sit and write a memory of Grandma.  This is what came of that:

As I write this, my grandmother Sarah Elline is fading from this world.  This is not sudden; she’s ninety four and has been fragile for several years now, and her memory started to betray her long ago.  But, indelibly, Sarah Elline is Sarah Elline.

I have a theory that we become distilled with age, that our essence becomes more pure as we lose the energy and wherewithal to maintain artiface.  In my grandmother’s case, she has become almost unbearably lovely.  A Mississippi belle to her very core, she has always been a beauty with a razor-sharp wit, a quick laugh, and no small amount of sass.  She represents to me the finer things.  Lipstick.  Music.  Storytelling.  Massive family gatherings with her many children in her sprawling home.  Cornbread.  Collards.  Beans with bacon.  Of course, she is human and flawed, but from my vantage point, the rough edges seem to have dropped off with time, leaving only luminous beauty, kindness, love, and yes, sass.

Having lived in San Francisco for nearly ten years and in Canada for three, my visits are few and carry much weight.  Each time I see her, I know it could be my last.

A couple of years ago, shortly before she had to be moved from Grandpa and Grandma’s House to assisted living, I was in California for a visit and came to see her for what turned out to be my last time in the home where I had formed most of my memories of her.  I heard her health was going downhill and she would have to move soon.  I heard that the day before she’d forgotten that her husband, sister and two sons had died and was wandering the house looking for them.  My aunt warned me not to mention any of these things, not to expect that she would know me.

I nodded and headed down the hallway – the same hallway that I’d sleepwalked as a ten-year-old with the chicken pox (and which, when I woke standing confused and disoriented in her bedroom in the middle of the night, rather than sending me back through to bed, she traversed with me, turning left at the kitchen to fix me a midnight supper).

Pausing at her bedroom door, I knew that however philosophical I tried to be about this, if I walked through that door and this woman who I knew absolutely adored me did not recognize me, I would be crushed.  There were days when I could take it, but this just wasn’t one of them.  I braced myself and opened the door.  I was immediately greeted with a sweet and slow “Hiiiiii honey!”  My throat tightened a little with gratitude and relief.

We chatted.  She knew who I was but was fuzzy on most of the particulars.  She didn’t remember that I’d gotten married, so I cozied up next to her on the bed and showed her a picture of my husband.  She pronounced him handsome.  She looked at one of the photos sitting on her dresser and asked, “Are those your children?”  “No, Grandma,” I said gently.  “Those are Nancy’s children.”

We were silent for a moment.  Then, unexpectedly, she looked at me with such tenderness and said, “Honey, I’m so sorry that your Daddy died.”  Our eyes held each other in a completely lucid, present moment of shared grief.  As is often my wont, I reached for words when they weren’t necessary and halfheartedly offered, “He’s in a better place.”  She looked at me archly and countered with her classic Southern air, “I don’t see how it could be all that much better without his mother.”  I conceded the point.

Mary Poppins was playing on the TV.

“I remember this show,” she said, and began to hum-sing, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”

“The medicine go down,” I joined her, “The medicine go down.”

We continued our duet with the tv buzzing in the background.  When it was finished, she smiled and sighed, “Beautiful.”

I have just gotten the news that she is home.  That she quietly breathed her last surrounded by her children, grandchildren and others who loved her.  They were singing Hallelujah at the moment that her body released her.

I imagine her stepping across that threshold, ancient and childlike, eyes gleaming, face open, arms outstretched, awaiting the embrace that makes all things new.

And I imagine her walking those streets a young woman, tangerine lipstick, hair meticulously coiffed, demure white heels and a crisp, knee-length white dress, the lines of her stockings perfectly straight against her calves, eyes flashing with wit, laughter and a touch of sauce, a song welling up from somewhere deep and tumbling unconsciously over her lips.

And I think she was right.  I think Heaven just got better.