Monday, March 24, 2008

Frame of Mind

Dear [Mr. ABF's SIL],

(Does that make you my BIL's wife? I'm not very good at these things.)

I know your husband and mine aren't speaking right now. According to mine, yours would like an apology for not "sharing in the joy" of your child born a few months after Maddy's death. I'm not going to beat a dead horse, but let's just say I don't think an apology is warranted, and I'm gathering by your behavior, you don't think so either.

Let me just say I'm grateful for the way you're handling this. You clearly have no problem either calling or picking up calls from my husband, but feel that yours should deal with his own shit, and I respect that. If the situation was reversed, I'd also expect mine to clean up his own mess because I have plenty of other stuff on my plate as I'm sure you do, what with a 7 month old and all.

I admire and am frankly very jealous of your ability to both remember and do things for others on holidays and birthdays. I understand this is a hard-wired trait on your part, and while I often have the nice fuzzy feeling that I should do something for somebody, it's usually very late when I remember and then I'm too fucking busy to do anything about it. But you clearly keep one of those calendars, and you promptly mail out made-in-China plastic crap you picked up at Target thoughtful seasonal items of interest to Bella. I usually throw them out within 24 hours if they haven't broken already. She, and I, really appreciate you thinking about her.

I must confess I actually feel a bit guilty about receiving things from you because I can't reciprocate. It's not that I don't like you, and I'm not a big enough person to stretch across the brotherly fracas, but I simply cannot bring myself to buy gifts for your daughter. You see, I should have one about that size right now, too. We should each be aunts of cousins that would cycle through the same grades, us just opting to buy two of an item instead of just one, and so forth. And I can't bear to look at the websites, or even see the glaring numbers "6-12m" burning into my screen. I would call, but I'm deathly afraid of hearing about her. I don't want to know how big she is, what she's doing, if you're sleeping, because it would be like driving a hot poker into my chest. I appreciate you sending Bella candy-filled plastic eggs that will never see the light of day, an easter-themed tic-tac-toe game that I rescued from my dog's jaws, and other junk goodies, but please understand that I can't -- I simply can't -- pop a "Bunny Fun!" bib in the mail for whatshername. That aisle has been permanently erased on my mental Target store floor plan, and replaced with a big vacant rectangle where I practice sprinting, pushing my cart with my eyes closed, all the while singing Violent Femmes at the top of my lungs.

Which brings me to my birthday present. Why you feel the need to actually buy things instead of, say, just send cards, is I suppose a lovely character flaw. But I can't help but feel here that you had the best of intentions when you earnestly stepped up to drive, and that the tee-shot shanked hard left directly into the woods. I really do like receiving frames as gifts; they are practical items and I am grateful that you resisted the urge to put a picture of your child in it and left it blank for something from our collection. I know this, of course, as per the sticky that you kindly applied to it, lest I wonder if someone from the postal service had opened my package and ripped off that picture of whatshername in her spring finery sitting on the Easter Bunny's lap to put on their fridge, replacing the empty frame back into the box.

But a frame with the word "FAMILY" written across the top in big letters? Really? If you took, say, five minutes, could you understand that it is impossible given current scientific advancements to photograph my entire metaphysical family? I know, I know, it's just a frame, and the three of us are technically still a "family," and I'm probably being a complete bitch here because you were really nice to buy it and send it and all, but I can't help in my current state of babydeath dementia to view the word family in this particular instance as a loaded term. "Family" with a lightning bolt breaking the word in two, or "Family?" or even putting masking tape over the M and Y (leaving FA_IL_) seems to me more appropriate. You couldn't possibly know this, but I will never view or hear that word the same way again. "Family day," "Family Val-u Pack" and "Family Nite" will forever serve to remind me that my entire family is not, and will never be there with me. I'm sure you see absolutely nothing untorward about placing a photo of the living three of us in there; you, after all, now have the family of three that you've been dreaming of for so long. But my family isn't three big, it's four. One of us died, remember? I haven't as much as photographed my living family for a year because I don't want to remember us from this time, nor do I want to look through the lens and be rewarded with the truth of the matter -- someone is missing from the frame. I suppose it's a bit unfair of me to expect you to know this, or have any idea how hard it is to explain the concept of "family" to Bella, when her sister is no longer of the earthly realm. Did you know her recent cute thing to do is to make up imaginary sisters? Maybe we could photoshop in the cartoon character she keeps referring to as her "sister," or one of her many school chums who she also calls "sister" in the most casual and heartbreaking of conversations?

I know I'm difficult to buy for (apparently, certain etail wishlist notwithstanding), and it's the thought that counts, but what did I want? The only person who asked me about my birthday wishes, with deep sincerity, without that "please tell me you updated your elist already and got rid of those medical books and mother-loses-baby fiction titles" undertone, was Bella. And I felt it was unfair to ask a 3.5 year old for the ability to travel back in time, raise the dead, and grant me the healing powers of Jesus. And frankly, there's really nothing else that I want. So I asked for a card (my cousin suggested next year that I ask for candy too, and that seems like a good idea, if you'd like to plug that into your PDA). I want everything I can't have, and thus I want nothing. And what would mean the most from people this year, and any year, is simply understanding.

You know, Mr. ABF asked in his now-well-honed therapist voice, "So how did this gift make you feel?" And you know what the first word was that flew out of my mouth? "Guilty." As much as the gift-giving instinct is part of your DNA, the Thank-You is part of mine, and I really don't know what to do here with people like you. And yes, there are others, not just you, who try their damnedest to be nice and poignant and appropriate and they end up tripping over both shoes and landing in a pile at my feet while I gasp for air. And I spend a few panicked moments thinking, should I gloss over this and thank this person? I mean, they're trying so hard. Or does that mean they'll think I'll like what they're doing and continue to do this? Should I tell them things like this really make me feel like shit? Wouldn't that just ruin their day and life-purpose? And while these thoughts are churning and the drool is spilling over my open bottom lip, the moment passes, and we're left just waiting for the next horrifically awkward ecounter where I'm forced to check my emotions for the sake of others. Again. Which, frankly, I don't think is wholly incumbent upon me.

I tell you this with trepidation because I know Mother's Day is looming just around the bend there (see it?), and for you this year will be a Sunday full of joy and promise and identity fulfillment. And knowing you and your penchant for sharing your glee with others dear to you, you will likely feel the urge to send me something. It will be thoughtful, and heartfelt, and I already know, it will crush the motherfuckin' life out of me. If you could, please, resist the urge to send me anything, including cards, however carefully annotated.

You try, and believe me, that I appreciate. So it's with deep regret that the ungrateful bitch in me asks you to please, try harder. Or simply don't try at all. Either way spares me from a world of pain and awkwardness that appears to be missing from your emotional atlas.

Happy Day.




Anonymous said...


I am so constantly amazed by the way a life is changed when another life is ended. Especially when it's a child you've lost.

You (and I) just don't see the world the same way anymore, and I don't know if other people will every really understand it.

People are either so careful around me that I begin to feel even more broken because of them, or they are (like your SIL) just not thinking about what it must be like. I think most people can't handle really thinking about the realities of a child's death, so instead they just sort of ignore it.

It's probably not on purpose, but it hurts all the same. It's like when people ask me if I have children. If I don't mention Aodin, I feel awful. If I do, they feel awful.

I guess we just can't win. I do wonder if maybe you should tell her though... something about presents being too difficult... I don't know.

I hope this gets better for you.

Amy said...

I think the frame was a hurtful reminder of how cold some people can be. Should I dare say, passive aggressive?!

I hope you know that we here do understand. I think I'll keep wishing the same thing for all of us when I see the four leaf clover, eye-lash, Swedish Wish cookie, etc. To quote you, I will wish for the ability to travel back in time, raise the dead, and be granted the healing powers of Jesus.

Much love and as always, thinking of you. A

G said...

Why oh why do people feel the need to buy gifts for every occasion? Honestly, save your money, send a card and be done with it. Or send nothing. Sending trinkets (to Bella) and other stuff (picture frames, who doesn't need a picture frame!) is just such a waste of energy to me. Let alone money.

I have that picture frame. My sister bought it for me years ago when we first started trying to get pregnant. It has a picture of her son in it and makes me sad everytime I look at it. Especially since the baby in it is now 5 and I still don't have a picture to replace it with.

Sorry Tash. And oy, Mother's Day is looming heavily.

k@lakly said...

That's the stuff I find the most confusing and difficult to deal with. The outright actions that add insult to injury, especially when I know the offenders SHOULD KNOW BETTER.
The frame, however well intentioned, was just plain insensitive and cruel. And I think it was full of hidden meanings too. The "you're still a family... get on with it" type.
I'd be tempted to send the letter or one like it. Maybe one that simply reads, "We had a beautiful daughter who died 6 days after she was born, only a brief year ago, we are heartbroken. Please stop ignoring her and our grief."
Or plan B...Eff You

Antigone said...

What does it say about evolution that the selfcentered idiots seem to have all the fertility luck?

Julia said...

It never stops blowing my mind how some people don't get it. Especially people with children. I call that willful ignorance. Yeah, sure, it hurts to think about it for real. Imagine now, will ya, how much it hurts to live that?

I bought a frame from I think the same collection a few years ago. It is funky, says "modern family" across the top, and only fits a 3x4. I put a picture of Monkey with Aruba-braided hair in there. That trip was like 3 months before A was conceived. If the frame still sat empty now I would probably trash it.

meg said...

I am so buying a FAMILY frame, marking out the letters like you suggested doing, so that it spells fail. Now THAT, would make me smile.

And Tash, I am officially irritated by your BIL's wife. Just sayin'...

CLC said...

I am not sure what to say here. I can see where she thinks she is doing something good, but it's really only making her feel better and she probably has no idea that it hurts you in any way. She may be thinking that she's a good person for trying to maintain a relationship despite her husband's ignorance, yet she doesn't realize that presents are now meaningless when you can't have the one thing you want in this world. I want to say that she's an evil bitch, but I am having a hard time with saying that because frankly I wish I was in her blissfully ignorant shoes. Not that I would want to be viewed as uncompassionate to women like ourselves, but I wish I could go back in time and have no idea how awful this grief is and think that my lame-ass frame would actually comfort you somehow.

sweetsalty kate said...

I'm leaning towards CLC's thinking... she's just oblivious. These days, clueless gifts are so much less insidious than 1) the silence from people who cannot bear to ask about Liam, or ask how we're doing, because it's just so uncomfortable for them (to which I say Buck The F*ck Up); or 2) the opinions (sometimes explicitly and sometimes underhandedly expressed) from people who think I/we should be moving on (to which I say Shut The F*ck Up).

The wife of your husband's brother? I think she's just guilty of buying cheap plastic crap, thinking that she's forging a bond with you. I doubt she thinks much beyond that, and if she ever got wind of how her thoughtfulness comes off to you, she'd just sit there doe-eyed, completely stunned, never having remotely considered your point of view.

Anonymous said...

I guess I just don't see it that way. I lost twins at 23 weeks and have never expected people to really know how to deal with it. I don't even know how to deal with it. I'm definitely a different person than I was before and thankful for those that even try to reach out to me still.

janis said...

Tash, I don't know what to say. You write my heart, and you describe very clearly how awful it is to be "one of us". People just don't know what to do with us, and sometimes they just plain outright do the wrong things. ((hugs)) I'll just write her a note to save the planet by no longer buying plastic junk and wasting gas by mailing stuff.

Beruriah said...

I don't even know what to say to that. Your SIL is so like my mom. Sentiment through shopping for crap. I don't know what to say to my mom and I wouldn't know what to say to your SIL.

Your letter says it all. Too bad you won't send it.

niobe said...

Here's my confession. In my family, I'm your SIL. I send presents (stuff like candy and cookies and imported cheeses and baby clothes) to all my siblings and their families for every conceivable occasion and sometimes for no reason at all. Especially the siblings who have babies around the ages the twins would have been.

It's my penance for my jealousy towards these people who, really, haven't done anything to deserve it. I may not be able to bear to talk to my siblings or to see their babies, but I can buy them the adorable little outfits and sweet little gifts that I can't buy for my twins. I'm sure they hate me for it, but it's the only thing that makes me feel less guilty towards them.

Searching said...

Ugh, I'm sorry about the picture frame. What a knife in your heart.

I like your letter, but I suppose she would just read the beginning and skip to the end, assuming the middle was all about her wonderful, possibly well-intentioned gifts. No advice, just an exasperated sigh.

c. said...

I wonder if she thinks she's being really thoughtful and all...but she's missing the mark so badly???

I think most people give/send gifts for their own benefit. So they can feel better about themselves. It's so much about them that they lose sight of everything else. Just me being cynical, I guess.

luna said...

beautifully written, tash. ~luna

STE said...

It's these freaking habits, I think. Maybe we get used to doing what we think is the right thing because that's what we've been trained to do.

And while it IS sweet of your SIL to ignore the brothers' quarrel and think so often of your (living) child, it sounds like the gift giving is all about her, and not about you at all. Makes her feel good, so it must be a good thing. No consideration of the impact of a particular gift upon the receiver. Clearly.

One of my wonderful SILs (I'm serious here, they are very kind, sweet, smart and generally thoughtful) sent each of us an email forward from M.A.D.D. The gist of it is that it's a letter from a teenager to his/her mom saying how careful he/she'd been in not drinking and driving, or getting into a car with a drunk driver. You can see where this is going...

**possibly upsetting**

(((child basically says, "Mom, I love you. I did everything right. Wish you could be here to hold me while I die.")))



I'm sorry people are so clueless, Tash. As if you haven't been through enough. A little more salt for the wound?

Lisa b said...

yeah, I am thinking she needs a version of this letter.
YOU need to not receive mother's day and "Family' crap from her and at least then you will know if she really cares or just wants you to 'buck up'.

Natalie said...

Oh good god, what was she thinking sending that frame? Though really, I can sort of see how clueless people are. I mean, my world has been turned upside down this month and it's like I view EVERYTHING differently. I'm not entirely certain she was being underhanded in sending it... I think she was just completely CLUELESS. But it still sucks for you.

loribeth said...

I agree... I don't think your SIL did it maliciously... she's just clueless as to how this might affect you. I'm so sorry you have to deal with all this. (((hugs)))

Becky said...


(but no tacky gifts)

Anonymous said...

That was beautifully wrote.

Honey said...

wow, I came to your site via Alice's and if this is inappropriate I'm sorry.. I love in fact I <3 your writing. It (and this is inappropriate) made me laugh out loud. How you can write with such humour and grace in face of such CRAP I think that is truly wonderful.
I'll be reading some more and I'll be back. Thank you.

Aurelia said...

She meant no harm, and still doesn't.

Forgive her, and let go of the bitterness honey. It will help you more than it will help her.