Monday, April 21, 2008

Remembering Caitlin

Tonight after dinner, the kids and Mr. Peevie and I will eat chocolate cake in honor of what would be our daughter Caitlin's 14th birthday. We'll each say something about Caitlin, even though we never knew her.

One time six years ago, we were having this same little memorial event. C. Peevie said, "I miss you Caitlin, even though I never got to meet you."

And A. Peevie, who was four at the time, was not to be outdone. "I miss you, Caitlin," he said, and continued happily, "You poo-poo head."

I don't know if this tradition is weird, or nuts, or psychologically damaging--but it feels right for our family. I'm pretty sure that it arose out of our children's unquenchable desire for cake, rather than from their feeling of loss for their sister.

Remembering Caitlin didn't always involve cake. In the beginning, Mr. Peevie and I would just quietly mention our little girl's name to each other, and futilely wonder what our lives would be like with her in them. We wonder what color her eyes were, and if she'd be a gymnast, or a tennis nut, or a piano player.

We still cried, back then; occasionally, we still do. Not so much because the feeling of loss is still painful--but because we can clearly remember the pain of losing her. (I read somewhere that our brains do not have the capacity to "remember" pain. I call bogus.) I remember the strong urge I felt for months, when I would see people going about their normal lives, to shout at them, "I had a baby, and she died!"

Telling Caitlin stories brings tears to my eyes, but they're good tears, if you can understand that. Caitlin is a part of our family, just as much as if she had lived. Losing her is no longer the most important part of my identity (as it was for many months), but it will always be part of who I am. To not talk about her is to deny her, and to deny a part of me.

Shortly after Caitlin died, I read an essay about grief in the New York Times by Anna Quindlen. She was speculating about why grief "has the power to silence us." Here's a slice of her beautiful, powerful words:

Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us. It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within. More than sex, more than faith, even more than its usher death, grief is unspoken, publicly ignored except for those moments at the funeral that are over too quickly, or the conversations among the cognoscenti, those of us who recognize in one another a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are.
Maybe we do not speak of it because death will mark all of us, sooner or later. Or maybe it is unspoken because grief is only the first part of it. After a time it becomes something less sharp but larger, too, a more enduring thing called loss.
Perhaps that is why this is the least explored passage: because it has no end. The world loves closure, loves a thing that can, as they say, be gotten through. This is why it comes as a great surprise to find that loss is forever, that two decades after the event there are those occasions when something in you cries out at the continuous presence of an absence. "An awful leisure," Emily Dickinson once called what the living have after death.
"The presence of an absence"--if you've lost someone, you know what that means, what it feels like.
Yesterday I was wearing my "Caitlin necklace"--an April birthstone pendant on a slim gold chain. My friends gave it to me for my birthday, six weeks after she was born. It was a beautiful, touching, sensitive gesture, from gentle friends who understood that even though remembering might bring tears, it also brings healing.

M. Peevie noticed my necklace, and I asked her if she knew why I was wearing it.

"Because Caitlin died," she said matter-of-factly.

"Yes," I said, "That's part of it. But also because tomorrow is Caitlin's birthday."

"Oh, mom," M. Peevie said, "Let's have cake tomorrow night, and remember Caitlin together as a family!"

Great idea, little girl.


corduroy said...

Long time casual observer…first time responder.

So, I finally decided to get involved in this blog. Here’s why: 1. It’s been a full year and I haven’t responded yet. I figured it was time to stop freeloading. 2. I was in the shower just moments ago, thinking, “Hey, I’m going to respond to that anniversary blog tonight!” 3. I had a great parenting weekend this past weekend.

Like I said in 2, I was thinking I’d respond to the anniversary blog and write what my favorite blog was, then I got on-line and saw this one. And I feel like I have to say something about it. But I don’t know what to say other than saying what first comes to mind...which is the thought of loosing a child scares the absolute crap out of me. I feel sorta guilty for saying that since E. Peevie you and your family HAVE lost a child. The other thing I should say is you, the Peevie family, give me a little bit of hope: if that most dreaded day ever comes to me, I know life (even painfully) can go on.

corduroy said...

Now, what I was going to say about my favorite blog is my favorite blogs are all the ones with “family life” labels or more specifically about parenting. Over a year ago my other half and I were struggling with a serious parenting issue – corporal punishment. That is, to do it or not, and why do I feel so bad whenever I DO use it. I’ll not go on with all the complications of that topic here but I went to E. Peevie for some advice. I learned from this conversation that I wasn’t alone with my aversion to spanking. (Can I say this?!)

ANYHOW, what I’m getting at. E. Peevie helped me sort through this over a year ago, and looking back I can say it has NOT been the easy rode, to use other methods of discipline. But I want to share it has been most rewarding for me and us. Summing up what E. said to me is something like this: “A problem with spanking is it tries to change inside problems from the outside, and it doesn’t do a good job at that.” That stuck with me. That little comment was a seed planted in my puny head. What slowly grew in me was I realized my problem wasn’t about “spanking” anymore.

So here’s the “a ha” moment to share. You probably have never been there, but recently I caught one of my kids in a lie. My first reaction was to tell him, “Why did you lie to me?! You KNOW that’s wrong!” Instead I caught myself and said, “I want to tell you something buddy. When you tell the truth to someone, you show love and respect. When you lie to someone you don’t show love and respect.” I don’t know where that came from, but I was so proud of myself as a parent right then and there. Because it clicked. I saw in this little 4 year old a light go on. He realized lying to mommy and daddy isn’t showing love and he felt bad.

Granted, I still gave him a time out to think about it. And told him if he did it again that day, there’d be a worse consequence, like no chocolate milk for snack time, or something horrible like that. But what I saw before my eyes was a change is his behavior from the inside out. It was great. (FYI…he did end up lying again! But he hasn’t forgotten my little maxim.)

So that’s why my favorite blogs here are on parenting. Because E. Peevie is one of my ultimate parenting heros.

E. Peevie said...

Corduroy--you have made my day. Thanks for the affirmation.

And yes, life goes on after the loss of a child--but not only does it go on, but blessings abound. It's hard to imagine when you're in the middle of pain and loss, but it happens.

E. Peevie said...

Corduroy, I wanted to respond separately to your comment about parenting and discipline.

I think you have said a wise thing: that using other forms of discipline is NOT an easy road. Spanking can get quick results; but at what cost?

Non-corporal punishment takes, it seems to me, far more thought, engagement, and teaching time than corporal punishment. I sometimes feel that my parents spanked me not because it was the best discipline choice but because it was the most efficient.

BTW, I HAVE been there with the lying thing. Probably every parent has. I think lying is the biggest threat to a parent/child relationship there is. Bigger than sex, drugs, hitting, you name it.

I think you handled your situation beautifully. The point about discipline is first to teach, right? And you used that opportunity to teach your little guy what it means when he tells a lie. You didn't scare him or hurt him, you taught him! Beautiful!

E. Peevie

Terri B. said...

"An absence of a presence" -- that is a very good way of putting it.

I'm baffled by the person who wrote that we forget the pain of grief. After a period of time, a feeling of loss is more prevalent than the pain of grief, but even years after my father's death I occasionally find my breath sucked away by the memory of the pain I felt when he died. Maybe the person writing has never lost anyone? Weird.

E. Peevie said...

TerriB, I think the bit about not remembering pain was from a brain study, and it was about physical pain rather than emotional pain. But I still call bogus.

After we lost Caitlin, I realized for the first time that people who have lost someone they love might be blessed to have the loss remembered, and to have a conversation about their loved one, even long after the death. Like most people, I avoided these conversations, believing that they brought more pain.

I'm sorry about your dad.

E. Peevie