July 11, 2006

When Cat was missing I started thinking she might never come home, and how shitty I would feel about that. I told JB how frustrating it was not to have any idea what happened to her. “I’d rather just know,” I said, “even if it was bad news.”

“Really? Even if you knew she was dead?”

“Well. In that case. I guess not. Maybe. I don’t know. Yes?”

This inevitably led me to think about people whose children go missing. It’s unthinkable, but what would be worse: not knowing, ever? Or finding a body?

If you knew they were dead you’d have closure. But if you didn’t know, you’d have hope.

Sometimes I get weirdly focused on the various tragedies that can happen to children. It’s like having a permanent canker sore in my mouth and every now and then I can’t help poking it with my tongue; I read some horrible news story and think, what if that were my family? What if that were Riley? – and I have to physically wrench my thoughts in another direction because what good can come of it, what’s the point in trying to peer in the darkest shadows, in trying to imagine a living nightmare?

Last week JB’s brother, who is a funeral director, was talking about his experiences embalming and preparing bodies for viewing (I suppose it sounds like a creepy conversation, but I usually like hearing his stories) and he happened to mention that grieving mothers always want to change their baby’s diaper one last time. “Not 99 percent of the time, but 100 percent of the time,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “I can see that. I’d want to. I’d feel like I needed to, one last time, to ready him…” and it was like my brain caught up with what my mouth was saying and my voice cracked and fell apart and I had to stop because I was suddenly clogged up and blinking hot and fast to hold back a flood of tears.

To ready him for a journey, is what I was going to say. To make sure he was clean and comfortable and my hands were the hands that went through the motions I could do in my sleep now, the same routine I’ve done so many times a day since his birth. Yes, I’d want to do that.

(Okay…that was a horrible thing to write. Excuse me while I just kind of sob into this wad of toilet paper, okay? Jesus.)

I know Joe didn’t say that with any idea that it would bother me, and I’m sure he regretted it as soon as he saw my reaction. I’ll tell you, I haven’t quite been able to forget about it. A last diaper change. It’s just one of those tiny details that makes the looming specter of death monstrously, horribly real.

I know it’s awful to talk about it. It’s awful to think about it. It’s the flipside to all of the miraculous doors Riley has opened for me; in doing so I find myself unprotected and raw; my world’s most precious fortune is vulnerable to all which life offers, the good and the bad. I mostly think of the good. But at times I’m fucking haunted by the possibility of the bad.


In lighter news (whew!) Cat is so glad to be home she’s positively brimming over with affection. Right now Riley is sitting on the floor in our new home office (a Work In Progress, hence the boxes) and he’s actually pushing Cat away from him, so annoying is she with her head-rubs.





42 Responses to “Whistling in the dark”

  1. Katie on July 11th, 2006 3:46 pm

    I agree completely….the joy one baby can add is immense. But, so is the possibility of grief. It is too awful to contemplate!

    Can you pass that sniffly wad of toilet paper this way when you’re done?

  2. Ulli on July 11th, 2006 3:55 pm

    I have thought about that. My ex-husband is a military officer and during his long deployments I would often think what I would do if he went Missing in Action and no one would find him or anything of him like often happened during the Vietnam war…..I decided at that point that I’d rather know than spent my entire life praying and hoping he’d walk through the door again….but it’s an odd thing to think about.

  3. thatgrrrl on July 11th, 2006 3:56 pm

    Your Cat is gorgeous. I figure everyone comments on how cute Riley is (TOTALLY!) and how handsome JB is (~swoon) and how pretty you are (just gorgeous), I’d give Cat some time too. Being as how I’m a cat person and all. Dog always looks so happy too. How’d you get to be so lucky? :)

  4. Mary on July 11th, 2006 4:25 pm

    I know what you mean, and as they get older, the possibilities for harm coming to them multiply exponentially. I have to conciously stop myself from thinking about it, some days. Somebody told me once that when you have a child, your heart is no longer inside you, it’s out there walking around. Sounds corny, but it’s so true.

  5. ivymae on July 11th, 2006 5:08 pm

    My aunt, who I am very close to, had a series of late miscarriages in her 20’s, and her last child was born full term, but with a birth defect that should of killed her within 24 hours. They begged my aunt to let them use her as a organ donor, but my aunt refused, and after a week of Carrie living, they let her take her home, sure she would die right away. She lived for THREE MONTHS with only a brain stem (Anencephaly), and when she died, my aunt thanked god for letting her spend that time with Carrie.
    Another aunt lost her oldest to a house fire when he was 3, and her youngest to a car crash when she was 16. My Grandma has outlived all of her children except one. I live in constant awe of these women, because holding Elinor in my arms, I choke back the panic sometimes. How can the world keep spinning – how can your heart keep beating – when the most important thing in it is gone?

    The trick is, we don’t think about it. It’s like our own impending death – if we thought about it every day, we would go insane. We have today, we have this moment, we have this slobbery kiss. This is enough. It has to be.

  6. Deanna on July 11th, 2006 5:11 pm

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, it’s nasty by now, but I need the toilet paper wad after Katie uses it.

    Preparing him for a journey.

    Lord, need more toilet paper…

    My brother died almost 5 years ago. Granted he was an adult, so no possibility of diaper changing, but I know my mother would have given anything to be able to have one last chance to “prepare.”

    Cat’s back. Woo-hoo. Bring on the head-rubs!

  7. karamarie on July 11th, 2006 5:11 pm

    Cat and a baby! Cat and a baby!

    I enjoy pet + baby photos waaaaaaaay too much.

  8. LLL on July 11th, 2006 5:22 pm

    Ever since I had my daughter, I get the same morbid thoughts stuck in my brian. Stories on the news (i.e., the marines who allegedly raped that girl and murdered her family including a 5 year old). My husband was a child abuse detective for several years and told me stories of the horrible things people did (usually involving molestation). it used to bother me, but now, as a parent I am haunted by those things I know people did to tiny innocent bbaies and children. I also have to force myself to think of other things – sometimes I succeed and sometimes I just cry. I cannot imagine how I would feel if I ever lost my child. I can tell you that I did just lose a beloved cat (black and shiny just like Cat) on May 5. He escaped when we were unloading the baby and got killed by a coyote. We were getting eready to move at the time from CA to OR and of course I wanted to find him. Sadly, I did and he was dead and desicrated. It was horrible and I will never get that image out of my mind, but for me it was better to know what had happened to him, otherwise I would have had to leave him behind – never knowing – and that would have been worse. Of course, that was a cat and not a child.

    Now I will be traumatized by the changing the last diaper story damnit – THANK YOU VERY LITTLE. I think its just more evidence that we must all focus on the good whenever we can and appreciate life, its very fragile.

    I am so glad you found Cat. Enjoy Riley every moment, even when you are changing his diaper. :)

  9. pippa on July 11th, 2006 5:29 pm

    Sobbing. SOBBING. Bug has surgery scheduled for the 14th of next month and I’m already a mess about it on the one hand while knowing it’s the best solution for him on the other and now I’m a complete and utter freaking mess. And I’ve used half of the BRAND SPANKING NEW box of Kleenex I bought (and yes, I can say that because they actually ARE Kleenex). That’s gotta be the third in the trifecta of killer mom moments… that and the scenes in Terms of Endearment (MY DAUGHTER IS… IN… PAIN) and Steel Magnolias (I was here when she came into this world and here when she left…) that are weep fests when you aren’t a mother but rip-your-heart out bad when you are.

  10. Emily on July 11th, 2006 5:38 pm

    Okay, I don’t have any kids, but I can totally identify with dwelling on the negative. Usually what I do to get rid of it is I make the “negative” situation supremely negative. Like, if I’m thinking, “What if someone in my family just up and DIED?!” I’ll shift that to, “What if everyone in my family turned into a ZOMBIE and started EATING EVERYONE ELSE IN MY FAMILY?!” And since that is absolutely ridiculous and could never happen, it actually kind of helps.

    But, um, maybe it’s just me.

  11. Christine on July 11th, 2006 5:43 pm

    Wow. When my brain is idle, sometimes, if I’m not paying attention, it will veer off the path and go into the darkness you described. I can’t and…*can*… imagine preparing for a funeral of one of my children……a last diaper change….wow….that one I hadn’t thought of. Since having my children, I have an extremely hard time watching any TV or movie in which a small child is harmed, ill, kidnapped, anything traumatic. An episode of ‘House’ when Wren was just a few months old dealt with a baby who had almost drowned in the bath….they showed the baby in the water, and I just about burst at the seams with sobbing. I have left a theater to vomit when watching a movie in which a child is killed (The Punisher). I never ever thought that motherhood would make me so completely connected to another human being like it has. Sorry for taking up so much space with my comment…just wanted to say “I think those things, too, sometimes”.

  12. Maki on July 11th, 2006 5:51 pm

    Oh gosh, you put me into the ugly sob. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has these thoughts from time to time. I really wish I didn’t because it makes me so sad but in the same sense, it makes you realize how fortunate you are and how much love you have for your kids.

  13. Jo on July 11th, 2006 5:53 pm

    Cat + Riley pictures = too too cute!
    Empathise re missing Cat as well, we lost one of ours for 10 days over Xmas last year, was awful and such a relief when she came yowling through the cat door at 4am on morning, very skinny but pleased to see us :)

  14. Keri on July 11th, 2006 6:20 pm

    Umm, anyone got a tissue? W.O.W. I cannot imagine being one of those grieving mothers changing their babies’ diapers for the last time. It’s just too heartbreaking to think about…

    Anyhoo, glad Cat is back and Riley is such a cutie! =)

  15. warcrygirl on July 11th, 2006 6:29 pm

    Watching those Without a Trace and CSI type shows where the missing person/victim is a baby/child just tears me up. I usually can’t watch them at all or I simply don’t sleep. Our cat has been hating me for the past week; I commited the unforgiveable sin of buying the wrong flavor of canned cat food. So we leave for a quick two-day trip to a local water park. I come home, feed him the right flavor of cat food and I can’t get the little bugger off of me. It’s like I’m wearing a fur stole that purrs. As always, Riley is a cutie!

  16. justmouse on July 11th, 2006 6:33 pm

    my God…the number of times i have thought those same things…loving my son so much is almost terrible. the power of it….is really unfathomable. and as you said, i have to physically wrench my mind away from those dark thoughts. and you’re so right when you say it leaves you so open and vulnerable. while i am not glad that you are plagued by these sad thoughts, it is still somewhat comforting to know that i’m not the only one.

  17. Lesley on July 11th, 2006 7:19 pm

    Cat has been born again!

  18. nancy on July 11th, 2006 8:22 pm

    My first thought was “ewww” my second thought was “yes, I would want to do that too.” God please let me never have to do that!

    I know what you mean about dwelling on tragedies. Recently a woman here left her 5 month old baby in her car all day. She went to pick up the kid at day care and they told her she never dropped him off. She went out to the car and there was the baby – dead of course. I just can’t shake that story from my head.

  19. Jenn on July 11th, 2006 8:24 pm

    First, hooray on the return of Cat!

    Stories such as those really make one think. Every since I had my little guy, it is amazing how it changes your perspective. My husband’s Grandmother passed and we went to the funeral today and she led a full life and died due to old age, but one starts to think about your own family in those types of cases, not to mention we had a close call with my husband in a car accident about 4-months ago.

    It makes one realize how fragile life is and the mind go places you never want to realize.

  20. jonniker on July 11th, 2006 8:36 pm

    I do not lie when I tell you that this fear: this primal, terrifying fact, is what has stopped me from having children a few times. I’m petrified of loss – of loving and then losing in that horrible cliche. I’m not sure I could bear it, and sometimes I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.

    And then I feel so small – not small in a wow-the-universe-is-so-big way, but small in the “Who do I think I am?” way. I wish I could make up my mind.

  21. moderndayhermit.com » Blog Archive » A favorite blog of mine. on July 11th, 2006 8:43 pm

    […] I found her post, today, especially compelling because we attended the funeral for Richard’s Paternal Grandmother. […]

  22. honeybecke on July 11th, 2006 10:04 pm

    I seriously had to quit reading your entry when you got to the ‘last diaper’ part. I couldn’t take it, I got up and just walked away. It’s taken me over an hour of horrible, morbid contemplation to finally come back and finish this entry. I have a nine month old and it’s these types of things that I just can’t handle anymore. It’s very hard to get it out of your mind though.
    The detail of changing the final diaper is so very….mind numbingly sad. It’s a detail you would never think of if you didnt’ have to live it.

    You know, CNN.com has had a baby mauled by a dog story on there for the past two days and I can’t bring myself to click on it. Before I had little mister I probably would have clicked on it, and felt really, really bad for that family and the situation. Now? I can’t read it because it will just haunt me and take a long, long time for my grief to fade.

  23. honeybecke on July 11th, 2006 10:05 pm

    On the sunny side, soooo glad that cat is back.
    I would be so messed up if something happened like that to either of my two kitties.

  24. J on July 11th, 2006 10:15 pm

    Your cat is so cute! I have two kitties and I would loose it if anything happened to them. Husband and I are infertile, so I think we are (overly?!?) attached to our cats. They are so much a part of our family.

    You are not alone in the morbid thought department. I find myself pondering the what ifs and then I wonder what is wrong with me that I am thinking about such horrible possibilities.

  25. Sonia (DDM) on July 11th, 2006 11:57 pm

    *Sobbing my eyes out* Can’t. Talk.
    (Yay! Cat’s back!)

  26. biodtl on July 12th, 2006 4:35 am

    Crazy sobbing woman here!

  27. Graciemay on July 12th, 2006 4:53 am

    On a happier and silly note — anyone notice Riley’s expression in the picture where he has just pushed cat away? We have 7 cats. I have that look on my face pretty much all the time.

  28. fifi on July 12th, 2006 5:12 am

    welcome to the morbid, weepy, hormonal world of motherhood: the dark side. We all get this stuff I suspect. But. Really, it does not do to dwell.
    Push the black cat away, laugh, live in the moment.

  29. TB on July 12th, 2006 5:31 am

    God, I don’t even have kids and that got to me. I know it’s kind of lame, but sometimes I think about my cats that way. They’re my substitute until I have a baby. (And I’m sure the love of a child is about a billion times more powerful.)

    I’m away for three weeks and I swear Riley looks bigger. That last picture is awesome.

  30. Jennifer on July 12th, 2006 5:54 am

    I don’t have children yet, so I can’t imagine how horrible that would be… but if one of my cats got lost and never came home, I’d go crazy wondering what happened. I’d want to know. Were they hit by a car? Killed by a wild animal? Did they get lost and adopted by another family that’s taking good care of them for me? I’d want to know, good or bad. I think.

  31. Beth Anne on July 12th, 2006 6:08 am

    It’s so weird that you are talking about this. I was thinking about the same thing yesterday. I could never watch anything about animal abuse because I would always think about my animals. Now, since I have a 3 month old son, when I read a story about child abuse, I always picture my son and I can’t help but get upset. I got choked up just reading this today. I haven’t found a way to get these thoughts out of my head and it can get really depressing. If you figure out a way to not think about horrible things happening to Riley, let us know.

  32. ang on July 12th, 2006 6:19 am

    When Chloe was about 2 years old (she’s 8 now) there was a horrible story in the news about a 2 year old little girl who got mauled to death by the family pet. The mother lived (trying to get her baby away from the dog) but would be severely disfigured for the rest of her life. I cried for a solid week, partially in sympathy-partially in fear, when I heard that. It still stays with me to this day. I believe having a child makes you more emphatic to certain situations. You can somehow relate more strongly, having known that bond yourself.
    Honestly, I thought the overwhelming, horrible fears I have as a mother was in part due to my OCD. This is a morbid subject, but I honestly appreciate hearing that other mother’s do this too.

  33. HollowSquirrel on July 12th, 2006 6:22 am

    I cannot think about those things (diapering for the last time) for more than 4 seconds before my body begins Operation ShutDown. I don’t know how I would go on. Thanks for putting the adorable pictures online to end on a much much better note.

  34. Paula on July 12th, 2006 6:34 am

    Okay, the top portion of your post didn’t happen. Ignoring it, not dwelling. I feel the same way sometimes and have to make myself change the mental subject.

    Aha, subject change. How do you keep Riley from grabbing onto Cat? In the 2nd photo he looks like he is petting her. I could never/rarely get my little one to do that with our dog.

  35. Kristen on July 12th, 2006 7:43 am

    I wish you hadn’t even told us about the diaper changes. I cried immediately, and I can just tell it’s going to haunt me. And whoever wrote the post about the woman who left her baby in the car, I can’t believe you passed that on. That’s too horrible, it’s the kind of thing that should be STRUCK from our collective consciousness, not added to it.

  36. Pete on July 12th, 2006 8:09 am

    Changing the diaper. That will stick with me for awhile.

  37. Niki P on July 12th, 2006 8:21 am

    The diaper change your brother in law speaks of sparked one of the biggest fights of my marriage. We had been watching an episode of ER where a toddler died. The mom in the episode went in and picked the child up and sat with him in a rocking chair and sang to him and kissed him and then she wanted to change his diaper. My husband stated, “I could never do that- sit there and hold my dead child.” I was FURIOUS with him. I said, “You would let your son go on that journey without sitting and holding him first?? You wouldn’t put a cleand diaper on him?” I was sobbing and I thought what a heartless man I married! Of course I pray we never have to face this, but I am certain that if it came to it he would do what was right for him. I have these thoughts as well, and then I feel like a total crazy person for having them. I suppose it’s normal. I don’t know.

  38. Liss on July 12th, 2006 1:11 pm

    It is with horrible coincidence that I just read this. A few hours ago, I phoned my dear friend who was supposed to watch my own Dog this weekend. Immediately I knew something was wrong. She informed me she could not watch Dog because her cousin’s baby drowned a few days ago; however he did not die. He is right now on life support and showing little to no brain activity. It was apparent the outlook was grim. Today they get a call that his breathing has improved; however brain activity is still vegetative (forgive me if that’s not the right word). Now the young parents (only in their 20s) have to make decision to keep him alive in a vegetative state or to let him go on his next journey. My own parents had a child, their firstborn, die from SIDS when he was just 7 months old. They went into his room to check on him and he was blue, dead in his crib. There was no preparing for the journey. I said to my friend that in a way it was a blessing for my parents that they did not have to make a decision; however, they never recovered from his death, even after having two more very healthy children. It was the eventual demise of my parents’ marriage. My mother frequently visits my brother’s grave, but can not go alone. Every year she says on his birthday, “Nicky would have been such and such age this year.” This August he would have been 36.

    Sorry for this story, I just needed to let it out. This life makes no sense, and to dwell on the what-ifs only subtracts from the beauty and joy that you get out of the days you have.

  39. Sarah on July 12th, 2006 1:23 pm

    Oh muffin… I can’t imagine the rawness that those thoughts expose… Thank goodness Riley has a mom who loves him enough to think these terrible things and try to protect him as best you can.

    Also, I love that Cat is sitting on a book titled “dog” and featuring a golden retriever. Simply hilarious.

  40. Andrea on July 12th, 2006 1:47 pm

    I have a nine year old son and a nine month old girl. And ever since she was born I have been incapacitated by worry. To the point of talking with a doctor about it. I am so into my children. In the abstract sense before I had children I thought I would be able to handle anything, yeah you worry, but it isn’t a big deal. I didn’t think it would be this bad. And it must be a mother-thing because when I mention anything that I have been thinking in that department (I will not be sharing the diaper change note you included here) my husband shuts me down: “I don’t think about those things, the possibilites; I only think about the reality.” He isn’t any help. According to my mother, it doesn’t get any better. Thanks a lot Sundry!

  41. Kim on July 13th, 2006 10:00 am

    Oh, Linda. Yes. This is exactly what it is like. Gracie’s 8 months now, and I have to turn away from the dark thoughts too. I feel sometimes like I’m mentally staring into a deep, bottomless well and wondering what it would be like to fall down there.

    And the thing is, it’s endless. “What if I fall while I’m carrying her downstairs and crush her? What if our sweet dog goes beserk and bites her face? What if someone were to sneak in a door I’d left unlocked and steal her? What if we’re in a wreck and she’s hurt? What if we’re walking down the sidewalk and we’re hit by a car? What if she gets a fever, I don’t get it down fast enough, and she’s brain damaged by it? My brain can always, always come up with a reason to be terribly afraid. It feels like neurosis, but all my momfriends and relatives say it’s just being a mom.

    Who knew it would be this terrifying? I sure didn’t.

  42. Susie on July 15th, 2006 9:46 pm

    They are so precious. You just want to squish them with love. And yes, if you thought about the horrible things that could happen, well…. you’d just want to jump off a cliff.

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