Spring, 2002: My mother calls me one morning after breakfast. This is unusual but not unheard of. She sounds breathless, like she is keeping an exciting secret. She tells me that my father has had a heart attack, is in the hospital. He recovers and is home within the week. I am pregnant, and I tell him that this baby - my first child - needs to hear him sing.
May 13, 2002: My phone rings on a Monday morning. It is my aunt, my mother’s older sister, calling to say that my grandmother is hospitalized with sepsis and congestive heart failure. I drive an hour and a half to see her in the hospital, and to tell her that her daughter is coming, don’t go yet until Julie gets here. I drive back home to Minneapolis. I pick up my parents and assorted siblings at the airport, and drive back to St. Cloud with them. My mother says goodbye to her mother. My grandmother dies.
May 16, 2002: At the visitation prior to my grandmother’s funeral, much of my extended family learns that my husband and I are expecting our first child.
May 17, 2002: Having moved mountains to reschedule my 18-week ultrasound to accommodate the funeral, I decide not to go to the service because the scan showed catastrophic birth defects in my eldest son. Due to multiple collisions with fibers within the amnion, many of his internal organs have developed outside his body. He has an omphalocele and an encephalocele and one completely perfect left hand, which has slender fingers like my husband’s.
July 25, 2002: Based on information that it is getting harder for my son to breathe in utero, we induce labor at 28 weeks gestation.
July 27, 2002: Christopher Daniel is stillborn at a few minutes after four in the morning. He is too little to have anything of his own (one pound, six ounces; 12 inches long; you don’t forget these things except on purpose), so he carries my name and my husband’s name with him. He has a fluff of dark hair. He is not beautiful, but we have a plaster imprint of his perfect left hand.
September, 2002: We are trying again, as soon as it’s physically possible. At just six weeks’ gestation, we learn that it’s twins.
April 19, 2003: After 32 weeks of a largely uneventful pregnancy, Adam and Rebecca are born on a very eventful Saturday. When I come out of anesthesia, the first thing I think of is that I am scheduled to play in a bell choir on Easter morning, and I want to call my choir director before I call anyone else.
(we are skipping a few years here; my children are having a fairly standard childhood)
July, 2009: We learn that I am unexpectedly pregnant. The baby is in a family picture from the Badlands of South Dakota, but you can’t see her yet.
January 29, 2010: I share some thoughts about the pregnancy and learn that I do not have gestational diabetes. Yippee.
February 5, 2010: I am in a school Mass at work when my principal tells me that my sister has called from St. Louis and is on the phone. On the long, long walk to the front office from the gym, I brace myself for bad news about my father. Instead, my sister tells me that my mother died unexpectedly, and I desperately want to crawl under the desk where I’m sitting. Initially, I think it would be a good idea to just go back to the library and get my work done, because what is there to do about it now? I go home and curl up in my daughter’s bed, because she has a comforter that my mother made for me when I was seven.
February 9, 2010: My mother’s funeral. Some people come who I don’t expect to see; it is touching. I am seven months pregnant, and I find the wherewithal to speak briefly about how important my mom was in my growing up and becoming. Driving back to Minneapolis through Iowa is a miserable, icy mess.
February 12, 2010: This.
March 9, 2010: Juliana Joy is born, at 8 lbs, 1 ounce. The first thing I say, in my heavily-anesthetized, low-blood-pressure state, is “That’s a HUGE baby!”
Summer, 2010: At some point, I tell my sister that every time she calls me, I flinch a little bit, because I am never sure what she’s going to say.
August, 2010: Adam and Becky go to Camp Grandma and I travel with Baby J to St. Louis, where she and my father meet each other for the first time. He is clearly smitten with her, and I am reminded that he is a guy who likes kids, that he was the very first person to be delighted when we announced our pregnancy.
November 25, 2010: Thanksgiving. Like last Christmas, my brothers and sisters are sharing the holiday in St. Louis. I am in Minneapolis. I forget why, now.
December 9, 2010: My phone rings shortly before 9:00 PM. It is my sister, and she says, “You’re going to hate me.” I flinch. And she tells me that my dad has died, that she walked into his house and found him not breathing, that we are parentless children, that his music is gone from the world. I don’t feel anything right away; the first thing that comes is anger, and relief that at least we will not have to have these conversations ever again. Other stuff comes later, is still coming.
(in the future)
December 11, 2010: A foot of snow is expected to fall in southern Minnesota. Blizzard conditions are forecast for northern Iowa over the weekend. My principal is kind enough to fill in for me at a weekend event sponsored by my library. My husband is traveling for business next week and may not be able to be at my father’s funeral. I need to get myself and three children to St. Louis without ending up in a ditch or having anyone’s head explode. Things are not great, but I find that my grandma is one tough lady.
December 25, 2010: Christmas? Really? Can we put it off until next year?
December 29, 2010: For the first time ever, my sister (the other one) has her birthday all to herself, because she shared it with my dad. I don’t even know what this means.
And that’s as far as I can see. Now you know.