The Miracologist

A boy who looks for miracles wants to be a mirocologist. Jess Redman’s book The Miraculous comes to me now, almost six years after I witnessed my daughter’s brief life. An 11-year old protagonist with a dead newborn sister named Milagros. A funeral. A witch. A magic tree. My heart…

I want everyone to read this book that tells us what Sister Evelyn told me when my aunt was terminally ill. “Look for the miracles. There are small miracles in the tragedies, but you have to look for them.”

This summer I look for miracles in my son’s face, in the purple rose, in my young neighbor’s handmade birthday card that says “I love you too much. You are the best neighbor ever.” Life is slowly moving, yet somehow I feel suspended on a bridge. What awaits us on the other side? Ten years ago when I left my mentally ill first husband I felt like I was walking on a long bridge not knowing what life would look like on the other side. I pictured fairies and mist in those dark days. It took a while, but I stepped into a new life better than I ever imagined.

For many years I dreaded summer because bad things happened to me around my birthday in July. One year my aunt was diagnosed with meningioma, I left a 19 year relationship another June, someone rear-ended me and gave me a concussion in a hit and run accident one August, and then one summer I waited for a baby girl I wanted so much to raise. I waited. I waited and I loved her enough to let her go. I whispered those words in her ear as her broken, tender, weak body rested in my arms.

Reader, humans go through unexplainable, unimaginable and unbearable loss. Many are going through these losses right now, losing jobs and loved ones. Let’s hold hands virtually and reach out to the ones put in our path. Let’s hold space for the tender and broken hearted.

Jess Redman writes
They would stay and reach beyond their sorrow, beyond time, beyond death…
Here was a place where the dead weren’t really gone.
Here was a place where miracles happened. (306)

The bunnies have been eating my sunflowers. One sunflower grew up with an allium surrounding it, and it has several buds about to open yellow, open bright. One allium repelled all of those bunnies and gives me the gift of these blooms. Tonight I am grateful for one onion bulb and flower.

I have begun to make videos reading my work. Somehow, with little sleep, I am managing to finish two manuscripts this summer. My poetry manuscript which was written before I left my first marriage is finally coming together. I will be taking a class with Lidia Yuknavitch on the palimpsest to get ideas on finalizing the novel. I want to help you create beautiful things too. If you have not yet signed up for my new mailing list to learn about my classes and offerings and to receive a video of my first chapter in the novel as a sneak preview and bonus, please sign up here: https://mailchi.mp/1be531e26975/subscribe

My Greek ancestors have been with me these days and I offer you this brief video of two poems from my poetry manuscript. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLnMUlRr9Rw&t=3s

I will be launching my new classes on Sunday night with special discounts for a limited time. I hope that you can join me soon. Your presence means so much to me. Blessings to you from Colorado… Let’s become miracologists together.

Winter Solstice Reflections

It is the darkest day of the year here in Colorado: the winter solstice. Tonight I am thinking of my dear ones who are both joyous and grieving in this sisterhood and brotherhood of integration of all aspects of our longing souls. And tonight my heart is filled with love for the children who are processing and integrating their own grief and losses and joy and excitement over the holiday season.

Tonight my son and his two friends spoke to Mrs. Claus at a holiday event in Littleton. Mrs. Claus asked my son if he was good to his sister and brother.

“My sister is dead,” he said, “they are my friends.” He pointed to Elliana and Silas while Mrs. Claus ignored his statement and his truth and admonished him to be a good boy for Santa. Mrs. Claus, like so many others, did not acknowledge my boy’s reality, and I am angry tonight as I sit by a tree lit with white lights and angels flying in memory of my boy’s sister Mary Rose, because his loss needs to be acknowledged so that he can heal. 

The year 2019 is fading as I write, but it brought a few End of Life Doulas into my life. Cindy Kaufman and Nessa Walker Johnson, both EOL Doulas and writers, are working to change the culture around death here in the Denver area, and perhaps because I breathe into my mortality daily, I too want to normalize the support of those who have been affected by miscarriage, stillbirth, and newborn and infant loss. 

The reality that I wish to embroider on the tapestry of my soul is only love. Love for each mother who cannot physically hold her daughter or son, yet who still feels the echo of that life and movement that was once inside her body. Love for the siblings who live in the shadow of a dead baby, a sister or a brother whom they do not know. The children are navigating their lives with friends and their siblings and death when our culture chooses to ignore death, and therefore their ghost sisters and brothers.

This holiday season, as we stretch ourselves to do and be and celebrate and honor, I hope that we each take heart-centered breaths and beam our grief-filled joy out into our dark world to show others that we are more than ok as we serve each other tea and cookies and respect for each member of our family and tribe, present, or gone from this earth. 

You are not alone, Reader. I am here, and I send you much love this holiday season. I hope that you and your loved ones are acknowledged and honored this winter and forevermore.

Website Relaunch & Offerings

Last fall I decided to take a training class to teach pregnancy and infant loss to providers and practitioners through an established institute. I thought that this would be a good way to earn some income while promoting my book and using my grief to help others. This endeavor was expensive. I spent a small fortune to travel to the weekend class with less than one month’s notice from the teacher. I listened to webinars. I invested a lot, and it turns out that the person doing the training misrepresented herself. I felt stupid at having been misled, especially about pregnancy and infant loss, a topic that is so important to me as I continue to work to improve awareness and acceptance of death in my work.

Yes, I want to subscribe.

I have a dear friend Leslie who hiked with me this past summer. She asked me if it was worth a few thousand dollars to have the confidence to go forward and create my own business and teach my own classes. I replied firmly with a “no,” but she disagreed. “Of course, it’s worth it!” she exclaimed. “You wouldn’t have done this last fall, and now here you are starting your own business and doing the work that you wanted to do.”

Reader, my life is a labyrinth, and the path to my heart center is not linear. I have wandered a maze, hither and yon, horizontally and vertically, and here I am.

I introduce The Labyrinth of the Heart Center. My website is revamped with new offerings both in person here in Colorado and online. I am now available for grief and intuitive consulting. This November I am offering a six-week online grief class on Sunday afternoons (mountain time) to offer support to grieving hearts facing the holidays without their loved ones. I will teach a grief class in January in Greenwood Village to providers and practitioners to improve awareness and understanding for those of us going through losses. Pregnancy loss. Infant loss. All losses. We need those around us to use kind words as we maneuver our lives with our tender, broken hearts intact.

When I signed up for the class to train and be a part of an institute last year, I wanted the support of a network and community. I am feeling alone, yet I am stepping forward to do the work I am called to do. Even now, somewhere there is a family discovering that their pregnancy will not have the outcomes that they desired. I am here. We do not have to face our challenges alone.

Please visit my website www.diannavagianos.com that web woman Amanda Burma of The Mindful Tech has revamped soulfully. I look forward to connecting with many of you through this new work.

Happy Autumn… May the squirrels not eat all of your pumpkins, as they have just taken another one of mine…

Yes, I want to subscribe.

“You Gave Her a Mother” and Meeting Anne Lamott

for Michele and Evelyn “Evie” Grace

I met Anne Lamott last year when she came to Tattered Covers in Denver on her book tour for her new book Almost Anything: Notes on Hope. For two decades I have been reading Lamott, and I wanted to tell her that her books were a light in my darkest time.

In 2014 after my newborn daughter died of trisomy 18, I cycled through several of Lamott’s spiritual memoirs. Her words comforted me late at night when everyone else was sleeping and I was alone with my deep, searing grief. She whispered the right words to me as I faced another dark night of the soul.                   

In The Three Essential Prayers, Lamott writes “Death will not be the end of the story” (23) and “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved and in charge of so little” (27). Lamott tells us that her “…pastor Veronica says that God always makes a way out of no way” (54). My milk had come in, my baby was buried, and I didn’t know how to walk forward. So I read more of Lamott’s books.

In Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, I read the words “But what if the great secret insider-trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life?” (39) I knew that this was true. I knew then that I would never get over the moments of my pregnancy knowing that my baby would not live, nor would I ever stop feeling the emptiness of the space where my daughter once was. Lamott quotes Ram Dass who said that “ultimately we’re all just walking each other home” (6). In those weeks and months of walking through my life with one living child after my second full-term pregnancy it was Lamott’s books that were pulling me through, giving me a little hope that I could survive my cracked self and broken heart.

On that night of her book tour, Lamott filled a large Denver church and she made us laugh and tear up. She is such a good speaker. When the few of us who had books to sign lined up (because we had already received our signed copies of her new book before we sat down), I was nervous. I started crying when I stood in front of her. I told her about my Mary Rose and how much her books had meant to me in my raw grief. Annie hugged me and said “You gave her a mother… You gave her a mother…” as she hugged me, and I continued to cry. 

It is Mother’s Day again, the fifth one since my unborn baby was diagnosed with trisomy 18. I remember that first Mother’s Day when I knew that it would be our only one together. My daughter moved inside of me and I sat on a green metal chair on the lawn of our home in Suffolk, Virginia stunned and unsure of my future. I did not know how I would walk through the rest of my pregnancy. I did not know how I would birth my child only to give her up to death. 

There is always a way through, Lamott tells us. For those of us who are holding our losses so tenderly these days, those of us whose mothers and children have died, we have each other. And in our thorny world, thankfully the roses will be blooming again soon.

In her latest book, Almost Everything, Lamott reminds us that “Against all odds, no matter what we’ve lost…no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day” (189). 

May it be so for all of us. Let’s have a warm cup of tea together.

Who Is Welcome at Your Table?

for Aniela

Sister, have you felt judged by other women? Growing up in a Greek-American family, one woman was frequently measuring another woman by her standards. Mothers versus childless women. A woman with three children versus a woman with one child. I grew up watching a hierarchy of women with grandmothers at the top not often supporting younger women who made different choices with their lives.

When I was in a fifteen-year infertile marriage, people often asked me if I had children. When I became a mother later in life, the question changed to how many children I had. When I was pregnant with my daughter Mary Rose who would die, I was asked if I would have an abortion, or later in the pregnancy, why I had not had one. The questions mount throughout our lives, and these very questions become fences between one woman and the next, between one family and the other family. 

I resist categorization. Though I am pro-life for my own body, I am also politically pro-choice. Though my baby would die when I was pregnant at 42 years old, I chose to have a home birth, and then I prepared my newborn’s body for burial on my bed. Our family chose not to use medical interventions to prolong our daughter’s life, though many choose otherwise. In life, as in death, there are choices to be made. How can we embrace each other when we make different choices? 

I wrote a book about my pregnancy with Mary Rose to address some of these issues. I discuss the pregnancy where parents have to decide to abort or carry to term, to choose life support or not, to plan a funeral while pregnant and later deal with mother’s milk when there is no baby to feed. My book has also been judged. One Catholic organization that could have used my book to support families going through pregnancies like mine, declined to support my book because of those few words “I am pro-choice politically.” Though I nurtured Mary Rose’s short life, I was told that I am pro-baby murder by people who never stood at the threshold between life and death. These same people who offer their opinions so freely have never walked my path.

When I wrote my book, I checked in with my publisher to make sure that everyone reading my book would feel welcome: women who have carried to term or chosen an abortion, the childless by choice or not, mothers of living children and mothers of no living children, and those of us with children on both sides of the veil. I didn’t want to exclude anyone from my memoir and story.

We have choices in our lives, and we live with the consequences of those choices. As humans we experience grief and joy. Can we accept each other as we are? Can we accept a woman equally whether she chooses abortion or life, has a hospital or home birth, allows a natural death for her newborn or uses medical intervention? Can we treat women equally whether they are mothers or not? How can we open our hearts and minds to each other?

Reader, who is welcome at your table? I think of the great big table at my grandparents’ house. The table was unmistakably Greek. It was set with feta and mizithra, olives and octopus, lamb and wild greens called horta. Children and grandparents, friends and cousins gathered often. I have been thinking of my heart as a table lately. I want all my sisters to feel welcome at my table, regardless of their choices and path. If we are a sisterhood of women, a community that can mother our children and our elderly, we must realize that we all have our suffering and joy, that we are in this life together.

My table is set with Greek mountain tea and not-too-sweet cookies. I hope that you will come and join me. I will bring out the rose jam for you.

On the Fourth Anniversary of My Newborn Daughter’s Death

          for Eva on her first birthday not on this Earth

Grief hits me as hard and suddenly as the hail storm pelting the garden I grew from seeds. Four-year grief builds with the moisture of the Gulf of Mexico that collides with the weather of the Rocky Mountains creating summer white groundcover of hail. My fairy garden strawberry plant sits in the white of hail. Tomato plants are pelted and bruised, limbs broken, leaves dying from the impact. Delicate string bean leaves with holes, sunflower leaves also broken. The 37 rose bushes on, what my son calls, Rose Way, look weak and sad. I am stunned by the fierceness of the winds, so many leaves from the trees down, but I get to work, my fingers frozen and muddy as I scoop out the round cold hail from newly planted strawberry plants. Will they make it? I wonder.

Later in the week I harvest three zucchini and cucumbers, a handful of string beans and the two strawberries left after the storm. Tender dark leaves of lacinato kale. My humble harvest. They are all marked where the hail bounced off of them with force.

And then as August approaches I weep uncontrollably in the darkness of the night, as I did when I was pregnant, and knew that my baby would die. My son is asleep after he asks me again if we can have another child, my husband’s c-pap machine whirrs. Why so many tears at the four-year mark?

My sister brings me a beautiful copper-plated aspen leaf ornament from Breckenridge. It’s not a birthday present, she says, It’s more of a remembrance.  Terry whose two beautiful daughters died of cystic fibrosis leaves a message. And as August 8thapproaches, all night I dream of meeting Lori, mama of sweet Eva, whose older brother lives and thrives though grief batters their family as well.

What do you do on Mary Rose’s birthday? my neighbor Angela asks, as her baby girl proudly toddles around the yard. I tell her I need quiet. I shore up in stillness and protect my heart with kindness. Only those who can love a mother bruised by grief can come near. I say no to volunteering at school this week though we are moving into a new building. No to crowds of people chatting. No. No.

But I have to get by, have to walk through the days. I remember feeling this way when the contractions swelled in my body for days, when I labored and then was emptied of my baby girl.

I have buried many this lifetime.

My son wants to make a pistachio cake with rose buttercream. Cake, I think. Cake for a dead baby’s birthday? I will make cake for my living son on my daughter’s birthday.

Dirt soothes me. I plant another rose bush, a butterfly bush, some coreopsis on Mary Rose’s birthday. I plan to thin the irises and surround myself in their bearded blossoms,  plant new bulbs that will surprise me in spring, but it takes hours to plant a few plants in the Colorado clay soil. I am limited in what I can accomplish this summer. I amend some of the soil with my own compost and planting soil. I bless each plant and hope it blooms in the coming years.

For those who think that this grief signals a lack of acceptance – life is not an either/or situation. I accept my daughter’s death from trisomy 18, and I will grieve her with my body and heart until I die because I am her mother. Because we are one with the Earth that also lets go and grieves. I am true to her memory and her daughterness. Though people would tell us that we should move on, I am here holding space for my daughter and my grief. Space for my living son with his losses and milestones. Space to do this work of grieving and being in the reality of both great joy and sadness simultaneously.

On my daugher’s birthday and every day I pray, Mary Rose, my daughter still, I love you.

A Transcendent Experience of Life and Death

I was interviewed today by Kelly Meehan-Tobatabo of Spirit Baby Radio. We shared our perspective on grief and loss and moving our pain towards the light. Click on the link below to listen to our conversation.

http://spiritbabyradio.libsyn.com/

How the Bereaved Celebrate the Living

Since my daughter died, we have celebrated birthdays and holidays, our son’s milestones and my husband’s retirement from the military. It is two and a half years later, and it still hurts. We feel the emptiness of the space where her body once was. How do the bereaved celebrate the living when our hearts are sometimes still heavy with grief?

In December we moved across the country to the Denver area. We left Mary Rose’s house. We left the place where our toddler became a boy, and now at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, we celebrated our son’s fifth birthday. We celebrate with an excavator cupcake truck at a party with his first cousins. But we miss Mary Rose. We continue to mourn, even as our love for her continues to grow.

How do we celebrate life after loss? My heart is a basket that feels hollow after my loved ones die. How can I fill my basket? How do we gather the courage to celebrate joyously for the living and the dead?

I cry almost every day, remembering Mary Rose and the others. But I also cook and write cards. I spend time outside walking and breathing, noticing my surroundings and the creatures that share my habitat. I breathe in the dry mountain air in wonder. I think of my bedridden aunt who died before Mary Rose, and I am grateful that I can walk. I am grateful for my living family. I bake. I read. I treasure my relationships, especially getting to know my sister again now that we live close to each other for the first time in 14 years. I do all this while I remember. I celebrate the living and the dead, because they are all in my heart.

I teared up when we sang Happy Birthday to our son because he is growing up, and because Mary Rose never did. I feel her close to us, but I still long to hold her in my arms. It is hard to be on this earth and be joyful after a death, but we can do it if we walk together in unity with all those we love, living and dead. It takes great courage to hold both grief and joy in our heart. I suspect that as the years go by, grief does not become easier. It feels like being in the ocean where you never know when there will be a big wave or calm sea. I still can’t predict a riptide that takes me back to the rawest grief.

I’ve been missing my aunt as much as Mary Rose through this move, the holidays and our son’s birthday. Tonight I told my son a story about her while we snuggled together at bedtime. I told him that our Thea Matina was a principal of an elementary school, and that the children had a hard time with her name, Cacomanolis. I told him that the kids sometimes called her Ms. Cacamanolis. There is no kaka in my name, she told her kids. They laughed, and they said her name correctly. My son laughed and laughed until no sound came out, and she was there with us in that moment.

This is how I choose to walk. I carry the ancestors into our future through our stories and memories, through prayers and love. Each new celebration and milestone includes them, as long as we remember, and give thanks. If our friends and family could join us in weaving our dead through our lives, we will be more whole and connected. Crying is just fine, because there is so much joy around us…

 

 

Do. No. Harm.

I was recently on a Facebook group page honoring Ina May Gaskin, the pioneer home birth midwife. A mother at the end of her fourth pregnancy wrote about having nightmares after seeing a post about a baby who died at home. This mother was looking for comfort and sympathy. She never mentioned the specific post, but I had posted my home birth story and a photo of my daughter who died of trisomy 18 after birth months ago. I wasn’t sure if my daughter’s photo was the one that gave this woman nightmares, but I got upset, as did another mother whose daughter died a week after birth. As with so many of our social media forums, this post got ugly. A birth worker admonished the bereaved mothers to “do no harm.” We could grieve, but it would be more appropriate to go someplace else. Our birth stories that ended in death had no place on a forum about birth. Our pregnancies, labors and babies are not welcome here. One woman wrote that she believed the referenced post was meant to be incendiary and had been removed, but I’m still not sure.

The numbers of pregnancy and infant loss speak volumes. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. One million babies die each year before their first birthday in the United States. Where are bereaved mothers to go? Why is our reality not a part of our cultural discussions of new mothers? I believe that we can form strong alliances and communities where our culture becomes loving enough to celebrate our babies and their short lives. In my dreams, I am embraced in my grief, instead of ignored.

The Baha’i Faith speaks of unity. We cannot have Christianity without Judaism. We cannot have light without the complicated shadows that also live inside each human heart. There is no life without death. Bahá’ulláh says “Of the Tree of Knowledge the All-glorious fruit is this exalted word: Of one Tree are all ye the fruits and of one Bough the leaves (53). All mothers, regardless of outcomes are one body, yet we continue to put up barriers and separate ourselves from each other.

The cultural concept that pregnancy always ends in happy mothers nursing healthy babies does not serve us. We must be brave as we face each pregnancy, each child, because we do not know the outcomes. A healthy living baby does not have more value than a child who dies. I know. I have one of each. If we measure our lives with love, then each soul has a place at the table of the heart.

I have much to celebrate each day, including my sweet daughter, whose life continues to encourage and help others through my book about her impact on my life, Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Newborn Death. But my tender heart continues to grieve when I watch my son play alone, negotiating his reality of why his sister died. My eyes tear up when someone asks me again how many children I have.

I wasn’t sure if I should address this situation, and one birth worker, on my blog, but I was so disappointed in the way that the comments came rolling in, and I was not the only mother offended and hurt. This post is my response to the birth worker who believes bereaved mothers might upset pregnant women. First do no harm, she replied to me again.

I will continue to do no harm by speaking up and writing for my sisters who are infertile, for mothers with no living children, and for those of us who carry our deceased babies in our hearts every day and every hour. We are one body of human sisters and need to unite in community to support one another.

I will continue to do no harm. How about you, Sister?

 

To read my original post that I shared on the Ina May Gaskin Fan Page click here: http://www.diannavagianos.com/blog/?p=269

Work Cited

Esslemont, J.E. Bahá’u’llah and the New Era: An Introduction to the Bahá’i Faith. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’i
Publishing, 2006. Print.

 

August Book Giveaway on Goodreads

cover

 

Mary Rose’s birthday month is here and we are offering eight signed copies of Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Newborn Death this month on Goodreads. Enter to win a copy by CLICKING HERE:

Goodreads