Five years old.

A 5 year old.

I just. can’t. I really don’t have words.

It’s such a big-deal age.  So much time.  Five years.

My big girls are especially struggling this year.  Aching and lamenting.

“I just don’t want him to be five!” Eleanor cries, “But I’m so tired of him being just a baby!

Charlotte throws down yet another Graham portrait she’s been working on, “None of them are right!” She yells as her voice quivers,  “I just don’t know what he looks like anymore!”

So much time has gone by.  A big boy trapped in his babyhood, tangled up in our loss of him.

Five Years.

Oh, my sweet child, you are so loved.


Me Too

I sat in a room with a smattering of other people and listened to someone else’s story.  Her words began simple enough, as she gently laid out the skeleton of a life lived.  I slowly began to recognize the story she was telling.  A premature baby, multiple illnesses, an ominous phone call…

I quietly sat upright in my chair. I intentionally turned my head and looked right at her, silently… carefully, as she continued to speak to the room.

Over the course of the last 4 years I have heard many, many stories like mine – different variations, different details, different people… but they tend to end the same (or begin, depending on your perspective) a child dead and a mother left eviscerated.  These stories are so ugly and horrific – they never feel good, even when there are themes of redemption and hope woven in.  All the same, I can’t help but connect with the pain, the heartache, the injustice – it grounds me somehow, reminds me of truth – the truth that we live in a world where babies die for no reason. Once we can acknowledge this truth, we can lament it, and then somehow live in.

However, the truth is always and forever heavy.  Turns out, living under its weight in the midst of people who do everything they can to forget it, ignore it, or change it, is incredibly lonely – a pain all its own to bare.  And so, I’m always looking for kindred spirits – someone, anyone, who can share the load for a bit.

As this woman’s words moved forward, I imagined myself into the future… walking up to her, reaching out… uttering the words, “me too”.  “Oh God,” I silently admitted, “I didn’t know how much I needed this tonight.”

And then suddenly, this woman’s tone changed, and I heard the code words subtly shift.  “Shit!” I thought as my mind frantically back peddled, “Her baby doesn’t die!” I dropped my head and stared blankly, anger bubbling inside of me as I scrambled to process the plot shift.  She went on to describe her child’s harrowing recovery, all the while painting a beautiful picture of a world where babies don’t die, not really.  In this world God answers the prayers of desperation – miracles, of course, happen.  In this world, we come through the dark night intact and enlightened.

The thing is, I like her world better, I want to celebrate all the healthy children with beating hearts… and on principal, I don’t believe it’s helpful to validate my pain by invalidating someone else’s…   It’s just that I didn’t realize how the weight of truth was pulling me down… until the hope of reprieve – the hope of a shared story – crumbled in front of me.

My lips, just above the water line, disappear.


“The abdomen is remarkable only for some greenish discoloration, signifying early putrefaction change, especially around his belly button.”

He missed all the raspberries, hundreds upon hundreds of raspberries planted all around that bellybutton… why couldn’t he see all the raspberries??

“The testes are descended. The penis is not circumcised.”

No mention of the years and years of debate and deliberation that little bit of skin on top of his penis inspired. Did he even pause to consider?

“The body is opened with the usual Y-shaped incision revealing a panniculus of 0.8cm.”

The fleshy soft belly that hung over the top of his diaper… what an ugly name – panniculus. I want so badly to gently tickle him with the tips of my fingers and feel his giggle reverberate into my soul.

“The brain weighs 904 grams.”

I know how much my child’s brain weighs. Fucking shit – I KNOW HOW MUCH MY CHILD’S BRAIN WEIGHS! But his mind… his mind, I know so little – a wisp of potential.

“The neck is dissected and the tongue, larynx, and trachea are removed.”

I remember the curve of his tongue tucked snug under my nipple… endless hours, intimately connected to him, but it’s removed now. Ripped away. I wonder where it went… maybe in a medical incinerator somewhere, or more likely – assuming a shred of human decency – stuffed back into the gaping hole that was left behind. Revolting.

“1 ml of vitreous humor is obtained. Standard tissue sections are saved… skin of left shoulder…”

If they were collecting skin why not bother to take one of his sweet little birthmarks – that would be skin worth saving, right? Of course It’s not exactly like a lost tooth or a clipping from a first haircut I suppose… for fucks sake – a piece of his skin and liquid from his eye are sitting on someone’s shelf somewhere!  DO YOU FEEL RAGE RUMBLING IN YOU?!?! Please, tell me you can feel it too because I can’t breathe for all the rage.

Perhaps I shouldn’t dwell on the horror, I could leave the autopsy report tucked quietly away in a deep corner of our home, or at the very least keep it to myself – keep all this to myself…

But it wouldn’t change the truth of it all.  It wouldn’t numb the pain… It might make someone else feel better, but I can’t. I just can’t.  So here I am giving it voice, screaming out how disgusting – proving how unjust!  This is me admitting, that it’s winning.


“The bag is opened to reveal a well-nourished white male infant.”

That’s what he saw.  When he unzipped the white bag with a black plastic lock, that’s what he saw.  A well nourished white male infant.  He didn’t see a full-face grin or hear a high pitched laughing squeal.  I wonder if the room was silent?

“The hair is blond and measures 1- 1 1/2 inches in length”

The bright florescent lighting surely must have drown out the vibrant complexity of color from his hair.

“…the nose and nares are unremarkable.”

Unremarkable? His nose was long and narrow, the tip gently rounded in a symmetrical boxiness just like his oldest sister’s. His nostrils would flair open gently every time he screeched out in laughter.  But of course he wasn’t laughing now… perhaps what made him remarkable really was gone?

“the heart weighs 42 grams”

No. No it doesn’t!  His heart fills our home!  His heart lives in me! It fills me up.  We maneuvered around and through his ginormous, beating heart every single day. 42 grams… you’ve got it all wrong.


My grief wounds are beginning to ache. I can feel the changing seasons in my heart. The short days and black mornings pour out empty, lonely, lost.

The holidays are on the horizon followed closely by the darkest days of my winter. It always feel sort of like a countdown and every year I feel the heavy possibility that I could step into my story in a way I haven’t yet conceived and somehow change history. I could stop it… change it — I could save him. I know I can’t, but this feeling, this longing… it masquerades like Hope. It almost feels good but really it’s just ugly.

The overwhelming feeling that I need to remember swells within me. I need to hurt and somehow love. I need to remember.

Deep in the heart of our forest, I’m making a bottle tree for Graham. Hanging bits of color from a weathered old tree. It wont be beautiful exactly… but it could be.

It’s just the beginning of an idea – a possibility that feels full. There are many different types of bottle trees and the traditions have deep roots. My plan doesn’t really fit any of the historical conventions but it feels ‘just right’ for the memory of my boy.

Every bottle will carry something: a message, a sentiment, memories, hopes, the names of a lives changed, maybe just the potential for wind-song. They will house the shadows and outrages, too – stuffed full with injustices and mercies alike. Every bottle will be hung to dangle just out of reach – catching a twinkle of light, wisps of winds, sparkles of rain. There will also be moments when they won’t shine at all, hazy with dust or heavy with snow… It wont be beautiful exactly, but it could be.

This will be one of my more quiet memorials. More personal than public probably, but I wanted to invite you to join me if you wish. I know you love him… love me. I know I am not the only one who is hurting, maybe Graham’s tree could be a safe place to rest your own personal lament.

I’m looking for colored glass bottles of any size, shape, or style… You could send it empty or fill it with some words… maybe just breathe in a prayer. You could also send some words from wherever you are in the world and I will find a bottle to shelter them. There is no time limit… this is the sort of project that could go on forever, or at least until heaven.


Image may contain: 5 peopleOur family chooses a theme each Halloween and we dress up together. It’s turned out to be a massive, exciting family bonding activity which gets more extravagant and complex as the years roll on…

Graham gets a costume each year too. Sort of. He only got one Halloween, or rather we only got one Halloween with him – only one real costume that you could see and touch, but I dress him in my heart each year, right along with my other loves.

The rest of the family enjoys the game too, but truthfully everyone else is much too obsessed with their own costumes to connect much with his, so this tends to be a special, quiet way that I remember Graham.

It’s a simple choice that marks time and space ‘with him’ and also ‘not with him’.

I was caught off guard this year… Graham’s costumed character was everywhere. I should have anticipated it… but I didn’t think to expect it. So many little boys, running around, that could have – should have – been him. It made my kids smile to ‘see him’ it made me sick to my stomach.

It’s stupid game I’m playing! He doesn’t have a stupid costume and pretending he does is a stupid way of approaching grief! My son is NOT here, no matter how much I pretend he is!

Of course, I’m not going to stop doing it – what else am I supposed to do – it’s an impossible existence I’m living. A fucking stupid game.

Both, And

Not long ago we were at a family event where a speaker began with an icebreaker question for her audience, “Who here is the oldest child in their family?” Hands went up around the room. As I raised my own hand, I glanced over as my firstborn shot her arm up in a confident and calculated manner.

The speaker went on, “What about the youngest in the family? Who here is the youngest?” I suddenly realized that our second born had casually thrown her arm into the air, half her body goofingly along with it…

She hadn’t considered the question – she didn’t pause or think, she just raised her hand and looked around the room to see who else had joined her.

I felt a nauseating jolt of adrenaline in my throat as I internally quipped, “Put your hand down – You’re wrong! You are NOT the youngest child in our family!” How badly I wanted to correct her, remind her… Really I just wanted to grab her little arm and yank it down.

Instead, I carefully swallowed as I looked above my daughters’ heads and met the knowing gaze of my husband.

With resolute disappointment, I began to change the tone of my own voice inside myself. “Forgive her, this isn’t about you. This isn’t about Graham… the deck is rigged for our family – she gets to answer that question however she wants… Because even though she’s wrong, she’s also right.”

As I carried on my internal conversation, I heard the speaker ask her final question, “And what about the middle children? Do we have any middle children here today?”

Nora, whose hand had already returned to her lap after the last question, quietly and enthusiastically rose to her feet and stretched her arm into the air as high as it could go. She didn’t hesitate, didn’t even consider…

A smile stretched across her face, as she tilted her head back and met my eye.


My girls were cuddled close to me, giggling and daydreaming about our upcoming move to a new home. Without a change in tone or demeanor, Eleanor mused, “Where is Graham’s room going to be?”

The question just sort of hung in the air.

I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Well, I suppose Graham won’t have a room in our new house… I guess he doesn’t really need one anymore, does he?”

Graham hasn’t made use of his room for a while now… but its remained his all the same.

The function and purpose of his room has gone through a variety of changes in the three and a half years since I last lay him to sleep in his crib.

A couple of the photographs and art on the walls hasn’t been touched, a few other pieces have been moved around, added or taken away.

My favorite art in the room was purchased on a lonely day of empty grief. I walked through the store aimlessly while imagining all the things I would like to buy for my son if he was still mine. Suddenly I stopped in front of a piece of art and listened as his name screamed in my heart, GRAHAM!

I wavered and trembled. I’m not supposed to do this, what would people think if they knew I was buying this for a dead child… in a rush of confusion and self loathing and love, somehow with a lot of love, I threw the print in my cart and made a beeline to the checkout. “Fuck it. I can buy my son whatever I want to — just tell me I can’t” I hung it on his wall and have never, ever regretted the decision.

When my sister lived with us she filled Graham’s room with her own things. For a time it became “Nastya’s room”. I didn’t resent her presence in the least but I missed being able to freely go in and just be. When she moved out, it naturally and easily became ‘Graham’s room’ once again. I think we all liked the opportunity to say his name.

We used the closet for storage, I put together a little reading nook with the kids’ old baby glider.  Evan moved his desk up and for awhile it was our work and school hub.  We all stole moments here and there to use the space, appreciate the serenity – whenever we need to.

Every now and again at bed time the girls will bicker and fight in their shared room rather than drift peacefully off to sleep. “Split up!” I holler up the stairs, “One of you move to Graham’s room”.  It’s almost always Eleanor who moves to his next-door room.

His room has housed sweet little foster children. Precious souls in need of safety and respite. His room has become haven… for all of us. Not a shrine, not even memorial exactly… just a place. A place for him, a place for us… where we can still remember.

“But what if we need one? You know, a place for Graham?” Charlotte asked earnestly.

“Yes, you’re right, we’ll always need a place for him, won’t we…” I trailed off.

The truth is I don’t know what that will look like. I have no desire to recreate his room in the new house – it just wouldn’t work – not practically, not emotionally either – besides, the thing we really need is him, and the moment I lose sight of that I do us all a grave injustice.

All the same, as we pack the boxes in preparation to walk away forever, each of us is holding on to a deep sadness and nagging fear.  And of course it’s not just his room – this whole house contains his memory – we’re leaving a piece of him behind, and it seems there are no ‘new’ pieces to discover.

Time and circumstance are constantly moving us further away from him… a memory of a memory – a life once lived.

What would you suggest? How do we say goodbye, how do we say hello? Without Graham.


I read a passage from the bible today. I had a weak memory of this story, like maybe I had brushed beside it long ago – a memory of a memory. As I read through the developing plot I instinctively knew how this story would end, even while hoping – expecting – God to intervene… to make right what was blatantly, horrifically wrong.

But he didn’t. Intervene. And my hope felt wasted.

Injustice, hopelessness, murder, meaninglessness, lament… had the last word in this story. A nameless girl utterly abandoned – obliterated. My longing for a child I can’t have seems to grow uglier in the face of a parent who destroys the child they DO have.

God didn’t show up for this girl, her father either for that matter. In fact, it seems God may have been the culprit – must have been – right?

Like any grief or pain or loss that finds me in this post-Graham era, it layers onto my soul and suddenly I can’t untangle my emptiness from hers — It’s all the same disappointment – a double portion of fear – and my anger that once lay dormant now suddenly rages in desperate abandon.

What pain is mine – sacred and holy – and what pain is hers? or yours? Is all pain my pain? Certainly not, but certainly so.  I can’t even handle my own hell…

I don’t have resolve and I don’t really have a meaning to share with you. When I went looking for an explanation, a silver-lining – any way to balm my throbbing scars and lessen the overwhelming feeling of betrayal – I came across this recorded sermon. I rarely watch sermons as they pop up in my news feed (even when I’m sure to appreciate it) and because I rarely watch, I rarely share (even when I’ve come across a really good one). But I could discover very little else, so I watched – just 20 minutes – and Jesus broke in. He flooded through me. So I’m leaving it here for you to find – a quite act of resistance.

Injustice, horror, hopelessness is threaded into my story – and it IS in yours too… it most certainly is the heart-song of this little Israeli girl from all those years ago.  It just IS. Today I am claiming this truth. I’m holding it up high and taking the time to simply stare at the ugly, ugly display.

Today I am broken. Incredibly disappointed and sorrowful. But sometimes lament is resistance.  and sometimes resistance is hope.


spring-054Eleanor flung open our bedroom door and pranced unknowingly into my sadness.

Sitting alone, I was letting go of the heaviness which had slowly been building over the weeks and months prior.  My children are not surprised by tears.  They are not intimidated by pain that has no balm – time and time again they gently recognize the hurting of others and somehow manage to balance ache with joy.

“Oh, mama!” she exclaimed authentically while clamoring into my lap. I didn’t attempt to form words… I’ve truly exhausted all my words and I wasnt afraid of frightening her.  Instead, I quietly and deliberately engulfed her in my arms, buried my face in her neck and attempted to take the first of several deep breaths of renewal – re-entry into reality where my daughter exists and my son does not.

However, rather than receiving my embrace and returning my love with a squishy hug of her own, she pushed back. She leaned back and looked me square in the face.  Next she reached up and gently cupped my face in her sweaty hands. Nervously I darted my eyes away and carefully squirmed under her gaze, but she held fast and intently studied my face.

A rush of fear washed over me, suddenly I could see myself through her eyes.  I was acutely aware of my wet, red eyes.  My blotchy, dull skin.  The slouch of emptiness in my demeanor and the scars of trauma carved permanently into my forehead. I was scared for her.

Oh honey, oh sweet child – please – don’t join me in this place. I don’t wish for you a mother shattered and ruined deep inside. Please, dear one… Please, turn away…

But despite my desperate desire to close up my cracks and leaky places for the sake of my little girl, I didn’t have the time or the wherewithal to fix myself up before my daughter climbed undaunted into the depths of me.

Disappointed and self-conscious I breathed in while my daughter quietly, seriously probed my face, entering deep into my brokenness.  She wasn’t judging me, she was absorbing me, even as the wave of excruciating guilt and fear crashed over us.

I wonder if the moment felt dangerous to her.  I wonder if she realized how quickly she could be swallowed up in my pain, left to wander blackened corridors from within the shell of me.

As I searched for words that still didn’t exist, my living, breathing, loving daughter leaned in -my face still in her hands – she touched her forehead to my own and whispered in a sweet, husky voice, “I love you so much.” and then she proceeded to disentangle herself from me.  She carefully exited – the moment… my arms – fully intact.

Left suddenly alone again, I looked cautiously around to realize some of the deadened pieces of myself – now seen by the heart of my child – had somehow come alive again.


IMG_2316I sat in the corner crook of our living room couch, quietly interacting with my busy family in relaxed, easy-going tones. Mindlessly, I laid my head to the left and found myself looking into the eyes of my son. I let myself linger on the photograph, as his smile cracked into the mundane moment.

Suddenly, I felt the chill of a scream – I could actually hear it from within me, “Oh my God!” The panicky words rang through my mind. “He’s gone! Oh my God, he’s gone!”

I could feel my heart thudding in a quickened, choppy pattern as my neck and chest flushed with the release of epinephrine. My soft tummy muscles clenched as a sour taste pricked in my mouth.

I hadn’t forgotten – that we was gone – it had simply been awhile since I remembered – since I’ve been, here, in this place… I can’t possibly live in this moment forever – this place of excruciating clarity, so I don’t – live here.  I’ve wanted to, and I’ve not wanted to… But regardless of my desires, I just can’t. So I don’t… Somehow I’ve been moving through this world without living in this place pulsing with voiceless screams.

But then I turn a corner  and I realize that ‘this world’ I’ve been navigating, is in fact, a grotesque house of mirrors, and I’m staring at MY CHILD trapped beneath glass – Graham, real and not real, lost but right where I left him.

I share space with the echoes of my own misery, shadows that move through me and vomit that oozes from me.

I don’t live here.  It lives within me.


bEleanor leaned in and squished his pudgy three year-old cheeks in her hands.  A sweet string of high-pitched giggly words danced from her lips as she interacted with a friend’s little boy.  A little boy who spent his infancy growing  in tandem with our Graham.  And when Graham stopped growing, this little boy didn’t.  Which of course is heartwarming… and somehow still – horrible.  It’s been years since Eleanor leaned in towards baby Graham, years since she’s actually played with him… and yet in some strange, disconnected way, Graham was there in this moment.

This little boy, smiled back sweetly and gently kicked at Nora with his stinky feet. I watched the two of them with a placid smile empty of energy.  I realized quietly that I recognized the ripples of peace flowing through me… I realized now how grateful I was for the presence of peace, because I was suddenly so very sad.

The moment was simple and fleeting but the massiveness of my son broke through and I ached. I imagine no one noticed.  Maybe they wondered… maybe not. The surface was so still, even as the torrent grumbled just out of sight.

I wanted so badly to reach out to Nora and whisper in her ear, “Do you remember?  Do you miss him too?”  But it seemed so unfair somehow, to break into her joy-filled moment, so I remained quiet under my smile.


Hours later, the little boy was gone, now residing entirely with his own family – no longer straddling the space of Graham’s emptiness. I was hurrying my girls along, grabbing supplies for an afternoon outing, Nora dawdled and complained.  Her whiny tone was wearisome and I began to walk ahead of her, hoping to inspire a rally of attitude… instead, my girl suddenly dropped all of the things she was carrying, threw her face towards the sky and opened her mouth to form a silent wail.

Frustrated, I walked back towards her and as I knelt in front of her she hiccupped out the words, “Mama, I miss Graham.”

The wave of truth hit me full force and I melted into my small daughter…”Of course you, do. Of course.”

I almost missed it.  It didn’t come when or how I expected, but he was there in her heart all along. She discovered him and the hole that resembled him, differently than I had but all the same authentically and painfully, and I almost missed it. Grief these days can be hard to spot, difficult to recognize… But he’s still everywhere and nowhere, always.

“I miss Graham.”  An ocean of truth that can’t begin to touch the magnitude.



“We have a dog too!” My daughters giggled in between puppy kisses given from a stranger’s dog.

“We have Emily and Luke… Luke died. My brother died too. His name is Graham.” Charlotte gushed.
“And Journey!” Eleanor piped up! “Journey is the baby that died in Momma’s tummy. He’s dead too.”
“And my Grandma.” Charlotte added nonplussed.

I sat a few feet away from the conversation, trying to keep my face soft.  I squirmed a little – actually squirmed.  I wanted to insert myself into the moment, offer an explanation, tie together lose pieces, redirect… I wished my children didn’t have such things to share… Sometimes, I wish they censored a bit more…

Instead, I sat quietly, as my brave, effusive daughters continued on – they had something to say after all.  The kind woman listened to the pain of small children disguised as one-up-manship, and offered very little in the way of judgement or shock. She received their story, and together the three of them moved on smoothly into the next vein of conversation.

I exhaled – there was no overwhelming sense of closure or peace – I just breathed in and out once more.


IMG_2101Graham was just a small embryo the last time I stepped foot in a dentist’s office. I still felt nauseous in the mornings but the constant yuckiness was slowly disappearing as he grew larger and stronger within me.  I waited my turn in the lobby, my stomach slowly churning in response to the dental odors wafting through the air. I wished I had thought to postpone the routine appointment altogether – I wasn’t sure I’d make it through without ralphing. Despite my queasy stomach, I did have fun chit-chatting about the small little joy within me and I remember declining the x-rays with a sense of happiness and pride.

When I stopped by the reception desk on my way out, the kind woman behind the counter encouraged me to schedule my next appointment.  I wavered, knowing 6 months later life would surely be more hectic, but the future seemed so far away, so unreal yet… I scheduled my next dentist appointment for March 8th 2013.

To be honest, it didn’t cross my mind again until the moments between the puffy breaths and deeps moans of child-birth. I have a fuzzy memory of the cell phone ringing and Evan stepping away from the action of labor to answer it. “Um, no.  She won’t be making her dentist appointment today… she’s, well.. indisposed at the moment.”

I laughed then, and I cant help but chuckle now.  Indisposed.

The thing is, I never rescheduled. I never went back.

Suddenly I had a squirmy newborn, a goofy toddler, and a rambunctious preschooler.  I had a full-time job and endless loads of laundry… as the months tumbled by, I just didn’t find the time to get my teeth cleaned. Another day, I figured – I’d make it back when life wasn’t so full!

And then of course, Graham died and a place that was never really about him was suddenly all about him. I just couldn’t stomach the thought. I couldn’t imagine going through the motions… the waiting room and the polishing paste… the x-rays.

After three years, I finally made an appointment to see a dentist. Much like waves of nausea, I can feel the rolling power of grief off-center me.  The churning may indeed be subsiding to manageable levels… but even so, I think I might throw up.



I made a few phone calls while cradling the body of my dead son, just a few.

I called Carrie. The woman who loved Graham and carried his dead body upstairs… I imagine he felt heavy in her arms. The woman who called my husband with hysteria drenched information… I called her back, I had to.

I dialed the number and held the phone to my ear. “Kristin,” I heard her gulp expectantly.

I plowed intently forward, “He’s dead. Carrie, he died.” It was a conversation of defeat – there was so little emotion, just a pain thick and pointless. She began talking, gently rambling through her last moments with him… with the body he’d left behind. It was my first glimpse of the story.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that she was surrounded by police officers in that moment. Sequestered in her own home, separated from her friends and family. Alone.

The children, Graham’s friends – my own daughter – left to wander and huddle…

I am grateful for the parents who pushed past the uniformed front of protocol and procedure – even for a moment – to cry out to her, reach out, before being forced away, their arms full with living children. I’m grateful for the mother and father who parked up the street and waited – just waited – for something or nothing. I’m grateful for the love that pulsated in tears and heartache through that home suddenly cold with death and crawling with strangers and accusations…

I’m grateful – but it wasn’t enough – they all deserved more.

All the children were sent away until Eleanor was the only one left. Then Carrie herself was packed up and removed by the police, leaving behind my vulnerable 2 year old. I wonder if the detective even considered my other child?  If she cared?  Apparently my dead son was all she had eyes to see and my living daughter was simply overlooked.  Certainly she deserved more.

I gently invited Eleanor to share her story with me recently and she explained, “Ms. Carrie went away to talk with people, and then I was alone…” she trailed off. I asked gently about Ms. Carrie’s children, about her husband… “Do you remember they stayed with you, right? You weren’t really all alone.”

“Maybe.” she scrunched her forehead in consideration.

I can’t find kindness where I wish it would be.  The way the events unfolded was necessary it would be argued, for Graham’s sake… for ours.  Even so, I can’t help but think – they got it all wrong.

A second detective met Evan and I at the hospital and was generally considerate, although not especially compassionate. I too was taken away – away from my son and my husband – escorted to a small hospital room down the hall to be questioned. I supplied simple answers to direct questions… It didn’t feel like an interrogation but again and again I asked with quiet, submissive intentness, ” Can I go back to my baby, please?”

When I finally walked back in to the hospital room, I found a police photographer had used my absence as opportunity to take evidence photographs.  She was haphazardly stuffing his pajamas into an evidence bag when I arrived.  I remember her silent startle when she saw me, a look of sheepishness flashed across her face as I moved to fill my arms with the child she had left naked and splayed on the hospital bed.

The last question the police investigator asked me that evening was casually pointed. I could tell she was purposefully crafting the question to sound like an afterthought, “If we were to find out that something happened – that Carrie hurt Graham – what would you think?”

This detective who spent her days seeking out blame, discovering fault, seeing evil everywhere… she was extending to me perhaps the only gift she had to give – a place to rest the fury, the heartache, the blame. She was seeking her own sort of redemption on behalf of Graham… for my sake too maybe.

I have heard true horror stories from families with similar stories as ours… Interrogations, sequestering – precious, essential last moments ravaged by accusations and purposeless policies and protocols. No touching, no pictures, no love… I have no doubt that the way the events unfolded – the very fact that he died in a home other than ours – insured us a certain amount of protection.  Which meant there was somehow very little kindness leftover for Carrie that night. I wish I had known – I wish I had leveraged more of myself on her behalf.

I paused, slowly looking up to meet the detective’s gaze before I formed my words…  I made careful, direct eye contact and said firmly, “I wouldn’t believe you.”

They got it all wrong, they got everything all wrong.


IMG_2781We were an entity, Graham and I. He didn’t exist without me. He could have, in the same way I can live without him now, but while he was here we lived in and through each other. Eating, sleeping, speaking, choosing, playing, touching… Everything was connected, layered. The edges of ourselves blurred together… I was Kristin, but not without being Graham’s mom. I was lost in him, and there were days when the fluidness of us welled up in me and I felt anxious… Resentful even? So much love and so little ‘me’ and SO MUCH love… and Graham was everywhere… all of it.

We were more than just puzzle pieces of a story but more like a liquid suspension, mixed up entirely. It’s true that as he grew older he was beginning to sediment from our solution, I could imagine him someday standing apart… I looked forward to it even, until of course I found myself suddenly alone.

Completely separate, totally autonomous. Split wide open and gaping in ugly emptiness.

My daughters were once wrapped up in me and through me in similar ways. Each in their uniqueness, each in turn, and in moments all together, we shared existence. But as time tumbles forward there are a hundred things that demonstrate their separateness from me – their maturity, their individual personhood apart from my life and my love.  I often feel dumbfounded in wonderment and gratefulness.

The thing is, there are still pieces of me that completely fit with the pieces of my girls. In quiet moments, in desperate moments, in simple joy filled moments our fitting pieces find each other and we remember – we connect as mother and child and know who we are and where we are through the life of each other.

I think that we’ll carry these pieces in us forever and I pray that we’ll always have the desire and wherewithal to seek out quiet moments to join our pieces… the remnants of a life lived fully entangled. We carry history inside us, living memory.

I think if Graham were to come back to me today, I wouldn’t be familiar to him. I don’t think we could fit together anymore. What’s left of the edges that we once shared are so disfigured now, so damaged… He couldn’t find a haven.  As I peer into myself, I am resolved in the disappointment that he wouldn’t find anything he needed..

Graham’s mother was demolished. I am still his mother somehow – but the mother of a dead son is nothing like the mother of Graham, because a living Graham is nothing like a dead one. I wonder even, if there’s anything to tie them together at all… Love maybe?

I wonder too, if I am even capable of finding him, could I know his soul in the darkness or has all sense of him been burned away in the disaster. Even now so many of my memories seem flat, a memory of a memory perhaps… I feel such shame to admit it, knowing that my mirror to his light is so essential.

It’s all more of my brokenness.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 4)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This post is the last in a 4 part series.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.


GOD was with Graham, GOD was with Kristin in her office when she heard of the horror, GOD was with Evan when he unsuspectingly picked up my phone call.

I think of him everyday. Every. Single. Day. Every time I jog down the steps and round the corner, I see the place where his pack n’ play used to be. I’ll be crouching down to put some dishes away in the back of the cupboard and remember those frantic last moments of pumping and breathing. I think of him every time I see a copy Barnyard Dance and remember him looping his arm through the hole in the front cover and toting it around like a purse! I think of him in the early afternoons at the time when he and I would snuggle into the sectional, drink his afternoon bottle and play with my necklace.

I wish that day would have been different.

I wish that I would have gone down there ten minutes earlier and scooped up a wiggly little drool monster with a full diaper and a toothy grin. I wish the paramedics would have arrived sooner. I wish that I would have had a few quiet moments to say goodbye. The last time I touched him was chaotic and flustered as the paramedics swooped in. I wish I would have had the chance to hold him once he was gone, to feel the weight of his body against mine, to whisper in his ear and say goodbye. When people talk about needing closure, it’s no joke. I just wish I would have had a few moments with him instead of hours with the detective.

I wish I could have saved him.

I wonder… I wonder what he and his little buddies on either side of him did that last afternoon? Probably what they always did – pull themselves up so they were just tall enough to see each other over the sides of their pack n’ plays. Probably hurling their blankies over the side and giggling. Peering at each other through the mesh siding and poking their little fingers through the holes to touch each other. His last bit of fun before awaking in heaven was goofing off with his buddies. I bet he liked that.


Being with Graham his first year of life was an honor. All the good moments along with the unglamourous ones. We did that first year of life together! This little soul that I only knew for eleven short months will be a tool that GOD will use in my life at every turn. God will continue to teach and minister to me through Graham’s life, forever. I will always be grateful for that. Was this a traumatic event? Yes, but it has led to so much more.

When well meaning friends say things like, “What a awful experience that must have been for you!” they don’t realize that this experience isn’t over. This is something that we will experience until we make our own journey into heaven. GOD will continue his never ending work in me, in Kristin, in Evan through this experience.

This experience never ends.

I was His Ms. Carrie (pt 3)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.

IMG_6741The next hour is a total blur. Calling Evan. Calling my husband. Cops filtering in and out of every room in the house. Fumbling through phone calls to the other parents to come and pick their children up. The kids sensing something was up and just wanting to be near me but the cops saying that they couldn’t.

I held Nora, they told me she needed to wait with the other kids but I said, no. I might throw up. A crime scene photographer shows up and starts documenting the house, room by room. The daycare parents start showing up, most of them with tears streaming down their faces. They won’t let me leave the kitchen, but I keep emerging every time I hear a familiar voice. We hug and I kiss their children and then get told to go back to the kitchen please. The cops take down info from every parent that shows up. I clean up the little puddle of vomit that Graham had left.

And then my cell phone rings and I see that it’s Kristin. Yes! This is the call that I’ve been waiting for – they finished the job of saving him that I wasn’t able to do and he was safe and sound! But that’s not what Kristin and I were able to celebrate.

I remember her voice was calm and strong. “He’s gone Carrie.” Those words rang in my ears and jolted through my body. Kristin kept talking but it sounded like I was underwater. Nothing made sense. How could this happen? He was fine! Just hours ago is was completely perfect!

I heard the welcomed voice of one of my best friends who came to pick up her son. She hugged me tight and naturally assured me, “It’s going to be OK.” I jerked back and blurted “No it’s not! It’s never going to be OK anymore!”

Eventually all the kids were gone, the house was full of uniformed personnel. Nora was still on my hip. I kept asking to go and see Graham but the detective said they needed to take me in for questioning. I clumsily got my coat on and walked out into the frigid air to the detective’s unmarked car and off we went.

Back in that small room at the sheriff’s department, the detective’s questions just kept coming like a leaky faucet. “And so your cell phone rings and it’s Kristin, what happened next?”

“She told me that they were at the hospital and that they had worked really hard but that Graham had died.”

“Oh, so you know that he is dead?”

Why was she surprised that I knew of his death? Did she think that I was under the impression this whole time that he was alive and well? Wouldn’t I have been incessantly asking about how he was doing if I didn’t already know? Then it dawned on me, during these last four hours of being together, she and I had not ever talked about the fact that Graham had died. She was surprised that Kristin had called me herself.

After years of being surrounded by cases like this, I’m sure that it starts to feel systematic and calculated. Lot’s of he said, she said. Graham’s death wasn’t something that happened to Kristin and Evan. This was something that happened to US – it happened to all of us! Her cold, calculated suspicious approach to this life changing moment in our lives was nauseating.

But in the weeks to come, GOD’s presence, braided into each one of our stories, was the key denominator that this detective saw.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 2)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.


And then we got to the point in the day when it all happened.

Every half hour I would make the rounds and check on them – cover them back up, rescue a loved stuffed animal that had made it’s way to the center of the room and make sure all was well. That point in the afternoon had arrived when I could hear the kiddos starting to stir. Random voices and the thud of them standing up in their pack n’ plays and then plopping back down. I crept down the stairs and scooped up three of them, folded their blankets, whispered for them to go upstairs and go potty and reminded them to whisper because some of their friends were still sleeping.

Three of my pack n’ plays lined the wall right next to the stairs, the middle one was Graham’s. It was unusual for him to still be sleeping because he was always one of my first ones up. Standing at the end of the pack n’ play, little fingers clamped onto the fabric covered top and making a large drool mark. He would catch a glimpse of me and grin from ear to ear because he knew I was coming to rescue him from naptime and he was going to get some animal crackers and a bottle.

But that afternoon, he was nestled into the corner of his pack n’ play, on his tummy and had his face up against his blue blankie. This was how he slept, he would bury his face in his blue bankie and Kristin and I would always find remnants of blue fuzzies stuck to his cheeks and in the little rolls in his neck. I placed my hand on his back and made gentle circles across his tiny frame to wake him up slowly.

Three circles. Four circles. Nothing.

I lifted the blue blankie up away from his face and it felt like a flood if ice water just rushed through my veins. A gasp that you only hear when something life altering occurs flew out of my mouth. His face was a pale blue. I lunged over the side of the pack n’ play and grabbed him up.

Now there are parts of this experience that are clearer than others and this moment is one that my body can just go back to in an instant. The motion of thrusting my hands up under his armpits and turning him towards me mid-air and then having his little body arch back limply over my left arm feels like five seconds ago. His heavy head flopped against my hand in between my thumb and the rest of my fingers and I looked at this face that was so perfect, but wasn’t.

Graham, GRAHAM, GRAAAHAM!!!!!! It was a frantic yelpy scream as I bounded up the stairs.

I flew into my kitchen, with Graham’s head cupped in my hand and his little face in my neck, where it had always been…that would be the last time it would be there. I laid him down on my kitchen floor, hand on his forehead, two fingers under his chin, tilted it up and put my ear down over his nose to see if there was any breath at all. His face was warm, but there was no breath. I placed my right palm down on his chest and began to pump up and down. One-and-two-and-three-and-four…..tilt the head back, two breaths, watch the chest rise and fall. Those countless CPR classes feeling more valuable by the millisecond.

Why isn’t anyone coming?!? Wait, you haven’t called them yet! I lept up and grabbed my cell phone off the counter, frantically keying in my pin and dialing 9-1-1, put it on speaker and continue pumping. It rang! And rang…and rang..and rang…and rang…and rang…Why isn’t anyone answering?!

“911, Do you need police, fire or ambulance?”


After a pause that felt like a lifetime, a woman’s voice came on the line and asked for my address and what the emergency was.

“I went to pick him up from his nap and he’s not breathing! He’s not breathing!!! Graham’s not breathing!”

“Are you performing CPR?”

“Yes! Are you sending someone?”

“Yes, they are on their way right now. Keep pumping and breathing and I’ll stay on the line with you until someone gets there.”

Twenty eight-and-twenty-nine-and-thirty. Tilt his head, two breaths, watch the chest rise and fall. Over and over. Tears gush down my face, choking sobs and blurts of, “Graham please! Breath! God PLEASE!! GRAHAM PLEASE! GRAHAM!”

The voice on the phone came back calmly, “Carrie, you need to stay calm for him. You need to focus on what you are doing. You are doing great.” Then I heard a little gurgling sound – rolled him onto his side and a little trickle of his milk spewed out, but that’s a good sign!

“Are they coming?! What’s taking so long??”

“They are almost there, is your door unlocked?”

“No!” I rush to unlock the door and on my way back to Graham, I see them, the three little ones I had sent upstairs to go potty, Nora… leaning over the back of the couch, looking into the kitchen. They knew something awful was happening.

“Why isn’t this working?!? He is warm! His chest is rising and falling when I breath air into him! Jesus why isn’t this working?!?”

It felt like one of those stationary bikes that was connected to a light bulb and as you began to pedal the light would begin to flicker on and off and as you got to your max speed, the light would beam brightly. I was pedaling at 100% but Graham’s light wasn’t turning on!

There was a brisk knock on the door as it burst open and the paramedics rushed in. Thank you GOD, they are here and they are going to work their magic and save him. There were two of them, the man scooped Graham up and began blowing into his little mouth and the woman asked a few simple questions. Little did I know that would be the last time I would have my hands on that sweet baby, if I would have know, I would have kissed him and nestled his head into my neck one more time. I remember reaching up from my spot on the kitchen floor, grabbing her arm, “He’s going to be fine right? He’s going to wake up right?!”

“We are going to the best that we can, little guys are tough.”

I pleaded to let me ride with him to the hospital because I KNEW he was going to wake up. He was going to wake up and he was going to be scared because he had never seen those people before. He needed me to be there when he woke up.

But no, he had to ride alone.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 1)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.


When I look back at Graham’s final moments, they don’t begin on that chilly February afternoon. Although we didn’t realize it, his final moments started months before that. Normal, everyday toddler happenings that were actually moments of preparation.

Toddler teething….drooly and uncomfortable and not to mention the never ending stream of tears! Who knew that Graham’s teething was going to turn out to be such a gift? His little tush fit perfectly in the crutch of my arm, my hand wrapped around that oh-so-squishable chubby leg and his head nestled into that part of your neck that God put there specifically to hold a baby’s head. I can still feel his little fingers, twisting around the back of my T-shirt sleeve and the ever present drool spot on the chest of my shirt. This is where Graham spent most of his days during those last weeks, latched onto me like a little monkey as I went about my daily tasks one handed.

Those teeth were why I held him 90% of the day. Those teeth were why he spent many of his naptimes on my chest watching HGTV together in the afternoons. Those teeth were an immeasurable GIFT of time together. Unbeknownst to me, those teeth were the start of Graham’s and my goodbye.

Fast forward to the early evening of February 11, 2014 at the Douglas County Sheriff’s department. In a small room with no windows, florescent lights, a little round table and two chairs – one of which is suspiciously tucked into the corner of the room – that one’s mine. I kept my winter coat on because the room was ice cold and my whole body felt shaky.

Somehow it felt like the coat sheltered me from these very unfamiliar and unnerving surroundings. It felt like a movie set – the surveillance camera up in the corner, the two way mirror that I know had people on the other side drinking coffee and scribbling notes on their clipboards – notes about me….voice intonation…facial expression…body language… Take a deep breath and don’t flip out.

“Carrie, I want to go over everything from the moment you woke up this morning to us sitting here now. Don’t leave anything out. Every little detail is important. We just want to get a clearer picture of the events of today.”

I could tell the detective was trying to make me comfortable but she was doing an awful job at it. This is not where I should be. I should be at home or with Kristin & Evan or with Charlie and Nora, ANYWHERE but in this room with this woman! Deep breath, you need to get through this.

“Well, the kids arrived in the morning.”

“No, start from when your alarm went off in the morning.”

“Oh sorry. Ok so my alarm went off and I got up and got dressed, made coffee, flicked on the living room lamps and turned on Curious George and waited for the first knock on the door – which would be the Engels. They were always the first ones.”

“Did you look forward to them coming?”

“Yeah, of course I did! I heard the knock on the door and opened up as they shuffled in, along with a gush of wind. The kids were bundled up in thick fuzzy blankets.”

“Why didn’t they have coats on?”

“Uh…umm…because having kids wear bulky winter coats in their car seats isn’t safe.”

“Did the Engel kids ever wear winter coats?”

“Of course they did, but coming in and out of daycare they just bundled them up in the blankets to make it easier.”

“Ok, continue.”

“So, I opened the door and said “Hi! Good morning guys!” in a hushed voice. Helped Nora get her boots off and then held my arms out for Graham. Kristin kissed him on the top of his head, like she always did and he reached out for me and cuddled into my shoulder like always. Then she said “Thanks!” She always thanked me. In the mornings and the evenings. Then she left for work. Nora sat down to watch cartoons and wait for her little friends to arrive and Graham and I got stuff set out for breakfast and I had a cup of coffee.”

“How many cups of coffee did you have? What did you put in it?”

“I had one cup and I drink it everyday… the other kiddos trickled in over the next hour or so and they all had breakfast, washed their hands and faces, went potty and then we headed downstairs to the basement to play. The kids played nicely and…”

“Wait, what was each child playing with?”

“Ummm What?!?

“What were each of the children playing with?”

“I don’t remember! Have you ever watched children? How could I keep track of that?! All I know is that there was nothing abnormal about playtime this morning. They all played nicely together and it was just a normal morning!”

We went hour by hour at this pace. What we ate, what we played with, where Graham was when I took someone else to the potty. After a while I began to feel a slight bit of defensiveness because it seemed as though all of her questions were slightly accusatory, pointed and looking for a certain kind of response. Was she trying to put words in my mouth? I don’t know, but it felt like she had an agenda.

Did Graham get dropped at all that day? Did he drink breast milk? Did I hold him when I fed him? Did I rock him to sleep? Did he always sleep with that blanket? Who brought that blanket? Did you check on the kids while they slept? Why didn’t you put your hand on their backs to check on their breathing? Did you sleep at all? Did you get along with the Engels? Where you ever resentful of Graham? Did the Engels co-sleep? Did the Engels spank their children? Did their children go to the doctor regularly? Did you ever witness them endangering their children in any way?

Time felt like it was creeping by at a snail’s pace….and her questions just kept coming.