A couple of things I forgot to add to previous entries:
My amazing cat Clarence (Clemons) lay next to Alice on the floor while I preformed CPR on her. He stayed with Alice and me until help arrived. I do not remember seeing him the rest of the night, which is notable in that Clarence is on the make for food 24/7. Clarence will steal the food right out of your hand, right out the skillet (on flame), right out of wherever he can find it. Clarence did not ask for dinner that Tuesday.
At some point before I went to get Grace on Wednesday, I realized I would be missing the yoga class I love to attend. I’d say yoga helps me stay centered, but that sounds so LA. It helps me feel like a better human. And, it helps my body feel good. And, it makes me feel happy. Any one of those reasons is reason enough to go, but all of them combined makes yoga something I do as often as I can. I wished I could go that morning, I NEEDED to go that morning, but it was not going to be possible. So, I texted my new friend Pat from class, told him what happened, and asked him to think of Alice during the invocation and meditation part of class. He, my teacher, and some other students had met my girls at a Food Co-op Fair in our neighborhood a couple of months prior, and the girls had made quite an impression on the yoga folk. I wanted people who were in better shape than I was to urge her soul on to a better place. I wanted prayers from as many people, of as many faiths as possible. He responded with the sweetest note, and passed on my request to my teacher, who also wrote some loving words. It meant the world to me.
I slept for about four hours Wednesday night. I just couldn’t get back to sleep even with the pills. So, I was running on four hours sleep for the last 36 hours. No bueno. I returned some texts and emails while I lay in bed. I willed sleep, but lost. I received a call from a dear, old friend in another time zone early that morning, and stepped outside to return it. I had not heard from this friend in a long time, and was so touched that he had called. All of these old friends that reached out, I just cannot thank them enough. There are some people you just never forget, that truly shape and form your life, but that sadly we lose touch with because life gets, well, life-y. It touched me to the very depths of my soul to receive such kindness from them at this time. And it was a relief to find out that
It’s-not-just-a-cliché #3: Even if it has been years, a real friendship picks up right where you left off, as if no time has passed.
I have been delighted to find the truth in that saying. It has saved me. It really, truly has. I spoke with my friend for a while, and I remember hearing myself tell the story so calmly, it was as if it happened to someone else. I was still in shock. My friend sounded shocked. Hell, everyone was shocked.
It was so very quiet outside. I am not talking LA quiet, I mean quiet like the mountains. I stayed outside for a while and just stared at the yard where my daughters had just eaten their dinner a few days ago. I looked at the garden they planted with me and thought, “How can she have grown these cucumbers, this lettuce, and not be here herself?” The evidence of Alice’s life was everywhere. Everywhere. But she was not. I wanted to die. I wanted to die, but I knew I could not. I had Grace to take care of. I had Grace to take care of. I had Grace to take care of. This is what I kept telling myself.
I felt like I had an actual hole in my heart. I could feel a LITERAL hole. This hole people speak of is no joke. Making this It’s-not-just-a-cliché #4.
I was becoming amazed by the number of clichés I was finding to be true. It was also somewhat irritating, to be honest, but I tried to stay focused on the beautiful side of it all. Mostly, I have succeeded in this.
I kept thinking about the fact that Grace was very likely going to be an only child now. I just could not fathom this. It never in a million years crossed my mind that I would only have one child. I never, ever saw myself with just one child. Frankly, as I write this, I still don’t see myself with just one child. I see myself with two children, one of whom can no longer be seen, who no longer requires a pint of blueberries a day, who no longer gets up at 5:30 a.m…but whose mother still does. These thoughts ran in a near constant loop in my head.
Around this time, I realized that I was sick. I had caught the cold that Alice had, which should not have been surprising considering I’d kissed her on the lips, preceded not to sleep for two days after a great trauma, had cried a lot, and was terribly dehydrated from the whole thing. This illness was not ideal, for we still had a visitation and a service to pull off, and we had only Thursday to make all the plans. Let’s just say that Thursday did not appear to have the makings of a good day. It was still very early. Whatever adrenaline kept me going all of Tuesday night and Wednesday was no longer present. I went back to bed.
But I couldn’t sleep. I resumed returning texts in bed. In those early days, texts were all I could manage for the most part. I did take an occasional call, but it really was a crapshoot whether I could handle a call at any given moment. To this day, a text is the easiest way for me to communicate.
I was waiting to make an announcement on social media until we were sure that all family and close friends had been notified. By that time, I believe all the family knew, but two very close friends of mine had not been reached. One was my dear, hilarious friend Meleva. Meleva “gets me” more than most, which is astonishing, because we are really quite different. But we love each other entirely. And that’s that. The other was my friend Catie, Alice’s godmother. She and her husband and kids are close family friends of ours.
That morning, I received a notice that two different people had posted things on my Facebook page about Alice’s death, and had included our names, meaning, it was about to be visible to my hundreds of Facebook friends. This was NOT how I wanted Meleva and Catie to find out. My friend Chris, a gifted professional writer, had posted a terribly moving status about our loss as well, but left out our names, for which I was grateful. I asked the posters of the statuses that named names to remove their posts, but it was now clear that I was going to have to address this on social media sooner than I would have liked. So, at about 7:00 a.m., while in bed, I texted anyone I could think of that had not been told, or that we had not been able reach. I tried my amazing friend Meleva by email, because Bubba had been unable to reach her by phone, which was strange. I wondered if she were OK, because I knew she certainly would not blow this off. I wasn’t sure what to do about Catie.
As if on cue, Catie called. We had been unable to reach her for two days, which was very, very unusual. It turns out that she and her family were on vacation in a place with poor cell phone reception. Catie was shocked and horrified. It was heartbreaking. She was understandably distraught, and apologized for crying. I told her what I told everyone else: I do not want you to be strong for me; I want you to be real for me. I meant it then, and I mean it today. We sobbed together, and she made plans to return ASAP. She kept saying she was so sorry that she wasn’t there to help. I knew she would have helped if she could. And I knew she would be an amazing help once she arrived. And she was. Around this time I found out that Grace’s godmother, Jen Rooney Cianci, was coming from Chicago as well. I am blessed with such great friends.
I waited for an hour or two after I sent the last texts, and then posted it on Facebook. And then, I cried my eyes out. Soon everyone would know. Everyone would know about this terrible thing that happened. Just 36 hours before she died I had posted that I overheard her counting to 10 and doing her ABCs. I had no idea she could count to ten. And the day she did that, I had no idea she was going to just up and die less than two days later. It boggles the mind.
I cried. And cried some more. And then Grace woke up. So, I got up and pulled it together, as much as I could, for her.
Someone made coffee. Someone tried to get me to eat, but I doubt I ate much. I was exhausted. I had a 101-degree fever. And I was about to have a house full of people. My mind was a barren wasteland, scattered with occasional tumbleweeds of numb pain, guilt, and intense grief. I looked like someone had stolen my soul. I suppose, in a way, someone had.
My parents arrived around 9:00 a.m. and began to help. Stacy, Todd, Bubba, and Rey joined Clara here and began on the incomprehensible list of things to do. We had to find a venue for the service Saturday. We had to go through pictures for a slide show, and choose a few to enlarge for the marquee at the service. We had to choose readings, and readers, and an officiant, and songs, and musicians or playlists. We had to have programs printed and photos printed. We had to figure out where/how to feed people. We had to choose Alice’s outfit for the visitation. Oh my God, what clothes do you choose for your deceased child? I wasn’t sure I could do that. It was one of the things that hung me up. And I was still on the fence about what do about Alice’s remains.
No one ever thinks they are going to have to decide what to do with their deceased child’s body, or how to dress him or her. It just never crosses your mind. Nor should it. The fact that I had to do that, felt like a trauma all its own. I can’t even type it without feeling my stomach churn.
Both Lynn and Janet had offered up their houses for a service, but though they both have spacious homes, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be big enough to hold all the people, based on the number of people through our door Wednesday alone. We figured we could have the luncheon at one or the other, depending where we chose to have the service. Bubba and Stacy started gathering information on venues. Early choices included the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple, and the Wilshire Ebell Theater. I would have preferred the Lake Shrine, I think. It is beautiful, serene, and reflects my values. Part of Ghandi’s ashes are buried there, which is special. I go there from time to time to meditate. But, we could only be guaranteed the area that seats 150 people. I thought, rightfully so as it turns out, that there would not be enough room for everyone, and it is a bit of a haul. I didn’t want people driving all the way to Pacific Palisades for the funeral of a two-year-old, and then not be able to sit down. That would be the makings of a pretty crappy day for all involved. I didn’t want to be a crappy friend, even in grief.
The Wilshire Ebell Theater is a gorgeous historical landmark in the neighborhood. Janet, my friend Linda, and another client all are active in the Ebell organization. It took my team many calls, but it looked like The Ebell was available for Saturday. It was not inexpensive, but our other expenses were low, and we needed to make the final decision, because all of the other decisions we needed to finalize were based on venue. We booked the Ebell. Someone from my team went and made a deposit, and told me I needed to start choosing photos for the slide show and marquee. I started. Oh Lord, was that hard. Two days ago, she was playing with her toys and stealing my “pone.” Today, I was planning her wake. There were few things that happened this day that didn’t set off that sort of thought process.
At some point that morning, my brother and his family arrived. My heart broke into a million pieces when I saw them. They all loved Alice so very much, and I was just so relieved that they were here. I’m not sure my brother and I even spoke for the first few minutes. There was nothing to say anyway. What can you say? Seeing my brother’s family heartbreak was a heartbreak unto itself.
Once my brother was here, I started to ask the family members and key friends if they wanted, or were able, to do a reading. Most said they would love to, but didn’t think they could get through it, which I completely understood. My dad, a pastor, agreed to do a passage from the Gospel of Mark—Mark 10:13. Heart-wrenching. My dear friend Jennifer, aka J-Do, agreed to read a passage of our choosing. Bubba agreed to say a few words and read one of Alice’s favorite books. I selected one of Alice’s favorites, “I Love You Through and Through,” because she loved it so, and the message was fitting for a service of this kind.
My friend Jessica is an amazing violinist, and had already offered to play at the service, bless her sweet heart. She is a newer friend, but her three kids had recently started to play with my two girls, and we had all had some fun times together. I was so touched that she had offered. She offered to do “Amazing Grace,” which was fitting, as well as another piece. I was going to suggest “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” because it was what Alice demanded we sing to her every night, but Jessica beat me to the punch, having no idea how important this song was to Alice. I cried.
I knew my dear friend Ramsay was flying in for the service. I had no idea if he would be able—or want—to sing, but I love Ramsay’s voice, and his music, so I asked if he would do a couple of songs. He agreed without hesitation, and said, “whatever you want, MON-roe.” He has always calls me MON-roe, just like that, emphasis on the “MON,” lilting off on the “roe.” This has always made me chuckle for some reason, and this day was no exception. It was likely one of the few times I smiled that day. He does a couple of traditional songs that I love, but doesn’t often play them live, so I pressed my luck. I asked him to do “Pretty Little Feet” and “I Saw the Light.” “Whatever you want, MON-roe, whatever you want, girl.” God, he’s been a good friend to me over the years. He is one of the people that have really unwittingly shaped who I have become, and I will forever cherish our friendship.
I. Felt. Like. Shit. Oh, was I sick. And I had about 1,000 decisions to make. People were coming at me from all sides with “Do you want this or that?” “Should we do this or that?” “The rest of the family arrives today or tomorrow?” “Who should do …..?” I stood there, with my mouth agape, my head swirling, and my eyes glazed over and looked to Bubba for help. I don’t know what I thought he could do about it; they were mostly valid questions, and questions only I could answer. But for once in my life, I had no problem passing on the questions I did not think crucial. Food? Ask Janet. Venue? Ask Bubba or Stacy. My health? Ask Fran, who arrived with the sole purpose of making sure I had all that I needed to treat myself the way I tell my patients to treat themselves. I love my Fran.
One of the parents had been given the job to go get a new cooler because we had run out of fridge space, and we were going to have a full house for several days. Everyone wanted to do their job well for me, which I very much appreciated. In that spirit, the cooler thing launched a hundred questions about where to buy the cooler, what kind, what store had the best deals, what store was closest. I looked at my parent, tired, but lovingly (I hope) and said, “I am not in charge of the kitchen. Janet and the Grandmas are. I do not give a rat’s ass where we get the cooler. I have to decide whether to cremate or bury my child, where to have the service and other hideous decisions. I am going to have to leave you to your own devices on the cooler.”
Luckily, my relationship with my parents is strong enough to handle such, um, directness. I love you Mom, Dad, Terry, and Sandy. I love you so much. Thank you for everything you did and endured. I could not have done any of this without you.
Nevertheless, I was being literally bombarded with questions. Several, I lobbed back to whomever appeared to be in charge of that area. But many questions, only I could answer. I was beyond overwhelmed. I could not multi-task. COULD. NOT. I told Bubba that it wasn’t even that I did not want to make these decisions, it was that my brain could literally only do one thing at a time. It was broken.
When I recounted this feeling to our friend Jim B, he said, “Well, now you know what it is like to be a man. We are like that all the time.” If that is really so, then I have a whole new level of empathy for the other gender, because that shit is incapacitating.
I had to choose Alice’s outfit, stat. She was being prepared for the visitation, and they needed her clothes yesterday. I couldn’t do it. I was frozen. My dear friend and hair stylist, Dawn, came in and took charge and guided me through it. We selected a fancy dress my dear friends Paul and Daniella had brought her from Wales. She was only just recently big enough to wear it, so this would be her first, and only, time she would wear it. It had a matching headband, which was important, because she needed something on her head to cover the autopsy scar. This fact made my heart turn inside out. I sat on the floor of her closet and sobbed.
We were also asked to make sure she had something covering her arms. I knew, without being told, that this was because Alice’s decay might not be suitable for a sundress, which was a gutting realization. Also, she was completely covered in temporary tattoos that her sister had put all over her the weekend before she died. For her pretty little feet, we selected her light-up shoes that Sal and Teresa bought her for her birthday. She LOVED those shoes. She wanted them on 24/7 for the glorious 10 days she was able to wear them. She wanted to wear them over her footed pajamas. She wanted to sleep in them. We had to wait until she fell asleep to remove them, such was the fight she put up over those shoes. The whole thing was unimaginable and sickening.
I saw the crib in the room. The crib was REALLY messing me up. I could not look at it without falling apart and crying “How am I ever going to get over seeing her blue face coming up out of that crib? How am I supposed to go on with that image haunting me the rest of my life? The crib is going to have to go. I can’t take it. I just can’t take it.” The grandpas quietly took the crib out to the garage, without my knowledge, at some point that day. This was a crucial step in my healing process.
Dawn was also sweet enough to bring her hair tools so she could blow-dry my hair for me, so that at least my hair would look good for the visitation, for I was certainly not looking my best. In fact, I was very likely looking the worst I have ever looked. Now, me, I really didn’t care. This was the very least of my worries. But, it is so nice to have friends that know that helping you look good, can sometimes help you feel a bit better. It was so nice to have someone else take care of me for a few minutes, and let’s face it, I needed some help with my appearance. Dawn is a doll, and I love her madly.
More food arrived. More flowers. From friends. From friends of friends. From the acupuncture school where I taught. My business associate Stephanie dropped by with a giant, gorgeous cheese and meat platter. My friends Teresa and Dan sent a boatload of food from a deli along with one of the sweetest notes I’ve ever read. The continuing, overwhelming amount of love and support flowing my way, was inspiring beyond imagination, and saved me.
My brain was still broken. They needed me to focus on pictures, so we could get the enlargements picked up in time. I told them if I needed to focus on pictures, then I was going to have to go to my room, shut the door, lie down, and do pictures. If something timely came up, they could come ask, otherwise, I could only focus on one thing at a time. I was exhausted. I was sick. I was racked with guilt. And I was devastated. No wonder my brain didn’t work. I begged Bubba to help me prioritize our list, and only come to me with stuff only I could decide, because I desperately needed to “coast” for awhile. Bubba understood this incomprehensible request, and became my screener. This was one of the most helpful things anyone did for me.
Every once in awhile Bubba would come in to ask me something, looking apologetic, concerned he was asking too many questions. He wasn’t. It was all important. I could handle it from one person, or two, just not the constant barrage from a room full of people. My mother came in from time to time as well. Fran brought me all the stuff for my flu, and would pop in with new fluids from time to time. But mostly, I was left alone to deal with pictures.
I looked at the pictures like they belonged to someone else, or I couldn’t get through it. When I looked at them like they were my photos, of my daughter, I collapsed into inconsolable tears. So, I had to dissociate a bit, in order to complete the task at hand. I was so very tired. It took a long time for me to finish this tack.
At one point, Bubba came in to say that our first-pick officiant had arrived to talk to us. Bubba had drawn up a list of three possible officiants. One, Jennifer Jacobson, was referred by the funeral home. One was referred by Kristen. The other, I can’t recall. I have no idea why I chose the one I did. I have no recollection at all of this decision-making process.
Jennifer saw I was in bad shape, so just sat at the edge of my bed while I lay there. She talked with us about the manner in which she worked, and asked us to tell her about Alice, which we did. It felt good to talk about Alice with her, although I still could not believe I was lying in bed, talking to the person who would officiate my daughter’s memorial service. I was supposed to be at Lynn’s house that day pretending to train her, while she pretended to work out. I laughed and cried while recounting Alice stories. It was just surreal. I hate using that word, it feels overused, but I have no other words to describe it. Jennifer would accept no fee for her service. Again, we found another angel, from where I have no idea.
At some point, Janet served a lunch to everyone, but I don’t recall eating, or what was served. I am sure it was some of the food that was still arriving en masse. I was so dehydrated that my tongue was like raw meat that had been dragged across gravel. It hurt to eat. Really hurt. But, I tried, because everyone was in a kerfuffle about my state.
It took a long time to get through the photos, but I finally did, and I gave my opinion as to which five should be blown up. I was getting sicker by the minute. Fran had made me a Mexican anti-flu soup that was delicious, and which I consumed heartily. I could tell it was helping within the hour.
Eventually, I got up and went to the backyard where everyone was working on their various tasks. It looked like the freaking Situation Room in my backyard. People were huddled over laptops and phones and scribbling on post-its and transferring finalized data into the “Master Notebook” Bubba had purchased for me so I could keep track of all of the information pouring at me from all the various directions: coroner’s notes, detectives’ numbers, fire department info, a list of people who had dropped off things for us, information on the memorial fund Cara had kindly set up for us completely on her own, information on printing, venues, funeral homes, officiants, photo enlarging, order of service etc. There was just a dizzying amount of information to be managed.
We still had not heard from Meleva. I was becoming concerned about this and tried to call her myself. A short while later, she called back, hysterical. She had received my voicemail, as well as an email, and was just beside herself. She kept apologizing for not having been there. I thought, “Shit, honey, I am here, and I’m not even HERE, so don’t you worry a thing about it.” She said she was getting in a car that minute to come down here. She lives outside of Sacramento, so this was no short trip. She asked if it would be helpful for her to bring her nearly five-year-old daughter Famke, who is Grace’s friend. That was a terrific idea, bless her awesome heart. Grace was still huffy with me, and clearly needed some kid energy around here.
Eddie and Kristen picked Grace up at some point Thursday and took her to their house for an overnight stay, which was a godsend. It enabled me to make all of these horrible decisions with my one-track mind. It enabled Grace to be a normal kid for a night, somewhere not surrounded by shell-shocked grieving people. They went to the park, made popcorn, did magic shows and just did kid stuff, which was just what Grace needed. Thank God for them.
We had to finalize the order of the service, and pick the readings. After some research regarding the readings, and some outlining, we chose a beautiful reading for J-Do called The Unfinished. We finalized the order of service, and passed it on to the person in charge of drawing up the program. We needed to send it off to the printers ASAP. This went faster than I expected, because everyone was helping so much.
That evening is a bit of a blur. We did have a handful of visitors beyond the inner circle and family, but we were trying to discourage this as much as possible because I was so sick and overwhelmed. People really wanted to come by, and I wanted them to have their chance to do so, but I was in a bad, bad way and just not up to hosting. The ones that came said not to worry about hosting, but it cannot be avoided. I really wanted to go to bed, but you can’t go to bed if someone has driven over to see you.
Around this time, walking around in a business mode however dazed, I saw two friends checking the programs that had recently arrived. They asked me if I wanted to check myself, so I went over, expecting to proofread. I saw:
Alice Marie Ferguson
July 26, 2011-August 6, 2013
Instantaneously, I cried out an inhuman noise and literally doubled over with gut-wrenching pain. I ended up on the floor, which was embarrassing, but I could not get up. I don’t know what I was expecting, I guess I wasn’t expecting anything, to be honest, I was truly just going minute to minute still at this point. I knew she died, obviously, but something about seeing something like that, something that could be on a tombstone, just crushed my entire world into a million pieces. For me, this was easily one of the worst moments of the aftermath. When I look at it today, it barely makes sense. I can barely wrap my head around it.
It was getting late. I was a mess. I needed to clear the house out; I was completely overwhelmed. The family left after cleaning up for the visitation the next day, and Bubba, Clara, and Stacy cleared most of the rest of the people out. Fran was spending the night, which was fine by me, she was doing for me all of the things I would do for myself when ill, but today, I was in no shape to do these for myself.
My in-laws arrived shortly after everyone left. They stayed only a minute, before going to their hotel. I think they could see I was not in a good place. I started to draw a bath. I thought a bath might help me settle down. Just then Meleva and Famke arrived, after their eight-hour drive. I wanted them to stay, but I was hanging by a thread. I felt horrible asking them to get a hotel that night, but I just could not wait another minute to get in the bath, and I could not re-tell the story again. I could not focus on another living soul, right then. I was tapped out. Meleva was more than understanding; I knew she knew I would never send her out unless I was truly reeling. I gave her some food and a bottle of wine to take with her and told her to come back the next morning. God, I love her.
Finally, I got in the bath, careful not to mess up my new ‘do. I lay there nearly comatose for some time. I don’t think I’d bathed or showered since Alice died, and the water felt so good. I was so dry and stuffy from the flu that couldn’t breathe well, so I’d steamed up the room before getting in. I sat there thinking about how I was now a person that had lost a child. What a shitty, shitty club that is. How did I end up in this club? Who would have thunk it? But, immediately I knew this:
If God had come down and said, “I’ll give you a second child. Here she is (God waves his hand and shows me a God-image of Alice): she will be amazing and sweet and funny and healthy and happy. But she will only live two years, and then will be gone in the snap of my fingers with no explanation whatsoever. Are you in, or are you out?” I would have responded “I’m in. I am fully in. In fact, if you gave me my choice of all the babies in the world, I would still chose this baby. That is MY baby.” I knew that I would choose her all over again. I knew I would choose her, and accept the consequences. I knew this like I know I am a woman.
I then sat up and began to pour water on my arms. When pouring the water over my left arm, I suddenly became transfixed by an overwhelming sense of peace—a peace like no other I have ever felt. I was so peaceful, that I could not move. I was frozen in mid-motion, wetting my arm. I sat there for minutes, basking in the glow of this peace. It was like a literal blanket of peace had come and down, wrapped me, up, and permeated me. It was the most awe-inspiring moment I have ever had in my life to date. I sat there for a long time, marveling at this sensation.
This sense of peace stayed with me as I got ready for bed, and took my sleeping pill. I returned texts until my eyes would no longer stay open. And then I slept.
About three hours later, I woke with at start, because I could not breathe. I was so dry, so fevered, so stuffed up, I was having a hard time getting a breath. This set me into a panic that perhaps Alice had not been able to breathe. The guilts came back hard and fast, and I was again a mess. Fran helped set up a humidifier in my room and brought me hot liquids and listened without judgment, as I unleashed the guilts. She held me and let me cry, and fed me fluids and helped me remember the bath experience. She brought me back to a place of relative peace. And then, I slept again.
My friends. My beautiful friends, got me through the Thursday of the aftermath, a day so bad it can only be topped by the day Alice died.