(Un) Acceptable Losses

Its official:  I killed it.

I don’t know how I did it, and it defies my care for it, and the fact that all my other various potted plants and tree (yes, tree!) remain alive after years of my stewardship, but Adahlia’s dahlia plant is most certainly dead.

It is very upsetting.

I selected the said purple and white plant while mightily pregnant, 5 days past my due date, and the day before Adahlia was born.


3 weeks old

I had notions of them growing up together.  It spent last winter hibernating and I potted it when last year the slugs threatened to eat every struggling shoot that came up.  On her first birthday, it was in full bloom. They enjoyed a beautiful summer together.


Adahlia and her dahlia at 13 months

I left it out as the freeze came (just as I did the year prior) and it went brown and dormant, or so I thought.  We packed up and moved in February.  And a week or so ago, as I transferred the pot to the new backyard, I poked at its tuber-like root with my finger.  To my horror, the root collapsed like a mushy, wet paper bag.


No life in there.

Of course, I can (and we will) buy another Dahlia.  It wont, of course, have the same sentimental value.

And then I think: Do I really want a plant with that much sentimental value?  As we move from place to place, and crazy heat waves and ice storms blow through, would I really want to have to worry about its life?  Lets say 10 years from now the neighbor forgets to come water the plants while we are on vacation… and then it dies?  Imagine the anger, the frustration!  Or Adahlia goes off to college, and moves into a home of her own, is she obliged to take it with her?  Or do I hold onto this plant until I’m creaky and pouring it water from shaky hands?

Perhaps the question is:  At what point does a sweet token of remembrance become a pain-in-the-arse obligation?

Perhaps we are better off without it, I tell myself.

And then I think:

Hey, at least I didn’t accidentally kill Adahlia.

And then there’s the ridiculous moment of panic when I wonder if they are connected, and if the plant dies, then Adahlia dies!

And the following thought:  Maybe they had the opposite connection, and now that the plant is dead, she will get better.

And then I acknowledge the fact that it was a lovely plant, and yet, just a plant.  While perhaps they shared a connection, it certainly won’t pull Adahlia over to health or death.  And while I’m sad its gone, but it was a beautiful way to mark her life.

Adahlia did enjoy her plant — I would lift her up to the blossom and show her how to sniff.  I would point out the colors and teach her sign language for ‘beautiful.’  It was a wonderful token.

Perhaps now we will go pick out a Dahlia of a different color, different bloom, together.  Perhaps I’ll do some research to see where I went wrong.  And we’ll see how long we can get this one to live.

Every year, in Spring, there are blooms that do not rise.  Every year, there are some that don’t survive the winter.

It’s the part of Spring that we don’t often see, because we prefer to focus on the bulbs that survive.  Always, always, life and death are interwoven.  And yet, we shy from death and turn like sunflowers towards the living.  When forced to look at it, we grieve it.  We shudder.  We can accept it – barely – when it doesn’t happen directly to us.  We certainly don’t often celebrate it.

I am thinking of these things when I get a phone call from my mother.

Adahlia’s great-grandma was just diagnosed with a malignant cancer.  She’s over 92 years old, and the death from this particular cancer is painless.  Entirely painless.  Doctors say she will lose weight, she will lose her appetite, and she will get weaker.  But she will have all her faculties and she will feel no pain.  Then, one night, she will simply die in her sleep.

Of course, its sad that her time on earth draws to a close.  But I am no good at providing the typical comfort, the condolence, because the truth is that I think its actually wonderful.  After all, we all have to die.  If you love someone, what more can you wish for them?  A full life, hopefully happy and fulfilling (but if not, that’s on each of our own shoulders), and to die painlessly at a very old age, with plenty of time to say goodbye?   Especially if you believe in life after death, or are a person of faith, or have experienced something to inspire peace with what comes after death.  Depending upon your belief, your loved one will be free to visit and support you in a much more vibrant capacity, without the aches and pains of old age.  Its a transition, sure, but in such cases, isn’t it more of a call to celebrate a full and lucky life, and not a cause for mourning?

Or, in our culture, are we simply that far from being able to accept loss?

Perhaps watching Adahlia walk hand-in-hand with death — me holding one hand, death holding the other — never knowing when she’s going to get pulled over to the other side, and hearing from the other DBA parents about their own kids seeming fine one day, and in the hospital the next, and then dying, has made me had to look at little closer at death.  Forced me to examine it. Forced me into something of an acceptance of it. Forced me to turn towards the shadows and look at it — one solitary sunflower staring into the fog.

Perhaps it’s youthful, ignorant, and selfish, but there is a part of me that just doesn’t see the tragedy in a painless death at old age – the tragedies are the horrific deaths, the agonizing ones, the ones that happen before you get a chance to make amends or say goodbye, the ones that happen to children, and teenagers, and young parents, leaving people alone or helpless, with gaping wounds and questions.  And so I don’t think its youthful, ignorant, or selfish of me to regard my grandmother’s portentous news as a cause for more connection, more celebration, more conscious appreciation of her life until she leaves, and then celebrating some more.  I think its wise to acknowledge blessings when they are given.  To die in one’s old age painlessly is a true blessing… one that I would consider myself lucky to receive.

And yet, loss is loss.

But that just begs more questions.  Why can’t we celebrate death?  And not just when a person has lived a long life.  Why can’t we celebrate death at any age?  Might that actually make life easier?

We don’t celebrate loss and we can’t celebrate death because we don’t understand it.  We don’t know what – if anything – happens after.

I think of the recent news article of the couple that died within minutes of each other, in separate locations, with neither of them knowing that the other had died.

They were connected in some way.  And it had nothing to do with mourning the loss of the other and being unable to go on, or of being afraid of death.  One left, and then the other.

Now, to me, that makes sense.  Why wouldn’t folks come and go together?  If, after all, we are here to learn and play together, it makes sense to do it with your best soul friends.  Learn a few lessons together, get some hard knocks, and a bunch of laughs.  Gotta report back at the astral plane when its time to go, might as well do it together.  Maybe then sign up to do it all again together.  (Or maybe not.  Depending on if you lean more towards Buddhism or Christianity.)

I had a set of zebra finch once, little birds, and one died the day after the other.  Virus?  Possibly.  Heart-broken?  Maybe.  (Though she used to pull the feathers out of his neck, so I’m not quite so certain he wouldn’t have enjoyed living alone for awhile.)  Or were they connected in some other way?

With Adahlia nearing yet another transfusion, the big questions are on my mind.  And I think of my upcoming surgery. (Its a bigger deal then the past ones, and I’m not going to go into it, here).  I found it very hard to accept the fact that felt like I might die last year, when Adahlia was so little.  What about now?  Do I feel more okay with that possibility now than I did last year?  If so, why?

And, as more reports on another little girl with DBA fighting for her life due to complications from the illness flood my phone… what about Adahlia?  Is it okay if she dies?  As a race, we always find the death of infants and children tragic and upsetting.  But every breath Adahlia takes is borrowed.  Can I accept that fact?  Can I learn to breathe into my belly again, to shift out of the fight-or-flight stress response?  To look at her and see — without the illusion so nicely provided by rosy cheeks — how temporary we are?  Can I learn to not only accept it, but to thrive and laugh in it?

What a challenge.  And my own health might depend upon it.  Living in a stress response is not good for one’s health.
This journey has been interesting and I’ve come a long way.  But I’m not there yet.  Not when I go swinging with her on the playground, and shes sitting facing me, and she tucks her face into the folds of my sweatshirt so that she is nestled in from the wind, and I am singing to her the song she loves me to sing to her, the only song that calms her when she’s freaking out:
“Adahlia lies over the ocean,
Adahlia lies over the sea,
Adahlia lies over the ocean,
so bring back Adahlia to me.”
… and I have to stop singing because my voice is catching, and my throat is closing, and the words are choking… my vision getting blurry.
No, I’m not quite there yet.
I don’t know it yet in my being, though I have realized it before, when no one I truly loved was on the verge of death, that all loss is acceptable.
Fall is necessary for Winter, and Winter is necessary for Spring.  Some seeds survive the winter and grow into trees over time.  Others get eaten by deer or choked by vines.  A sudden hailstorm brings crushing Winter ice to the tender fruits of Summer; gardener’s shears bring Fall to the daffodils in Spring.  No matter what climate you might live in, this planet is not a place of eternal Summer.  The big wheel keeps turning.
And the truth is, there are wheels within wheels.  In every child, is an old man or woman.  In every joy, there is a portent of sorrow.  These things aren’t separate, they are one.  There are thousands feelings within any feeling.  There are thousands of lives given with every death, and thousands of lives will be taken to support one life.
One of the most difficult challenges in creating a peaceful heart is coming to terms with these truths and finding the place of existence, of Beauty and Oneness with all that Is, within them.
When I first realized Adahlia was sick with something I couldn’t fix, I fell into and fought through Sorrow on a daily basis.  I could rise above it, but I couldn’t escape it.
Yet, I know it is possible to live in it, yet not harmed or saddened by it.
In a similar way, it always upset me (prior to my pregnancy) how people would take such pride and joy in their children.  As if the did something to deserve a smart child, or beautiful child.  They would take these positive aspects of their children and own them.  Bask in the praise of strangers.
Such ownership is false.  Every child is her or her own being.  Its foolish, and arrogant, to act otherwise.  Besides, such joy can be taken quickly from you!  When you are high, you can be brought down.
Just look here, if you wish to see an example of how quickly tables can turn.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this journey with Adahlia is this chance for my Soul to come more fully through both Joy and Sorrow.  To rise free of them, to live with them and let them both flow through and around me, and not be swept away by them.  To be okay with Loss not just intellectually, like most of us are, but completely, so that it doesn’t exist. To truly appreciate the gifts as nothing I’ve earned or deserved, so that when they are taken from me, I can only laugh and shrug.  To live and radiate peace and confidence in Love, throughout my Being and existence.
It happens when I move into a place that I have tasted and shared moments in, but not yet been able to reside.  Where I am confident in the permanence of impermanence, of the Love and Connection that exists and holds us all up regardless of our Form, like shining stars and beacons in the night.

Blossoming on Adahlia’s Birth

Transfusion #23: Everybody’s moving!

Motion, motion, motion!

Everything moving in waves and circles.

Adahlia waves at new friends and turns in giggling circles.

Her reticulocyte count goes up to 11 from 5 last month, and it was 11 the previous month, and 5 the month before that.

Her hemoglobin drops and we fill it up.

We spent all last week packing, moving, and cleaning out our old home and are now settling into our new apartment. Day after day, wave after wave, of packing and unpacking boxes, walking up and down stairs, driving back and forth across Portland, from home to apartment to storage unit, as we downsized to a one bedroom apartment in the city from an upscale, two bedroom house in the ‘burbs.

And Adahlia is 20 months old today, March 3rd, or yesterday, depending on when I post this. Approaching her second anniversary of life, each of her current and future days dependent upon the bags that hang from above her right now, blood like rubies, gifts from a stranger.

Beautiful waves and circles.

She naps now, which is why I can type this. It’s been so busy, so crazy, I simply haven’t had time.

She naps now, though it is now March 4. In the span of half this post, an entire day passes!

Circles. Moments in time revisited and played again, slightly different. She napped yesterday in a hospital bed. She naps now in our shared bed in our new treehouse apartment, surrounded by the brightly colored paintings she loves. Spring comes, and it will be followed by summer. The animals are out, gathering provisions between rain showers.

Adahlia was a champ during the move. We moved the bed and big pieces of furniture over a week ago. I can hardly believe it, though my exhausted body insists in reminding me with proof. Adahlia’s life has been greatly disrupted for so long, and I am so very glad today was her first playful, normal day! Because moving to a smaller space (having to sort out what to keep in the apartment, what to store, what to give to goodwill, what to sell, and what to trash), with a little one in tow is an entirely different animal than two capable adults simply moving to a new space together. It is the difference between constructing a paper airplane and launching it… or a spaceship.

Moving was stressful and extraordinarily time consuming. And it was fun. The days were long days: days where Adahlia took her nap on a sheet on the rug on the floor while I continued to pack and clean, where we ate take-out after take-out meal because we had no time to cook or clean dishes, and Joe ended up having to take Weds-Fri off from work so we could finish everything before the end of the month. It was 1130 at night on Feb 28, with Adahlia so disoriented that she finally settled down to sleep only a half hour prior, that I sat in the new kitchen to send a final email to our ex-landlord while Joe, back at the old place, completed a final mopping.

In the end, he said the place sparkled.

Adahlia enjoyed the process of moving as much as she could. She helped put things in boxes, even things that weren’t supposed to go in boxes. As I wrote “apt” or “storage” on the box, additionally labeling it “dishes” or “shoes” or whatever, her face would break into a huge smile, and she would reach for the sharpie to add her own series of scribbles and slashes. I wore her piggy-back, strapped on my back with the Gemini carrier we’ve used since she was an infant, and like a momma monkey carries her baby as she swings through trees, I carried Adahlia as I swept and sorted and ferried boxes and paintings and odds and ins up and down flights of stairs.


We love our new place.

Of course, we do miss the old place a little bit. We miss the gorgeous, parklike backyard with its gigantic blossoms and fruit trees, its deer and squirrels and birds. We miss the shiny wood floors excellent for spinning and sliding, and the incredible living room stove/fireplace, with its metal carvings of woodland animals and brilliant flame. We miss the high ceilings with the fantastic acoustics, the windows and skylights across the walls and ceilings, and the monthly celestial display when the moon was full, for it would rise in one set of windows, cross the sky through the set of skylights, and set in the windows on the opposite side of the house. Every month.


We will miss the raccoons that climbed our fig tree and munched fruit outside our window while we giggled in the dark, the bobcat that used to climb onto our roof, and the frogs that would sing for spring love in the little pond in our backyard.

We will miss the gartner snakes the sunned themselves on the rocks and ate the frogs.

And we will miss our squirrel friend that we all took turns feeding by hand (yes, even Adahlia!)


We won’t miss the high ceilings, because the lower, and still angled, ceilings of our top-level, treehouse apartment are so much cozier. And while she and I will miss the acoustics when we do our high-pitched, happy shrieking contests, Joe is already grateful that they don’t echo and resonate as much as they did in the old place. The home and it’s landscape truly were beautiful, but our backyard here, while not nearly so lush, has a a plot of green grass and a plum tree and a perfect little place for me to plant the dahlia that I bought the day before Adahlia was born.

You see, the truth is that the ‘burbs – while very polite and safe and well-manicured – simply isn’t the sort of dynamic neighborhood where we belong. Our treehouse, only a half-mile from the heart of Misdissippi street and all that the up-and-coming district has to offer, is also only a half-mile to two different neighborhood parks, about a half mile to two different healthy grocery stores (both New Seasons and Whole Foods), a mile to a third, huge park with a neighborhood pool, and just a couple blocks from the restaurants and shops of Williams and Vancouver Ave and MLK Blvd. In the flatlands and no longer perched on a steep hill, we are in easy and enjoyable walking and biking distance to all of the above, and much more! Yet, our actual street is fairly quiet and off the main thoroughfare. There is a strong neighborhood feel, with folks of mixed ethnicity and culture and color. According to our downstairs neighbors, there is even a neighborhood summer block party, and the road is closed. People are extraordinarily friendly, colorful, and slightly wonky in that wonderful Portland way. People walk past with dogs or singing to themselves, and Adahlia watches from the full-length window, her palms pressed against it.

And, to be honest, as much as we enjoyed aspects of the cosmic nature of the old home, we won’t miss the fact that it was, well, spooky, and perhaps downright haunted. This place, happily, has a wonderful cozy, healing, and creatively inspiring feel… minus the spooks.

We are so, so happy in our new place. Strangely, everything about it is a better fit for us. Everything is smaller and yet somehow, more spacious, fitted better to our needs. We have one small bedroom closet to share, but it fits everything we need. The dishwasher is smaller, but it fits our little mismatched assortment of dishware perfectly, without us having to pilfer from it while it’s dirty because we’ve run out of spoons for stirring our tea, or sippy cups for Scooter.

The same is true of the bathroom and bedroom (we used to have two of each, now we have only one to share, but it’s totally fine.) The laundry room isn’t in our apartment, but we have our own designated machines in the shared basement laundry area, as well as a spot in a small storage shed. All for under $1000, including utilities! It’s almost unbelievable.

We are the top level of a triplex, and a little girl and her family live in the basement, and that little four-year-old girl adores Adahlia. (She took her by the hands and spun her in circles in the grass of the backyard on the day they met.) And we are actively looking for a fire pit to put in the backyard, so Adahlia can enjoy her fires again (as soon as the rain lets up.)

While there aren’t as many windows and no skylights, this new place is somehow just as bright and beautiful as the old. It was a perfect find, at the perfect price, and the perfect location for our desired lifestyle, and we love it.

And it keeps getting better! Now that we are officially within city limits again, we can utilize Portland’s food composting program, and toss our food waste into the collecting bin for compost. (Washington county did not offer this.). Hooray!

And Portland enjoys some of the best quality, if not the highest quality, water in the nation, courtesy of the Bull Run watershed. And now, so do we. Hooray!

It’s crazy, perhaps, to be relieved and happier to downsize from a roomy home in an affluent suburb to a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city (complete with a few rather “shady” neighbors), but we truly are.

Everything is moving.

Adahlia is doing really well, all things considered. While she probably misses the slide-factor of the wood floors, we are grateful for the carpet, especially when she gets low on blood and her balance gets worse. She enjoys the practice of climbing the stairs to get to the treehouse, and of going to the basement to do laundry.

She says “mah-mah” in reference to me now, and while I have often heard kids saying “mama” in a nagging, annoying way that made me cringe, I don’t find it annoying when Adahlia calls for me — it’s very cute. She carries around her little Waldorf baby doll and kisses her, and feeds her imaginary food, and gets too excited and slaps and throws her, standing over her with flapping hands.

Adahlia settles into my lap in the old, deeper bathtub in this new place, and gazes into our reflection in the shiny, silver bathroom cabinet knobs when we get out, pointing and waving at herself and laughing. She enjoys looking at the crows that land on the telephone wires outside our windows. In the kitchen, she picks up her leg and slams her foot back down, sumo style. She slaps her chest with the palms of both hands, as though a native warrior or a silverback gorilla challenging another to a duel, and shouts “ahh! ahh!!! aaahh!!!”

Today, we actually took all our medicines as prescribed. What with the marathon move, and the hospital yesterday, we hadn’t been taking the Chinese herbs, even though she recently graduated to a new formula. The only medicine we still managed to take regularly was her Exjade. I am happy to say that her iron is still dropping, albeit a little slower, even at the low dose of only 125 mg a day, which is about half the dosage per kg standard. Currently, her ferretin is 618 (it was 639 last month, and 800+ the month before that.). Her percent blood iron saturation has dropped to 70% from 92% last month, and 95% the month before that. These are all good trends, and hopefully, in another month or two, we can take a break from the Exjade for a bit.

I do need to find a way to get Adahlia to take blue-green algae though – it tastes awful, but she tested strongly positive for it, and it is helpful for removing heavy metals and toxins from the system. The Chinese herbs aren’t a problem – she loves her current formula, and takes it eagerly. It’s not the first time – she almost always takes the herbs eagerly, even if they smell and taste strongly, if they are a very strong match for her. It seems her body knows what it needs. And it’s not an uncommon phenomenon – many people report that their Chinese medicine formulas taste good to them when they really need them. (Of course, like everything else, that doesn’t always hold true!)

So today, we take all our medicines and eat breakfast and head off to see Red Yarn, Adahlia’s favorite kids performer. She sways to the songs he sings and plays on his guitar, and runs forward to pet the puppet animals he shares with the kids. She discovers a 10-month old baby girl with bright blue eyes crawling and runs over to me, bringing me over the baby and points, absolutely delighted.

“A beautiful baby!” I agree.

Adahlia chirps her consent and enthusiasm.

The concert over, we head to the car but stop first in the gravel outside the cafe, where Adahlia grabs it by the handful, lifting it up over her head and showering it down in front of her like snow. We play for awhile and then I hoist her onto my shoulders, and skip down the sidewalk to our car, bouncing her happily above me. I drop her down and she runs – she’s got a fast little run now – and then stops at the curb, pointing at the pooled water.

I offer my hand to help her step down and after she manages it, she lets go to stomp enthusiastically in the puddle, splashing filthy water everywhere. Good thing she is wearing her boots! I laugh.

I ask her if she wants to go home and she shakes her head no. I ask if she wants to go to a park, to a playground and she nods yes, her eyes lighting up.

So we drive to Laurelhurst, where we settle on the swings. But she doesn’t want me to push her – she wants to ride on my lap. I lift her out and sit down myself, facing her to me, and pull her hoodie up to cover the back of her neck and head. The day had started sunny but the clouds are gathering.

In her light, little language of babbling rhythmic inflection, she points out a motorcyclist passing behind me, a truck, and up at a bird in a tree. I say, “Yes, a bird, a very loud bird. He is a crow, a type of bird.”

She says, “bhirrd.”

“Yes!” I exclaim, for it is the first time I’ve heard her say that word. “Bird! And how do you say ‘bird’? In sign language?”

She makes the sign. I confirm and kiss her temple. Then she leans against me, resting on me. For a few moments, I relish everything, committing it to memory. The smell of her skin. The feel of her breath, her rib cage moving. The sight of her hair blowing in the breeze.

Everything is moving.

Life is movement.

“Do you want to go home and go to sleep with me? Take a nap together?”

She lifts her head and meets my eyes. Her lips part in a pleased smile and she nods once in a strong affirmative:


Happy 20th month, Adahlia. I’m so glad you’re still here with us; so glad we’re all moving onward, together.