Rambling Thoughts from a Wandering Mind


Category: Personal

One year later…

A magpie fledgling on my front stoop.

Today is my eldest son’s birthday. I need to specify, because I have another child on the way, who is assumed to be a boy. My son Henry was stillborn one year ago. I miss him deeply. I feel his absence every day.

Putting the feelings around his birth and our loss into words is difficult. It’s a nearly impossible task. I can say it’s sad. I can say it was, and continues to be, deeply traumatic. But none of those words do it justice. Writing about it is very hard. Normally, writing comes much easier than speech for me. When talking about Henry, neither comes easily.

I feel a deep, physical aching in my arms when I write about it. The emotions are embodied. They cannot be properly put into words.

So why write about it? And why share it publicly?

Writing is therapeutic for me, among other things. Despite what I’ve just written, I can usually express myself and my feelings far better in writing than in speech. But with Henry, there is something more to it than that. Writing about him, writing his name and his story, is the only way he gets to go out into the world. And so, every so often, I must write about him and name him and share it with the world. He needs to be known. In this small way, he gets to have life.

What does all of this have to do with a picture of a magpie fledgling? About a year ago, sometime after learning Henry would not be born alive – possibly even after he had been born – I was opening the front door to let in my mother and daughter. They were still getting out of the van and when I opened the door a fledgling was on the front steps.

One of our cats started out the door, hungry for magpie. I scooped up the cat and threw it back in the house. When I turned back, the magpie was gone. It had jumped off the stairs and either hopped or flew to safety. Saving the bird’s life after losing my own child seemed very important to me and it has stuck with me.

Yesterday, which was a year to the day that we went to the hospital to induce labour (it was also Father’s Day, last year), my wife and daughter were sitting on the front step. I was standing in the doorway. We saw a magpie fledgling in the front garden. After a moment, the bird hopped up our walkway and up each stair until it was on the deck with us.

It walked around for a bit, before jumping off and going about it’s day (all the while, its parents were screaming down from the trees).

At the time, it just seemed like a neat experience with nature. Later that afternoon, I remembered the bird from last year and the two experiences came together and felt significant.

I know a magpie is just a magpie, but there is something a bit mysterious and mythological about them. They’re a powerful symbol and it felt a little like Henry had stopped by to say hello.

Happy birthday, Henry. I miss you.

Working from home during a pandemic

It’s day one of my employer’s work-from-home protocol. Everyone who can do their work from home, outside of certain “essential staff” is to do so.

My spouse started working from home on Monday and our daughter has been home since then, as well, as all the schools and daycares in the province are closed for the foreseeable future (schools will be operating remotely starting sometime after spring break, so the official word is that classes are cancelled for now; the daycares are simply closed, though).

Trying to work from home in an uncertain time, and also keep our child busy with an ad hoc “home school” is certainly an interesting challenge. My wife has been doing it for two days already. Our dining room walls are quickly becoming covered in D’s paintings. We’ll soon run out of space for new art!

Tricks or tips for working remotely while also caring for a child would be much appreciated!

I lost a child…

My son’s urn and box of keepsakes. The teddy bear was donated by another family who lost a child. We will do the same at some point.

Today was the day my son was supposed to be born. Instead, he was stillborn on June 17 – the day after Father’s Day. We found out a little over four days earlier that he’d died. We have ideas about exactly when his heart stopped, but don’t know precisely. Whatever the exact moment he died, his mother1 – my wife – was admitted to the labour and delivery ward at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019. Our son, Henry John Kelly-Snider was born, still, in the very early hours of June 17.

Today is the day he was supposed to be born, alive, and the fact that it’s Thanksgiving is something we only realized a few weeks ago. What a thing that would have been to be thankful for – a beautiful, health baby boy. Instead, I’m writing this the day before you’ll read it, with tears in my eyes.

I have never shared this so publicly before. Most of the people in my life know, although there is an outer circle of colleagues and acquaintances who may never know that “how many kids do you have?” is a very complicated question.

We thought about going away this weekend, to try and distract ourselves from the sorrow we’re going to be feeling. We ended up staying home on Sunday, but allowed our family to think we were out of town (uh, sorry about that, everyone). It seemed easier to just keep things low-key at home, rather than making a big thing out of Thanksgiving this year. Subsequent years will probably be hard, too, but Thanksgiving won’t always fall on the 14th, so maybe we’ll be able to separate the date from the holiday. I’m hoping I can do that for Father’s Day next year, if only for my daughter’s sake.

Right now, though, things are tough. We had a little mini version of Thanksgiving dinner with just the three of us – chicken (with compound herb butter made from stuff my wife and daughter grew in the garden this summer), duck fat baby potatoes and roasted vegetables. It was good, and we had pumpkin pie (because I love it but only eat it around Thanksgiving to make sure it remains a special food), but it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving. There was no turkey or stuffing and no extended family. But maybe that’s OK just this once. It’s hard to know for sure anymore.

This is one of the last “firsts” since Henry’s death. There’s still Christmas, but most of the big milestones have come and gone, so maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Maybe each day will be a little easier than the last. More likely, it’ll be like it’s been since the day we learned he died. Some days are better than others. Sometimes it feels like a million years ago and that everything is OK again, and then the next day it feels like there’s no way things could possibly get worse. Grief is a funny beast and it doesn’t follow a linear path.

That’s part of why I’m writing this and putting it out into the world. It helps with the grief. Putting the emotions into words is healthy and I’m far better at communicating through writing than speech. Some people talk things through; I work through things by writing them down and, often, by sharing them even if I’m not necessarily seeking feedback.

I’m also writing this down to help other grieving fathers. Stillbirth and pregnancy loss is already something that’s not talked about enough (though that seems to be changing; we’ve heard many stories from people in our lives since this happened to us – but they’d probably never have shared them if we hadn’t gone through something similar). When it is talked about, fathers are sometimes overlooked. But this experience touches us, too. The father loses a child too and, with that, a part of himself. I don’t have any words of wisdom, because I’m still in the midst of it, but I want other fathers who’ve lost a child to know they’re not alone.

Finally, these words are to honour the memory of my son. Mere words can hardly do him justice, especially not ones written in the depths of grief, but they’re all I have left to give him. Together with his mother, I gave him a name. And I can give him words and a place in my heart. I don’t get to give him anything else. So I’ll give him what I can and hope it’s enough.

1. The fact that my wife is mostly absent from this story is not an oversight. It’s not my place to tell her story, so I won’t be doing so. This will focus on my own thoughts and experiences, which are understandably quite different from those of the person who carried our son in her body for five months.

Bowling Day

Author’s note: Yes, I forgot to post on Friday. It takes time to change habits.

It’s bowling day. Last year, some friends and I formed a (five-pin) bowling team and joined a league. This is now our third season, after playing in the fall and winter leagues last year.

It’s a cliche to say that Monday is the worst day of the week, but I actually look forward to Mondays because Mondays are bowling nights.

In addition to being a good excuse to drink beer and hang out with friends, I’ve started to actually care about being good at bowling. I’m pretty mediocre right now, and I’m mostly OK with that, but I do hope that I’ll get better the longer I play.

Thursday last week was our free pre-season practice night. We bowled three games. I played hilariously bad at first, then got OK. I felt some weird over-stretched-ness in my calves the next day, but hopefully having got that bit of practice in last week, I’ll play half-decently tonight and not walk up with a “sports injury” the next day.

Regardless, it’ll be a fun night.

Kinship vs biological family

Earlier today, I was checking out the #solarpunkchat hashtag on Twitter and saw a call for papers about the topic of kinship and collectivization in literature (presumably, with a focus on solarpunk fiction). Specifically, it was focused on non-biological kinship. This got me thinking about the idea of kinship in my own context.

For a variety of personal and familial reasons that I don’t want to share here, it is looking more and more likely that D will be an only child. She is also very unlikely to have any cousins who live close to her. And, despite some admittedly half-hearted efforts, I don’t have close relationships with my own cousins (some of whom do have children of a similar age). This means that D is unlikely to have any biological relations who are close to her in age or circumstance.

How, then, do we give her the “sibling experience” without blood relations to fill the role? She will, undoubtedly, have friends. Everything I’ve read about only children suggests these friendships will mean more to her than they would for children with siblings. In my mind, however, this feels different than relationships one has with biological or adoptive relatives. Perhaps it shouldn’t feel different, but it does.

Because those eventual friendships seem somehow different from family, I’ve been thinking about how to create a kinship group that is not biological in origin. Mostly, I’ve been asking myself the question and not coming up with answers. How does one cultivate a non-biological kinship group within the context of a 21st century Canadian city? How does one create an intentional community without going to live on a commune?

I don’t have answers, so I’m asking you. What ideas do you have for me, dear readers?

Facebook is bad for my mental health

Image of the Facebook logo behind broken glass.
Does Facebook make you want to smash your screen?

Dramatically limiting my Facebook use has really helped my mental health. Inspired by the #DeleteFacebook movement, I have dramatically limited my Facebook use.

I haven’t deleted my account, because I do sometimes need to access Facebook for work and it’s very difficult to do so without an account. And there are a few groups that I don’t want to lose access to.

What I have done is to seriously lock down my account for privacy reasons (I’ll probably write a separate post about this in the near future), so I can feel a little more secure about maintaining my account.

In addition to locking things down, I’ve deleted the third-party Facebook app I had been using from my phone. At work, I’ve installed the News Feed Eradicator Chrome extension, so I don’t see my news feed at all. I can still look at pages and groups that I might need to view for work reasons, but don’t get sucked into my news feed. I’ll be adding it to Firefox on my home computer the next time I sit down to do something on that machine.

This means that I basically don’t see anything on Facebook, except for the occasional notification from groups I’m in.

It’s been roughly a week since I’ve had things set up this way. I’ve already noticed a huge impact on my mental health.

I’m happier. I’m less anxious. I’m less angry. I’m less stressed out.

It’s frankly amazing how much better I feel now that I’m effectively not using Facebook except to occasionally check work-related things or to pop into the dads’ group of which I’m a member.

I haven’t given up social media. I still check Instagram, though much less often than I used to. I still very occasionally look at Twitter, although I’ve also removed Twitter from my phone. Mostly, I’ve been using federated social media like Mastodon and diaspora. I’ve also played around with Friendica, which is probably a little closer to Facebook in look and feel than the other two.

So far, I find these networks have much less of a negative impact on my well-being. Partly, this is because they’re designed differently and don’t have intentionally addictive traits built into them the way that the big, corporate, for-profit networks do. And, partly, it’s because the networks are smaller and seem to attract people and conversations that are more positive and less combative in nature than those of Facebook and Twitter.

These benefits could disappear as these networks become more popular, but for the time being they’re friendlier places built on non-exploitative technology.

If all your friends jumped off a bridge…

When I was a kid, my parents often asked, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

I’m sure many of you had similar experiences. It was, and maybe still is, the pat response to a child implying they should be allowed to do something for no reason other than that all their friends were doing it.

When I was a child, I came up with what I thought was a very clever response. “That depends,” I’d say. “If they all jumped off and didn’t get hurt, then I’d do it too, because it’s safe.”

“But if they all got hurt,” I’d continue, “then I wouldn’t jump off and they won’t think badly of me because I was smart enough not to follow their bad example.”

“And,” I’d conclude, “if they all died then they’d never know that I didn’t jump.”

I was sometimes a very literal child. I was also a smart ass.

Don’t come into my house and preach at me

This afternoon, an Evangelical Christian posted a message on the Facebook group for my Unitarian Universalist church (whose members are mostly atheist and typically humanist even if they do believe in a god) trying to get people to attend an “Evangelical Mission.” He gave essentially no context and it was only through my own Internet sleuthing that we figured out the details of the event he was promoting. It was proselytization through spam.

I was initially unsure how I felt about being evangelized to in my own church (yes, I think of our Facebook page as an extension of the church; it’s part of our community which extends beyond the church building. It’s also my main connection to the UCE community at the moment, since getting to church when my toddler’s nap time conflicts with Sunday services is challenging). On the one hand, we pride ourselves on being open to ideas and people of all faiths. In theory, anyone is welcome to “worship” with us – Unitarian Universalism is about orthopraxis (right action) not orthodoxy (right belief).

On the other hand, this person was quite obviously trying to get people to hear the Gospel of Christ and convert to Christianity. I wouldn’t go into his church and begin expounding upon the virtues of humanism. What makes him think it’s OK to come into my church and try to pull me out of it and into his?

The post has been deleted, either by a group admin or by the person who posted it. Given that members of the church were firmly but respectfully engaging with him, I suspect he deleted it after realizing he wasn’t going to win converts. I’d have taken a screen shot, but I never expected the post to be removed.

Despite the post being gone, I’m angry that someone felt it was appropriate to come into my church, imply (albeit indirectly) that my faith (such as it is) is a lie and try to recruit people away from it. I’m angry that he wasn’t open and honest about his intent. And I’m angry that I’m angry, because it was just a Facebook post and therefore seems ultimately inconsequential.

But here I am – angry about something minor that feels like a major violation, in no small part because I’m in the midst of reconnecting to my religion through the practice of UU Lent.

What do y’all think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill or do I have good reason to be angry about this?

UU Lent and allowing myself to be vulnerable

A UU flaming chalice
The flaming chalice is the symbol of Unitarian Universalism.

March 1 was the beginning of Lent. For Catholics and other Christians, it’s a time of self-sacrifice. It’s meant to symbolize Jesus’ time spent in the desert, during which he is said to have had nothing to eat or drink.

Even many people who aren’t Christians use Lent as a time to abstain from their vices. Many people, regardless of faith, give up smoking or alcohol or eating red meat. Others give up sweets and sugar.

I had been thinking about giving something up for Lent this year, but never quite got around to deciding on something meaningful. Instead, someone from my church shared a link to the UU Lent Facebook group. As a Unitarian Universalist, I was intrigued by the idea of approaching Lent from a UU perspective rather than a more traditionally Christian one.

According to the people behind the Facebook group, UU Lent (also known by the hashtag #uulent) is:

[…] a way for Unitarian Universalists to engage in a shared spiritual practice alongside siblings in faith who are observing Lent. In some Christian traditions, in preparation for the celebration of Easter, the faithful make a personal sacrifice as a way of bringing them closer to G*d, and reminding them of the sacrifices that Jesus and his followers made.

As Unitarian Universalists, we share theological roots with our Christian siblings. However, rather than a practice of self-denial, this is an opportunity to spend the Season of Lent engaged in a spiritual discipline of deep intention and appreciation of our world, our place in it, and an openness to Grace in our daily lives.

This idea appealed to me quite a bit, for a number of reasons, which I shared on Facebook at the start of the Lenten season. I’ll quote myself directly:

I’m going to [take part in UU Lent]. Hopefully, it will provide some focus and much needed spiritual discipline in my life. It may even lead to on-going practices to help keep me centred and focused on what’s most important.

Since I haven’t been to church in ages (partly due to D’s nap time, but also because I’m lazy and lack the discipline to get out of the house on Sunday morning), this will act as a spiritual practice – whatever that might mean for a humanist – and maybe even encourage me to make a greater effort to get to Sunday services at the ol’ UCE.

It’s been an interesting experience so far. For the most part, I’ve found myself simply meditating on the daily words. As I think about what they mean to me – particularly from a spiritual/religious perspective – I try to put them into meaningful practice going forward. It sometimes seems easy. “Love” just means loving my family, right? Well, no, actually. I think it must mean more than that if I’m going to make it a spiritual practice. It must mean something close to the radical love Jesus spoke of.

That kind of radical love is difficult and uncomfortable. But I’m trying. I’m trying to love the street person struggling with addiction issues as much as I love the child he endangers by discarding his syringe on the street. I’m trying to love the people supporting the fascist regime that’s unfolding in the United States. And I’m trying to reconcile loving those people while still resisting, fighting and even hating the thing they support. It’s hard. I fail more often than not, but it’s an important practice.

Today’s word is “vulnerability.” This one is difficult. Like most people, I don’t like to feel vulnerable. Vulnerability can seem like weakness. And you can be hurt if you allow yourself to be vulnerable.

What does vulnerability mean for me? I think it means being more in touch with my emotions and more willing to express them. This is something I’ve never been good at. Despite having long had a bad temper (which has mellowed a lot with age), I’ve generally been the type to keep my cool and not show much emotion – good or bad.

I won a Vespa from a radio station several years ago and the person who took my photo when I went in to claim my prize joked that I didn’t seem very excited. I was, but I didn’t show it. I’m not sure I even knew how to show it.

This ability to be cool can be helpful. I’ve been known in various jobs over the years as the guy who always remains calm under pressure. In truth, I’m often in a state of mild panic just below the surface. But not letting that show has generally served me well in my professional life.

Still, there’s something to be said for being in touch with one’s emotions, especially in one’s personal life. So that’s where I’ll start. I’ll try to be more open and emotionally vulnerable at home, where it’s safer to do so. If I succeed, it should lead to greater intimacy with my wife and family.

And since UU Lent is a religious exercise, I’ll try to apply this practice at church (I haven’t been recently, but plan to begin attending regularly if I can manage to slightly shift my daughter’s nap time). Being vulnerable there means being more open to community. I’ve never been good at meeting new people, networking or even making small talk with people I don’t know well. Partially, this is because I’m an introvert. But it’s also because I’m a very cautious person who sucks at breaking out of his comfort zone.

But a church is supposed to be a community. And it always had been for me, even if I’ve seemed closed off. I’ve met good friends through my church. I’ve gained a sort of surrogate grandmother. And it’s the only place I’ve been able to have a completely open conversation about how absolutely horrible the first few months of D’s life were for everyone in our house.

It’s a community that filled a card with wonderful messages when D was born, despite the fact that it would be an understatement to say that Sara and I had been very infrequent attendees for a couple of years by that point. We were not forgotten and were still considered valued members of the church community. I was truly touched the day we walked into church with our baby, for what was probably the first time in over a year, and were handed a card that had been signed by a large portion of the congregation.

I suppose what I’m getting at, with this rambling bit of prose about church-as-community, is that I want to allow myself to tell people what they mean to me. This means being open and vulnerable about my feelings. It means risking the discovery that I value a particular relationship more than the other person. But with that risk comes the possibility of great reward – deeper friendships, more intimate connections with people I’ve come to think of as family (even though I’ve never told them) and a stronger connection to my spiritual community (something I’ve long ago learned I need in my life, even if I’m terrible at developing and nurturing it).

And, finally, one more act of vulnerability. Instead of saving this post and thinking on it for a day or two, as I’d typically do with a post of this length and degree of personal exposure, I’m going to post it in a fairly raw form. This is it. Here it is.