Some Things


You know what I think would really help? A shot of Seratonin. Do they have that? I’m too damn delicate to drink my way through this pain. I have three glasses of wine and have to pass out. How can you speed up the time without acting irresponsible? And how can you just sit and stew and live in the pain in sobriety. We’ve been trying to live in it I think, until it gets to be too much. And the amount we can handle depends on the day: it’s not getting steadily better.


I’m starting to feel like I’m not ready to see a therapist right now. We’ve been a few times and I just am not sure I’m ready to paw at my feelings…anymore than I am writing about them like this. So Tom is looking into support groups now. He’s right that we can’t do nothing.


We try and make plans about the future but one of us always ends up staring off into space after a while. I think it’s usually me but I’m not sure. I know I can’t talk as well as I can write about this. My friend Chris pointed out how lucky I am to have this outlet, which is true. Things have to come out of me (especially because I can’t really drink). I wonder if once all the things are finished coming out, I’ll be better.



I lay awake in the dark with my eyes open. The dog is awake too. She fills the room with small dog noises: licking lips, a foot itching an ear, a heavy sigh. I keep dreaming of different ceilings then the one I’m staring at. My hands are on my belly. By this time, crying feels more like airing a vent. If I wait too long I have to cry longer, harder. But if I let it out regularly, I can have a few tears while I hide my face. I think that’s how it will be for a long time.


I look over at Tom. He’s sleeping, but I can tell it’s a light sleep. He’s been sleeping like he does when I’m sick; he’s awake in an instant if I whisper his name. But I don’t want to wake him, I just want to watch him. I thought about the time we spent in the hospital.


He never wanted to go home to our apartment even though it was a five minute walk from the hospital. He wanted to stay with me and Tommy Jr. He insisted on sleeping with me every night, and only went home to shower when my mother insisted. Eventually, Tom took over the job of helping me to the bathroom. He helped me keep my head up and walk and sit on the toilet, and never looked embarrassed or grossed out.


Tom accepted each new level of intimacy with utter grace and enthusiasm. When they finally removed my bandages and said I could shower, he took me to the little chair in the bathroom. Tom tipped my head back and washed my hair in the shower while I cried. I cried for our little boy. I cried for our pain. But I cried from relief too, because I knew that I would always feel safe with this man. Tom is so much more than a best friend, a husband, a Dad. He is my heart. He is a part of me. When my heart hurts, his heart hurts. His love makes me a better person.


I roll over on my side and hold the little lamb blanket that was with Tommy Jr in his incubator. I cry a little more, and Tom rolls over to hold me in his half sleep. I’ll get through this because he loves me, and because he needs me as much as I need him. And when I miss my sweet baby so much that I feel like I’ll die, I run my finger along Tom’s ear, and his big toe. I close my eyes and know that our baby is still with us. He’ll always be with us.

A Secret I Might Have Already Told

One secret is I was afraid to get pregnant. I know a lot of women are- you give up your old life, part of your old identity, work gets murky, your non-baby friends might fade away. I was afraid of those things but I was also afraid that my charmed life would doom me.


I know how dramatic that sounds. But I felt that dramatic about how easy my life had been. I had had bouts of depression and self-loathing, but it wasn’t anything that a good shrink and anti-depressent and a few years and the right man couldn’t clear up. My jokes about failing upwards weren’t jokes though. I really felt like I had had it easy, that things just kept working out in spite of my many attempts to sabotage myself.


So I became afraid of taking risks. I thought that the status quo was safer. Occasionally I got cornered into taking risks- like my Second City classes and required performances. When things like that worked out I thought- “Oh yea, I don’t believe in luck, I believe in logic and statistics, and statistically, some people are going to have an easier life than others.” (well…statistics and wonderful parents and supportive siblings and friends and a darling husband). I really wanted a baby though, despite my fears. So Tom and I talked it over, and my boss and I talked it over, and eventually I screwed up my courage and we went for it. And we got pregnant right away! I felt like I was prepared for anything that might go wrong, because I had so much love and support and good energy in my life.


But I never accounted for ending up with an empty belly and empty arms.


I guess this is the stage of mourning where I start feeling a bit angry and sorry for myself.


The other secret is that I never dreamt about my baby. But I did dream that he was going to come early, and I was so afraid and I didn’t know what to say or do to stop it. In the dream I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to look like an annoying yuppie mother, so I didn’t scream. I didn’t demand. I remember that dream so vividly- I even told my boss about it the next day.


The Memorial Service was beautiful. So many wonderful friends and family came, and it really was a celebration of Tommy Jr’s life, and our family. It was everything I hoped it would be. I’ll write more about tomorrow because it deserves a good, uplifting context.


But afterwards, I started thinking. And I suppose I was crashing hard from the high of the 200 hugs I had just gotten…but I felt like a failure. A fucking failure. Maybe it’s a primordial, female feeling. Maybe it’s still the hormones. I think back on every asshole thing I did while I was pregnant- complaining about being fat and bitching that I couldn’t fit into shoes. I know it doesn’t make sense to say any of this now…but I wish I had just loved every minute of it. I loved a lot of it, and a lot of that stuff I said to try and be funny, but I did bitch for real sometimes. And here I am now. Trapped in my apartment- trying to smoke cigarettes because it’s the most risk-taking I can handle at this age. Terrified that people are going to tell me they know exactly what I’m going through or that I’ll hear someone complain about their children.


My body is still betraying me, but now in a different way. Tom keeps trying to remind me that my body didn’t betray me by going into pre-term labor, but it’s hard to get there mentally. If my sweet baby was still in my belly, everything would be perfect now. It was my body that stated pushing Tommy Jr out, it’s not like he went for a swim and took a wrong turn. But I know this is just something that time will have to heal.


Then three days ago my bony ankles appeared again- I cried for hours. My breast are small again, my fingers have slimmed down so much that the little gold ring I bought to wear for a pregnancy wedding band slips around my knuckle dangerously. I’m terrified that the little bandages holding my incision together are going to fall off, even though the doctor said it was ok if they did. I still have to wear god damn maxi-pads, because it turns out if they cut your uterus it bleeds for a while.


It’s too late for me to really be writing- I’m too drunk, stoned and sedated. I’ll end this but post it just to feel like I did something today other than sleep and cry.


Breakfast Risks

My husband is incapable of lying- even of exaggeration or hyperbole. Or so I thought. It turns out that when faced with a food shortage, Tom Sr will take enormous risks. I mean…for a really good natured, responsible citizen.


When we were in the hospital, we were instructed on how to order my meals. I got a menu and could call down and have the meal of my choice sent up. When we woke up on Tuesday, May 11th, we were both famished. We had undergone surgery and suffered immeasurable stress and shock. Neither of us had slept very much.


I told Tom to call the food people and order whatever he wanted. I wanted apple juice- he insisted I try to eat oatmeal. Tom was nervous to try and scam a free breakfast, but like a starving wolf in a chicken shack- his hunger demanded he be bold.


He picked up the phone and dialed. When the operated answered he said:




When he hung up he was sweating. Victory! He did a small fist pump.


The rest of the week the doctors must have been really impressed by my recovery. Regular orders came from my room for chicken pot pies, macaroni and cheese, plates of green beans and plow boy breakfasts. Watching Tom order and eat those meals with naughty glee will always be a bright spot in my memory.


Service Details

We will be holding a memorial service for Thomas Nathan Guillen Jr Tuesday, May 25th at 6:30 at the Alice Millar chapel at Northwestern University, 1870 Sheridan Rd in Evanston.


Any university parking lot can be used after 4:30 for free. There is a small lot in the back of the alley on the east side of the chapel. A larger lot is at the corner of Sheridan and Campus drive- a two level parking structure.


If you are so moved, in lieu of flowers Tom and I are in the process of setting up a memorial scholarship fund for Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Education in Tommy Jr’s name.


To donate you can click on this link: On page one of the online site in the area marked My Designation, you should choose School of Continuing Studies Scholarship Fund from the drop down menu. Under My Destination- please indication the Thomas Nathan Guillen Jr Memorial Fund. (I have attached a screenshot of the donation page)


If you prefer to send a check, it should be made out to School of Continuing Studies Scholarship Fund with a notation that indicates the gift is in Memory of Thomas Nathan Guillen. Checks can be mailed to Northwestern University, Office of Annual Giving, 2020 Ridge Avenue, Room 230, Evanston, Illinois 60208-4307.


Please forward this information to anyone you think would be interested. Please let anyone you forward this to know they can forward it along as well. We don’t want anyone to feel pressured, but we want everyone to feel invited to share in our joy and sadness.


Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. It’s all we have now.

Memorial Service

Planning Tommy’s memorial service is overwhelming. It feels like it’s going to be the end of everything. Even now, when Tom Sr and I go outside I can’t believe how many people are just enjoying the sunny weather and laughing. The activities I want to do have sufficiently freaked out everyone I’ve been honest with. So Tom Sr and I are going to see a professional on Monday. I think we’re both relieved to get a trusted professional involved in our grief management. This is not for amateurs.


I’m worried that people won’t come to the service, or that they’ll be shocked that I’m not doing something religious, or they’ll be bored because I’m letting a lot of people speak. It’s a lot to ask for one broken hearted little family. I’ll post the info on Monday.


But when the service is over then what happens? Tom and I know we have to try and go back to work. We have to try and focus on our jobs and other people’s problems. We’ll have to be apart. I don’t know if I can do it. I just don’t know if I can be away from the man who kept me alive throughout this, the man who’s ears and toes and hands were replicated perfectly on my sweet baby.


But we have to try, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Laughing – May 20th

I was going to write about something really sad today, but I have plenty of time for that. Today, Tom Sr started laughing about something and his sweet laughter filled our apartment like music. So I thought I should write about that instead.


We were standing in the bathroom and Tom smiled. He looked at me. “Do you remember when you said “taint” in the hospital?”


I smiled back, “sort of”. Tom started laughing and laughing. He wiped tears out of his eyes.


“You were trying to tell someone something, a nurse maybe, and you said that your taint hurt and the nurse didn’t know the word.” He could barely get it all out he was laughing so hard.


I started laughing too, I remembered what he was talking about “Oh yea, it was the doctor who came in on Friday. I told her I was feeling better but that I had some irritation of my taint and she said -what’s that?”


“Heather,” Tom spit “then you said to the doctor “it ‘taint my vagina but it taint my ass” and the doctor died laughing!”


Tom and I were now holding each other up and laughing. I had forgotten that I said that. All the stress and fear in the hospital apparently couldn’t stop me from impressing everyone with my lack of social niceties. But I explained to Tom that I was helping the doctor, because she should know a word like that. Not everyone knows the word perineum.


It made me feel good to laugh again, even for a minute.


What It Feels Like Today- Wednesday May 19th

The little bruises left from my IVs are still visible. My C Section incision still hurts. My once proud belly, round and glorious- is deflated, lonely, soft and empty. Tom and I wander around our small apartment, exchanging memories of our lost little boy. Laughing and crying alternatively, but ultimately we feel so far away.


I wish I could have protected my baby. I wish I could have helped him. I can’t stop thinking – if I had just gone to the doctor’s office earlier? But I was so scared. The pains I felt were so real, so urgent. I was afraid to know. So I waited until I saw blood. By the time I got to the doctor’s office the pain was white and red and black. And even though I wailed in protest, I knew. My fears were real.


We buried him yesterday. I hated the little white coffin, but felt comfort that he was near my Grama. A Reverend from Northwestern University said an opening prayer- I didn’t hear it. Tom and I gave short speeches and read poems.
I read-


I carry your heart with me
-e e cummings


i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want


no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you


here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart


i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)


And Tom read:


As I Walked Out One Evening (exceprt)
-W.H Auden


I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,


I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars got squaking
Like geese about the sky


The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages
And the first love of the world


Then our family spoke. They spoke about Tommy’s strength and sweetness and courage. They spoke about our love which gave them all the strength to be joyful when Tommy was with us.


Afterwards we went to my parent’s house. I took more sedatives because I didn’t know what to do. I had only ever been an awkward guest at a funeral, I never imagined I would be the mother of the deceased. Eventually Tom and I went to bed. Our guests understood. We couldn’t stand any longer, we couldn’t respond.


The memorial service will be Tuesday May 25th at 6:30 at the Alice Millar Chapel. Then I don’t know what we’ll do. I don’t know who we’ll be. Today it feels like we’ll never be anything but zombies who need to feed on the memories of our sweet baby. I know that eventually the memories will fade. His smell won’t be as strong, the feeling of his little back won’t be as clear. Feeling better, normal, means letting the memories fade.


But I’m not angry, and I don’t feel sorry for myself. I still feel so blessed to have had the time with Tommy that we had. I feel so lucky to have felt his love and watched Tom Sr hold him and love him. I know that other parents have suffered the same fate, and I know that others have suffered worse. I know that Tommy Jr came to us for a reason, and left us for a reason. Still, my heart hurts so much.


I couldn’t protect my baby, and I can’t protect his memories.

Thomas Nathan Guillen Junior – May 16th 2010



Monday May 10th, 2010. Thomas Nathan Guillen Jr was born at 24 weeks and 5 days. I went into preterm labor and delivered Baby Tommy via C-Section. It was so scary and so shocking that if you saw a movie about the day you would think it was incredibly unrealistic. But Tom Sr was there by my side the whole time, assuring me that soon we would have our beautiful son and we’d make it. Baby Tommy weighed 1 pound 14 ounces and was 13 inches long. A big boy for less than 25 weeks! Tom Sr sneaked out to get a peek at him and came back to report: “He’s very cute, he looks like me”.


When the surgery was over and they brought me to recovery we were elated. My baby was born alive! Tom and I cried with joy and relief. Both our families were there- shaken up but proud grandparents, aunts and uncles. After a couple hours we were taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Thomas Nathan Junior was perfect. He had big hands and feet, and Tom’s exact ears. He could tell we were there despite the heavy sedative, tubes and wires. We fell so deeply in love with our son it felt like we each grew an extra heart.


The next couple of days were a routine of pain medication, prayers, visits to the NICU and bouts of despair. It was hard for me to care about my own recovery. Friends and family texted and emailed their support. Everyone was rooting for little Tommy. But then the bad news started rolling in. Our sweet baby was just too young. He was a fighter, but he couldn’t fight hard enough. His lungs were diseased and his brain started to bleed.


By Thursday we knew that Tommy’s chances were not good. Head ultrasounds revealed the worst case scenario. Tom Sr. and I tried to intellectualize what was happening. But as we started to tell our family that little Tommy wasn’t going to make it, we realized our new hearts couldn’t understand.


Tom Sr and I cherished every moment we were with Tommy. We were so proud of our son- he was a perfect, beautiful fighter. He made us ecstatic with joy when we were with him. Every time we went up to the NICU to be with Tommy Jr we couldn’t stop smiling We were relaxed and laughing and tripping over each other to tell him stories about each other and our family and what it was like to be pregnant with him. We told him we couldn’t get over what an impatient little baby he was- again taking after his Daddy who was early everywhere he went.


We thanked Tommy Jr for waiting- his Unkie Kev and Auntie Crissy were on their way home from New York City, and they really wanted to meet him. He had met the rest of his family and loved being held in his little incubator house. His family’s caresses made him so calm – a brief respite from the constant medical invasion. We spent Friday introducing him to our loved ones- we were proud of our friends and family. Everyone was able to access the same joy of being near and touching such a special little baby.


Friday night we got a special call from his nurses: they made arrangements so that Tom Sr and I could both hold Baby Tommy. They could take him out of his incubator and lay him right on our bare chests. Watching the team of four nurses transfer all his equipment and wires to more portable versions was stressful. Every pulled cord broke our hearts a little but Baby Tommy remained stable


When they laid my son on my chest I felt an explosion of love and happiness. It was one of the best moments of my life. I could stroke his back and kiss his little head. He squirmed up higher on me, like he wanted to snuggle as hard as he could. We lay there for an hour, then put him on Tom Sr’s chest. Seeing Tom Sr with his perfect son against his chest was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Tom took deep breaths of his son’s sweet smell, and laughed when Tommy Jr kicked his little feet against his chest. We were both infected by the calm and joy of holding our son.


Saturday morning Kevin and Crissy arrived. They were so happy to meet their nephew and we told Tommy Jr that Kevin was going to teach him how to be properly naughty. They both cradled him in his incubator and fell in love. We were so grateful to sweet Tommy for waiting to meet his whole family. It wasn’t easy for him and it made us more able to understand if he had to go.


Little Tommy Jr came early to say hello and give us the best week of our lives. His sweet spirit touch everyone who knew him, and his fight inspired us all. But in the end we knew he couldn’t stay. He had to leave us, maybe to be reborn as another person’s baby to spread his infectious joy. Then grow up and be a baseball player or a rockstar.


Saturday May 15th, 2010 the complication of his brain bleed became insurmountable. My oldest brother (another Tom!) helped us wade through the medical jargon and understand what was really happening. The doctors told us we didn’t have much time with Tommy. So at 5:30 we gathered in the NICU family room and Tom and I held Tommy on our chests again. I called over each family member and introduced them again to Tommy, and told him how special they were. Then everyone kissed him and said goodbye. We asked our family to leave and wait for us in our apartment. We wanted to say goodbye alone, as a new little family.


When the doctors and nurses finally removed all the IV’s and tubes and cords, Tommy looked relieved. We got to hold him in our arms just like a healthy little baby. We got to kiss his face and toes and hands. He was finally free, he was finally a little boy. He stayed with us for almost two hours, we finally even got to hear him coo. Tom and I never cried. We were so happy for our son. We wanted him to be free of pain and just be with his family. It was a wonderful day- May 10th he was born, May 15th he was reborn.


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