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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rush Hour.

Last month I awoke to our oldest telling his father about the tears my sunglasses (apparently) hadn't hidden the day before.  We were sitting in traffic and I'd started to cry.

He tried to make a joke then; an attempt to shield our six year old from something we never could have. "Must have been some jam!"

His voice became a whisper.  "Daddy, it's not the cars."

What is there to say about March 31st anymore?  If her birthday is the day we said goodbye, her due date is the stark reminder of the contrast; the life we never got to see.  The one that was close enough to touch, inside a day that passes without pause.  Every year I write the date on the board and pray some unassuming adolescent doesn't enter before I can catch my breath.  I'm aware that this is someone's birthday; someone's anniversary.  I'm aware the absurdity that is to hold your two healthy, beautiful children in your arms and still declare that the world owes you something.  It's just that on this day, it's so very clear to me that it does. 

I've seen exactly one therapist face-to-face since my daughter died.  Four months after her death on a borderline suicidal day in May, I Googled some names and made a list on a paper towel.  The following week  I showered and put on lipstick and straightened my hair and wore pointed flats.  Back then I was desperate to look like the person who inhabited this body before her daughter died inside it. 

She asked why I was there and let me ramble for twenty minutes.  I told her how my daughter's heart stopped beating one Saturday between breakfast and nap time.  I told her that I was finding it increasingly difficult to relate to those around me; that it felt like people thought I was okay because I was smiling or replying to emails or keeping my lunch down.  I explained how the thoughts in my head didn't match my disposition; how I smiled through the department meeting and then wondered about the most painless ways to die at bedtime.  I told her about the friend who sent the shower invitation, and the one who stopped calling, and the one who invited me to the concert.   I told her it felt like the world had already forgotten her; how that hurt more than delivering her lifeless body into a silent hospital room. 

My therapist offered some solid advice.  She told me  that I was at the epicenter of what happened to me, and that no one stands with me there---not my friends, not my sisters, not my husband.  She said it wasn't realistic of me to expect anyone to understand, because they couldn't possibly.  Because no one experienced my daughter's death like I had. 

In the weeks that followed I would see her twice more.  During our last visit she asked me to tell her about that morning. 

"It was bad," I offered, suddenly wanting to be anywhere else.

Her eyes pushed me from across the room and my words became a question.

"Really bad?" 

She told me that my struggles were certainly normal, but especially persistent since I spent the majority of my time trying to make those around me feel more comfortable with the trauma I'd experienced, rather than attempting to process any of it for myself.  She suggested that even if it cost me some friends, I should focus on honesty:  a daily effort to confront the pain and emotional scar that becomes one's life, after holding her dead baby in her arms. 

"I don't think that's accurate," I said, annoyed.

We stared at each other a minute, and then she got up and walked towards me.  She knelt at my feet and looked directly into my eyes, covered my fingers with hers.  It was then that I noticed my knuckles had turned white.  I could feel my stomach in my fists, like knots in my lap.

For nearly five minutes I wept into her shoulder.   I felt found, as if this were some sick game of Hide and Seek and she'd just discovered me, crouched inside the armoire.

Metaphorically, (and cheaply) grief is a weight.  In the wake of immense loss, grief is what follows you home, sits on your chest.  Grief is the unwelcome guest who makes death seem a friend, and then allows the breath anyway.

But the grief is never all you carry. 

People used to tell me it wouldn't be so bad forever.  I would nod but in my mind I grew angry.  My arms would forever be emptier; my smile always kinked.   She would never be here, with me and so nothing could ever be "better", by definition.   Of course it would always be so bad.  I owed her that much. 

The pain never lessens, as some say.  But you do learn to carry it in such a way that in time, you can carry other things too.

Sometimes it seems so perfect here, that I have to remind myself that it isn't.  Perfect.  Here. 

Sometimes, I find myself feeling so nearly complete that I almost forget that I will never be that. 

Sometimes, after his bath he pulls his face close to mine and says "Mommy, Nose!"  And our foreheads touch and he laughs in that infectious way babies do, and I find myself wondering how there could have ever been a version of my life, that exists without him in it.  

And sometimes, when it's seventy two and sunny, or when a smile lasts a second too long, or when there's a standstill and I catch both of them in the mirror behind me I say it out loud, and I pretend it's her voice in my ear. 

It was never up to you.
It's not wrong to be grateful for this.  
It's okay to be happy here.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Life As Happiness Thief.

Recently I was accused of taking away from someone's happiness.  I'd like to talk about it.

The other day I was joking with my friend,  Christine.  We were discussing the struggle that is receiving baby-related propaganda in the mail after losing a baby, and I said there are things us loss moms should be granted.  Some of these things are certainly impossible:  the guarantee that the rest of your children will outlive you,  the ability to use the word "complete" in reference to your family, friends who (when you leave a difficult conversation) don't talk behind your back like self-absorbed seventh graders.

But some of these things could and SHOULD be a thing.  Like for real. 

For instance, there should be someone standing guard at every loss mom's mailbox.  His assignment would begin whenever a child dies, and he stands there and reviews all communication prior to its entrance into each respective home.  BuyBuyBaby coupons?  Return to sender.  Pediatric appointment reminder?  Gone.  Christmas card with adorable baby in pastel crocheted hat?  Nope. 

If it sounds bitter that's because it is.  And that's because we get to be.  We've buried our children and we get to be bitter; every one of us, to some extent, forever. 

As a society, we can do much better by the bereaved.  I accept that the world didn't stop when mine did.  Trust me, I feel every turn but why the expectation to return to who I was before?    Believe me when I say that a newborn baby is a happy thing.  The happiest.  Beyond most others, I appreciate and am grateful for each and every time a healthy, breathing baby is placed in someone's arms.  But I am no longer the person you should ask about gender reveals or baby girl clothes or shower d├ęcor or birth plan ambiance.   I wish I were still that person.  I have tried to be her, for me and for you---it isn't possible.  My daughter's baby shower was exactly one week ( perhaps to the minute) before her death.  My concerns are less connected to what is worn home from the hospital and more tied to acronyms like BETA and AFP and NST and BPP.  You don't want me in that discussion anymore.  There are perfectly nice gifts that can be sent through the mail and besides, nobody likes a guest of the "drunk uncle" variety, snorting and rolling her eyes and hyperventilating next to the gingham printed napkins. 

Frankly, I have earned my crazy.   Did you know that I can't buy seasonal clothes for my six year-old more than four months in advance because it feels like a jinx?  Do you feel the catch in my breath at the dinner reservation? The Census survey?  How many will be attending?  What happened to me, and to her, is horrific.   It's as real as a panic attack mid-Target aisle.  Her death is tragic and life-altering and forever, and while I would love to go back to the friend you knew, I make no apologies for who I am today because she made me this person.  Denying that some words still feel like blades is to deny that she happened, and I will do that for no one. 

Your life may not look like mine anymore, and that's okay.   You don't have to visit memorial trees mid-Mother's Day.  You don't have to cherish twelve dollar necklaces or stained sports bras. You don't have to fundraise for CuddleCots or meet the newly bereaved mom for coffee Saturday morning or fall to pieces writing the date on the whiteboard. You don't have to lean in but if we're going to remain friends you don't get to turn away. When I say my daughter's name, you don't get to imply that I'm taking ONE thing, from you. 

I don't get to have her.  I don't get to touch her or see her or hear her laugh.  I don't get to braid her hair for the first day of school or tell her the music's too loud or toast her on her wedding day.  I'll never tuck her in or make her cinnamon toast or sing to her at long stoplights, but I am allowed to love her.  I'm allowed to talk about her, even when it warrants pause and even when it's sometimes uncomfortable.  I make no apologies for telling you it hurts because it does. When I'm honest with you I am extending an olive branch; an opportunity for you to say I see you.  I see you still loving her and missing her and I'm going to let you; even better, I'm going to do it with you.

So to those who see my honesty as a way to literally steal from their happiness, perhaps you should look less at what I'm doing with regards to what pleases you and more at what is actually making you happy.  Is it the beautiful, healthy, kicking baby beneath your shirt or is it the recognition of that beautiful, healthy, kicking baby from the rest of the world? 

Take it from someone who has learned that lesson the hard way:  nothing trumps a heartbeat.  And if it ever feels like something could, let me serve as the lone, devastating reminder that a pulse can be ripped from your hands as quickly as it appeared.   So please, do not mock that lesson by implying that my daughter's name could ever take away from yours. Doing so is almost comical, but it's closer to disgusting.   I cannot take your happiness.  I can barely hold my own.   Can you hear me?   I can barely hold my own.