From the river to the ocean

I got one of those calls some days ago, and it was the hardest so far. When we were left alone, mama broke down. She looked up at me, into my eyes and pleaded with me for answers. “Why did it have to be him? Why did he have to go?”. We cried a lot.
She asked me if time heals, like people say. I can’t lie, and I struggled with the answer.
“No,” I said quietly. “People said it would, and that it would be okay, but I didn’t want it to be. It’s like a wound: after a while, it isn’t raw and bleeding anymore – but the hole is always there. Your arms are always empty, and there’s always a space where he should be; it doesn’t get better, but you learn to live the pain.”

When I left the room I paused in the hall to gather myself. I wiped my face and squeezed my eyes shut, grabbing the wall for support. I saw two nurses at the station down the hall look toward me – and I ran away. I don’t want them to think I am unprofessional, unable or that it is too much. Crying for others is easier than crying for yourself.
And I cried all the way home.

Mama emailed me later and told me that talking had made her feel better, and she thanked me.
I’m not supposed to talk to people – it’s “all business” – but I go with what mamas need in that moment. Some are quiet and crave peace, some want to know they aren’t alone. I can’t ignore someone who needs the hand of another who has been there. I know why the rules are there, but I also know that everyone bends them when it’s needed.

This one was harder; it stayed with me longer. It was the first time I broke down so readily – I’m usually so good at keeping it in when I’m there. I come home fearing the children of my friends dying, and I can’t stomach the thought of seeing their eyes searching me the way hers were.
I am overwhelmed with the want to do more even though I know nothing could have reached me in those first weeks. Why isn’t there a support group here for mothers who have lost young babies? Can I make one? Would anyone come? How can I try to lead a discussion when I know I’m not good at it?
I co-led my first ICAN meeting and while the discussion progressed and things went well, I was shaking throughout, feeling like I suddenly had lost all of my knowledge and had to rely only on my own stories, or stories of my friends. Thankfully, we didn’t intend to have a topic the first time anyway… I felt stupid. I assume this gets easier with time and practice.

I remember one of the first meetings I went to, still pregnant with Xan, a young woman with a sleeping newborn came in, she said didn’t want to talk that day.
She sat with a box of tissues on her lap, crying silently through the entire meeting while women around her opened up about their birth trauma and recoveries. She never said a word about herself, or to anyone. She just cried, over an hour, and then got up and left when it was over.
It’s how I think a grief circle would go: would we all just sit there silently, sobbing and unable to form any coherent thought?

Sometimes I’m fine – sometimes I think it’s been three years and things are as they are. Sometimes three years seems like it’s only torn me further and I am so aware of how my life, my spirit, my personality have changed so dramatically. I mourn for the person I was who had more patience, more will, more health… more everything.
I am embittered and cynical and sometimes I think there is no hope to get back to where I was.

I love my babies, but I do not love myself. But, can I truly say I ever had the balance I imagine I was had? It seems too easy to romanticize the time Before and see it as a virginal, idealistic fantasy where despite living in a nightmare of a city I somehow made everything work and managed to get up every morning and smile.
I once read a passage in a book about child loss, about how mothers who have lost their first children often have unrealistic images of them that add to their pain. Like a toddler playing in their garden while they sit and work through the earth… and while sweet as it is, the reality is little children need constant supervision, they will tear at the plants and cause frustration that leads most mothers to not want to sit out with them at all. It’s too easy to put it all on a pedestal when everything you wanted is lost.
Maybe that’s what I’m doing to myself; my old self. Maybe that’s why it seems so impossible to think I could ever live up to my own shadow.

In the weeks following his third birthday I have tried to focus on the things that have changed for the better, and push aside the guilt of even admitting such things exist.
The relationship between Curtis and I has been pulled and stretched to the very limits, to a point where I was sure we wouldn’t make it, and somehow we did. We are stronger for it, and the lows don’t seem so low anymore.
This year I’ve gone through a sort of awakening; I feel more in love with him and more attracted to him then I ever have. It’s as though I’ve fallen freshly into him all over again, and I look at him the way I did when I saw him for the very first time. Meeting in secret on the grassy hill in the desert… and he held me like he needed to prove such a wonderful thing could be real. I came home and sketched his face, his lips, over and over – and nearly ten years later I still clearly remember the imprint of his teeth where he’d bitten his lip to quell his nerves as he waited for me to find him.

I started writing out our story, our history, but I’m never sure which parts I need to emphasize to help someone see the whole picture without sounding like a sap. I tried it a few times in little pieces, but there is so much I want to get out when I am struck with the ability to write.
One day I hope my grandchildren know the story the way I knew my nana’s – she was a writer and a storyteller, and she knew how to captivate someone, and I retell her tales to my friends because they are so romantic, tragic and inspiring. Sometimes I wonder how this life and this world will seem to my children’s children when they’re old enough to contemplate how much our place on this planet has changed.

I’ve sat here the last two hours avoiding sleep after having slept most of the day away through illness and pain – but I still have to be up in four hours to try and avoid a repeat performance. My cat Ziyal has kept me company, and Curtis left the bedroom door cracked so every hour or so I hear Xan talk, or mumble through his dreams. He seems to have picked up Curtis’ sleep talking, and sometimes has a brief, but clear conversation with no one at 4am – cutting off in the middle when he slips into a deeper phase of sleep.
I’ve become so used to Curtis’ nocturnal neurosis that at first I barely noticed that it had been passed down. Now I hear Xan a few times a week; sometimes he wakes me up by laughing loudly. It’s one of the things I think I’ll miss terribly when he finally moves to his own bed. This time it’s Curtis, not me, who wants him to stay for as long as possible.
“I love my boy,” Curtis told me last night when I talked to him about the idea of trying again to transition Xan to his own space next to us instead of with us. “Tempest never cuddled like he does; I need to cherish every minute of it before he’s too old to want to”.
And just like that my emotions come full circle from where I was a few days ago; it’s funny what things make me grieve the most.

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16 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    thank you

    I dont know you. But I know that your writing touches me in a way I never thought anyone could. You are amazing and strong and yet real. Thank you so much.
    kelly
    kbennettphotography@blogspot.com

  • I read your LJ kind of religiously, and maybe I should actually friend you since I’m finally commenting.

    I, of course, love how you express yourself and reach out to others. And I wanted to comment specifically on the issue of not being able to talk to clients. I work at an abortion clinic, and I’m a counselor, but I’m really discouraged from “self-revealing” to clients. But honestly, I have to do it because I know I’ve made the most impact the times that I tell clients that I struggle with depression and talk to them about mine and their spiritual beliefs. To NOT share leaves such a gap in such a vital relationship like you get to have, so I’m so glad that you do talk.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for this. It’s good to know that most people bend this rule for the good of the women they’re working with. No one wants to feel alone, and I know I was helped the most by the women who came out of nowhere and poured their hearts out out me about their own experiences.

  • alicianne3 says:

    i think your writing is absolutely captivating, i check in all the time hoping for a new entry, maybe some photos, and i am always so happy when there are new words, i would love to read your stories as well.

  • mooncrab says:

    Oh, Heather. How any idiot could accuse you of lacking empathy is beyond me. There are times when you are empathy embodied.

    You write beautifully, and I’d love to read your stories.

  • Heather, thank you so so much for writing and sharing this with me.

    It’s been almost a month since my dog was killed in front of me and I have never lost anyone close to me before, let alone the thing with 10 nipples who slept in my arms most of her life.

    I have been haunted in my dreams frequently. And noticing what sadness feels like. It doesn’t feel like an emptiness so much as a trembliness. A deep longing, an aching. A slight texture of myself, a turning downward of my body until I am in a fetal position sobbing. And it doesn’t seem that far away from joy, the gratitude and awe of the preciousness of life.

    But still I wondered, does this get easier? It’s not as fresh and raw as it once was, but I am learning to live with it and accept this almost schizophrenic life of crying with smiling quite regularly. Other times I can only cry.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for not being too intimidated to share your loss, so many people compare grief and feel that somehow their feelings of loss over a pet or an aunt or grandmother are “not the same” – but really… grief is grief.
      I love my cats like they are part of my family, and I deeply miss the two that have left me in the last three years. 🙁

      The first time was before I had Jericho, and I was still so terrified of death that I couldn’t even bring myself to touch him.
      The second was a year after, and this time I wasn’t as afraid. I wrapped her in a blanket, picked her up and held her as she died, and I felt her spirit leave her. I had much more closure with her. Death and experiencing grief changes you forever, but sometimes it isn’t all for the bad, I don’t think…

      • the heart is all there is.. love all you can love all you can love

        Guilt is a slippery road no doubt. Because my dog was hit by a car on a free way it gives me a head ache to think about if only I had. . . not lost my cell phone that morning that man wouldn’t have been approaching us because we would have been earlier.

        I think what haunts me the most is that it was a violent death and I was in such hysteria when it happened, I didn’t even comfort her. But a woman came up to me and held my hand and we prayed together.

        I know that things happen for a reason and that I have learned a tremendous amount about life because of experiencing her death. I have so much to be grateful for and I was so in love with her, I would sneak peaks at her under the blankets sleeping and we adored each other. I never took her for granted, sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning feeling absolutely in awe that we were alive together and one day we wouldn’t, not in this form anyways. I am learning a significant lesson in taking care of the things I care about.

        But I don’t really know what the man was doing approaching us, and then he disappeared afterwards. Maybe she saved me. I probably won’t ever know in this life time. Thank you for giving me space to share. Tears stream down my face so frequently now. At some point I think I might talk to a therapist because I was too hysterical to hold her and comfort her and get much closure, other than burying her and sobbing that she was the best dog I could have ever asked for.

      • bluealoe says:

        It’s been five years since my dog disappeared (she didn’t die, she just…disappeared. We never found a body, never knew what happened to her), and I still grieve for her. It’s not the same as my grief for my father and grandmother, but it’s just as intense in its own way.

  • bluealoe says:

    “People said it would, and that it would be okay, but I didn’t want it to be…it doesn’t get better, but you learn to live the pain.”

    This is the best description of grief I’ve seen. It doesn’t get better, time doesn’t heal your wounds…you just learn to live with it.
    I’m not supposed to talk to people

    I don’t understand this. I mean, I know you have to be professional, but I would much rather have someone who sits with me, holds my hand, and takes the time to get to know me and my child in order to take photographs; instead of someone who rushes in, acts totally professional, and takes photos of my child but never talks to me.

    wWould we all just sit there silently, sobbing and unable to form any coherent thought?

    Sometimes crying together is exactly what you need.

    I know what you mean about romanticizing the Before. It’s so hard to remember the way things were, and this perfect image gets fixed in your mind in its place…I wish I had words of wisdom for you, but all I can say is that I understand.

    The relationship between Curtis and I has been pulled and stretched to the very limits, to a point where I was sure we wouldn’t make it, and somehow we did.

    I am happy for you and Curtis, but this also makes me sad…sad that I couldn’t do the same, that the grief tore us apart.

    I started writing out our story, our history

    Heather, you are an amazing writer. Never worry about sounding sappy, because the true emotion shines through loud and clear I remember one night when you told me over ICQ about you and Curtis’ early history together, and I cried because it was tragic and beautiful.

    *hugs tight* I love you.

  • julierocket says:

    Entries like this really pull me into a whole different frame of mind. I want Mark to come home early from work so I can give him a million hugs. I know you didn’t write this for me, but it did something “sad but good” to my brain and I feel more peaceful than I did before.

    <333

  • I wish I knew what to say. *hug*

  • wtchywmyn says:

    Thank you for posting this. My second son was stillborn last year. The first anniversary is 5 weeks from tomorrow. My uterus ruptured and I was in septic shock. He never even took a breath. I was under complete sedation for a week and in the ICU for 2 more weeks after that. I never got to hold him. I have one picture of him, just a close up of his face. I wish someone had taken a picture of my husband holding him. I don’t know if I’m grateful that I never got to see him or sad and angry. Probably both. He was never “real” to me. I just have memories of the fellow in my belly who would kick gently when I asked him to. I have no one here to cry with. No one who understands. I wish you, or someone like you, with your huge heart and incredible talent could have been there that day. I think the work you do is amazing. Thank you for helping those you can.

  • briannablade says:

    This entry touched me more deeply than you will ever know. Thank you for sharing it. You write so beautifully that I feel you’re telling me as if we’re just sitting here and it breaks my heart. I wish I could hug you but know that I can’t. You’re in my heart and my thoughts.

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