“You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else’s path.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work
I started writing about loss a mere 72 hours after delivering Nelle. I turned to writing to recount those nightmarish days in the hospital, when I could not find the strength to use my lips and tongue.
I participated in a grief writing course, starting two weeks after losing Iris. I have created my own prompts to carry my writing forward beyond that. I have been participating in an online course on storytelling, working on a month-long photo grief course, and now find myself enrolled in the grief writing course again. Why? How can I have anything new to say at this point, about babies I never met? I look at the immeasurable pain of people who lost spouses and children and feel inadequate. I look at women who miscarried early and flinch at what they were spared.
But neither of those are fair, because grief cannot be quantified. There is no prescription or set dose to take to “feel better.” Our minds and bodies react differently and what is a normal course of life to one may be debilitating to another. We cannot know.
I fight that judgment all the time.
I still write about loss because it is still happening to me. Not a day goes by when I do not face some type of reminder. I think “Look at that baby department at the store” or “Nelle would be almost a year old in our Christmas card this year,” or I pass by a family with more than two children. Today I was looking through items I had saved as favorites on Etsy, only to discover that I had some birth announcement designs saved, that I did not realize, therefore had never removed. Sometimes it is simply a passing thought. Other times I must hurry to wipe away the tears. Then later, I write about it, capturing the experience to educate others in knowing that the grieving are still affected. Indeterminate amounts of time later, sometimes without warning, and always because they are reminded.
Even with all that I share, people assume that I hold back. Sometimes it is inadvertent, and I will receive a private message beginning with “Can I ask you a personal question?” It is a detail that I had overlooked, or thought that people would not want to read. How long did you bleed after giving birth? 6 weeks after Nelle, 8 weeks after Iris; same as any delivery. A daily reminder of the malfeasance of nature. Did you hold your daughters after they were born? No, and I don’t regret it. I could not look at what would have been a shadow of the babies that they would have become. I cannot even picture them and I want to keep it that way. There are brief moments where I wonder, but never regret. I could never un-see and wanted the distance between what I had been expecting and the reality.
Yet, I do hold back. I do not share some of the most private recesses of my mind and my heart. Sometimes I wonder why I do this: if my goal is to educate others on grieving, shouldn’t I make them aware of the entire journey? I am faced with the feedback of “you are so strong” and wrestle with feeling the “hero” in this journey that I am capturing. Sharing certain details could make me fall from grace. I often feel unworthy of what other people perceive as strength, because I think “If only you knew…” If only I could be seen in the entirety of writing, and doubt, and loneliness, and fatigue, and unwillingness to move forward. Not so strong. Not so heroic.