Only Grieving Can Heal

“All these years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I’ve discovered since is that lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Before losing my babies, my brushes with death were distant or expected. Three of my grandparents had passed away.  As a young adult, I knew several people who died in car crashes.  I even knew a baby that died, but I was only in grade school.  All were sad, but to a certain extent, I knew that grandparents would die in my lifetime.  The others were people I knew, but didn’t know well.  I was too young to really understand a baby dying.  

All of these were profound, sad – but ultimately, I moved on. I thought that was the nature of death: you mourn for awhile, then move on. Then I lost my daughter and it was a searing pain I had never come close to experiencing. Grief that physically hurt. I didn’t think that anything could be worse than losing a child, and then I lost another child. I was isolated when others moved on: I understood, yet felt untethered. They were holes in my heart that could never be filled.  

Butterflies have been chasing me around for days. A fellow loss-mama sent me a photo of a car’s bumper sticker that said “Will brake for butterflies.” I saw photos of butterfly hatching from its chrysalis on social media. I received a gift of butterfly decals for Autumn’s room, which I immediately applied to her windows. And yet, I cannot find my beloved butterfly bracelet. After the Butterfly Release earlier this year to honor all of the babies lost in my support group, I found a beautiful butterfly bracelet. I know I was wearing it recently – even took it to the hospital with me – and now it has vanished. I tore the house apart, looking in every place where I might have taken it off. Even tore the bed apart thinking that maybe, half-asleep, I took it off while napping. Nothing. I’m more upset by this than I should be – it is just a bracelet – but it was one of those pieces that I wore as a gentle reminder of my babies.

To further usher in the day, Nelle’s birthday, I have a rash on my face and pain in my abdomen. The rash is similar to what I experienced after losing Iris that a trip to the dermatologist and a skin biopsy later proved to be indeterminate – likely just a surge of hormones. They would fade with time. The pain in my abdomen is my c-section scar, aggravated by carrying a baby around with increasing frequency. I examined the scar, so recently a wound held together only by stitches. First excruciating pain and now tender, throbbing. Time will also heal. The physical after-effects of childbirth will fade. The grief will still be there, beneath the surface

I was holding Autumn and staring at her scrunched up baby faces. Her baby stretches. Her tiny movements are identical to her older brothers. I wondered: do all babies make these same faces? Or is it a characteristic of my babies? Would my other two babies have made these same faces? I cried on top of Autumn’s sweet black hair.

I wanted to do something to honor the day, but nothing felt right. Last year, I was a mess.  I can’t even think “she would be two years old” because that would not have been possible at 21 weeks gestation. It is the day she was born, an anniversary of birth rather than a celebration of age. I lit a candle for her in solitude this morning.  Happy birthday Nelle, my first baby girl.  We loved you and planned for you and it still hurts.