The Dash

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For my friend’s son, Lucas: September 8, 2016 – September 9, 2016.

When we die, our tombstone will have the date of our birth and the date of our death. And in between those two dates is a simple dash. This small punctuation mark represents our entire life.

This week has been a series of reminders. There was the memory of the moment when I was told by the doctor that Nelle was gone. There was the memory of her birth. Today, Autumn turned one month old, a spot of joy. Milestones of both birth and loss. And there was a reminder that people grieve differently.

I felt disconnected from Ger on the anniversary of Nelle’s birth. He looks at our new baby daughter Autumn as a way to “heal” us – a way to move forward. I cannot fault him for feeling that way. We started to talk about Nelle that day, and he got as far as saying that he’d thought about her.  Then the baby started crying and we never finished the conversation. My head knows, knows that it is fine for us to grieve differently. It is fine for him to be in a different place than me. But my heart broke a bit from feeling alone.

Three days later, I found myself in front of a group of hospital staff. They were all new employees and I had volunteered to share my story as a patient who had lost a baby, twice. And then as a patient who had delivered a baby after loss. This is the second time I have done this, with the last time being when I was thirteen weeks pregnant with Autumn. With great effort, I talked about losing Nelle, and Iris: going through Labor and Delivery, and later being part of the support group that the hospital provides. I can only imagine, as a new caregiver, not knowing how to handle those moments of intense shock and grieving with parents that had just lost a baby.  I told them that the most meaningful moment for me was when a nurse held my hand as I delivered Nelle.  She was there with me through one of the worst moments of my life.

Hesitantly, I came back to the conversation with Ger a few nights later. I told him that I understand that he looks at Autumn as healing. We chose her name intentionally as a season of change, and knew that her birth would bring about a shift in our experience. But I told him that I still missed Nelle and Iris terribly. Nelle’s birthday was more than a fleeting thought for me: it was an all-encompassing day of sadness. I felt alone in my sadness. I reminded Ger that as the years pass, we will be the only people who remember our baby girl. We cannot let the day go by without acknowledging her.

He wrapped his arms around me, and said that he was proud of me. Those weren’t the words I was expecting.  He continued, saying that he is proud that I share our story. I shared by speaking to the hospital staff. And I write. I started writing about Nelle three days after she was born. Ger reminded me that writing, talking: that is how I honor our daughters. Healing does not feel like the right word because healing implies that at some point everything will be better. But grief is like a wound that can be reopened. Perhaps… maybe eventually the wound will close, leaving only a scar.

Writing is my self-care; my way of honoring, acknowledging. Writing is my dash and what exists between the two lines of birth and death. I wear many labels. Mother. Spouse. Bereaved Parent. Friend. Worker. Writer.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” -Mark Twain