“Let me be to my sad self hereafter kind.”
-Peter Pouncey, Rules for Old Men Waiting: A Novel
I am weary and defeated, feeling that Life has put me through the wringer for the past six months. Is it six months now? Yes it is. Nelle was born on September 4, 2015 – now six months ago. Iris was born on February 13, 2016 – now three weeks ago. How can I be kind to myself, other than the generic “take it easy”?
Forgive. I could forgive myself for these losses and release any underlying guilt that I may be still harboring. In reality though, I am about 90% there. I have occasional moments of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” but after the battery of testing and doctors’ visits that I have been through, I know that there is nothing I could have done. My head knows it clearly; I am trying to get my heart to catch up. But full forgiveness is likely not going to bring me much relief since I am already so far into that journey.
Forget. This would be the ultimate kindness, to wipe away all of the horrible memories and sensations of labor and delivery, twice. I could then sleep more easily. I could eliminate the anxiety. But to forget would not honor my daughters. To forget would be not acknowledging that they existed. So I cannot grant myself this kindness, because it would remove the good with the bad.
Acceptance. I could allow myself to accept what happened to me, and to our family. But I can’t yet. I am so, so angry at the situation and lack of answers. Lack of answers is impossible to accept. The medical community has failed me so completely. I don’t even know where to place the blame for the lack of answers, since I have had an attentive and compassionate team of medical professionals working with me. But at this point they have all shaken their heads in bewilderment and said “we don’t know, we cannot explain why this happened twice.” That is very difficult to accept.
Without forgiveness, forgetting, or acceptance – what can I give myself that will ease this situation? What kindness can I allow?
Time. I can give myself time. The pain will not always be raw. Grief is not linear and will follow no pattern. I can willingly let go of any preconceived notions of how long grieving will last. I can shrug off societal pressures to “be ok.” I can give myself space to take a deep breath. I can give my body time to heal. I can give my family time to learn how to move forward. I can dedicate moments of time in my day to writing and talking about my grief.
I can be kind to myself with the gift of time. I can view Time as a gift in this process, rather than a burden. So far it has been a burden, as the days and hour creep by and I am a prisoner of flashbacks, a pounding heart, and a wandering mind. Instead I can work on viewing Time as an antidote to the poison I’ve been forced to drink, and that with each passing day I am slowly improving. Slowly. Incrementally. Sometimes sliding backwards. Sometimes not even noticeable.
Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting
Grief rocks, slumped in a corner, spent drink in her left hand, dirt smeared across her forehead. She hums and she cries; her hands flit against things I don’t see.
As I come near, she looks up, startled but clear eyed:
“What do you want?” she asks, adjusting the straps of her dress.
She pats herself down gently. “What is it you want most? Maybe I have it. Maybe I have it somewhere….”
“Grief”I saw Grief clearly.She was frail and cloaked in black.She turned and gave a silent wail.I saw her chapped skin and hollow eyes.I heard her choke back the sobs.And I felt the horror.
Grief follows me as I move through my home. She never lets me forget. Grief is my baby, an infant that must be tended and cannot be left alone. Neglecting Grief would cause her to scream. It is better to feed and comfort Grief and hope that she can mature and one day walk away on her own terms.
People always say that it hurts at night
and apparently screaming into your pillow at 3am
is the romantic equivalent of being
it’s 9am on a Tuesday morning
and you’re standing at the kitchen bench waiting for the toast to pop up
And the smell of dusty sunlight and earl gray tea makes you miss him so much
you don’t know what to do with your hands.
-On Missing Them, Rosie Scanlon
I have no scent-memories around my pregnancies that I would like to preserve. Do I want to remember how smells made me nauseous for my entire pregnancy with Nelle and the first trimester with Iris? Do I want to remember how I was so terrified when I was pregnant with Iris that I went back in my own writing to determine exactly when morning sickness had shown up in my previous pregnancies, and then breathed a sigh of relief when it finally did appear? Do I want to remember the musty smell of my maternity clothes in storage, and how I had to bring them out, pack them away, bring them out, and pack them away again? Do I want to remember the smell of the hospital? Or how after losing Nelle, driving by the hospital was so incredibly painful as it was a reminder of simultaneous birth-and-death? Do I want to smell the essential oil I diffused in attempts to calm my anxious mind with my subsequent pregnancy? Do I want to think about how I kept telling myself that the next time I visited the hospital, it would be to give birth to my baby girl, only to instead have to relive the entire experience a second time, like some nightmarish deja vu?
No. I don’t want to remember any of the smells from my last two pregnancies.
My most predominant memory is an association with music. After losing Nelle, the song that stuck with me was Ingrid Michaelson’s “Girls Chase Boys.” Odd, I know. But I would listen to the words over and over.
All the broken hearts in the world still beat.
Let’s not make it harder than it has to be.
Finally, as my next pregnancy became a reality, I created a playlist for myself, which I entitled “Affirmation.” I surrounded myself with positive music, trying to move past the paralyzing fear that I felt. The worst moments are those in the car, when I was alone with my thoughts. Music helped to calm me.
Then I lost Iris. I still need music to keep me from floating away when I am in my car. I had to create a new playlist called “Loss” of songs that reflected my heavy heart. Nothing too upbeat. Nothing too depressing or I would spend every minute in the car crying, and that already happens with enough frequency. “As Tears Go By” by The Rolling Stones. “Back to Before” from ‘Ragtime.’ “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd. “Just Give Me a Reason” by Pink, to name a few. And of course, “Girls Chase Boys.”
I got two hands, one beating heart
And I’ll be alright, gonna be alright
That has to be my mantra: I’m gonna be alright. Not today. But eventually.
“I was living in a rainforest. I knew the trees and the frogs, the lush green life. With no warning, I got shoved into the desert. I know this is the desert. So take back your plastic palm trees and your cups of water; quit telling me it’s the same. I know better. I know where I live.” -Megan Devine, from collected journals
The desert has many teachings.
In the desert, turn toward emptiness,
fleeing the self.
Stand alone, Ask no one’s help,
And your being will quiet, Free from the bondage of things.
Those who cling to the world, endeavor to free them;
those who are free, praise.
Care for the sick, But live alone,
Happy to drink from the waters of sorrow,
To kindle Love’s fire
With the twigs of a simple life.
Thus you will live in the desert.
-Metchtild of Magdeburg, excerpted in Jane Hirshfield’s Women In Praise of the Sacred
Added to today’s prompt, about a week ago, I wrote about an excerpt from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things the following:
“Don’t listen to those people who suggest you should be ‘over’ your daughter’s death by now… Some of those people believe they’re being helpful by minimizing your pain. Others are scared of the intensity of your loss and so they use their words to push your grief away. Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to healing the pain of your daughter’s death. They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.”
The metaphor of the desert still implies that I am co-existing on the same planet as people who have not been through a significant loss. I prefer the metaphor of another planet. Even within the past week, I have come to be aware of other planets that people visit, such as Planet My Spouse Died, or Planet My Best Friend Died, or Planet My Grown Child Died. We are all orbiting in the same galaxy, but all distinct. I do not pretend to have visited any of the other planets, nor understand their language of loss. What we do all have in common, however, is that we have (unwillingly) embarked on this journey of grief. Every journey is unique, but we can travel alongside each other.
This morning I reacted badly to a comment that someone made to me. He is on his own grief journey right now, and he said “It’s all part of life and we grieve and then we move on.” My initial reaction was “HOW can I move on? How can I possibly move on? How can I move back from Planet My Baby Died to Planet Earth?”
Then I thought about it a little more, and realized that what he said at face value is not how I have to internalize the words. “Moving on” does not mean that life is the same as it was before. “Moving on” does not mean forgetting. “Moving on” could be interpreted as “moving forward” and I recognize that life will continue to move forward and that I need to move with it.
I also realize that everyone’s loss journey is different. Loss hit me in a certain way because of my experiences; my interactions with the world; my interactions with other people. I can form no judgement about how this person approaches his own loss, because it is not the same. Not every loss is life-altering. Mine is. But this is not the first loss in my life. It is only the first loss where I was catapulted to another planet.
Somehow, eventually, I have to figure out how to live on Earth again. Learn to breathe Earth’s air and speak Earth’s language.
“If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.” -Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
“And maybe I was coping awfully well, I don’t know. Certainly I wasn’t howling aloud or punching my fists through windows or doing any of the things I imagined people might do who felt as I did. But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.” -Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Two words have become permanent fixtures in my vocabulary: “fine” and “okay.” The standard response when I have moved past the socially acceptable timeframe for grieving when asked how I am doing: “I’m fine.” It is perfectly clear that this question is asked automatically and people don’t really want a response; the response should be as automatic as the question. If I responded “I’ve been to hell and back, how are you?” or “I felt like shit today” I will likely be met with a rather startled expression and uncomfortable stumbling over how to react. So I provide the nondescript “I’m fine” response. It is easier that way.
In the week or so leading up to losing Iris, when I felt deeply within my heart that something was wrong, even with no outward signs, I was a bit more specific when answering that question: “Physically, I’m fine.” Mentally, I was a wreck, so I could not even bring myself to respond that I was “fine” implying that my whole being was fine. I was only physically fine.
Immediately after losing Iris, I would respond with “I’m numb.” I could not adequately summarize the range of emotions or the feeling that life had completely steamrolled me.
In therapy, the sessions are often started with “So, how are you doing?” Here, I pause and will be much more concrete with a response such as “The week has been rough” and then go into specifics of what happened. My therapist will listen and help me identify how I am feeling. The general population does not want to hear about all of my suffering.
What is true about loss is that you only have the attention and sympathy of people around you for a brief window of time. Then they move on with their lives while you are left to pick up the pieces of your broken heart. I was unprepared for how quickly the world moved on after losing Nelle in September. It felt like the window was even smaller this time.