In that last hour, our hello and goodbye, it was Dave who cried.
I'd never really seen tears well up for him, before. I haven't since. Watching him cradle our son as those few salt drops slid onto Finn's blanket was one of the tenderest things I've witnessed, a benediction of fatherhood more fitting, for us, than the baptism we'd rejected.
I didn't cry. I was too fresh from birth, too present, too amazed by this firstborn boy I hadn't known I'd always wanted, too busy trying to fit a lifetime into the minutes we had. I sang to him, raw-voiced, petted his dark hair, gazed in wonderment at his tidy, perfect ears, his finger gripping mine. I told him he was wanted and loved. I whispered and hushed and said, mama's here...it's okay, little one, don't be afraid. I knew exactly what was happening, but in that moment - small mercies of shock - it was not happening to me. It was happening to my child, and just to be present and with him was all the mothering I was ever going to get to do and all my mind could take in. And so, somehow, I did not cry, me who weeps at car commercials and bristles with indignant tears when the least of my feelings is trod upon.
But later I filled buckets...tears of sorrow and of rage and hopelessness. After his death was done happening to Finn, it happened to me a thousand times in replay, all the loss and brokenness that did not touch me in the moment crowding in tenfold. The bright yellow walls of our kitchen, painted in the first days after we returned home, have my tears in their butter hue. The backsplash of broken tile is a mosaic created of therapeutic sessions, me and a hammer and licensed destruction that kept me, I think, from the siren song of disappearance, of hurting myself.
Dave, though, did not cry again. He held me, weathered me, all that long summer...and all these years since, in the moments where my bitterness and hurt and grief have burbled up to the surface and unleashed tears and wounded cries. But this has not been how he has grieved. His sorrow seems to have no questions, no self-pity. He went back to work five days later, because he had to and I had already lost my job, and he came home lunchtimes in those early days...mostly, I think, to make sure I wasn't hanging from the rafters. And he answered a multitude of questions about how I was doing and he listened to a multitude of secret stories that came spilling out about others' losses long since unspoken and he came home at night and we sat on the deck and I tried desperately to think of something to say to him but came up silent because I had nothing to offer but lamentations...and sometimes he seemed like a stone that I could only break myself on.
I don't think anyone ever asked me how he was.
And yet even in the worst of it, I knew we were lucky...because there was trust between us, implicit and otherwise unscarred. Because I knew he tried hard not to judge me for how I grieved, no matter how ugly and exposed our differences made me feel. Because I knew and did not doubt that he, too, loved our son and missed him and thought of him...even if we weren't able to find ways of speaking that aloud to each other.
But we were still two solitudes, living separate lives for a very long time, hurting - and in ways hurting each other - even while trying to comfort and build.
There is a terrible intimacy in having to share grief with someone. Even if you both feel it deeply, you almost inevitably will not experience it all in the same ways and at the same time. And I wonder if there isn't something about grieving that makes some small part of all of us a little like a cat who crawls off to find a corner alone to die in. The urge for solitude, sanctuary to lick our wounds in in some form or other, seems to be almost a categorical imperative...no matter how we may share ourselves on the internet and even long for commiseration...the reality of mourning in tandem is almost always messy. Grief exposes too much of us, makes the intimacy of eyes searching ours overwhelming.
Dave and I have come out the other side, three years later. I can hold his gaze now and look back without flinching, without hiding, without seeing pain there or pain reflected. There are no other eyes in the world that have shared with me what his have, and we are both healed enough now, in our own separate ways, that the bond doesn't rub raw but honours, commemorates, cements us. I am grateful for his having been there all along, for not having had to find my way alone. And yet I know, if I am honest, that we were alone, in the core of ourselves, stumbling along harnessed together by good faith and nothing else for much of that time. And I catch my breath and think, damn, no wonder divorce rates are so high in the aftermath of loss like this. And I fear to look deeper than that, because I do not want to feast my eyes upon the scars any longer.