Late for work, late to bed, dishes in the sink, beer bottles strewn through the house like a breadcrumb trail to my evening flameout is how I roll. How about you?
I was ready to start complaining about how tough it was to work after being up all night with that little bugger screaming my sleep away. I was ready to become a machine calibrated only for the mom/baby show to shine.
Instead, now, I'm part therapist, part rock, part disaster, part ogre.
But in the end I can only do so much. No matter what, I'm still something of a spectator to the deep well of grief that my wife inhabits. She can't help but feel this more profoundly because of the specific physicality of her experience. Our emotional trauma is roughly equivalent, but my physical self is essentially unchanged. Sure, my shit is liquid on those mornings when I wake up devastated and insane. Yes, my neck and shoulders are crimped and twisted by this invisible, relentless weight of sadness. There is no question that I have grown fat and lazy on a diet of avoidance and lassitude.
Frankly, I'm psyched when I can get up and do anything at all. The laze comes easy to me. Stayed in bed until noon the other day. Noon. By the time I had breakfast and finished coffee it was time to start thinking about dinner. Lunch didn't even make it into the rotation. Poised on the brink of parenthood, I've been tossed back into a life where sleeping until noon is actually an option. And I choose that option only because facing the day is more difficult than feeling bad about wasting it.
For those of you that already had children, this all must be completely different. I'm sure it is easier to focus on the living children than the one that didn't survive. But for those of us whom our lost offspring is our first, the wrenching denial of everything that was to come is nearly overpowering. I've never been one to descend to the depths of "Fuck Everything" that I now sometimes swim through. Sure I touched on it here and there. Perhaps dipped a toe into that boggy morass of nihilism and disregard during a rough patch, but I never submerged into that particular muck. Wasn't my style at all.
Now, somehow, I have to make this muck into a home. Losing your child is a lesson in how to make Shit Houses. Here's a pile of crap, live in it.
And not only live in it, but you have to share this Feces Condominium with someone else who is probably in many ways even worse off than you.
Are you a patient person? Can you listen well and respond without anger? How do you fare when you see someone that has everything you want, but complains about how tough it is? Are you capable of letting go of expectations and accepting the World at face value? If so, a career in having your child die just might be for you. Everyone else need not apply.
There is no one set of rules and instructions to help us deal with the loss of our child. For each person, this path through grief and despair is utterly solitary and painfully unique. And even though we get it more than anyone else our wives know, we still don't get it like they do. And that pisses me off, too.
I am the necessary, vital partner, but secondary to the vessel that carried my son. Without me she would crumble, but I am a hot breeze away from disintegration myself. She wants me to be there, to help her, to discuss the steaming pile of shit that is our shared life, but all I have been doing all day is fighting back the relentless demons that plague my every thought. By the time I get home I've finally won, and there suddenly is a new battle for me to fight. It's not me against her, it's us against her own horde of demons, but sometimes I've got nothing left.
There is no easy way to say "I've spent the last 10 waking hours thinking about our dead son and I simply cannot hear any words pertaining to said awfulness. Everything you say I have already thought, and I've chosen to keep silent. When you speak these words, they rip me open doubly, once because I know, I know I know, and another time because I know how destroyed you are too."
Can't we just watch TV? Can't we just sigh together and let that be enough? Can't you see how I move slow through the world and lash out at every obstacle? Would it be easier if I showed my true emotions and dismantled this entire reality with my own bare hands? I can destroy everything, you know. I can do it. There's nothing left anyway, so it would be easy to take that next step and show everyone how nothing everything has become by destroying everything in sight.
It wouldn't even be a rage thing. I wouldn't hurt anyone at all. I'd just start with this keyboard, move to the desk and then piece by piece sledgehammer this house into rubble. Sidewalk and street would be next but it would be the car that would really take some time. Those things are built to last. It wouldn't though. Not in the path of my focused pain. Helpless to help my son be alive, I could demonstrate to everyone the futile emptiness of this life. At least it would be action with an end result.
Look, I could say. Look what I've done for us. Now everyone knows what the World looks like from our side. Our desolation is now obvious and clear and we don't have to talk about any of it anymore.
I don't do that, though, and by not I am showing you how much I love you and want this World to work out somehow. The containment of my rage is an act of love. The daily denial of vomit and insanity is proof of my commitment. I can keep standing up and moving forward with you, but every millimeter of motion and attention takes the entire focus of my will.
The big picture of this pain is impossible to comprehend all at once. All I can manage to figure out is the very next thing in front of me. So each next thing that comes my way, I try to make it as good as I can. I know what makes me happy. Simple things I can control like sleeping until noon or steak grilled to perfection gives me pleasure in a world where joy is rare and fleeting.
I don't aim for joy anymore. I aim for contentment, I aim for an absence of pain. The problem is, to get there I sometimes have to shut down so many systems and thoughts that I can barely speak. If I am quiet and distant it is because I have spent the day raging against my pain. When I am brusque and bitter it is because of how much I hate what we have been denied. I know she is not my enemy, but there is no one to battle against to right this terrible wrong. Caresses and communication are sometimes collateral damage to the trauma of this experience.
I cannot take away her pain, so it feels like I can't do anything worthwhile at all. I couldn't stop what happened to our son. I could not fix him before he was gone. I cannot go back and get him and bring him to her, and I cannot alter the awful truth of every single day.
But excuses suck and I can always do better. I can share the simple pleasures with her, and listen even when the words shred me to pieces. I've been shredded so thoroughly by now, another tear doesn't hurt much at all. I can hold her and touch her skin and say nothing at all and be certain it was exactly what she wanted and needed right then and there.
We are not enemies here. One or the other is never to blame. All the tools and methods we had for working together have been tested to the limit or thrown out the window along with our hopes and dreams, everything except for one thing. That One Thing is that there is no one in the world except for her, my wife, and I would do anything and everything to take away all the pain of these last nine months.
I'll do the dishes. I'll sweep this Shit House. I'll drive to the store and buy organic strawberries and fair trade dark chocolate and I'll feed it to her piece by piece and listen quietly while she rages with tears against her internal, implacable demons. I know she'll hold me when I can't fight them either, and she won't make a racket cleaning up my detritus when I'm sleeping till noon.
She knows that in my dreams I just might find our son. It's one of the only place left I have to look. The other place is in her eyes, and I always find Silas there. Sometimes, though I cannot handle that either. The pain I see inside her breaks me to pieces, too.
What do you and your partner fight about? How do you each handle stress and pain? What do you need most? What is the worst part of your every day? How do you help each other deal with grief? What could both of you do better? What are you awesome at together?