I don't think I was ever an optimist, but looking back I was naive. Young. Inexperienced in the ways of bad things.
No, I was a chump.
Looking back at those photos of me holding Maddy in the delivery room, before I knew anything was wrong, when I thought I had achieved Nirvana and arrived at heaven on earth, I realize now I was just a chump. I was totally had. I bought into the program and surrendered to the joy like a complete asshole. If Ashton Kutcher jumped out from behind an isolette in the NICU and yelled, "Punk'd!" the week would have made much more sense.
You see, despite my rational half telling myself to remain a cautious optimist, I still banked happiness on the future. I saw good future events ending in, well, goodness. I looked forward to them because of the way they'd make me feel. I don't do that anymore. I decided after that never to get punk'd again.
After Maddy died, I was certain I would be a pessimist for the rest of my life. Glass? Half empty? Shit, it's cracked and leaking, it'll be drained before I even lift it off the counter for a look. Life clearly was suffering and death and destruction, and the Buddhists and Hobbes and Machiavelli were all right: One big languishing, cynical wait for Leviathan to swallow our terrible selves whole. Nothing ever turned out as it should, people are mean, and everything dies. Not only wasn't I very happy, but I got stuck in the present. Aren't there people who strive to live in the present? Are they high? I could've told them it's not all that, it's very limiting to only be able to plan three days in advance because you're trying not to set your expectations too far out ahead so you won't get hurt. Not only did I not think my future would turn out, I quit thinking about my future altogether. I got stuck. Mired. Afraid of the future.
Like everything else gloom and doomy about grief, this too began to ebb with time. But not entirely. I could plan two weeks in advance, and then a month, and now even a few months. But I still don't assume things will be fine. I know this is a sore spot for the positive-thinker crowd: if you think about that future event ending well, and think about it really really hard! And all the time! and make sure not to let doubt creep in there! it will come true. You will get the promotion, your bank account will fill, the cancer will evaporate, the kids will get into Harvard. Really! But come on, really? And what happens when all those things don't come true, time after time after time? I'm not saying you need to think the worst will happen, but maybe a dose of realism now that I know bad shit is real isn't such an unhealthy thing.
For example: We went on "vacation" recently, but I really made an attempt not to call it "vacation," which implies relaxation and sleep and ample time for reading and sunning and navel gazing. I called it, "getting away with my family," which is exactly what it was. So when the stomach virus swept through us in the waning hours, it didn't ruin the whole thing (in retrospect; at the time, I swore I'd never travel again), nor did I sit around and say, "See? Bad shit ALWAYS HAPPENS!" No, it was just one of those things, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first 5-6 days, and ergo nothing got ruined.
It's a matter perhaps of semantics, and perspective.
I believe there are people who can find small elements of thanks in the bad things that happen to them. I always thought these people were the sunshine-y always seeing rainbows when there's rain people, but surprisingly, I've become one of those people. There are times when I hear another one of your stories, or read something in the paper that's just wildly awful, and I stop to reflect on how fortunate I was, with my solid medical community and my loving neighborhood. Or even the amount of control I had in what at the time seemed to be a situation removed from the tracks and barreling over the cliff. But I think this is different than being optimistic or even positive: this is letting a lot of time go by, and being able to stop crying and sighing long enough to reflect. It's ok if you're not there yet, believe me. You may be someday, you may never be, and that's ok, too.
I've learned to be happy in retrospect, and even happy in my present. That's pretty huge, given where I was four years ago: I can look back on an event or even just a day and say, hey, that was wonderful. That was really, really lovely. I'm even able to have fun in my present self, or find joy here and there, ducking in the weeds. But I still don't play that game of cashing in on a future that's not here yet. No. Way.
When I was pregnant with my subsequent child, my now one-year old son, I did things much differently. With Bella and Maddy, I thought the biggest surprise in life was finding out the sex of your child at their birth. Boy, did Maddy ever prove THAT wrong, there are in fact bigger surprises I discovered. I never wanted to be surprised again. With Ale, I had CVS at eleven weeks, and found out the sex because I wanted the only surprise at birth to be whether he lived or not. I had had it, no more punk'd. And I live like that now: I can look ahead, but no surprises. No jumping out from around the corner, no unmarked flowers, no cakes without my choice of flavor. I want to know, I want to know as much as possible about what will happen -- good or bad. Maybe it's a control thing, and a false one at that; I know I can't possibly contain all the surprises in life. But to the extent I can find out, I will.
I still don't think I'm an optimist, but I don't think I'm a pessimist, either. As cynical as I am, I did not pour myself a large drink and eschew my child-chauffeuring responsibilities to watch the world implode at 6 p.m. last Saturday. There's a ways until I meet the Leviathan, I realize now, and some people are actually pretty nice and considerate. I'm certainly not a positive thinker, but I'm not necessarily a negative one. The bathroom project we're about to undertake? That will be an improvement, I'm fairly certain. I think it's just that I now know exactly the kind of very real surprises life can dole out, whether it's a plumbing stack that needs replaced, or a child born with fatal birth defects. It's made me older, more wary, informed. I hate being a chump.
Where do you fall in terms of optimism and pessimism, positive and negative thinking? Were you always this way, or did thing change with death of your child(ren)?