at the kitchen table: tick tock

photo by  Xin Li

photo by Xin Li

"Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life."
—William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Babyloss parents often find themselves clinging to Auden's Stopped Clocks -- the sense that life has frozen for us, and we're stuck in a (hellatious) moment while just outside our window people scurry on with no idea what it is we're experiencing.  I've known—and sympathized with—parents who say "there wasn't enough time," and I've known—and sympathized with—those who say "I just wanted it to stop."  Perhaps 'fast' and 'slow' aren't quite applicable; time for that awful momentprobably could be described as simply horrible.

Time as a concept undergoes some pretty serious shifting after a major loss; gone is the sense of linearity ("This pregnancy will just progress until a baby appears in nine months!"), or perhaps a past needing escape and a future worth running to.  Time contracts, expands, flies, crawls, bewilders.

And like grief, time is experienced differently by individuals depending on their circumstances -- those surrounding the death itself as well as what preceded and followed.

Time as a subject seems to be coursing its way through the internet in our corner recently, so we thought it a good . . . well, er, time to examine it a bit closer.  Join us for the new Kitchen Table discussion, read our responses, and please add your responses in the comments or link to your blogged comments.

1. How much time has passed since the death of your child(ren)?  Do you mark grief in months, weeks or years?  Does it seem to be going fast or slow?

Angie: Two years, seven months. I mark time in seasons. Time goes fast now, after the first year. I think that is why I stopped counting months, it seemed slow that way.

Catherine: Nearly three years. I mark the time as I would have for a living child. Initially I measured in days and weeks, as you might for a newborn baby. Now I measure in years, more appropriate for the toddler she might be now.

Cheryl: 3 years, 7 months. I mark time by passing events. Last night marked the third year that I have watched the exhbibition fireworks, without a baby upstairs in a nursery. Time was slow, then fast, and is now, in a very strange way, simply time.

Chris: 2 years, 10 months. Was in seconds, then in days, now in years. It seems like I have always been missing Silas now, but I can't believe it's been nearly 4 years. That seems impossible.

Jess: Three years, 2 months. I think in years now. Time gallops, yet some days I feel like she was one hundred years ago.

Josh: Four months. The weeks have turned into months now, which means the extra dose of sadness that used to come every Thursday now comes on the 24th of each month instead. Time seems to keep moving as it always has, but the Before Margot time of my life seems like an eternity ago.

Julia: Two days shy of four and a half years. I think in years, but sometimes the dates in a month still bite.

Tash: Four years, five months.  It's marked in years, although winter still gets condensed around months, weeks, and days.  Most of the time I can't believe it happened, let alone to me.  Surely it was something I read about.

2. Do you have an end goal to your grief?  How much time do you think that will take?  How much time did you think you'd need to get there right after your loss?  How much time do you think you need now? 

Angie: I read something like eighteen months to two years was when acute/active grief stopped after a stillbirth, and I held that as a place to get to. In the beginning, that felt terribly far in the future. Now, I feel like my grieving isn't acute or debilitating.

Catherine: My inital end goal was to stop the awful pain. In those first few weeks I felt as though I had been caught in a bear trap, one of those big, toothy affairs that snaps around your leg? I think it took about six months before that started to ease, that absolutely desperate time. Now I don't think I have an end goal in sight. My grief has not progressed along the nice, neat timeline of about a year in duration that I had assumed it would. It meanders about, taking its own sweet time. I don't know how much longer I need but that doesn't trouble me any longer. Perhaps this is as close to resolution as I get?

Cheryl: A family memember commented a few months ago, that she noticed in April of 2010 that I had come back into the light. It took almost two and a half years. After Gabe died, I couldn't imagine ever being whole or sane or normal again. I just wanted my life back. I know that I will never have that life back, but that I have the rest of my years to forge a new life for myself. Strangely, this is less frightening that it used to be.

Chris: Nope, no goal for my grief.  I'll always miss him, I will always be sad for his absence in our life, and I'm perfectly fine with that.  From the moment of his death I've known it would be like this.

Jess: I'm... I'm kind of mixed up about this question. I don't have an end goal. I find it unlikely that I will ever think "Yes! Success! Achievement!" in an Iris context. Today I am OK. It seems likely that tomorrow I will be OK. And next week. And next month. So perhaps I'm there already. I don't know.

Josh: In the very beginning, I thought maybe the horrific grief would take a year or so, or maybe when (if) we had another baby. Now, I have no clue. I'm in for the long haul, or however long it takes. Timelines (and expectations) freak me out now.

Julia: I think I always thought the goal was to incorporate it, so it is as normal part of me as something like this can be. Learn to live with it. I think, for the most part, I have. Though there are still moments that are sharp, most of the time it is just what it is.

Tash:  Early on I read somewhere it took two-five years in order to "integrate" the experience and I about broke down—it seemed like an eternity, it might as well have been twenty.  When I spoke about hiding out in my cave, I wanted to be there for twenty years—I thought that was enough time to be able to hold my head up and function.  I think my goal became functioning without pain and I seem to have achieved that around the three year mark.

3. Rather than a clear end goal, is there a milestone or marker to indicate that you are feeling grief less acutely, i.e. going to a baby shower, listening to a song that made you cry early in grief, driving past the hospital?  How long did it take to get there?

Angie: I really wanted to get to a place where I didn't care who acknowledged our loss or not. Where people could just be at a dinner party, and I wasn't anxious about whether or not they acknowledged her death or our grief. I am at that place now.

Catherine: When I could join in a discussion about children without the whole sorry story bubbling up in my throat. Now I can make a conscious decision as to whether I will speak about my daughter's death. Or not. It used to be a compulsion, to blurt it out. Sometimes that isn't appropriate. Sometimes that isn't kind. It took about two years to get here.

Cheryl: It was the moment that I realized I could carry Gabriel in my heart, but put him down from my arms. It was the moment that I realized that it was ok to carry on my life, without him.

Chris: Father's day destroys me every year, as does his birthday.

Jess: I don't seem to have obvious grief triggers to test myself against. It always takes me by surprise when the deep yearn strikes. Three days after I gave birth to Iris, I went to a child's birthday party in the certain knowledge that I would be seeing newborn babies and pregnant women. When I went back to work, 6 weeks after Iris died, my first meeting was with a group of midwives in a maternity hospital. I was fine. But just last week I met a sad-eyed man, and the fiction I created in my head about his imaginary baby, lost or dead, was enough to make me weep on the train home.

Josh: I hope one day I can hold my best friend's baby, who was born a week before Margot died, and feel okay about it. I think that would be some kind of milestone.

Julia: I don't think I sat out markers to begin with, except for having to meet and engage with a good friend's baby who was supposed to be A's best buddy. I did that the day after he was born, barely two months into my grief. But I do notice that I am better at certain things—holding back the story if it doesn't come up naturally, not feeling overwhelmingly anxious that new people I am meeting and want to be friends with don't know this important thing about us. Not that I don't care if they do, I am just not tormented if they don't. And I still tighten up in a whole ton of situations.

Tash:  I couldn't look at, hold, consider, comprehend, a baby.  I avoided them like the plague.  Then at two years, two months, I offered to hold a baby on a plane for the woman sitting next to me.   It didn't produce a heavenly choral symphony, but I didn't fall apart, either.  I think I realized then I'd be ok.

4. How do you view the time you had with your child, either alive (within or outside) or already deceased?  Before you all answer "Too short! Not enough!", did you have time to "bond" or develop a future imagination about what this child would be like?  Perhaps depending on whether yours was cut short, how do you now feel about the nine-month period of gestation -- too long or not long enough?

Angie: My daughter died at 38 weeks. It was a beautiful pregnancy, and I felt like I knew her spirit, even though I didn't. I would have loved to see her open her eyes, to breathe. The first time I laid eyes on her, I saw the marks of death on her face and body. I wish she died closer to birth, but really, I wish she hadn't died at all.

Catherine: I feel as though I knew my daughter or perhaps that is just what I want to believe, hers was a tiny flicker of a life. She died when she was 3 days old but she was born at 23 weeks. There is always the tantalising possibility that if she had remained in the womb for longer she would not have died. Her life outside the womb? Perhaps that was too long. I fear it was. But I can't bring myself to wish for any less of her.

Cheryl: I didn't have 9 months. I thought I did. And that was the most remarkable thing. Everything was ordinary, I had just enough time for everything, right up until I didn't have enough time. The pregnancy was ordinary time, the hospitalization was sped up time, and the time we had with him, that was almost nanosecond. It was almost a singularity.

Chris: I have another life, another future, another past that is beyond the veil of his death.  That what-if, what-should world will never go away.

Jess: I was 41 weeks pregnant when I went into labour and learned that Iris had died. And I was sick of being pregnant, it was loathsome. It had been too long. And although my answer will always be of the too-short-not-enough variety, I still have her life in my head. I have all the time I need for that. 

Josh: I held her for nearly nine hours straight after she was stillborn at 39 weeks. Since my wife was near dead for many of those hours, her presence, however dead she was, practically carried me through the worst day of my life.

Julia: I've had a subsequent pregnancy since A died, and it was frought with complications and hospitalizations, and was only slightly longer than A's. The anxieties (and I felt them for A a lot too) sort of blend in my head now, and I split. I would've wanted more time, but not more anxiety. The time we held on to his body after his birth? I thought that was enough, I thought we were ready. At the time it felt right, to let go after only a couple of hours. Now I am not sure.

Tash:  I had six days with Maddy, and it was all at once so brief as to be a blink or an illusion, and so fucking long I found my (atheist) self praying for it to end.  Maddy's pregnancy was so complicated I never really thought ahead much except to the birth which I assumed would be the happy release into the rest of it.  The subsequent nine month pregnancy with my son was an eternity of denial; it's hard to tread water for the better part of a year.

5. One grief book suggested that it took 2-5 years to incorporate your grief into your life.  Where are you on this timeline, and you do you find that to be true?

Angie: Two years and seven months. Yes, absolutely. I feel like I am just starting to appreciate the ways I have integrated Lucy's life and death into our daily lives.

Catherine: Nearly three years. Grief is tentatively creeping in and settling down, making itself at home, reminding me that it is still here with the occasional murmur. It doesn't rage about outside as often as it used to.

Cheryl: 3.5 years or so. I understand that timeline. I see the goal of grief as to bring that grief into the light, to find the way back into the light.

Chris:  Yeah, that makes sense to me.  I feel like I have definitely incorporated this grief into my life, and I'm not the same person I used to be, in many ways.

Jess: Three years in, this feels true to me. Three years in, my husband would not find this to be true at all. I think it will be his life's struggle.

Josh: At four months out, I'm no where close. In the sense that it doesn't take four months for grief to be incorporated, I can say, hell yes it doesn't.

Julia: I think to dull the really sharp edges, it took more than two years. But I think I am feeling pretty incorporated now, and I think I've been here for a bit already, not exactly standing in one place-- it's still all dynamic and flowing, but the changes are more subtle these days.

Tash: I think I've woven Maddy's death into my life, and I think it happened around year three, but I couldn't put a day or experience on that.  The experience has sort of melded into my being, so I can acknowledge it's existence and carry on. She was here, she wasn't meant to be, she died.  I'm hungry, and really need to go get dinner ready.

6. There's a familiar saying, "Time Heals all wounds."  Do you think this is true?  Or do you subscribe to Edna St. Vincent Milay:  "Time does not bring relief, you all have lied"?

Angie: I think time affords you the space to get used to suffering. And in that way, I don't suffer as much as I used to. If that makes sense.

Catherine: I think it is true that time does heal. What people don't always remember to tell you is that healing is not the same as restitution, time may not necessarily return you to your original form. Healing brings scars. But scars do not form on the dead, only on the living.

Cheryl: I struggled for a long time. I wanted to say it got better, or it got easier, or something. I wanted to mark how things could change, how things wouldn't always be the way they are. I now say that I don't know if it gets better or easier, it does get different. The difference is important. The difference is what makes me wake up, what makes me look for the next stage in my life.

Chris: Time passing has helped me heal, but only to a certain point.  Beyond that it is all still the same and probably always will be.

Jess: This made me think of a line in Coriolanus: "For, if he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them." I don't speak for my wounds as much as I once did. I don't lick them and pick at them in the same way. I am scarred though. And the scars ache. 

Josh: I have hope that time heals, or at least allows me to understand my grief in different ways. I can already feel my grief in deeper, more profound ways than I did a month out, so I guess that is something.

Julia: It doesn't heal in the sense that it fixes you right up, but it does give you room to get better, to bear weight again on what was once torn to shreads. So I find myself put together again, though different than I was.

Tash: I used to throw around that Milay poem in HS regarding relationships.  Boy, talk about green.  Time heals wounds, but sadly time doesn't erase memories.  It's true, I do feel better and I truly believe the majority of that healing is owed to simply the passage of time and distance from the event.  I also believe Milay and I could do with a lobotomy to fully cover the rest of it and those horrible flashbacks.

7. Has your relationship with the future (immediate and far) changed since the death of your child(ren)?  How about your relationship with the past?

Angie: I try to live one day at a time, as cliched as that is. Both for my sobriety and my grief. Someone left this quote on my blog, "Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different." And I think I am finally at a place of forgiveness for myself and about Lucy's death.

Catherine: I try not to plan too much for the future but I do find it hard to resist the lure of schemes and dreams. I feel a mixture of embarrassment and fondness when I think of the past and the person I once was. An oblivious and silly person in many ways but I kind of miss her. I certainly miss being her on occasion.

Cheryl: I try to live in the now. I try to avoid romanticizing the past, but even more than that I try to not live in the future. I did that after Gabe died. I did that when I waited for the next baby. I had all of these plans for when I got pregnant again. Finally I realized, everyone was right. Life is what happens when you are waiting for things to happen. I wanted to live my life, so I stopped living in future.

Chris: I don't trust the future anymore and I can't believe the past me was so naive that I used to.  I focus on right now and what is coming up next.  Looking too far down the road seems foolish to me because I know now there is no way to be sure of anything.

Jess: It has made me fiercely ambitious, losing Iris. I suppose that speaks to a future-focused shift in me, since her death. I feel like I just can't waste any time. Life is such a capricious little creature. Right now it's hurtling along and so I feel compelled to race alongside it, before it changes its mind. 

Josh: I don't really count on much in the future anymore. My innocence regarding death has been stomped on. I'm taking life one day at a time. I'm not exactly embracing life one day at a time, but I am thinking about life in terms of what today brings.

Julia: Planning far ahead is still hard. A few days at a time is as far as I am comfortable looking. Though I am beginning to take joy in putting some things on the calendar for a bit out and anticipating the fun of these.

Tash: After Maddy died, for years I was stuck in the present.  I was too chickenshit to plan ahead because I had been so burned by what I assumed was a given outcome.  I honestly thought if I didn't plan out more than two weeks, how bad could anything hurt if it didn't come to fruition?  But it became really debilitating living like that, every day a fire drill, and my calendar remaining empty.  I'm up to a few months now and it's odd, but I'm trying.  As "integrated" as I've become, I definitely still think in "preMaddy" and "postMaddy."  It's impossible not to, given the changes in our social and familial lives.

8. How long did it take to answer these questions?

Angie: Exactly fifteen minutes.

Catherine: Twenty minutes for the answers that came easily. Nearly three days spent mulling over one particular question.

Cheryl: 16 minutes, with a cup of coffee and a call in the background.

Chris:  about 15 minutes

Jess: Thirty six minutes. I made and drank a cup of tea in that time too. Multi-tasker!

Josh: Three days or twenty odd minutes, however you look at it.

Julia: 30 minutes. Typed and erased a few answers a few times.

Tash: 15 minutes, give or take.  But it took me a few days to get over and actually put my mind to this.