Mile markers

When I first went to see what would become Monkey's school, I was visibly pregnant, with A. At the open house I chatted with the then-head-of-school, partially about how she thought it was really nice to have a girl be older than a boy in a family because sometimes girls mistake their brothers' age-related competencies for gender-related ones and begin to believe they can't do things their brothers can. I hadn't thought about a dynamic like that before, but for some reason it stuck with me. A couple of months later, after we applied to the school, Monkey had her own interview there. By that point I was huuuuuuge and rather a slow-moving vehicle. I remember plopping down on the bench in the lobby, grateful for its existence, uncushioned hard surface and all.

That bench is still in the lobby, in that exact same place. But A is not. He was dead barely a week after that interview, more than five and a half years ago now.

Monkey loves her school. Not likes, loves. We love it too. And most of the time we are very happy with it, too. Most families at the school send all their kids there. Which, all of it, is making this a tough fall for me.


We have so many hopes and dreams for these little people. Some are general and vague, like that big one, that they be happy. Others are more concrete. We taught Monkey to swim and to ski, and I had some ideas that we would, some day, splash in the water together, A included, or race down black diamonds, me trying to keep up with the rest of them. Hazy, but not too hazy. No date and time certain, but I would've guessed something like that would be happening by the time A was five. There are no guarantees, of course. The boy could've broken a leg, ending a season before it began. He could've even, gasp, hated the whole exercise of skiing and refused to partake. Worse things, too, could've befallen him and us. But statistically those dreams are more likely to come true than not once you hear the heartbeat. And, you know, certainly by ten full weeks past viability.

And then comes The Day. The day their little hearts stop, the day we learn that we will not get to bring them home. All these dreams, visions, plans-- they all come tumbling down that day. We may be too shell-shocked to realize it right away. We all know the big one's gone. But it may take us some time to pick up the pieces of all these other dreams, to name them, and in naming them to mourn them. In that big pile of rubble it may be hard to find the individual pieces. It may be hard to tell whether the shard you are holding is from the play with cousins dream or the holidays at the grandparents' dream or even from the often underappreciated until it's out of one's grasp my family, all under one roof, fed and content dream.

Whether we choose to bag the whole pile and put it on the curb for the next garbage pickup, or to spend the time carefully looking through, from time to time, an errant glimpse of a shard or some semblance of it is likely to catch our eye and pierce our heart. I remember sometime during my first year, there was a post from a babylost blogger who was a good bit further into the process than me, about how she got stymied at a video store by a gaggle of teenage boys picking out a movie. Because suddenly, at that moment she knew with ridiculous clarity the many things, big and small, her son had missed out on because he died-- growing into a boy and then a teenager, and a young man, friends, messing around, movies. You can't plan for these. You might guess what landmine will get you one day-- I fully expect, for example, to some day fog up my ski goggles because of something that will inadvertently unearth a shard of that dream, but you don't know when or exactly how it will get you.

Then there are the perma-mines, the baked-in-the-cake grief mile markers. When we get up in the middle of the rubble, some of these are staring us right in the face-- you know, the family affair where you were supposed to show off the new addition; some are regular and predictable, clearly visible amongst the suddenly bare landscape-- the monthaversaries, the anniversaries, the hangings of the Christmas stockings, if that's your thing.  And then there are the one of markers-- the ones that were there from the beginning and never moved, even if they were, then, too far away to see.


I had a tough time coming up on the fourth anniversary. For some reason, four was shaping up to be qualitatively worse than three, and I was not doing well. The whole month was dreary and difficult, dragging and draining. It sucked, ok? And yet, in the middle of that slow dance of misery, in one bright moment of realization I knew that as bad as this buildup to four was, it was going to be a soft landing compared to what would have been A's first day of school. See, Monkey loves her school. We had decided she was going there before A died. Which means that unless something extraordinary would've happened between his birth and this fall, A would've started Kindergarten at the same school right after Labor Day, about five weeks ago now. In that very same moment of realization when I first saw the start of school marker staring me in the face, with 18 months or so still to go, I also knew, I just knew that on that day I would throw up.

Coming up on the school year I was a wreck. It didn't help that the Kindergarten class has three siblings of Monkey's classmates in it. It didn't help that I knew it would before Monkey ever started at the school, five plus years ago, thanks to the unthinking remarks from a mother of Monkey's then-future classmate. I didn't want to meet new families at the school-- the K class was oversubscribed, and I know that my head would keep reminding me that one of these families wouldn't have been at the school had A lived.

The first day of school came. We brought Monkey to the school, and we hung out, and I didn't throw up. I came close a couple of times, but I didn't. And now I think I wish I did. Maybe then I would be able to walk through the lower school and carry on a conversation at the same time. Maybe then I would not want to shut my eyes every time I see the K teachers lead their charges down the hall. Maybe then I would be done with this, the almost-final perma-mine.

This was the almost final "for sure" marker. I've hit a few of these before. From here on out, I think there is only one more, and the date is less than determined. Had A lived, sometime on or shortly after his 13th birthday, he would've had his Bar Mitzva. I know that will nail me too, probably at Monkey's ceremony first, and then on A's anniversary that year. And maybe a few more times for good measure.


Have you encountered any grief mile markers? Of what variety have they been and how has it gone for you? Are you from a family that celebrates Thanksgiving together every year? Or is it more that you have been stung by sudden recognition? If you can see a marker looming in the distance, how do you prepare? Or do you?