Who are we, now? Are we still ourselves, the people other people know, except, you know, grieving? Or are we changed forever, marked in a way that changes who we are fundamentally? Is there a middle path, a third option? I'd like to think there is, mostly because that is how I feel-- I am still me, but I am also marked.
I've often wanted to be marked in a physical sense too. To underscore, I guess. Sometimes also so that others could see-- though this desire is much less prominent these days, I've also from time to time wanted to make sure that others couldn't ignore my son. And a physical mark would probably make that somewhat harder to do. There are always the irreverent t-shirts, ones we've all fantasized about making and wearing. But fun as those would be, they are not permanent, and not exactly changes to our physical self.
This is likely why I am always at rapt attention when bereaved parents discuss their memorial tattoos. Some of these are true works of art, with layers of meaning and images in images. I wish I had the creativity to design something like this. But even then, I am so culturally conditioned not to get a tattoo myself (it's kind of a big Jewish deal, concentration camps and all) that I can't imagine breaking with that. So I admire the heartbreakingly beautiful work of others, and I think about how you really need to know the story already to see the entire story in the image. Which means that these are really for the parent, and not so much for the passers by.
So my body remains unchanged, except for what life does to it. And yet, I feel changed, I feel marked. I realize, too, that some of these changes are about my part of the story, and some are about A's, or rather about me reacting to his part. For example, the way pregnancy after is different, that's about me. That part is about what it feels like to be a mother whose child, whose baby, dies. And who then chooses to chance the fear and the anxiety and all the attendant crazy in hopes that another child might live.
On the other hand, the fact that I can't make myself fill out the part of my online profile with a cool local toy store that asks for children's birthdays because it numbers said children? That, I believe, is about him. It's about me knowing in my bones that he was here, and so I can't list the son who was born after him as "child 2." But at the same time I can't very well list the birthday of a dead kid under "child 2," not least of all because the store will then send me gift suggestions for him based on the age he should be for his birthday and various commonly celebrated holidays. And that? Might just break my heart.
So I am changed. But am I marked? Recently, I've come to believe that I am. Not in a way that others can see easily. The most striking of these little internal markings is the reaction I have to a very everyday thing-- supermarkets. Some of the food stores where I shop have flower sections right by the door. And I noticed that every time my eye falls on the fresh cut bounty, the first thought, and I mean the very first thought that enters my mind is essentially about which of the bunches on display I could take to the cemetery. This is more than five years later, so I think it's safe to say that this is not a passing thing. It is, in fact, so much a part of me now, so much not out of the ordinary for me, that it took me all this time just to notice. And I don't even go to the cemetery much now, so I think of choosing flowers much more than I actually do that.
When I did notice, it made me feel only a little sad. Mostly, mostly I think I was and am glad to have this. This change is no less indelible than the tattoo ink, even if less obvious to anyone else. In a weird way it's just nice to know that I carry my son with me all the time.
Are you marked? What are your markings and how do you feel about them? Are you glad to have them? Or would you rather not step on grief land mines as you navigate life?