I refuse to become a seeker for cures.
Everything that has ever
helped me has come through what already
lay store in me. Old things, diffuse, unnamed, lie strong
across my heart.
This is from where
my strength comes, even when I miss my strength
even when it turns on me
like a violent master.
--Adrienne Rich


The early days, my tenderness scared me more than the realization of my mortality. Death never scared me, rather the desperate need I felt to be comforted; to have someone fix my grief; the desperation to have my daughter's death and life acknowledged; to be held, cooked for, and tended to; the pure vulnerability; my inability to control my emotions; my hyper sensitivity; the pure, raw, screeching insomniac grief--that frightened me. It meant the pain would continue, perhaps indefinitely, because of the unchangeable fact that my daughter died, and I could do nothing to prevent it, change it, or make it right. This strong, capable, forgiving person had been permanently transformed into an angry, bitter, grief-stricken beldam without kindness in her heart. That scared the crap out of me.

I thought I knew what grief was before Lucia died. Extreme sadness, longing perhaps. I had no idea that grief is forgetfulness, self-centeredness, anger, moodiness, wanting to be alone when in a group and in a group when alone. Grief was hungry and desperate and pulling hair out from discomfort. It was fear. Times ten thousand. It is the feeling of shrinking and starving. Grief is obsession and living in the past. Grief, unadulterated and unwieldy, seeks a cure. I sought a cure.

I never admitted this to anyone except for in my writing on the internet, where I edited and pruned and plucked out phrases that sounded poetic and raw, but never managed to make my grief sound nearly as ugly as it felt. In person, I remained relatively staid, at times, even gracious. When asked how I was, I said, "As well as can be expected." When people saw me with my two year old, they saw an involved, present mother. Perhaps I forgot that they couldn't hear my inner voice saying over and over again, the mantra of grief, "My God, the baby died. I can't believe the baby died. The baby is dead." Over and over and over. I was so tired of my own voice, and yet could hear nothing else.

I waited for words of comfort to come, but there were none. I waited for someone to see through that veneer, but they didn't. An exposed nerve, I buzzed with irritation. I reached beyond my skin for something to protect that vulnerability. I drank too much, wrote too much, cried too much, complained too much, self-pitied and directed all the kindness I couldn't extend to myself to other grieving mothers, but it still wouldn't change. And because that vulnerability is so cold and uncomfortable, and the grief is so demanding and relentless, I shifted and adjusted. I shoved that tenderness deep down. I thought the ability to hide my vulnerability kept me alive for many years. Maybe that is true, or another in a series of lies I told myself, but nevertheless, I shut down. Shut out. I found something that was much more comfortable than vulnerability. I wrapped myself in unforgiveness, another layer of anger, marked it with the stamp:




That tenacity, roots tangled in the craggy sides of an uninhabitable place, desperate to find measly drops of water, just enough to survive, became the illusion of strength.

"You are so strong," Random, well-meaning person would say.

 "I don't know how else to be." I would look away.

Not you too.

You have mistaken my anger for strength.

I am a hurt animal.

A wild thing, baring her teeth at everything, waiting to heal, trying not to get eaten.

I need you.

Think like an animal.

Bite the scruff of my neck.

Make me cry.

I am dying of loneliness and grief.

I am dying of vulnerability.

Strength, I had nothing of it. I wanted nothing of it. It was another way for me to be Other. A noble, grieving mother-angel, not a person filled with rage and self-loathing. People said, "Stillbirth, it's the worst thing I can imagine." It isn't the worst thing I can imagine, and the truth is they truly don't even know the worst of it--the shitty, horrible mess in my brain. That the best of it was that I spent time with my dead baby, the worst is leaving her in the hospital to live the rest of my life. They cannot imagine how ugly I was inside, how dark I became, though I thought they could smell it coming off me. I behaved badly after all. I was dying of my own poison. It must have seeped out my pores. I kept going, but nothing I did was strong, noble or sacred. I just kept going. That did not seem like strength to me. It seemed like stupid stubborn obstinance.

"Oh, but that is strength," the wind whispers. "It is knowing you have nothing left and still going on."

The wasteland that lies between what I feel and what is true is frozen and dark, and at night, the ice weasels come. When I traversed that land, I saw that my anger froze all my landscapes, fear killed the plants and overreaction drove away all the people, I grieved all over again. Like it was the first day she died, and I had to live with the reality of my own creation. When I reached out, I could not mend the fences tore down, the bridges I had burned, the wrongly placed words I rejected. I lost my daughter, and gave away all my friends, simply because I was not brave or strong enough to trust them with grief. But when grief came again, it broke open the hard shell that encased everything I had ever believed. Something humble, damaged, but beautiful emerged. Even as it was happening, I saw it emerge, leaving the guilt of who I was behind. I did the best I could with what I knew. That is perhaps the saddest part, that that person was absolutely the best I could be with the knowledge I had. But this new, delicate being emerging searches for meaning again in the trees, the moss, the full moons, the rocks of a thousand shades of healing. My walk through the tundra of anger saved me nothing. It gave me nothing. It served me not at all. Except that it happened, and from it, I emerged. 


Was grief what you expected? How was it different? Did you embrace your vulnerability or your strength? How do you feel when someone calls you strong? In what ways has strength helped you? How has it turned against you like a violent master?