The month after I got pregnant with A, I started a new job, New post-doc, same institution, different emphasis. My friend from the post-doc before this one started a new job that same summer. This semester now is the second of her seventh year at that job. Next fall she will be on sabbatical.
Perhaps it's the oddity of the academic culture in which I stew that seven year increments mean so much to me. Sabbatical, the time to not do what you are normally doing at the institution, but to still be paid your regular salary for the time is not a uniquely academic phenomenon anymore, but it is still mostly academic. It's a nice incentive and a chance to do something you don't usually get a chance to do-- learn something new, experiment with a new approach, or just catch up on everything you normally don't get to do.
In my religion too, though I don't very often participate in its formal rituals, 7 is a big deal. After all, we're the ones who started the whole day of rest thing, as God rested on the seventh day, having done all the heavy lifting in the first six. The idea for sabbatical itself comes from the Torah (Old Testament) rules about letting one's fields and one's people rest on the seventh year.
Seven. Seven. Seven. It rings in my head with a strange wistfulness. He's not more gone over the precipice of seven than he was before it. So why does it gnaw on me so very much this snowy-snowy winter? Why do I find myself coming over to the fireplace mantle more often these days, just to glance at the little stuffed puppy we have that is sort of our A avatar, just to flick it on its nose, or to gently kiss the same? I miss him insanely, voraciously. I am sad, anew, maybe more now than before, that we didn't get to know him. Is this me missing him as a seven year old boy? I don't think I've felt this way about other ages before. Why now? I was remembering Monkey at seven the other day. She started competing in gymnastics that year. She seemed so very big to me then. The current crop of first year gymnasts seem so little.
The Cub, the boy who came after A, he's five and a half now. He's grasping at the enormity of our collective loss, of his personal loss. This year, after asking for the upteenth time how and why A died, he got to the very edge of it-- "but we didn't even get to see him when he was big," he said, his voice ringing with indignation at the unfairness he just discovered. Yeah, kid, it's like that. And man, don't we all wish we would've gotten to see him when he was big.
When we first started Glow, some of our readers were five years or even more out from the death of their children. I was a year and change. Five seemed so far removed, a lifetime or more. I thought that somehow it would be different at five. Or maybe I didn't. I sensed from the beginning that this is a lifetime commitment kind of a gig, at least for me. I remember saying and writing, even in that first year, that I expected to learn to live with this, but never expected to get over it. And I certainly have learned to live with A's absence a lot more now. These days I can get through a whole morning of classes without thinking about him. But then, to be fair, I also don't usually think about the rest of the clan during class.
So is this winter's intense longing just a part of ebb and flow, or was the thought of my friend's sabbatical also messing with my head? I know and I knew that grief can't be scheduled, that it does what it does when it must. But did a small strange part of me expect a grief sabbatical to roll in with the first day of February? I suppose it doesn't much matter except as another instance of proof that my son and my grief for him is, really and forever, a part of who I am.
What milestones have you crossed so far? Have they held any surprises for you?
Would you want a sabbatical from your grief, one that you could schedule or one that would come up on a predetermined schedule?