Please help me in welcoming Gretchen to Glow in the Woods. Gretchen writes at Lost Boys and Bearings about the loss of her infant son Zachary, as well as the earlier stillbirth of her son B.W., and the compound grief these two losses have brought her, her husband B, and her living son, C.T. Her writing is raw and honest, and speaks to the stark emotional landscape we wander through in our grief. When I read her writing, I find myself nodding, yes, yes, yes, recognizing some aspect of my own grieving self in each piece. It is this ability to see ourselves in each other--no matter how hard the story may be to read--that helps us stumble through this dark woods to find refuge among the other medusas. Here, we do not feel so alone. We are honored to include Gretchen's voice now among Glow's regular contributors. —Burning Eye
It has been almost fifteen months since Zachary died…, and somehow, eight and a half years since B.W. died.
My desperate, irrational pleadings for Zachary, for anything but this again, have softened ever so slightly in the last month or so. My inability to cope with the horrific details of how his health deteriorated so violently and unexpectedly has lulled to quiet missing and mourning and the occasional outburst of anger. Which is not to be confused with acceptance. I seem to function pretty well with the very basic, daily tedium of life, especially when I am careful to protect myself from obviously triggering situations. I allow myself to grieve, often. I try to keep busy. I hide or avoid when I need to. I try not to let the insensitivity and ignorance of others lead me down a path of fury and resentment. Still, I sometimes fall apart with the reality of his death.
I wonder if I’m doing okay.
Now, well into this second year after Zachary’s death, the undercurrent of my grief seems to have morphed into a dull, aching feeling of wrongness. It’s a heaviness that I drag around with me all day, every day. I hold it up against anything good, anything perceived as important or worthwhile, and then I inspect the combination to see if the net effect is still negative, still meaningless. As of now, it usually is. Someone will say something very casual, something like gosh, it’s such a beautiful day today. I nod and agree, because it’s just not worth it to disagree with such benign small talk, but the words, the sentiments built into the phrase, mean nothing to me. I still can’t comprehend why or how nice weather should feel good when Zachary is dead.
Sometimes the unrelenting heaviness feels worse than the initial shock, disbelief and horror - I suppose because it now feels more real and permanent. Zachary really suffered. He is really dead and not coming back. I know it in my bones now and it feels oh so wrong. I have to live with the flashbacks, the regret and the anger. He will never again learn and grow and experience the love we have for him. I will never again have the privilege of witnessing and nurturing his development, of delighting in who he becomes. People really aren’t going to say his name regularly. They don’t feel the heaviness; they aren’t tormented by the wrongness. Their day to day lives were not affected, not permanently damaged, because my son suffered and died.
I wonder if I will ever learn to really live again, despite his death.
I don’t know what I need from my support network of family and friends anymore. It’s apparent that many are tiring of my grief and my need for solitude. They are frustrated that I don’t have the heart to care very much about, or participate in, what’s going on in their lives. I can feel it. They rarely ask how I’m doing anymore. When they do ask, I find that, for a variety of reasons, it’s not usually an ideal time to respond in a way that honors my grief. I end up having a lot of surface interactions and I’m left wondering if people even still recognize how much I am hurting and just how much we have lost. On the rare occasion that time and space are intentionally dedicated, and I am able talk about Zachary and my grief, I am well aware that most listeners are going to have a hard time understanding and relating. When I open up, I see that my words aren’t hitting home, that something, the thing itself most often, is almost completely lost in translation. They try, and I try, and it continues to be difficult.
I wonder if I will always feel so alone.
I’ve been trying to occupy some of my free time with a few new pursuits. I left my long-time corporate job just before Zachary was born, and now here I am with no real desire to go back to the stressful job I had and no Zachary to take care of during the hours that C.T. is in school. My mother-in-law and I worked together on a few sewing projects over the course of the last eight weeks, one of which was a valance for my corner kitchen window. When we installed them, she affirmed over and over again how pretty they looked, what a difference they made in the room. I was proud of myself for fighting the apathy I feel and following through, but even with her prompting, I had trouble drumming up any real enthusiasm for the final product. There was a letdown, some strange sadness, about finishing a project for the house that Zachary never came home to.
I wonder if I will ever be truly passionate about something again.
I still fantasize about running away from my life, away from the good schools and thriving downtown and family fun and recreation of my Midwestern suburb. I know it would be impossible to escape my grief, but my new reality just doesn’t fit here anymore. While other families were dressing in pastels for family photos on Easter, I was despondent, thinking how cruel it would be to ask C.T. to pose for a photo with our two memorial lily plants, his makeshift brothers. My instinct to “include” B.W. in this kind of holiday photo-op came more easily when it was just one dead brother, but it is just too awful, too much, now that Zachary is dead too. I don’t know how to tell Zachary’s story, on top of B.W.’s story, amidst the happy-go-lucky who call this place home. I find that I’m drawn to imagining myself living in a place that is less idyllic, where life is not so nauseatingly easy and wonderful. If it weren’t for my living son, C.T., by now I probably would have convinced my husband that we need to give up everything we’ve worked for to become aid workers in a third world country.
I wonder if this sounds crazy.
I do the best I can to cope with my grief. At times I’m discouraged, maybe even a little ashamed, at the lack of hope, optimism and enthusiasm I am able to muster, when I compare myself to other bereaved parents I know or read about. I remember when their narratives, the ones I perceive at least - of rising from the ashes, with some adjusted or renewed form of hope - was more closely aligned with my own. Now I have lost a whole other son and I’m not finding I am as agile or eager to adapt to a new life again.
At this point, I just want to know I wouldn’t be characterized as totally beyond repair.
Are you okay? What grief undercurrents exist for you, now? What do you question or wonder about your grief?