The last nail

photo by  Lee Summers

photo by Lee Summers

We thought we had arrived at our destination, all of us intact, sane, relieved. After a long and arduous journey that wrecked our spirits, we were finally home again, safe again, alive again. Together with our little fledgling, we were breathing, heaving, bobbing, drenched in the water of a thousand sharks, crisscrossing currents pulling our bodies apart, treacherous winds sending chills down our backs. And yet, the shore was in sight, within reach. We could rest, now together, our heavy feet to be planted on an alien land we could dare to call home, now that the storm was over. When the dangers and heartbreaks of an old, familiar life had been overcome, the challenges of a new world, a new beginning, seemed less daunting. It was all going to be well, this end of a war, a war we had waged for survival. All’s well that ends well, right?

And what about all that only ends?

Eight days after coming home from twelve weeks at the hospital, four days after we moved from the American Midwest to the East Coast for a much-awaited and much-needed job, less than a day after a doctor, a radiologist and a lot of reports assured that all was well, Raahi died in her sleep. Her sudden, meaningless death ended a promise, and the sliver of hope I had held tight within my fingers all this while, and longer, as I clamored to claim my own life back from the brink, sank to the bottom of the earth. I have never seen or held it again.

Raahi’s death was the culmination her life should have been. Her life, her life with us, was the metaphorical light at the end of a long and dark tunnel in our lives. Years of unexplained infertility had derailed our career plans, and after the birth of our son, a stressful pregnancy fraught with the probability of a genetic condition, we had to take professional risks we had postponed until then in our reproductive desperation. Determined to let our career plans and parenting responsibilities run parallel and together, we made plans for a career changing graduate education for my husband and a terminal graduate degree for me, when our son was a few months old. We wrote dozens of essays of application, customizing them to the requirements of each school, since we could not afford to stay apart, and therefore had to both get into schools in the same city. With Google Maps open on one laptop, distances between cities, neighborhoods and schools were measured, and schools were chosen as much for their location as for the quality of their departments. We stayed up nights for months, taking care of an infant, and editing each other’s applications, holding each breath, measuring each step, and counting each word. Our tiny apartment held our palpable desperation. We needed this, but we also needed to be together.

We both were accepted, but in schools in different cities.

Thus began an uphill climb. As I moved to one college town with a toddler, my husband stayed in another town, almost four hundred miles away. He traveled on a night bus on Fridays to spend two days being a father and husband. On Sunday night, he took a train, and then a bus, to return to his life as a graduate student. We lived our entire lives within a weekend. We were broke, overworked, tired, and driven. Uncertainties loomed like mountainous shadows, close enough to be decisively cast on our efforts and our plans. The fracture was deeper than distance and difference. It had been steeped in insecurities, misunderstandings, questions, and unfair blames. Words resolved all and brought us closer than ever, words for which neither of us had much time. Two years of being broke and resource-strapped graduate student parents, with a few hours each week to catch up on parenting, groceries, intimacy and homework, broke us in half.

So when Raahi announced her presence, we braced ourselves. Alone with a toddler and pregnant, my body beaten and broken, I immersed myself in my pregnancy and in classes. Raahi’s jejunal atresia, which was detected in my eighteenth week with her, meant that I would delve in more research than my graduate seminars demanded—now I needed to know everything possible about intestinal blockages.

My body gave in on a morning I was destined to be alone with Raahi’s three-year-old big brother; their father’s bus had been canceled the previous night—the first and only time in two years – and he was arriving that evening. I drove my little boy to school and then drove myself to the hospital, and my feisty little girl arrived. She underwent two surgeries, went past each obstacle in her development, and after twelve grueling weeks, we carried her out into the sun, out by the blue lake, out in our tired but fulfilled arms.

This is how it should have ended.

The top of the mountain we had been climbing barefoot, rocks jarring against our feet, trees clamoring around us in a mysterious web, clouds gathering ominously in a thunderous storm, should have been more stable. We should have been able to gain ground, stand straight, and celebrate. We had our reward—our beautiful little girl who completed our family in every possible way—and all we needed was a shelter, a foothold, some shade to rest our dilapidated bodies, our weary souls. All that we endured as individuals and as a family to get to here—together finally—should have been enough.

But instead, we were hurled back across the cliff into the ocean, sinking deeper than a barren vessel. The top of the mountain shook, and fell apart, hurtling us into breathless air. All was over. The end had finally begun. It was going to be a long one.  

Raahi’s death extinguished the last iota of faith in me. It broke us beyond repair. Our already tired bodies and battered souls cracked, bruised and burned. Our finite mental and physical reserves, which we had stretched over many years, and more so the past one year, had finally been depleted. There was nothing to fall back upon, no answers to look for, no connections to make, no foundation to set up. Raahi was gone, and her departure had broken our backbone. It was the last nail on a coffin for her parents as well.

The shock and despair of being under the ocean is overwhelming, and the tides often break through my stupor. I wake up, and scream, “She still died? After all that, she still died?” It rings hollow, the scream. My eyes are dead, my throat is hoarse, my head splits into a million shards every minute. The calm and hollow let me be, and yet, every day, the answer never changes. She still died. We made it to shore and she fell asleep in the sand. Like that white dove in that song.

The land is lost forever.

How have you experienced your loss in the context of your life? Were there challenges in your life before loss that you feel your loss compounded? Are you willing or able to emerge from under the water? How has your loss altered how you address new challenges?