People call me a survivor.
As if a child's death transforms parents into heroes. As if we have not been burdened enough. As if, as mothers, we have not made the ultimate sacrifice.
And then, what?
And then we sacrifice time. We sacrifice our pure, unfettered love. We sacrifice our minds to trauma, our hearts to being utterly and completely broken. We sacrifice our right to grieve, in order to appease others.
And then... ? We sacrifice a piece of ourselves.
Fine, I think, begrudgingly accepting their title. I'm a survivor.
With my bloodied pores oozing with the pain of loss, tears streaking my cheeks, my womb empty and scarred. My grief-stricken memories stick o my skin like thorns, tearing into my soul. In my mind I am on all fours, crawling blindly through each day. Yet I smile, anyway, feeling it crack into wounded skin, feeling the scabbing and scarring as I flex my jaw muscles and do the sensible thing, the thing that everyone wants me to do, and that is grin and bear it.
Fine, I think, as I lean over my son's grave, open tears streaming from my eyes like rivers, rivers that endlessly flow, always painted red; red as my blood, red as my son's blood, staunched and wiped clean with antiseptic words and pokes and prods. Put it away in the corner, put it away for society's gaze, as it's the right thing to do, tuck and put away your son in his little coffin and nestle it in the dirt and move on, move forward, always forward!
If I were as strong as they say, I would stop trudging through each day, trapped in my dark, yawning tunnel. No promising light looming before me, nothing but the stench of death and the salt of my tears.
If I were as strong as they say..
I would reach into time itself with my bare hands and rip away at every barrier in my path. I would break down every law of nature chaining us to this painful existence, every unbearable second—gravity, relativity, speed of light!—
I would travel back to the final day of my son's life.
And then... what?
I would live that day forever. I would be pregnant forever. Eternal morning sickness, mood swings, swollen feet. We would never age, he would never come out. But he would be alive! And that would be enough.
There is another reality out there, across some vast time-space divide, some wormhole that had been breached when the nurse could not find his heartbeat. Another place, where I meet my son alive. Where I can watch his chubby little fingers curl around my husband's hand. Where I watch him enter into fatherhood, where I am properly reconciled into motherhood.
This is all we have. This is my sacrifice. This is the mother's sacrifice. The alternate world is tossed across the damp, tear-streaked air as frivolously as leaves. I stare reality in the face; tiny coffins and photographs of a boy gone too soon.
And then I am screaming, eyes as bright as red dwarves, those fiery stars that channel my flaming heart. For I am a mother, I have owned that divine right and title before anyone could name me anything else. I am a mother, and nothing could take that away from me, I would defend it to the death, defend it with my own sharpened claws and my gnashing teeth, just as I would have defended my son, if life had ever given me that chance.
And I am a survivor because I am a bereaved mother, and that is the strongest thing of all.
To accept the title, although everything has been ripped away from your bare, aching hands. To wake up each morning, heaving breath after painful breath, when your child no longer breathes. To walk through the world like a normal human when your life is absolutely abnormal; an Odyssean tragedy. When you want nothing more than to burrow and hide in the gaping hole of your heart that has become your true home. The hole your child has left you, the hole that will never be filled.
I will accept this. I will be a survivor. If it means that I am also a mother, that I also had a child, my child, and that he is dead—only if you acknowledge this!—will I accept.
The scar on my heart, emblazoned into my soul, will never heal. Yet I stroke it with pride. It is the most beautiful scar at all, for it forms the name of a boy—a past too briefly lived; a future always coveted; an absent present.