Motherhood came without you. At least I thought it was motherhood. Now that your sister is here, the contrast between motherhood and the long grief-filled months of before is stark. I see so clearly what we lost.Read More
Just... gone... just like that. Gone.
People talk about the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Is it a lineal experience for you or a cycle that repeats? How do you cope with your changing emotions? How do you cope with hearing about loss in the wider world since losing your child? Does it affect your emotions in anyway?
Jen’s second daughter Anja was stillborn in January 2012. Anja has an older sister, E, and a baby brother, M. Jen wrote this on the 22-month anniversary of Anja’s death. She blogs at March is for Daffodils, where this post first appeared. We are so grateful Jen is here at Glow today as a guest writer.
This morning on the walk to kindergarten, E and I talked about how we would buy flowers after school, flowers for Anja on the 14th.
‘Anja is an angel, Mommy,’ E said, full of the authority of a nearly-five-year-old going-to-schooler.
‘Do you think so, sweetie?’ I asked, non-committally.
‘I think so. But, actually, Mommy what is an angel exactly?’
‘Well, some people believe that there is a place called Heaven, which is where you live after you die, and when you are there, you are an angel,’ I explained.
‘Do you believe that Mommy?'
‘I believe that Anja’s spirit has gone into all the living things,’ I said. ‘I believe that she is in all the beautiful things we see around us.’ (Do I? Do I?)
E thinks about this for a while, smiling. Then she looks up at me and says, ‘Mommy, I really hope Anja is not a zombie.’
Christ, kid, what are they teaching you at school?
‘She’s not a zombie, love. I know that for sure.’
‘How do you know?’ E is genuinely worried.
‘Because zombies are just a story. Some grownups like to tell stories about things that scare them, but they’re not real.’
‘OK, Mommy.’ We hold hands and walk down the tree-lined block. At the corner, we run into a little boy from her class and his mother and baby sister. E and Z start talking excitedly to each other. For some reason, the topic of zombies comes up again, and it turns out there is some movie character(?) zombie who is funny(??) and can talk to dead people(???). E and Z start chanting, ‘I can talk to dead people. I can talk to dead people.’ Z’s mom smiles at the zaniness of children; I try not to grimace. My poor kid. She wishes she could talk to dead people; she knows death in a way that it is obvious very few of her peers do. ‘I know, Z,’ she says, ‘let’s go to a place where people get dead and we can talk to them.’ I wonder what she would say? I wonder where she thinks that place is? I wonder how her nearly-five-year-old mind reconciles the real death she has experienced and this fascination with death that so many of her friends are exploring.
We go into her classroom, hang up her coat and switch her rubber boots for indoor shoes. The classroom is cheerful and noisy; her teacher is happy to see her. Every morning, for the first fifteen minutes of the day, families are welcome to stay and participate in what the teacher calls ‘Noisy Reading.’ I love this time of day. We find a cozy spot and E picks out a book called ‘Chestnut Dreams.’ I open the book and start reading… Anya. The little girl in the book’s name is Anya and she has curly chestnut hair and green eyes and E looks at me in wonder. ‘Her name is Anya. Maybe that is my baby sister. That is what she looked like if she didn’t get dead.’ We read the story. I say the name Anya over and over and over again and it feels good. To have an excuse. To use the name without worrying that I will make someone uncomfortable, without being made to feel morbid or strange.
The special helper rings the book bell and it is time to put the books away and say goodbye. E says ‘hi’ to her friend, I, who is absorbed in saying goodbye to her mother and doesn’t respond. There is a flash of hurt in E’s eyes, but she runs over to another friend, D, and says, ‘D, do you want to sit next to me?’ D crosses her arms over her chest, her face furious, and yells in E’s face, ‘No!’ That is it for E; she comes back to me, her face crumpling and reddening. She buries her head in my lap and sobs.
And I wonder, as I always do, how much of it is what we see on the surface – rejection by friends; the start of a busy day – and how much of it is what she knows and keeps secret when she is out in her world – the death of her sister, the sadness in her family?
I offer to take her outside, for a hug and a chat, but she rallies, wants to stay and finds someone else to sit beside. She waves and smiles as M and I go.
M falls asleep in his carrier on the walk home, so I veer away toward the water, get a coffee and walk under the red and yellow trees by the seawall. The ocean is glassy, grey, still. It is a beautiful morning. I turn back up the park path toward our building. I look into the red leaves of the Japanese maple trees. I think about how I told E that her sister is in all the living things. I try to believe it. I practice: I say, tentatively, quietly, yearningly, ‘Hello, sweet girl, my love, my baby.’ I whisper it to the tree, to the sky, and finally, the tears come.
Where do you believe your baby is now? What do you want to believe?
If you have living children, how do you explain death and afterlife to your children?
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?
Today we are honored to present the writing of two more Glow readers.
Anne is a dancer, teacher, writer and non-profit arts administrator. Anne and her wife Burning Eye's first child Joseph was stillborn at 35 weeks in December, 2012. Some of her poetry is being published in the upcoming anthology "To Linger on Hot Coals" edited by Stephanie Page Cole and Catherine Bayly.
My poet’s brain never had much use for numbers and formulas—
preferring the symbolism, the metaphor,
of mass, gravity, planetary orbits, chemistry, heredity,
the tiny organs in that poor frog.
But now, in the aftermath of your short life,
I turn to science for solace, trying to find sense and reason,
or make it.
I write poems about logic, Newton’s laws, math—
the equation never adds up.
Still, I can’t stop measuring, comparing, weighing—
searching for meaning among misremembered facts,
proving your life with whatever symbols I can find.
Today, the days of your life rest delicately on one side of the scale,
balanced perfectly by the days of your absence.
Tomorrow, the scale will start to tilt,
listing as the days keep piling up.
You will always be more gone than here from now on, forever.
But maybe that perfectly balanced scale is an illusion,
an incomplete equation.
Surely, the scale tipped toward loss long ago—
as heavy as these days have been.
Or maybe your realness, the weight of you in our hearts,
still outweighs the loss of you—
the nothing that can never balance your substance.
This next piece is by Carolyn. Carolyn blogs at hangyourhopesfromtrees.wordpress.com. She writes: Lost my first baby to a miscarriage at 17 weeks. I find solace, as I've always done, in writing, art, and thick, wordy books. Finding hope, now, but still burdened often by my loss.
I dig my toes into the rocky incline. Looking down, I can see clouds hovering underneath me. I am high enough that the place where I began isn’t visible, grey and swirling storm. Up here, as I pull myself further, the sun shines upon my shoulders. The sky is a brilliant blue, hopeful, vibrant. I keep climbing, distancing myself from the stormy ground. I don’t know what the plateau above looks like, but I long for flat ground and stable footing. I reach up and grasp at a root emerging from the rock.
Suddenly, I am scrambling, rocks and dirt begin to funnel down around me, I slide, scraping my skin, dust grinding into my wounds. I am falling, slipping down this slope, wind howls in my ears and I plummet below the cloud cover, into the cold, torrential rain
I came home from work today on shaky legs. I had a sense of panic. I was on edge. Everything seemed too bright, too real, too harsh. My eyes couldn’t adjust. I squirmed uncomfortably, I felt restless.
I caved. And I cried.
It’s been months since I’ve broken like this. I can hardly recall the last time I sobbed under the weight of the world. I buckled in the grass, hot tears on my face. I pressed my head to the earth and wept.
I clutched at my firefly necklace and I begged God not to take anything more from me.
I composed myself, wandered inside and climbed into my bed.
I slept, shutting out my mind, retreating into a world of quiet.
I find myself halfway down that steep incline, wedged into the rock, covered in blood and gravel. I manage to crawl up onto my knees, rocks and grit piercing my wounded skin. My head reels, my vision weaves, distorted. I breathe deeply as the pouring rain pounds my soul. I breathe in this storm until my mind clears, my heart slows, I regain balance. I pull myself up to my feet, digging my hands into the dirt above. Slivers of blue sky are revealed to me, far above this tempest.
I reach up and begin the climb again.
These are the last two Community Voices posts for this round. We want to know what's on your mind, readers. We want to hear your voices. What questions are you asking yourself in the wake of your loss(es)? What questions are you asking of others?
We plant a camellia for Joseph.
Friends come to help move earth, pat down, water.
We plant forsythia, irises, lilies,
make plans for more, later, after the last frost.
The camellias open wide,
drop one by one into bright ruby puddles on the ground.
We survive.Read More