Hope despite

Hope despite

I try to acknowledge that there will be more times of frustration and doubt, of avoidance and restlessness, of tempers and broken eggs. Most importantly, I try to remind myself that it is ok to not be ok and that I am capable of hope, no matter how fleeting it may seem. And I also try to remind myself that eggs are really cheap.

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it's okay

We are honored to have Christine's mom as our guest writer today. She writes, "My daughter Christine was stillborn almost two years ago, in March 2013. For me, a big part of this journey has been learning to let myself feel whatever it is I am feeling in connection with her stillbirth and my life without her - the anger, the sadness, and, when I can find it, the quiet calm. It has taken me a long time to do this, to let go of timetables or expectations for my grief, and simply experience it for what it is. This poem tries to capture part of this journey, as well as what I think I needed to hear in those early days of my grief."

 

Okay

I needed someone to tell me
It’s okay.
It’s okay to feel this way.

I needed someone to tell me
It’s okay to feel angry that this happened.
Angry that this happened to me, to us, to our little family.
Angry that we didn’t get to keep her.
Angry that we rode the bus home from the hospital that day
Carrying a box of mementos instead of a baby.
Angry that no one on that bus knew.
Angry that as our hearts shattered, the world kept right on turning.

I needed someone to tell me
It’s okay to feel angry at others.
Angry at the people who said nothing.
Angry at the people who said the wrong things.
Angry at the people who forgot, or who just didn’t know,
How deeply it all hurt
And how long the pain lasted.
How it still lasts, and will never really go away.
Angry at pregnant women,
Blissfully ignorant that horrible things can happen,
So carefree and certain that all will be well.
Angry that for so many of them, it is.

I needed someone to tell me
It’s okay to feel the pain.
It’s okay to wail, to cry,
To scream out in horror that it is now my lot
To live the rest of my life without my daughter;
To have to live with this hole in my heart instead.
It’s okay to repeat, silently and out loud,
That my baby died, that it’s not fair, that this shouldn’t have happened.

I needed someone to tell me
It’s okay to love her,
Okay to miss her.
It’s okay to be her mother, even in death.

I needed someone to tell me
It’s okay.
It’s okay to feel this way.

 

Did anyone tell you it was okay? What advice did you get after your loss(es) that was helpful to you? What unspoken gestures helped you cope?

what she stands for

I was there. Right there. Within an inch. No, on the spot.

Precisely, undeniably, absolutely my dart was in the center of the target. That red center, that renders all the surrounding rings meaningless, as if they are merely decorative, their presence adding mere circumstantial detail to the act of throwing a dart. You miss it by a ring, or you miss it by an inch, you have missed it. And I did not. I had set a target for myself with regards to my family. Not consciously, but very, very cautiously. I wanted my second, and last, baby, before my son would be four. I wanted to complete my family while I was still in graduate school. And for the first time in my ten-year-war with my luck over my reproductive wishes, I hurled the dart on the spot, and got pregnant effortlessly at the beginning of the fall of my second year. I would have her right at the start of a year-long fellowship that would allow me to stay home with her. I would have her at the end of two years of staying apart from my husband. And most importantly, I would have her and complete my longed-for family of four. I was done. I could move on. I could make plans. I could focus on the career I had forsaken for ten years. I could focus on raising my children, and be the ‘whole’ mother to them I had longed to be. I was done making babies or trying to make them. I was there. I had hit the bull’s eye.

So accurately, that I was blinded by the beauty of it.

 

I stepped in. Hesitant, unconvinced, nervous. I could not believe I was one of them. Oh, finally.

I had wondered often how high the fence surrounding the playground was, willing even to swing my feet over it, only to feel once what it was to belong. A poor little girl, who had been standing outside the playground gates, longing in her eyes, for years. We all know her, passing by a neighborhood playground, many of us have seen her. A girl in rags, with a dark, unclean little face, bright eyes, dirty hands, hair in lumps, holding on to the wires in the fence. Eyeing the kids playing in the playground, and the candies in their hands they wanted and got, with pain and hope in her eyes.

And yet, on that autumn day, the door opened to me. Somehow, I got to come into the park, and with trepidation and disbelief, I felt like maybe I was indeed one of them. Someone handed me a candy, but I was told that I, unlike the other fortunate kids, would have to pay a huge price for it. I was willing to do anything to have a taste of the candy, to have a taste of belonging. I went through fire with the candy held firmly in my hand. I reached the other end of fire, and the candy was snatched from me.

I was thrown outside the park again, and the world didn't even look back at me, lying there in the ground, crumpled like a piece of discarded paper, my clothes still warm from the fire, my face covered in ash and soot, hot tears rolling down my streaked cheeks, my heart heaving from the fall. I missed the smell of the candy, and would happily cross a few thousand fires again to hold it again within my two fingers.

But I cannot. I was never one of them. I never belonged. It was a charade, I was only a clown, meant to entertain, meant to be made fun of. To be handed a coveted prize, only to be made aware what it is like to never, ever, be able to have it.

But I was there. I belonged. Only I came so close that I was burned by the fire.

 

I saw a butterfly. I believed it was there, fluttering away within the crevices of my belly, around me in the expanse of my dreams. I believed it came from me, and I believed it came for me. I let this thought, this faith, flutter in me too, that it brought beauty and freedom to my life, and that all would be well now. After years of warring with an adamant and invisible destiny, that seemed to be harboring some ancient and strangely esoteric grudge against me, I felt free from its clutch, free from the diabolic predictability of nothing ever working out. In a conscious, tactile moment of certainty, it felt wonderful to finally cease to be cynical, cease to feel trapped by unseen forces.

Finally carrying the girl I had always wanted, I began to believe in what had increasingly become an unattainable fairytale for me – that I could be a very ordinary woman now, with a little family of my own, able to live with my husband under the same roof. I did not care that this meant I would be severed from my work environment again, all I cared about was that my girl was here, we would be together, all would be well. I trudged on with the pregnancy, alone with a preschooler in the Chicago winter, looking ahead at summer, when my family would be complete, and the light at the end of the tunnel would lead the rest of our way.

I believed in my life. I soared high in faith. So high, so high, it unraveled me, bit by bit, on the crash down.

 

A feeling of having achieved the target of completing my family. A feeling of belonging with the more fortunate, who got what they wanted, especially in matters as natural as motherhood. A restoration of faith in my own life, the faith that everything will now be alright. My little girl, apart from being a beautiful, bright-eyed, intense, fragile little person, was all of this to me. She stood for the fulfillment of achieving my target. She stood for the patience of waiting for my turn to belong. She was my symbol for the faith that things can turn around in one moment.

She was here. My strength, patience, faith were here. For a few moments of music and magic, my fairytale had come alive. Only to turn into a darker tale of blank horror.

I cannot remember what it was like to not hit the target, to feel like I don’t belong, or to not have the faith in my life. And I cannot forget how, even as I was carving out her place in my life, in our family, I could see the coming together of my whole life, my deepest emotions and values, in her.

No, losing her is not the meaning. Having her is.

 

What do(es) your lost child(ren) symbolize in your life? How has having, and losing them, altered the meaning (or lack thereof) you ascribe to life?

gone

Four years. On Sunday it will be four years since I held Freddie in my arms while he breathed slower and slower until I could gently feel his wrist, that tiny, purple-cold hand already turning white and know that I could feel no pulse, that he was gone. That eleven days of fraught love, fierce hope, fluttering joy and brutal instinct had subsided into a quiet room, still bed, arms that held.

I've tried to remember how to summon the tearing pain I felt back then, honour him in some way with eleven days of memories, quiet time, thoughtful words. Tried to find some way to make meaningful the loss of him, the hole of him, the whole sorry mess of death and destruction and all the ribbons of grief that have tied themselves around the feet and limbs of our family.

I could find gratitude. Friends have surrounded me in community this year, making daffodils for him, posting pictures of them from all around the world as they dance and shine and call a little baby boy to memory. Gratitude I can do. I can be grateful for finding gratitude.

I could find rage. Rage that when one of my children changes school next month I will have to find the words to explain that yes, it was four years ago, but she is still affected by her brother's death and that everything they learn about her must be tempered with the understanding that she has this loss in her soul. Rage that when people can't find their way into the mind of my youngest daughter, they have to remember that she locked up sadness and hid it inside herself and learned to be impassive when she was just five years old. Rage to see my false jollity hurting my biggest girls, old enough to know I'm faking, not worldly wise enough to understand why. And wondering if it means I'm okay in there, behind the jolly. I don't want that for them. Rage that all I can do on his birthday is try to smile for as long as the girls are looking at me, that we go the day without saying his name, that we laugh and make the best of it - so British are we - and then I look back at the photos in the evening and there is sorrow written across the face of the man I love. And he probably didn't even know it was there. Would probably say it wasn't there. But I know his face and I know it was.

I could find regret. Regret and resentment for a boy who had dark eyebrows and who never got to hold my face and utter the words his brother does - 'More! No! Here! Go! Again!' - that Freddie looked for me in need just once, when he crashed and they jerked him back and I saw him eyes wide and alarmed at the fuss and I was behind the mess of nurses and thoughtless registrar and couldn't ease him. Wasn't the person for the moment. I can find regret that four years have passed and family life is busy and sometimes the candles for each of his eleven days are not lit till late at night, resentment that his brother broke my thoughts of him by getting ill during those days and I had to wrestle my focus, look at now - not then - and I was angry at that. Angry at them both. At both my boys. Together.

I should be angry at them both for colluding to eat all the biscuits or for drawing on the wall, not because one is dead and stopping me from dealing with the others asthma and the other has asthma and is stopping me concentrating on the other being dead.

That's not how it should be.

But I couldn't quite find the babylost mother in all of that. She was missing.

Then the news arrived. A beautiful young woman lost. A daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife. Someone with it all before her, a family who had already suffered enough, a family broken to pieces from out of the blue.

And it all came back. I left the house one day and when I came back our world had shattered. A parent should not have to tell the world a child has died. Sisters should not sit, shell-shocked, asking again if this is true - how can it be true? How can life become death? No one who loved should have to pick up the pieces, carry on, make the best of it, fill the gaps, learn to smile again. Keep going because there is no choice and you cannot simply die along with them.

I can see them, in my mind's eye, just like I see every family who pitches into grief. The sofa still feels the same when sat on. Meals must still be cooked for hungry children. Deeds must be done, from the extra-ordinary horror of arranging a funeral, to the mundane of putting out the bin. Life stops and carries on and your head feels a million miles wide, light as air, deranged by the ordinariness of the bizarre.

One minute you are just a family and the next minute nothing will ever be the same again. Beyond pain, that other father said. And yes, I see the sense and madness in that. Losing a child is a place beyond pain and you learn to live there.
Four years. My boy should be four years old on Sunday. I've had long enough to know this happened to us, long enough to be back to happy days and a healed(ish) heart.

But he's gone - and I still do not really believe in it. Do not believe these four years have happened, that we've lived them and survived them.

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?

lost boy

"I carry you in my heart."

It's not a poem I enjoy hearing. I cannot find love or joy or hope or romance in it.

I find a dead baby, not in my arms, breathing slower, not breathing, carried away by gentle arms and leaving a torn and bloodied hole through my chest.

I don't know what it means, anyway, this platitude. I don't carry anything, not even love, in a pumping mass of artery and muscle.

My baby died and he took my romantic side with him. I can say that and twist my mouth bitterly.

"I carry you in my brain," perhaps?

Less romantic, far less palatable and hardly picturesque. I carry him in my seething mass of mysterious grey tissue, the very stuff that in him, sweet boy of the dark eyebrows and chubby limbs, was so apparently ineffectual.

Brains equal memories and memories are few and far between. Eleven days is not enough at best to make a pitcher full of memories and the pictures... oh the pictures... they stole all the others, superimposing themselves on the feel and smell and joy of you. My precious, blessed pictures, the handful I took, treasured, adored, that robbed me of everything else I might recall.

"I carry you in my stomach," might work?

Perhaps. I did carry him there, in my belly; there he was safe, mine, loved. There he moved, swished, grew, kicked, hiccuped and dwelt neither poked nor pinched nor jabbed or stabbed.

When the pain comes, it is my midriff I pull in; it swoops and clenches and cramps with grief that has nowhere else to go. I wrap my arms across it, fists clenched, tense, fuming. Grief lies leaden there, taking all the space that once was yours.

I do not carry him in my arms. This I know. I do not keep him in my sight, running ahead with sisters' laughing, I do not carry him on my back, save when I feel bent beneath the weight of another year without him. I do not carry him forward.

I carry him in my silence. I carry him in the construction of a sentence that leaves a space for the unspoken child. I carry him in my grammar. I carry him in my tolerance as other people expect babies and do not fear death. I carry him in my wordless hiding of the spectre I am, not speaking the caveats that scream in my head at others careless surety. I carry him in my being, this woman who watches herself from corners, bemused - still bemused - at the person she has become. I carry him in my flat expression as song lyrics twinge my mind and recall my loss. I carry him in a brittle smile and tearless eyes.

I carry him in the sudden silence, the choked lost words that catch me unawares when I tell someone, unexpectedly, that I lost a child. 4 years on and still I can find myself blindsided that there are people in my world who do not know. That I carry him - my son - so hidden, that he is not written on my face.

So this now, is grief, 4 years on. Living with it. Still mystified by it. Bitter, accepting, tolerating, adept.

There are days when I think Freddie dug depths in my soul and mined me so deep that I found a shining beautiful part of myself I might never have met without him. And there are other days when I think the loss of him made me so shallow, so brittle, that it is almost as if I do not feel at all.

 

What has grief done to you? Would you be without the pieces of you that have been unearthed by it? What feelings are you experiencing now, as you journey on without your child? Are you bitter, accepting, angry, blank? Do you have a sense of carrying your child in some part of you or in a place? Are there words, songs or music that hold you to your child or repel you?