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Parents of lost babies and potential of all kinds: come here to share the technicolour, the vividness, the despair, the heart-broken-open, the compassion we learn for others, having been through this mess — and see it reflected back at you, acknowledged, understood.

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Thursday
Aug012013

vacation

photo by Garry - www.visionandimagination.com

I walked on the black-sanded beach by myself, waiting to come across a large carcass of a whale or ship, something broken and empty, like me. Here it is, I would think, the perfect metaphor for my grief. I would climb it, I imagined, examine it, and take a piece of it home. "You didn't die in vain," I would whisper. "I will remember you." And in that moment, the inextricable link between all creatures would be known to me. Nothing like that happened.

I had never traveled sad before.

After my daughter's death, I fantasized about moving away to somewhere very warm and beautiful. Life is too short to stick around New Jersey. Or maybe this time, when we didn't have a newborn to care for or money to be spent on her, was just the perfect occasion for us to travel the world for a while. We could leave this terrible place where babies are stillborn and you can't make a left turn. Eight months after my daughter died, we packed up our grief and headed to my mother's country, Panama, for ten days.

Some days, I was ecstatic, begging to travel long distances through the country for the possible glimpse of a sloth, or totally jazzed to hit the fisherman's beach to bargain in Spanish for some fresh catch. I bounced on the balls of my feet, clapping my hands like a motivational speaker. "Come on, people, those monkeys aren't throwing poop at themselves. We've got a jungle to trek." Other days, I could barely muster a walk out of the bedroom. I woke up several times each  night thinking about the dog or my father, wracked with guilt and overwhelming anxiety. Something. Was. Wrong.

The other thoughts in those hours of the night were how far away this country is from my daughter's ashes. Lucy's death seemed so small and long ago, like a dot I saw on the tarmac of Newark as our plane arched toward Central America. Oh, but I packed her death. It ached in my every joint, in every inch of my being. Some days, every activity seemed rather pointless or overwhelming or both. "Meh. I'd rather be sleeping."  And the family would leave as I read books and wept uncontrollably.

And I remained cold. Eight degrees off the equator, I shivered in the sun. I wore a sweater most nights, sometimes during the day. I couldn't get warm. It had been like this since Lucy died, not being able to feel warmth.  I carried a bit of winter solstice in my body now.

+++

I cried during very chaotic turbulence, because what I didn't dare speak before my trip or during, was that I was convinced I was not coming home from Central America. Riptide. Hanta virus. Panamanian drivers. Mud slide. Pool accident. Infected finger. Lightning. Freak machete accident. The ways in which one can die on a vacation are surprisingly varied, interesting and around every corner. I sent emails to all my people, "I will always love you." The pilot actually came on the loud speaker on our return flight to say that we may have to make an "emergency fuel landing." This is it, I thought. I was the one with tears in my eyes and hand raised. "Uh, is that emergency landing because we have no fuel? Or is that a landing to get fuel? Could you just clarify the emergency part?"

Once you are on the shitty end of statistics, that small stretch of number is your homeland where no death scenario is too far-fetched, wild, or out of the realm of possibility. I even imagined different ways to be imprisoned in a Panamanian jail for being at the wrong place at the wrong time during a drive on a desolate piece of highway.  And my living daughter seemed a step away from death too. Sometimes I just cried, not because I saw Beatrice's imminent drowning, but because I wanted Lucy to be in the pool with her sister and her father, bouncing and splashing. I hate seeing Beatrice without her sister. My husband without his daughter. The world without a little giggling girl.

+++

There was part of me that imagined this trip as something healing, something different than it was. I tried not to build it up or imagine it being a vacation from my grief. But I admit part of me felt like maybe a change of scenery would change my grief. Just a respite from the exhausting heavy weight of it. Maybe like Atlas passing the world to Heracles for a brief minute just to stretch the shoulders. How could I not be happy in such a beautiful place? But the pure exhausting nature of grief amplified the ugliness inside me and the beauty of everything else. Lush green and grief. Moss and anxiety. I looked out of our room onto the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, watching the sun set, and still, I was so fucking sad. It's easier to be sad in New Jersey. You are supposed to be sad in New Jersey. This was just another shitty day in paradise.

+++

When we walked in our house, I walked straight to her urn. Why hadn't I taken it with us? I stared at it for fifteen uninterrupted minutes, I missed home.  I missed her (which had nothing to do with home.) I missed grieving her. Home represented non-judgment. No expectations. Just grief in whatever form it came. And yet the vacation was beautiful, dare I say, worth it. I listened to the story I told to other people about the vacation--epic hikes through the jungle, watching twenty hummingbirds fly around my daughter, lying on the beach, rolling a cigar in a factory with my cousin,  spotting a sloth in the jungle, or discovering a moss-covered wall and waterfall.  Those were amazing moments. The truth is when I spoke of my amazing days before, they have really always been an amazing moment or two enveloped by the mundane. After my daughter died,  they became amazing moments enveloped by the grief. And they are, in their own way, sometimes happier. Maybe the juxtaposition with grief makes them happier.

If someone asked me many years ago to describe how both my best and worst moment could be wrapped up together, I couldn't have imagined what that could possibly be. Then I birthed Lucy, knowing she was dead, both so incredibly tragic and beautiful. Her birth, a peaceful moment of agony. And so this first vacation after her death, an agonized moment of peace.

 

Have you traveled, or been on holiday, since the death of your baby? What was the experience like? How has grief changed your experience of travel? Or how has travel changed your grief?

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Reader Comments (5)

Oh, Angie, such a beautiful post, every word ringing true.
I traveled home too, six months after. And I think going far makes the grief more intimate and and brings it closer. When loved ones are around you, you feel the gap even more intensely. Every time I travel, I feel even more intensely. It is strange, isn't it?
August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanis
Oh, yes. We went on vacation to Croatia and Slovenia about seven months after our daughter was stillborn. In some ways, it was nice to be away, there were moments I looked around and thought 'No one here knows anything about us. They don't know I'm broken. I could be anyone, a normal person who never held her dead baby.' But those moments were fleeting. It made me feel so strange - I kept thinking that we shouldn't even be able to travel like we were, we should have a tiny baby. In Slovenia we visited a church on a small island, where tradition said that you could ring the bell and make a wish. I insisted that we go there. Then I totally broke down because I realized that I could never have what I wished for.
August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelly
I've been on a few vacations since losing Mia but none quite like the one i went on a few short weeks ago. It was the the beach. I was staying at a beautiful bed and breakfast. The scenery was breathtaking and my friends and the owners of the B&B were wonderful. I had been considering scattering Mia's ashes for a while and on the first day i found a good place. It wasn't perfect but then again no place is a perfect place to scatter my heart. Before dinner that first day i scattered her ashes in a small pond and collected items to put in her urn from that place, taking a million pictures and whispering my thanks.
I thought this meant letting go and moving forward and living life. The next 3 days were brutal. I spent the majority of the time in my small room, drunken and even occasionally high. I told myself each time was the last time and then withdrawal symptoms would kick in or the emotional pain came back and to silence it i just had one more drink or one more pill.
On my last day there, still feeling broken, still wondering if i should go try and scoop up her ashes from the bottom of the pond, still cursing myself and my grief, my friends invited some other friends of ours over for a BBQ. One of my other friends was recovering from a work accident and so my group of friends decided to pray for him and my musically inclined friend started singing. It was beautiful. I'm ashamed to say i hid in the other room and wept. I couldn't even face my friends. I felt ashamed because i had binged on drugs and alcohol for 3 days and because i'd let go of my baby's ashes - and my heart - and because my family was dead and i was alone and i thought this vacation could be normal. I don't know how long i hid there, in the dining room, before excusing myself to bed where i wept some more. I just remember thinking that this was it and if i chose to drink or do drugs again i would become an addict and how the least i could do for my dead family was to pull it together and live.
The next day i said goodbye and drove away like nothing even happened. I bought a bracelet at a gas station that i wear all the time now on my right wrist that says "heal."
It reminds me of my desire for sobriety, and how i need to find a way to heal and live for my daughter and her father.
August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmily C.
Beautifully written Angie, and man, did this post hit home with me.

I didn't go on the vacation of my choice because I had to get the fuck out of dodge, fast. And the dream vacation to Italy seemed too much of a commitment. Commitment to have fun, to enjoy myself, to sight see - after all it wouldn't be cheap. We decided to fly across country. West. And stayed 10 days on Vancouver island and then to the mainland to shop and hang out at a hotel.

It was 3 months exactly after Alexander was stillborn. I was aching to get lost somewhere. Go somewhere where maybe the hurt wouldn't hurt so bad. Maybe another coast would breathe new life into me.

We hiked and took in the ocean while near Victoria, and were total tourists while in Vancouver. Had beer and wine on patio's while watching Seaplanes come in for a landing. I bought handmade pottery and looked at native artwork. I looked for something that could give meaning to the broken pieces that were now my life.

I too wanted to come home so I could be with my grief. Be back in bed where I cried for him. Be back in the bathtub where I expressed my milk ached that I had no baby to feed.

But I wanted to stay there forever at the same time. Just stay away from everyone. Start this new life as a west coast citizen who never knew what winter was like.

I hated talking about what we did, or what we saw. Because I could literally sum up my stay by saying, "we went to BC, and I missed my son there instead of being on my couch"
August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica
Four months after my daughter died we went to Jamaica. I loved being anonymous, normal. I was glad that I wasn't being stared at by people who knew about our terrible loss. It was a break that I remember with fondness.
August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

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