A rainbow that I saw from the NICU after James was born.
As I lay in bed with Evaline tonight, helping her go to sleep, she asked me if my heart healed while I was in New York. I gently explained to her that mommy’s heart would never heal, because James was gone, and I would never stop loving and missing him. She then asked me if my heart healed a little at least. I conceded that maybe it did.
Most people probably think that I went to New York City to be diverted from my grief, to have fun. The opposite is true. I went there to be quiet with my grief, to be alone, to get comfortable with it, to think about the future and how I could go on. I went there because my cup was empty, and I could no longer pour. I needed to be alone.
Some might think it is crazy to go to NYC when you want to be alone, since there are six million people on a tiny island. NYC is a bustling hive of activity – people, places, food, entertainment. But in my previous trips, I’ve noticed that no one really ever looks at anyone else. There’s a lack of connection. People sit with their smartphones and headphones, and they just don’t interact. It’s the loneliest city of six million people. That is what appealed to me. I could be anonymous there. I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. I wouldn’t have to answer questions. My children were at home, so I had no other responsibility than to not get hit by a taxi and remember to bring home souvenirs.
I did spend some time with a friend, but all day Thursday, Friday night, and Saturday till early afternoon and Saturday night, I was alone with my thoughts. I roamed the Museum of Modern Art. I went to the 9/11 Memorial. I rode the subway. I read my book “The Alchemy of Grief.” I worked on becoming comfortable for a while in numbness.
Grief is a terrifying emotion for someone like me. I am a problem solver. If I am stressed or angry or upset, I meet the problem head on, address it as soon as humanly possible, and work to resolve it. I hate lingering conflict, lingering emotions that I cannot “fix” or control. Grief then is frightening because it’s not going anywhere. It’s frightening in its power to completely overwhelm me until I am sobbing and gasping for air. It’s frightening in its utter unpredictability and the way it completely consumes.
James is gone. James is dead. Saying those things, writing those things – it’s like a bullet pierces my heart every single time. My baby lived and then he died. He died in my arms. How did it all happen so fast?
I thought I would spend my time in NYC processing the last 6 months. They have been the most intense, emotional, surreal 6 months of my life. Taking care of a baby with such high needs, loving him with every inch of my being, spending every day with a nagging anxiety for his health always clouding my thoughts – it was – it makes my chest hurt to think back on it. But it hurts because I miss him so very, very much. I would give anything to be able to go back and slow down time, to spend more time loving him, hugging him, kissing him, watching him sleep.
And it’s over now. I am left here with a life that is 1/2 full. Sometimes I feel so empty that I weep for the hollow in my chest.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t think I ever have. This year however – this is the year that I make New James’ resolutions. This came about after reading “The Alchemy of Grief.” The author talks extensively about the transformative effect that grief can have on a life. Much of what she wrote strongly resonates with me. Grief can help us find out who we really are; it can help us become the people that we want to be.
As a culture, grief is something that we don’t talk about or acknowledge enough. People die, there is a brief time when grieving is acceptable, and then we are expected to pick back up where we left off – doing the “normal” every day things. We are told to “move on.” Life is for the living. God needed another angel. James is no longer in pain. He’s perfect now, etc. etc. I could write a book of grief platitudes.
There is no moving on. There is no normal anymore. Grief reframed the way that I view the world. It reshapes who we are as people. Shortly after James died, I remember telling myself that I should get comfortable with my grief. In my head, I envisioned sitting down on the couch with my favorite coffee mug and just snuggling right down into my grief. It wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon and trying to pretend otherwise was futile.
In the book, the author talks about sitting with your feelings – really allowing yourself to feel them and not be distracted from them, not trying to divert yourself, giving in fully to the emotions whenever and wherever they strike.
For three days, I wandered New York City with my thoughts to keep me company. Mostly I didn’t even really think. I was just blank, numb. I read my book. I journaled a little. Something must have been percolating there though, because on my last night, I started a list – my James resolutions.
I have to take care of myself so that I can take care of others – my children, my husband, my friends that need support, even people that I don’t know. Taking care of myself includes physically, emotionally, and mentally. I have to take care of myself by acknowledging this staggering grief, getting comfortable with it in my life, and still moving forward each day. As I’ve repeatedly heard, you cannot pour from an empty cup. I have to make sure my cup is full, because I want to pour it all out into others. James’s legacy will be that I will lift up and support those in need.
To that end, I made a list of self-care activities that I intend to do.
One of the most important is taking care of my physical body. This will include regular exercise and three balanced meals per day. I am going to minimize sugar intake even more than I try to do now. James’s body was broken. I have a healthy, vital body, and I want to honor his life by taking care of my body. Today, we went to the gym, and I felt good being there for James.
I have started meditating for 10 minutes a day using an app called HeadSpace. I have already found that it helps to clear my head from distraction and allows me to reset. Tonight, when I was getting stressed by the house being messy, I sat and meditated for 10 minutes. By the time I was finished, I felt more relaxed about the house and able to cope with my stress better. My ultimate goal is to be able to wean myself off Zoloft and nighttime Ativan.
Reading and writing are very therapeutic for me, and I plan to continue these activities. Eventually perhaps this will become a cohesive narrative, and I will write a book.
Lastly, I need to seek counseling. I feel that I am deeply in touch with my grief, deeply open to how it can affect and change my life. I know that the things I am feeling are normal in the grief spectrum. I am reading the books. It still seems intuitive that talking to someone would be to my benefit, so I am going to pursue that tomorrow.
The idea behind this intense self-care is ultimately so that I can give to others. James taught me that my most important job as a mother – and as a human – is to help others, especially grieving parents, since I have experience and insight into the matter.
To that end, we have been able to procure 2 Cuddle Cots for this area – one for Mission and one for the Mountain Area Pregnancy Services. I plan to give in-services at the hospital and at local OB/GYN clinics so that the area doctors are aware of them and their uses. I also look forward to serving as a resource at Mountain Area Pregnancy Services for other grieving parents, especially those considering home burial.
Unrelated to infant loss, we are using some of the funds so kindly donated to our GoFundMe account to set up a scholarship at our girls’ preschool. This will help a family with financial limitations send their child to a wonderful play school.
Lastly, I plan to look for something to do every single day that will somehow make someone’s day better. It can be as small as sending a card to a grieving family to making a donation to St Jude’s to whatever strikes me that day. I want to love others, and I want them to feel it – to know that they are remembered.
James taught me that life is precious and oh too short. He also taught me that everyone isn’t as lucky or blessed as I am. It seems ludicrous to say this considering that my son just died, but it is true. We have been surrounded in love and support from the moment the words trisomy 18 became part of our vocabulary. I have a job I love and that is waiting for me when I’m ready. I have friends and family that bring me food, groceries, gifts. I have a huge support network of fellow DVM mothers that make sure I’m not sinking. I have a family that is here whenever I need them.
James was loved from the moment we knew about him and exponentially more until his death. Nothing will ever ease this grief in my heart, but I know what his legacy should be, and I plan to continue it for as long as I have a light to shine in this world.
Thank you James for teaching me about who I want to be. I love you, and I will miss you forever.