“Nobody knows how to say goodbye, seems easy til you try. Then the moment has passed you by. Nobody knows how to say goodbye.’ -The Lumineers
I went to New York City alone. My friend invited me, and I felt the urge to go. I can’t say why exactly. Before James died, I remember seeing online that other recently bereaved trisomy parents were out traveling, going to concerts, leaving the house. While not horrified, I was surprised. How could they be doing these things so soon after their child died?
Now I understand.
Grief is nothing like I expected.
Our society is afraid of grief. No one talks about it. Death is a secret somehow. Others are afraid of causing upset by asking the recently bereaved about their loss. Or they don’t know what to say. Or they fear that the grief is contagious. So no one talks about it.
I am afraid of grief. I am afraid of death and its finality. Despite the fact that death comes for us all, I fear it. Yet, what is death but a door to another path? I didn’t fear not existing before my birth. Why would I fear not existing after my death? Because my life in the interim has given me something to fear losing?
I am sick of the culture of not talking about grief, about bereavement. What is love measured by other than loss? If you don’t love, then you cannot grieve.
We are so afraid of grief – of talking about it, of acknowledging it, of sitting with those who are grieving. I am always so refreshed when people ask me directly, without pretense, “how are you?” and then really listen to the answer. I am impressed when people just give me a silent enveloping hug without waiting to see if I need one. Those people are my heroes, because they aren’t afraid of grief. They aren’t afraid of me.
I was in New York City. It is possibly my favorite place. The mental silence of being in the midst of 6,000,000 people. All these people, and no one looking at anyone else, no one taking the time to smile or say thank you or you’re welcome. You are completely anonymous in that city – unnoticed. No one cares.
I went there to think, to be with my grief. Without the girls to focus on or my husband or my house, I could be in my own head for a little while. One night, we had dinner in Queens. It was delicious, but about three quarters of the way through, I started to feel so heavy. My heart began to hurt. I didn’t want to drag down the dinner conversation, so I did not bring James up, nor did our dinner hosts.
I bowed out early and went back to the city by myself. I felt the urge to stop and buy ice cream or cookies or a donut. Despite having a huge Thai meal and not feeling hungry, I wanted food. And as I stopped to contemplate why, I realized it’s because of my fear of feeling everything that’s coursing through my body right now – all of the agony, the sorrow, the joy, the love, the emptiness, the numbness, the physical ache of not being able to hold my baby. I wanted to eat to distract myself from my feelings.
We, as a society, frequently aren’t comfortable feeling our emotions. We try to suffocate them by buying things, eating too much, gluttonous behavior that ultimately leaves us empty and our feelings unfulfilled. We are told to “move on” and “get over it.” We are told to keep busy, it will “occupy us” and move us back toward a sense of “normalcy.”
There is no normalcy when you’ve experienced grief. Life does go on, but it does not go on the same. Life at once become richer and sharper but also so much more painful.
I’ve heard the term “holding space for you” over and over again from my non-religious friends. I didn’t understand what it meant until recently. I am reading a book that talks about holding space in your heart for your emotions. I now understand what it means. It is focusing inward, feeling your emotions, not trying to control them or make them into something else. It is acknowledging what you are feeling and feeling it through and through, no matter the depth of pain or panic you experience. It is making space for the frightening possibility of really feeling everything – for letting the tidal wave sweep you away and under, not knowing if you’re going to be able to come up for air – not knowing if you will ever breathe again.
I came to NYC to hold space for my grief – to immerse myself in it, to breathe it in and become comfortable with this profound shift in my life. And then I came home, and I am trying to pick myself up, honor James’s legacy, and move forward.
Every day is a new struggle, but at least I have a day to struggle through. James’s days here are over, and we are left behind in the wake of his loss. And I will not dishonor that by giving up or giving in to the sadness. James was a gift, and we will continue to share that gift with everyone we meet.