The other day, I was standing at the back door of our house, staring into the yard. The wind was blowing lightly, and our tire swing was moving gently in the breeze. For just a moment, I saw a little boy sitting there. His hair was dark, messy, blowing in his eyes. He was pushing the swing with the toe of his sneaker, holding onto the chains with both hands.
It was only a second that I saw him there, and then he was gone. I realized that I would never see that particular little boy there. Maybe one day, another child – but never him.
The death of a child takes from you not only your present joy but also the joy of the future. It takes away the first days of school, the graduations, the weddings, the smiles, the tears, the scrapes and boo-boos that only a mother can kiss away. It’s all gone in an instant. In a flash, before you are even ready, the moment of goodbye has passed. There are no take backs. There are no do-overs. In a flash, you are faced with a future of what-ifs and if-onlys and unanswered questions, doubts, regrets.
Grief is hard in so many ways. I have such a burning desire to help others. The Cuddle Cot campaign, the Rainbow boxes/bags for the PICU, cards and letters that I send to other grieving parents – they all take a tiny piece of my grief – so tiny that you probably couldn’t even see it – and transform it into hope and love.
Yet, in giving to others, in reaching out, my own grief falls by the wayside somehow. It’s always there; it always weighs 1000 pounds. But if I’m doing something, then I don’t have to look directly at my grief. I can carry it. I can bow under the crushing weight, but I can still walk.
I talked to a fellow loss mother today. She is 4 years out from her sweet baby dying in her arms. She gently reminded me that I have much grieving to do yet. I was talking to her because I’ve decided that I want to become a doula. It won’t replace being a veterinarian but I plan to do it as an adjunct to my paying job.
It may sound crazy – but ever since I was pregnant with my first, I’ve loved birth. I’ve loved the birthing process and mothers. When I was present for my niece’s birth (the first birth that I’ve ever attended) – it was an amazing, terrifying, exhilarating experience. The adrenaline rush was incredible. I wanted more of it. Even then, before James, I considered becoming certified in the Bradley method of childbirth (what I used for Evaline and Hazel’s births). Life has a way of interfering, and the idea kind of fell away – I was too busy, too much time at work, little kids, etc. etc.
James has renewed my passion for childbirth and for mothers. He has also taught me that life is short, and no time should be wasted. If we want to do something, if we feel drawn to do something, we should do it – especially when it helps others. On the other hand, I know that I need time. My grief is still completely raw. I am like an exposed nerve – just the gentlest brush against me, and the pain screams through my heart and soul.
So it is not time yet, but I feel rushed. I feel like time is short. It’s so much shorter than we realize. It’s so much shorter than we would want it to be. There are so many mothers and fathers out there that will (unbeknownst to them now) walk this path. I don’t want them to walk it alone. I want people to know that there are paths to healing that are so much better than what is offered now.
I want people to know that you can leave the hospital and bring your baby home. I want people to know that you can hold your baby during his/her visitation/funeral. I want people to know that after your baby dies, there are options so that your baby can stay with you for a prolonged period of time. Memory making and goodbye don’t have to be rushed.
I can’t emphasize how much taking James home with us from the hospital meant to our family and how much it helped to start our healing process. His death tore a gash in my soul so wide that I know it will never heal. If I’d had to hand his body to someone else that day, if I’d had to leave my baby in the hospital, I don’t think I would ever heal. With the help of the Cuddle Cot, with his home visitation, with his home funeral and his family surrounding us, we were able to put the first foot on the path towards healing.
So I feel an urgency to help others, to show them a way that is different than we’ve all known. Yet I know that I must go slow… slower … slowest. I must let the grief nearly consume me, burn me out until I am nothing but ashes, so that I can slowly start to rise again. It’s totally against my nature, but I am trying. I am trying so hard.