Living in The After is a strange and jarring experience. The landscape looks the same. My children still go to school. Our house is unchanged. I still do the dishes, the laundry, walk the dog, sweep the floors. I still need to buy groceries, get my car inspected, keep engagements.
Yet every action, every errand, every word is overshadowed by my loss. I am never free of it. Even when the day is beautiful, it seems dim. Grief blankets everything like a fine layer of ash. A layer that I can’t dust away. Grief starts at my core and expands outwards, pushing every other emotion and thought to the periphery. I am brimming with sadness, with loss.
I dread innocuous conversations. The check-out guy at Trader Joe’s – he wants to know how my day has been. I give monosyllabic answers. He continues to ask. I want to scream that my son is rotting in the ground and that getting the kids to the dentist took all of my strength today. I don’t. It’s not his fault. He doesn’t know. Small talk exhausts me. We met the kid’s new dentist today, and I’m sure she found me cold, reserved. I had no energy for small talk, for smiles.
I prepare myself mentally for those inevitable questions: “oh, you quit your job? Why?” or “how many children do you have?” I think about the answers that I will give to hypothetical questions that haven’t been asked yet. I practice my responses in my mind, theatrical hand-waving, defining the new era of my life without my child – the renaissance of my spirit, the creative outlets I’m finding. All smoke and mirrors to ease other people’s discomfort. As if I should care.
Some days, I want to wear a shirt that says “my baby died, and no, I’m not ok.” That way, I don’t have to answer any questions. Other days, I’m almost, almost ok. Not good. Never that. But I’m almost out of the hole.
Denial remains strong. Every day, I ask myself, “did this really happen? Was he really here, in my arms, then gone? Are those memories real?” How to explain to someone that hasn’t lost a child what it feels like to desperately need to see and feel your child and to know that it’s simply not possible?
The days when I’m ok – I can see the future, and I see myself in it. The days when I’m in the hole, it feels inconceivable that there are so many days left before I myself can die. It’s hard to imagine getting up and doing it all over again, every single day, knowing that my son is gone. The weight of another day is almost crushing. And then another day passes. And I’m that much closer to feeling somewhat normal again.
Everyone says that the first year is the hardest. We’re 5 months into the first year. In fact, this month’s anniversary represents the month in which his life will equal the time that he has been gone. It’s hard to accept that, to believe it. 5 months has gone by quick as a sigh and simultaneously so slowly.
It’s hard to think that I will “feel better” after the first year. Do I want to feel better? Do I want to be happy when my son is gone? I know it is human. We move on. We must. It still makes me sad to think of that day. As if I need more sadness…I am now worrying that I might feel better in the future. I don’t want to feel better. I want James here, in my arms.
More than anything, I yearn for my baby, my son. I yearn to see his blue eyes, his wild hair. When I think of him out there, in the earth, I want to hit something. I want to bleed. I want to scream. Even though his spirit departed months ago, the decomposition of his remains haunts me. My baby is gone. In every sense of the word, he is gone.