October is stillbirth and infant loss awareness month.
I didn’t lose my infant. He died. He was 5 months old, and he was the most perfectly beautiful little boy that I’ve ever met. He isn’t lost. I know where he is. He’s buried behind my house in that muddy red North Carolina clay. His headstone simply reads “James Julian Ashe – Beloved Son and Brother.”
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? We survive this tragedy because there is no alternative. I am not strong. I am not wise. I am a heartbroken mother with two daughters that rely on me to keep getting up every morning. I am wife to a broken husband who needs a hand to hold in the dark. I am daughter to grandparents that weep for their grandson.
You say that you don’t know how I do it. Neither do I.
You ask me how I’m doing, but do you really want to know? Some of you stay, reach out, keep reaching out, even when the text or phone call goes unanswered. Some of you “dissolve into the ether,” as if you never were.
The world turns on its axis. People are afraid to say his name. As if saying his name could somehow deepen my pain. Hearing his name only lessens the pain. It tells me that he is remembered, that others loved him, that others love him still. I say his name. You can too.
I am a walking, raw, hemorrhaging heart. I am his mother. Mothers, above all, suffer when their children die. We suffer so much that we forget others suffer too. We forget that others want to tell us that they are sad, that they miss him, that they weep for us in the dead of night.
I look at my friend, heavy with child, and I see beneath the surface for just a moment, imagine what it must be like to watch your friend lose her beloved child. I look at pictures of his funeral, and I am fascinated by the faces of those in the crowd around his grave. I try to read their expressions, as if they are messages from some other time and place, and if I just study them enough, I will find answers. I will find keys to unlock the vault of grief in which I’m trapped.
One year ago, he was here. Those were the best days of his life. Those were the best days of my life. I was home with all of my children, in the place that I love best.
Those days are gone now, and James is too.
What strikes me here, at nine months since his death, is that I can go on. I do go on. I still laugh, though maybe not as much. I still read books. I still write. I still exist in the world, even when I would rather not. Every morning, I claw back from the abyss. Every night, I slide back into it.
I will never be the same. My world will never be the same.
This picture is one of my favorites. It’s exactly 1 year ago today. James was supervising as I prepared a meal for our family. I miss my sous-chef.
And yet, I’m proud that he was mine. I’m proud that he was here and that we gave him so much love. I’m not sorry for his life, though of course, I wish he was still living it. I can’t be sorry for James. Every morning, I wake up and I keep clawing. And I’m still here. And every day, there are glimmers of hope.