Loving Jim.

On January 19 of 1997 (coincidentally the day on which our middle child was born), I started dating a young college boy. I was a senior in high school, hellbent on getting out of the small town in which I’d been raised. I previously met this college boy when I was 14. We went to *cough, hack church ahem* together. He was 17 to my 14. I followed him around for a few weeks, doe-eyed at his thick brown hair, lean, athletic runner’s body, and aloofness. I fawned over him. Then he graduated, moved on to college, and I moved on to a new crush.

Three years later, I was working at Captain D’s. Yes, the fast food fish restaurant. After a late shift, I’d gone to Wal-Mart and was perusing the CD singles area (remember those? CD singles!). I turned to see one of my (many) high school crushes standing behind me.

I think I exclaimed something along the lines of “Jim Ashe! As I live and breathe!” Ok, not really. That might’ve been my response if I were a Southern belle debutante (which I am not). In reality, I have no idea what I said, but it turned out to be a fortuitous meeting. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just re-met my future husband.

We talked in Wal-Mart for close to an hour – standing in the CD aisle. I have no idea about what. When we parted ways, I was disappointed that he didn’t ask for my phone number. This was before the age of cellphones. It was late, and I remember calling my mom from a payphone to tell her where I was and when I’d be home. I also told her about running into Jim. My mom still remembers that phone call even now – 21 years later.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I went to visit my best friend. Jim was there, hanging out. We spent a couple of weeks spending time as “friends” together. One night, we were watching Forrest Gump (at the time, Jim’s favorite movie), and I mentioned that he should ask me out.

That’s where it began.

We dated for about a year before unromantically agreeing that getting married was the “logical thing to do” since I was moving back to Florida to continue my undergraduate degree. It’s not the most “swept away” romantic love story ever…but it is the greatest love story of my life.

We married on July 2, 1999 in front of about 100 family and friends.

Since then, our journey has been one of great joy and great grief, small hurts and big hurts, big loves and little loves. We’ve argued. We’ve made up. We’ve lived in … I’m counting here … at least 10 different houses/apartments scattered over 5 or more cities in 3 different states. We’ve finished advanced degrees and managed to stay married to each other. We’ve held each other up and let each other down.

We’ve welcomed three very loved children into this world and said a devastating goodbye to one of them.

This journey is not what I could’ve foreseen. I guess life is never as we foresee.

Thanks, Jim, for sticking with me through the late 90s and early millennium, when I made you listen to Third Eye Blind and Tonic and every other bad pop band out there. Thanks for listening to “How’s It Gonna Be?” seventeen hundred times with nary a complaint. Thanks for skiing with me at Hawksnest. Thanks for teaching me to rock climb, for pushing me outside of my comfort zone. Thanks for loving my friends and family as if they are your own. Thanks for letting me have all the cats and bottle fed kittens and noisy, obnoxious parrots that I wanted. Thanks for supporting me through vet school, even when I was at my worst.

Thanks for being the father of the three children that I love best in the world and for not panicking when Hazel was born on the couch. Thanks for holding our son’s hand every day of his life and always, always being willing to give up every part of yourself for him. Thank you for your calm acceptance of his trisomy 18 and your willingness to be his daddy and support system for as long as he needed us. Thanks for doing the dishes, for cooking dinner when I’m sad, for loving me when I’m at my worst.

You are the epitome of what a father and a husband should be.

You are a once in a lifetime treasure, and sometimes, I foolishly forget it. I love you. I love what we have created in the last 18 years. Here’s to 50 more!

 

 

 

 

The thing about grief

Here’s the thing about grief.

You can’t ignore it. You can’t bury it. You can’t fill up your time in the hopes that one day, you’ll turn around and the grief will be gone. Grief will find a way out. Whether through tears or anger or resentment or bitterness, grief gets out. It will not be ignored.

I remember shortly after James died. I was sitting on the couch, and it occurred to me that I would feel this way – like a hole had been torn in me – for a long, long time. And I told myself that I needed to get comfortable with my grief. In my head, I envisioned myself snuggled in a warm sweater, holding a steaming cup of coffee, and snuggling down into a well-worn sofa. It’s odd that I would picture grief this way, but what I knew – what I understood – was that my grief wasn’t going anywhere, not for a long, long time. And I could ignore it. I could try to bury it. I could keep busy. Or I could become comfortable with the sadness.

We are not a patient society. And grief takes patience. It takes patience and a willingness to let it wash over you without fighting it. Because no matter how big the wave of grief, it always returns you to shore.

My mother and I were talking recently. I asked her why everyone in my family tries to ignore grief, tries to keep busy in the face of our losses. She said that it was because our family doesn’t like “drama” in their lives. It shocked me to hear her use the word drama. Drama isn’t how I would describe grief at all.  Drama, to me, sounds self-inflicted. Grief is not drama. Grief is the emotional manifestation of a love that has been taken from us. Grief is a hole torn in your very being. It’s against your will, and over it, we have no control.

Lately, I think I have been trying to ignore my grief. I have thrown myself into projects – writing, speaking, considering a new business idea. And I’ve gone numb. But the grief slips out through the cracks. I know it’s there, and it’s waiting for me to acknowledge it and to deal with it.

Today,  I made no plans. I sat on the porch and let the breeze blow over me. I marveled at the beauty of this late June day.  I thought about grief and how incredibly inconvenient it is. No matter what, it’s always there. I can’t control it. I can’t heal it. I can do nothing but either try to ignore it in the hopes that the wound will magically heal itself or I can actively confront my grief.

Grief must be tended to heal. The wound must be cleaned daily. The bandage must be removed, taking all of that old scar tissue with it, exposing the healthy wound bed below it. Grief needs oxygen. Every day, for a long time, that bandage must come off.

Grief is scary. No one ever talks about that. It’s scary to realize the depth of your love and loss. It’s scary to realize that you can’t ignore it. Giving into your grief – giving it space and time and quiet is incredibly hard. I did well in the months after he died. I wrote. I drew. I cried. But now, I’m impatient. This should be over, right? I should be done with the intense grieving. It’s time for me to be better.

Today, I realized that it will be a long, long time before I am better. And I have to find a way to be ok with that. There is no timeline for this. Grief will be my constant companion for a long time, and I know this. It’s nothing of which to be frightened.

So maybe I won’t start a business. Maybe I won’t write a book right now. Maybe I’ll just accept that I need to feel my grief to the fullest so that I can start to move past this part of it – to the part where the memories bring a smile to my face and a lift to my heart.

Get comfortable with grief. Great grief means great love.

 

1 year.

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Here I am. One year from the worst day of my life. One year from the moment that I heard that the test confirmed trisomy 18. One year. One year. One year. It’s like that game you play in your head – if you repeat something enough times – it becomes non-sensical. What does one year mean? What does time mean?

Where am I now? Where are we now?

James is gone. He’s been gone for almost six months. I can’t wrap my head around that sometimes. It’s as if, somewhere in my mind, I believe that he’s still here. He’s just around the corner, and one day, I’ll walk around that corner, and he’ll be there, waiting for me. His bright blue eyes will light up, and he’ll make his baby noises, and I’ll pick him up and hug him tightly. I’ll snuggle him on my chest, and I’ll sing him one of our favorite songs. We’ll sit on the couch, and it will be and my sweet James, just like old times.

But he’s gone. It’s not to be.

In the past year, I’ve had a renaissance of spirit. I am not who I was one year ago. I am kinder, I think. I try to be, at least. I try to help others. I try to do things that make the people I love smile more. I try to criticize less. The old me is still there. The old habits, the old ways. She comes out sometimes, but I stuff her back down.

My creativity is over-flowing. I can’t find enough outlets for the things that I want to say and do. I’ve quit my job. I am writing a novel. I’m in a bimonthly writer’s workshop. I want to start a business. I have a radio show and a new community at the radio station. I’ve done The Moth.

I am two women. These two women war within me. Who am I now – with one of my children gone? When your child dies, you feel as you’ve failed the most important test of motherhood. I’m a mother. I’m supposed to protect my children. I’m not suppose to let anything happen to them. And yet, I let my son die. I held him when he died. We actually made a choice to let him die. I failed. I failed even before that, when my body made him broken.

For the past six years, I’ve subsumed my life to mothering – I’ve read about baby led weaning, discipline, homeschooling, un-schooling, the rise of diabetes and obesity, correct carseat installation, secondary drowning, child-proofing… I haven’t been writing. I haven’t given voice to this other woman inside of me.

And now she is here, at the surface, demanding to be seen. She demands that I write. She demands that I do better, that I be better, that I am better, and when I’m not better that I recognize it. She demands that I stand up and tell our story loudly. She demands that everyone know James’s name – that he was here and that he was beautiful. She demands, demands, demands.

She exists cheek-to-cheek with that other woman – the mother. They are like two sides of the same coin. I sometimes wonder if they can coexist together, or if one must consume the other?

This is where I am a year later. Burning with creativity, burning with a need to share James with the world. Burning with a need to be seen. Burning with grief.

I burn. I sometimes wonder if the flames will consume me.

It’s been one year. In one year, I have heard the worst news that a mother can hear, I’ve birthed my sweet baby, I’ve held him, and I’ve let him go.

One year.

Grief lull

My grief has been in a lull for the past few days. The fifth month since he died has passed. It was an anniversary that I dreaded – the time when his days alive would equal his days gone. Leading up to it, I was in a black hole of depression. Since it has passed us now though, I feel better. Or maybe I’m just getting used to him being gone. Or maybe I’m back in denial. Who knows? Grief  is a constant surprise.

Since I’ve quit work, my emotional stability has improved 100-fold. I am more patient with my daughters. I have the ability (and maybe some desire) to cook dinner again. Household chores don’t weigh so heavily on me. I guess, in other words, I am enjoying being a stay-at-home-mother.

Seven to ten years is when emergency veterinarians really start to burn-out on nights, holidays, and weekends. I think I was reaching that point anyway, and then James’s death just exacerbated that feeling. It’s hard to reconcile all of the time I spent in school and all of the student debt with being a stay-at-home-mom, but right now, it’s best for my family. It’s also best for me.

My radio show (Calling All Species) had its debut episode last Friday. I’ve been wondering where radio has been all my life. It comes so naturally. Of course, the show is vet-centric, all about animals. It’s a great deal of fun, and it brings me out of my grief. I’m also writing daily. I’ve started a fiction novel. Of course, there is a great deal of autobiographical content, but ultimately, it will be fiction.

I’ve been spending less time on social media and more time working in my yard. I finally got a vegetable garden planted – tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, and corn. I also finally planted my flower beds. For the past year, they’ve been serving admirably as weed-growing beds, but I finally got around to cleaning them out and planting actual flowers.

On the anniversary of 5 months since James’s death, I did something rather drastic. Growing up, I used to taunt my parents and my aunt with the statement that I would get a tattoo as soon as I turned 18. Once I hit eighteen, I realized that there is nothing that I would want permanently on my body…certainly not a dolphin or a Chinese symbol or something else equally meaningless to me.

When James died, for some reason, it came to me that I should get a tattoo. I’d never really had the urge, and yet, here at almost 38 years old, I suddenly felt the need to have a physical reminder of him on my body at all times (as if the c-section scar wasn’t enough). For weeks, I thought about it, but nothing seemed right. I thought about a line of poetry – especially “nothing gold can stay” from Robert Frost, or “the lowest ebb is the turn of tide,” from Longfellow. Yet, I couldn’t find a font or position I liked, and I decided that it wasn’t “meant to be.”

And then, the day before the fifth month anniversary of his death, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. For days to weeks, I had stared at the beautiful mural on the wall of his PICU room. It was a mural of leaves becoming a butterfly (a Rajah Brooke’s birdwing butterfly). When I thought of it, I knew immediately. On the anniversary, I went to a local tattoo studio and had that mural tattooed on my back. And it is beautiful.

All in all, the days pass me by. The agonizing phase of grief has subsided somewhat. The pain never goes away, and I never, ever stop missing him and wishing he was here. All the same, we keep going. The river keeps flowing, carrying me along in the current. I can’t swim against it to stay with him. I have to go wherever the river goes. It is life. We go on while our loved ones recede into the distance. The human spirit is ever resilient.

I love you James.

Why I write

My child died, and I glimpsed the unknowable universe. For just a moment, it all flashed before me, the true nature of time. We are here for just a blink. Though I would like to think it otherwise, our lives are so terribly brief that the cosmos doesn’t even register them. To the universe, I have been born, lived, and died already. My life is instantaneous.

This urge to write – to tell this story – burns inside of me. Why? We are not immortal. None of us. The closest we get to immortality is that others remember us when we are gone. Plato was just a man. And yet, we all know of him. I am no Plato. But I do have a story that burns inside of me. It is the story of my son and my love for him. Though he rots in the ground, I can give him life again. When others know his name and his face, he yet lives.

I trace the veins in my hands, so prominent. Filled with blood – to my heart and back again, saturated with oxygen and then deprived of oxygen – all in a great circle. Sometimes the urge, so great, to cut them open and watch the blood spill onto the floor, seeping in, staining the gleaming hardwood – patterns of sorrow etched there forever.

The heart, so scientific. Divided into atria and ventricles, the great vessels – the carotid, jugular, brachicephalic trunk. And yet, the seat of all feeling. This big dumb muscle responsible for all of the agony in my body.

Since I won’t slice my veins open, won’t allow the blood to seep out, depriving that heart muscle of its needed fluid, ultimately killing the home of my emotions, I must find another way to root out the pain. If the heart cannot die, there must be some other way. So I write.

Parallel universe

This post comes with a caveat. First, I wrote it Tuesday.  Second, I am not going to harm myself, despite how this post sounds. I repeat. I am not going to harm myself. I write how I feel – the good, the bad, the ugly. I’m writing it because I know that other loss parents feel these things, and they are so hard to voice. We feel ashamed or embarrassed for feeling these emotions, and we bottle them up inside. Shame has no place in grief – it’s hard enough as it is.

The other caveat is that unless you have lost a child – you have no idea what bereaved parents are suffering. You have no idea how messed up your emotions become and what stupid feelings or actions might happen as a result. My life has entered an alternate dimension. It’s like I’m in a boxcar, and my car left the train and went off onto a side railing. The “regular” track runs alongside me, so I can see everything, but I’m over here, separated, observing. I’m in an alternate but parallel universe where my child is dead. Life goes on. It must. But I am no longer in that normal life…where other people live. I’m here, on the side rail, trying to figure out how to live my life again. If you have a child, imagine, just for a moment, what it would feel like to never see them again. To never touch them again. To never hear their voice. Imagine having to get up, day after day, and realize that they’re gone.

Some days, I feel like I’m doing pretty well. Then, something happens, and I realize that this mild feeling of normalcy is just thin ice on top of which I skate. This morning, driving the kids to school, I was planning out my day. Drop the kids off, go to the local coffee shop, write for a while, work on radio station stuff. Then pick up kids, run a few errands, and go to the station for a bit to drop off supplies. Then go home, hang out for a couple of hours, make dinner, kids to bed.

All of a sudden, it struck me. This is life. My life.  I have to keep living it. Even when I don’t want to do so. Even when I want to lie down and never wake up – I have to keep going. I have to keep getting out of bed every morning. And lather, rinse, repeat.

My heart dropped in my chest. Today, I don’t really want to keep going. I want to lie down and close my eyes and sleep for at least a year. Maybe in a year, when I wake up, like a shorter term Rip Van Winkle, I’ll be all better. I can’t sleep enough.

There is no “all better.” There never will be. There are just the endless days ahead of me without my son.

I want to smash something. I want to smash my coffee cup against the hardwood floors. I want people to stop and stare and point, open-mouthed, at my destructiveness, at a public outburst the likes of which are rarely seen outside of viral media.

But I won’t. I’ll sit here. Sip my coffee. Write in my journal. Go on looking relatively normal, as if my life isn’t clouded by this overwhelming sorrow. The other day, as I was driving, I suddenly had a flashback to when he died. I knew he was going to die before it happened. We had opted to take him off  the ventilator. He wasn’t brain dead. He was very  much there with us. Before he died, he opened his eyes, looked at us, listened to our voices, tried to give us a smile.

How do you know that your child is going to die, hold him while it happens, and not completely lose your mind? I still don’t know how I did it – with as much anxiety as I have, as many panic attacks as I’ve suffered, how did I just sit there and let him die in my arms, with a relative amount of calm? Why wasn’t I screaming? Wailing? Tearing out my hair? Clawing my arms until my blood ran red?

As the feelings of his death washed over me again, I saw myself smashing my car into the bridge I was approaching. I imagined what would happen – the crumpled hood of my van, steam rising, the deployment of the airbag, my head snapping forward with a whiplash movement, blood slowly seeping into my eyes, clouding my vision. Heartbeat slowing, pulse weak, fading away. My vision graying, my spirit leaving my body, seeing it all from a distance, like a spectator of my own life.

It may sound terrible to think of something like this. It may sound like suicidal ideation. Maybe it is. It’s hard to say. I had no urge to actually do it. I’ve spoken to many loss mothers (even today) who’ve had the same kinds of visions – picking up a broken piece of glass from a dish, slitting the wrists, letting crimson blood soak into the floor, forming a mystical mandala there – agony written in ruby.

If you haven’t lost a child – you don’t know. You can’t possibly know what this agony feels like. I am separated from my baby. I can’t touch him. I can’t see him. I can’t hear him. I can’t smell him. I am completely apart from him. The crazy part? I haven’t broken. I have bent. I am so incredibly bent as to be unrecognizable to myself some days, but I am not broken.

Some days, I want to scream at people that I get a pass. I get a pass for at least a year. I can act as foolishly as I want to, and you can’t be mad at me or frustrated at me. Yes, I quit my job with no notice. Yes, I’ve flaked on appointments. Yes, my short-term memory is absolutely terrible right now, and I can barely keep up with my keys. Yes, my emotions are confused and mixed up.

Through it all, I’m somehow still going. I’m taking care of my girls. I’m cooking dinner. My house is clean. My children still get to school on time. I am still here. Doing it. Doing life. Still living here, in this parallel universe.

 

The After

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.

 

 

Update

I’m taking a hiatus from social media. It doesn’t seem likely to stick for very long, because in this world, social media is what creates the village. Instead of having an actual physical village, these days, we have online networks of people with similar likes and dislikes, groups with which we share common bonds, support networks. Often these are people that we’ve never even met in person. Or if we have met them, it’s only been once or twice.

Like many things, social media is a mixed bag. I’ve made some amazing friends and found wonderful support through James’s birth, life, and death. People have reached out to me from literally around the world and helped to soften the blow of his death, if only a tiny bit. There are days that I would not have made it through without these friends. On the other spectrum is the distraction it creates in my life (from the people physically around me), as well as the added stress of watching others struggle and being powerless to help.

Further, in creating these huge social networks and groups, in sharing our lives through pictures and witty commentary, and through the days of darkness and anxiety, as well as joy, we create a public image of ourselves – whether inadvertently or deliberately. That persona – is that who we are? Or is it a carefully curated version?

On this blog, I have striven for honesty at (almost) all costs. I have exposed the raw nerve of my grief with the knowledge that some will not understand and that some will chastise me for it. Yet, there are still parts of myself that I do not share here; these parts are mine alone.

In an effort to extend the online village into real life, I’ve been working hard to build a local village for myself. In the 4 years since we’ve been here, I’ve slowly gotten to know other mothers around me and started a couple of small groups (a book club and a dinner club). The real-life village is growing.

I’ve decided to take a step back from social media for  an uncertain length of time. It could be 24 hours…it could be a week…it’s hard to say. I’ve realized lately that Facebook in particular has occupied a lot of my mind. While the diversion can be much needed at times, and the support given by other veterinarians and mothers is amazing, I think that I need some quiet space in which to think, to rebuild. I need to silence all of the voices outside of me for a bit and listen to my heart. I need to listen to James’s little voice inside of me and let him direct me.

I quit my job recently. There were far too many stressors as an emergency veterinarian. I’d hear the Masimo pulse oximeter alarm, and my heart would start to race, as I automatically looked for James. I had to counsel distraught, grieving owners about quality of life decisions for their pets. My last case before quitting was an older couple with a dog with end-stage  pulmonary hypertension. They knew we had done everything that we could medication-wise, and they knew it was just a matter of time. We had a long talk about quality of life. When I was finished, I broke down at work.

That was my last day.

Since I have stopped working on April 25, a huge weight has been lifted off of my spirit. I feel like I can breathe just a little bit more easily. I have no plan right now other than spending time with my family, learning to be still with myself and my thoughts, writing, and working at the radio station.

In 6 months, who knows where I will be? The thought doesn’t frighten me, despite never being without employment as a veterinarian.

I’ll be okay because I have my family and friends around me.

Happy Mother’s Day

I’ve thought about this day for a while. I’ve known it’s coming – looming there in the future, a dark shadow on the horizon. My first mother’s day without one of my children. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel, knowing that a piece of my motherhood is forever gone, buried in the soft red clay of North Carolina, eternally consigned to the earth. So many people have reached out by message to let me know that they know how hard this day is going to be for me.

And yet, my heart is strangely lighter today than it has been. My husband got up with the kids, and he made myself and Alison homemade French toast, eggs, bacon, and fruit salad. He got me flowers, and he bought several potted plants for our house (he knows I love flowers). Later in the afternoon, we had brunch with my mother, Robin, and my mother-in-law, Jessie. The weather is beautiful. We’re in Knoxville, staying with Jim’s brother and his wife (my best friend).  We’ve spent the day outside.

Why is my heart full today? Why did I wash my hair, put on makeup, and a nice dress?

I realize that my son’s life was a gift. Though he is gone, I am eternally grateful that he was here, that  he spent 5 wonderful months with us. I have friends that held their children even more briefly than I. I have friends that never held their children alive at all. There are mothers in Syria who have lost more than just one child – they’ve lost an entire family. There are grieving mothers everywhere.

Pain is relative. Yes, my heart is torn asunder, and it bleeds constantly. Yes, I wept hot tears on my husband’s shoulder last night as I lay in bed with him, missing the warmth of James snuggled against me, missing the smell of his fine baby hair, the sound of his voice. But James was here. I got to experience those things. I have those memories. I have  pictures and videos and stuffed animals to remind me of the boy my son was. I got to be his mommy.  I am still his mommy. I will always be his mommy.

I can’t be sad for his life. I can be bent by his death but not broken. I can weep, but I can also find joy in my memories.

That is how I know that I will survive this. That is how I know that I will continue to go  on and that life will again bring me joy. I have his memories, I have his spirit within me, I have his DNA flowing in my veins. He is always with me, though I can’t see him.

Happy mother’s day to all the mothers out there.

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The baby that is not.

(This was written several days ago)

 

I wonder what my daughters will say about their family when they are grown.

“I have a sister. I also had a brother. He died when I was little. My mom and dad never got over it. I don’t remember him very well.”

I see myself as they will inevitably see me, as all children see their parents – through the eyes of innocent narcissism. Our poor, broken mother. But she still has us – they will think.

They will not understand the sorrow of a completely broken heart – not until they one day have children of their own. When they do, when they feel that first spark of love that will go to any lengths to protect, it will wrench at their hearts in a new and awful way. They will look at their children and understand why I was never healed, why the scar is still so dark and terrible.

Today was hard. I decided that I needed a day of rest – to not go anywhere or do anything terribly taxing. I had no appointments, nothing that had to be done. So I stayed at home. And of course, my desire for a more minimalist lifestyle took over, and I started decluttering my bedroom.

In the course of this, I was faced with all of the things in my bedroom that belonged to James. His dresser. His clothes. His dirty laundry basket. In my head, I felt like I could handle these things. I started with his dirty clothes basket. Lying on top was all of the clothing that I sorted for a baby blanket to be made by a friend. As I gently folded the clothes, my hands started to shake. My heart beat faster. I felt a stealthy anxiety slithering into my core.

I continued on, touching each piece gently, remembering when he wore those sweet little clothes – clothes covered with cars and planes and bears and dinosaurs. Clothes that he will never need again. Clothes that still bore the stains from his medications or spit-up.

I thought that I could do it. Why not? He isn’t coming back. I’m not mentally unstable. I understand that my son is dead. He doesn’t need these clothes. And yet, putting his things away, for some reason, it was so terribly hard. As if I was removing the traces of him from our home, from his home.

Tonight, my eldest sleeps in bed with me. I drifted off for a “nap” with her at 8:15 and woke up at 9:30pm. When I awoke, my very first thought was “my son is dead. My son died. That thing that I was so desperately afraid of since I became a mother…it happened to me.” It struck me at the center of my being that James is gone. I can’t go where he has gone. My heart breaks anew today -that organ barely held together by the love for my daughters – spilling out my heartsblood yet again.

Those nights, I can remember them in a second. Closing my eyes, I see your little bed next to ours. You were never in it – you were always nestled up with mommy. I hear the persistent beeping of the feeding pump, the steady whooshing of the ventilator. Did those fragmented, anxiety-laden nights really happen? Your delicate face outlined by the dim light from the closet, your clenched hand curled against your cheek? Were you really here with me?  How did 5 months pass so quickly?

I miss you James. I long to reach out a hand and stroke your baby soft hair, to see your wide, blue, endless, old-soul eyes  gazing back at me. I know that can never be, so I am left here, reaching out to touch a baby that isn’t there.