We took our grief to Mexico.
That’s what they say, the grief experts. Well-meaning family often offer to send the grieving couple on vacation in the hopes that it will give them a break, maybe even cure them. It doesn’t work, they say, you just take your grief with you. But this was my idea. Let’s take a mindless, relaxing trip to the beach, just the three of us. So, we took our grief to Mexico.
At first, I thought, “The only thing wrong with this vacation is that we aren’t home with our baby” as I stared out onto the crystal blue Caribean sea, felt the warm sun on my cold skin, heard the sounds of fun and play of the resort goers.
As the week progresses, I find myself less engulfed in sadness and yearning. I feel like my old self with my daughter. We are laughing and smiling a lot, spending our days swimming and poolside playing pretend under umbrellas. My husband and I are once again fretting about her eating habits and strategizing how to improve them. I had a regular conversation with another mom today by the pool. I didn’t feel isolated or uninterested in what she was saying. I see the few pregnant moms and those with babies and I neither look away nor rubberneck, I neither hate them nor does the envy overwhelm me anymore. I am beginning to disidentify myself with them or, at the very least, my reaction has dulled.
I watched my daughter and husband go down the water slide countless times in a row, both giddy as they splashed into the pool, over and over again. I noticed it’s just us again, not waiting and preparing for Baby Brother to come, not drowning in sorrow from Harvey’s absence and I found that that was okay. I watched this man whom I’ve grown into adulthood with holding our little girl whom we have raised together for almost four years. Our daughter, who is becoming more and more aware, observant, clever and savvy. Who has this impossibly small frame held so effortlessly by her dad. Who screams “Again! Again!” the moment the ride is over. I watched them and for a moment, I felt complete again. For a moment, the curtains parted and I saw that we there are a whole, living family. Just like we were before we started thinking about having a second, before we lost the first pregnancy and before we lost our first son. In the next moment, I felt the weight of complacency attach itself to that sense of completeness and the curtains closed again, though just a bit less tightly. The feeling remained that we are complete, here and now, with us three and without Harvey because we have to be. Because we have no choice but to go on without him. Because we must forever carry the memory of our newborn, who will not grow, who will not change, who will always be a healthy looking, plump little baby boy but for the oxygen deprivation, but for almost complete brain damage. We will live the rest our days cradling the memory of him while we watch in awe as Vesta grows into girl, a young woman, a grown adult. God willing, of course. On each of our parts.
I imagine this vacation is a window. I can see through to what is out there for me. What could be a new normal. Not a door though. I don’t think I am stepping through anything. I’m afraid I have just hit the pause button. I’ve removed myself from the context: the bathroom where he was born, the altar in the dining room, the relationships strained by grief, the constant and exhausting “fake it ’til you make it” existence. I’m afraid I will come crashing down when I get home, right back into it. Back into plundering for joy in work, in Nia, in my daughter’s laughter, in trying to be the friend, daughter, granddaughter, cousin I once was. I’m not planning on it because I never know anymore. I’m just bracing for it.
Amidst all of this, I am reminded of my current state, of our utter vulnerability. On the plane, landing in Cancun, a grandmother begins screaming and shaking her granddaughter, “Estephany! Estephany! Ayudame! Por favor! Ayudame! Estephany !” Her granddaughter wouldn’t wake and then seized. I am sitting on the edge of my seat, crying, and flashing back. I hear my screams in her screams. I hear my fear in her’s. Desperation to desperation. I am praying to my vengeful God, this God who has forced me into this both hateful and prostrate relationship with Him, “Please don’t take her. Please don’t take her.” Not so much for the girl, but for her grandmother, for her mother, for us, who will all leave this plane and not be left with their grief. She comes to, disoriented but okay. We all get our carry ons and deplane, unaffected. Except those of us who are, la abuela most of all.
As I write this, a group of teenagers play in the kid’s pool. The shoot down the twisty water slide one on top of the other. Splash-splash-splash-splash! They stand up in the shallow water, stark against the little kids around them, with smiles that reveal their youth and a self consciousness that reveal their age. They laugh and joke and tease. One races up the stairs and another shakes the bottom of the chute as he zooms past. They are alive. Fully. From and because of their naïveté. Because they are shielded by the immortality of young adulthood. As they should be. I should remember this, relearn it from watching them: “It won’t happen to me”. Until it does.
Moments later, not 10 feet away, a boy of 6 screams bubbly screams as he frantically kicks his feet, attempting to keep his head above water. Just as I notice, so do his parents. His father jumps in, shoes and all, and saves him. I look to the mother, hands at her chest, and watch her exhale deeply. The parents begin to argue, as is natural. We need to find blame. Who was supposed to be watching him? Who’s watch would this tragedy have been on? The father pulls him aside and gives him a stern talking to which ends in the truth: a tender moment, the father’s machismo veil descending for a moment as his face softens and he hugs his son. “I was terrified,” he says without saying it. Minutes later, kids play in the shallow end, mom and dad sun themselves, family picture taken. I have stopped crying and started breathing again, too. I went into that moment with her, like old hat: The worst thing I can imagine is about to befall me. But then, she goes on.
And so do I.