“from the height of the Pacific
to the depths of Everest”
– Ani Difranco
I have such a strong need to be understood. But I feel like an alien in this world now. I don’t remember anymore what it’s like to not have lost a child. I realize it is becoming harder to relate to those who haven’t lost a child, which is most people, obviously. That it is still just their worst nightmare. That though I want to feel understood again and implore them to imagine how they would be without their child, they cannot imagine. I have forgotten that they can’t even bring themselves to imagine. That even if they could, they would not know the devastation, the way the grief saturates every corner of my life. That they have not yet plunged the depth of their love for their children because we cannot truly know it until they are gone. We have our moments when our hearts swell or nearly jump out of our chests or leap Into our throats with how much we love them. Having lost my son, whose voice I never heard, smile I never saw, eyes I don’t know the color of, I can tell you what you feel for your child right now is only scratching the surface of how vast and deep your love. I did not know this person in any sort of way that is normal for human interaction and relationship development and progression.
Which is why, I imagine, baby loss is so misunderstood. By any measure, except the very smallest one, I did not know this person: we don’t have memories to share, pictures of events to look at, things that he wore or touched or held dear. And yet I am utterly transformed by this loss. And yet, I have become an alien in the world I knew so well. The world where there were bright sides and blessings to count, where I cared about so much more than my own inner experience, where I could even see past it, where things like birthdays, holidays and anniversaries were celebrated with ease, where pregnancy and birth were met with joy and happiness and innocence. And here’s the twist: I do not yet know the depths of my love for Vesta because she is still alive and (pleasegodpleasegodpleasegod) will be, long after I am gone. There is something about the loss that brings out the true nature of the relationship, even with this tiny person no one got to know nor ever will.
The experiencing of losing my son is coming to a new level of integration. One that, like every other step along the way, feels at once more grounding and centering and also more separating and isolating. I can feel that I am fundamentally changing and so I grieve not only my son but also myself. The way that I see the world has changed, my operating system/belief system has crumbled, my priorities have changed, what I focus on has changed, how I communicate, my ability to communicate has changed. I have lost my passion, my spark, my will. There is an endless list of what was important to me, vastly important , day-ruining important, can’t-fall-asleep-because-of important that are literally meaningless now. There is a freedom in that that I enjoy. I don’t miss worrying about my dirty floors or if the meals aren’t planned or if Danny did or didn’t do this or that. My whole life has dulled. I am concerned about Vesta’s eating but even that is dulled. Even the welfare of my living child. Except of course for what feels like the weight of the world, that is a piercing, acute pain. what looks to the outside like woe-is-me or grief or depression, but is actually, I’m sure, killing me. Without the normal worries and everyday concerns, I cannot relate to others the same way I used to. I can no longer connect and empathize to the depth that I used to. And that was so important to me: gratitude, empathy, connection. It’s what saved me, spiritually and mentally, from my depression. I had a chuckle today at thinking of myself as a life coach. That kind of nostalgic look back at the good old days, at how silly I was back then, “oh, so young”…. If I had coaching clients today, “I’d say it’s a careless, chaotic universe so just go eat some twinkles and play Nintendo because what the fuck?”
I know the depth of my love for Harvey because I know it’s loss. I know it’s vastness because of its absence. Because I had it here for a minute and now it’s gone. Because I am absolutely unable to take him for granted, any part of him. The reality of the living is that they are mired in the muck of the every day, subject to mood swings and inconvenience and frustration and boredom. They come up against our triggers, our buttons, and they push away until we are at our wit’s end. One would think that a grieving parent would throw themselves into valuing each moment with their living child, by not getting frustrated and upset with them, have a deeper appreciation than a parent who has not lost a child. But that is not the case because the child is alive and that hides exactly how precious they are, exactly how much we love them, exactly how utterly and completely our despair we would be if they were gone.
And that is a blessing.
This is a wound that won’t heal. And like its physical counterpart, it must be attended to daily, if not hourly, if not minute to minute until we cannot live with it any longer. I have a knowing that Harvey’s loss will kill me. My teacher said “I hate the saying ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. What doesn’t kill you, kills you later.” In my previous life, I would have corrected her and said unless you get down to it, unless you heal it. I’ve spent much of personal healing and professional life focused on getting to the root, or at least the trunk, of our wounding so that it leaves the cells of the body, so that the gene expression can shift back to health and does not transform into cancer or anorexia or obesity or you name it. But this, this is going to kill me. There is no getting to the root or the trunk. There is no cure. God willing, I will live until I’m 99 but no matter when or how, I will die of this grief.