A letter to my broken heart. Or, perhaps, from.
“The twin of grief . . . [is the] the being able to praise or love life. Which means wherever you find one authentically done, the other is close at hand.”
– Stephen Jenkinson
Look at you. There you are again. All mangled and shattered and bruised and broken. Didn’t we just think we were done? All healed up and ready to go. Boosted and bolstered from deep appreciation and gratitude. Beating strong and hard from good food and dance and joy. All that sorrow and betrayal and loss and insecurity behind us. We healed you up. We did the work. But just look at you.
I see you there. Shocked, as I may be. How will I ever put you back together? Don’t you just marvel at how long it takes to create something, to build it up, to make it real and whole and then how it turns to ruins ina milisecond, in slow motion moments, in time-lapse photography. How as we start patching, some pieces fall off again, come unglued, taking new parts with them, revealing weaknesses yet unknown. Showing us that there is in fact something more left to be destroyed.
But are we? Are we again destroyed? Can we see nothing but the holes, the absence, what is not there? How do we know these holes without what surrounds them, without that which holds up the empty space? How do we know the absence without the presence? We only know what is gone because it was here. Otherwise, we’d be none the wiser. Destruction and holes and absence may be all that we see, but it’s not all that is there.
Grief is the other side of love. It breaks us apart and it also builds us up. It transforms and destroys and invigorates. It changes, it grows, it lessens, it expands. It grips us so tightly that we cannot breathe until we are sure we will die from it. And then we don’t. And then we keep moving until it sweeps us off our feet again. And again it will.
When you sat staring at that hospital wall, holding your dying baby, the tan on tan on off white walls, the beeping machines and sucking of the ventilator and felt your heart crack apart, shatter, explode inside your chest to the exact and equal measure to which it swelled, grew, expanded when you held your first baby, who was very much alive. Yes, that. That all happened in one place: right here in your heart. It was the same moment, the same sensation, the same experience, except it was the exact opposite. Two sides, same coin.
Hasn’t our love for Vesta grown and changed and transformed each day as she has gotten older, developed more fully, moved in and out phases? Hasn’t parenting her, since day one, been nothing more than letting go and loving? Has anything told you that it will ever be different than that? It’s the same with this grief. So must it shift and move and change. Sometimes it must be clutched closely, so very closely to the chest. Sometimes it must be all that you can see so that you can parent your dead child, so that you can parent yourself through the experience of having a dead child, so that you connect and bond and get to know this new you and therefore, this new him. You two who are changing daily, hourly, each second and whose relationship therefore needs tending. Just as sometimes we stop pushing her, stop asking her to be a big girl and just give her a big hug and say “We’ll try again. Maybe tomorrow.” Doesn’t your love and how initimatly you know her tell you when do to that? When to challenge her to do it herself and when to do it for her or help her with it or show her how it’s done? It’s the same. This grief will ask you to let go a little or a lot depending on the timing, or the stars or the chaotic Universe or the physiology of grief that will forever connect your cells with his cells, with his timeline, with his would-be milestones. It will ask you to grow in your relationship with him, in how you parent him. And make no mistake: you will parent him. For the rest of your life. Just as you will parent Vesta for the rest of your life, even if she also goes before you, too. Love doesn’t end, especially love for your child, so why might you expect grief for your child to? Remember, it’s the same except differet, except the exact opposite.
Just as your love does, this grief will ask you to let him go. Again and again and again. To deeper and deeper and deeper levels. You will parent a living child and a dead child and you will come to as close as one can to understanding exactly how far a mother can allow her child to go from her while at the same time keeping him at her side. It’s the same. Except he’s not here so you have to do it blind. Except she is here and you have to watch and worry and hope, hope beyond hope, that she stays here, despite all of the stupid and even mundane choices she will make.
So, Dearheart, I see you there. All broken and battered and banged up, like you never have been, like, God-willing, you never will be again. But I also see the edges at those breaks, the viability around the bruise, the intact places that are holding up this mess.
Now, I can see you. Now, I can truly see the whole of you. What is here and what is gone, what is absent and what is present, the holes and the ever more important parts around those holes that even make them possible.
Let’s start there, you and me. Let’s start all over again from right there, from here. From inside this fire, from the places where we have stepped out into the ash, from the places we are soaring above already. Because they are there. As sure as I can see that you are broken, I see that you are soaring.