I’m a mile marker now. First it was days since you died, then I counted weeks. Somewhere along the way I lost track of weeks and now it’s months and half months. Significant days are heavy and long and anxiously awaited (waited for with worry, nausea, and a racing heart, I mean). I make them up. I mark them. I attempt to make meaning. Every 27th and 28th of the month, 6 months, then holidays and special events.
I cried through most of Daddy’s birthday because I missed you so much. Sometimes your absence is too much to bare. L came over to watch Vesta and we just easily put our coats on and headed out. No baby to time nursings with, no hiring of a babysitter because it’s too much to ask my friend’s to take care of both kids, no just not going because I can’t manage the arrangements and the everyday of two kids and work and, and, and. . . . We went to The Barefoot Sage and cozied up on the big couches for foot soaks and massages. It’s decorated so beautifully for winter and the blinking lights of the tree just took me down. I began to understant what the grief people mean by just canceling the holidays the first year or how they are so hard. I didn’t think I would be much more affected than any other of these days I or we collectively put weight to. I don’t even like Christmas. Your first Christmas was not high on my list of “firsts” I was looking forward to, so I didn’t think it would be heavier than any other day or couple of weeks. But, as always, they are right.
Sitting quietly next to your dad, without you here, just overwhelmed me. I don’t really know how to describe it except that sometimes I can feel the piece of him that is missing as much as I can feel the piece of me. The empty, endless, painful void where you were supposed to be. Sometimes he wraps himself around me at night and I can feel his heart beating on my back and I feel you in that beat and I also feel the chill of your beatingless heart just after you were born and then again, the next day, in my arms. I stand just at your dad’s chest and we are prone to long, standing hugs these days. I place my ear there at his chest as he holds me and I hear that strong beating and I hear you, too. How can he be standing here, a grown man, long legs and silvering hair, heart beating the same all of these 40 years and you? You are just gone. His mom got to keep him, I get to have him here and you are just gone and I am lost.
I am becoming so aware of the parts of you that were your dad’s, the relationship that would be there but that isn’t. And now is about the time, isn’t it? Time when the baby really starts coming into the world, scooting along the floor, engaging those around him with new sounds and abilities. I can hear your squeal and see your face light up when Daddy steps in through the door at the end of the day. It’s not just you that is gone. It’s who we would be with you here. It’s the missing relationship between you and me, you and your dad, and you and your sister. How one person creates a whole new matrix of energy and relationships and experiences. How now our matrix has changed because you are not here. For better and for worse. For much, much worse.
People say that we’ve lost our hopes and dreams for you. That’s not it at all. Hopes and dreams get lost and we mourn them and then we change them. I’ve lost hopes and dreams before. But that’s not what has happened this time. This time I’ve lost my baby. Fully and perfectly formed, ready for the world but for his mother’s malfunction. This time, I’ve lost my baby, my toddler, my school aged boy, my college freshman, my adult son who might or might not be a husband, a father, with a career and hobbies and passions. Who wraps his arms around me as an adult, his 40 to my 75, and I hear his dad’s heartbeat as I lay my head on his chest. These are not hopes and dreams. This is the loss of the most precious relationship one can have, the most important person. I can dream again, reinvent, recreate when my dreams are lost. There is picking myself and dusting off, no starting over, revising, counting my blessing, finding the silver lining and moving on to a differnt dream from this.
The harrowing realization that this is every day. Everyday for the rest of my life I will miss you and think about you. I will imagine you and long for you to be here. Makes my days on Earth feel endless, the years ahead almost inconceivably long, as if I will live forever. I know that when I close my eyes for the last time, the relief of the end of longing for you will be the sweetest sense. I am not afraid to die anymore.
Today, I thought that it’s almost eight months, which means it’s almost 9 months, which means soon you will have been gone as long as you were here: 41 weeks and 2 days. I remember when my friend Theresa died at 16. I remember 16 years later when I thought, “That’s it. That was her whole life, again. She’s been gone as long as she was here.” and I wondered how her parents felt, what they thought about that. Now it’s 18 years and 4 months later for them, 7 and half months for me and I want to call them. I remember feeling so connected to their loss, like we understood each other. Now I know that I wasn’t and I want to call them and say I didn’t understand that then and apologize for whatever horrible things I might have said. I was 16, too, and it was all about me. I went to her mom for comfort. We drove down there by the car load and sat in her room, read her diary to her sister’s excruciating protests, that her mother then had to manage and attempt to comfort in the midst of her own debilitating grief and parenting a grieving sibling, instead of just sending us out. We sifted through her things. Her mother made a special day where she invited all of Theresa’s friend’s and put her things on tables on the patio and we sorted and sifted and took things home with us. How did she ever do that? How did she go through her teenaged baby’s room and pick and choose what to keep, what to give to family and friends and then what do you do with the rest of it? Do you donate it, throw it away, pile it in boxes in the basement? That’s what I did. I have years of little girl clothes and all of Vesta’s infant stuff: bouncers and seats and toys and play mobiles and bottles and pumps and a food mill and tiny pink spoons. I have a full year of boys clothes, too. Hand me downs from a couple of families and new stuff given and purchased and replaced for Harvey. I packed it all up and organized it and labeled it because, before the surgery, we might have another baby and we wouldn’t have to buy anything. Who’s to say if it will be a boy or a girl, so keep it all. Now, most of our storage space is taken up with stuff waiting to be used by someone who will never come.
I want to call Theresa’s mother now. I want to hear her voice: how happy it is to hear from me and how I can now hear, with exquisite accuracy, the part in it that will always be broken. I want to say to her, “Here I am now.” I want her to know I remember her baby and that I lost mine, too. I want to say, “Mrs. R., his name was Harvey.” I want to hear her say it back to me, like it’s the most beautiful name besides “Theresa”, that she’s ever heard. Because it is. Because every dead child’s name is music to the ears of every mother who also has a dead child. Because we know exactly how seldom it is heard anymore and exactly how precious they were.
As the days go on, I think of all the other mother’s I know, I’ve known, throughout my life who’ve lost a child: the family at church when I was in elementary school, the friends of our family in Colombia, the boy accidently shot in middle school, the car accident in high school, my grandfather and grandmother who’s 40 year old son literally dropped dead one day, the mother of one in my Nia class in San Francisco, the friend from high school whose toddler died less than two years ago, us, my contact list, Facebook page, and client roster that is filling quickly with bereaved mothers and fathers. And I’m sure I am forgetting many others. And I want to remember every single one. I want to remember their names and how they died and on what day. But I cannot. They are too numerous. I felt sorry for them, some I even grieved for and with, but now I see them as my lineage. I connect this line of ancestral mothers throughout my life who have already walked this path. Now, when I hear of someone dying, anyone whose parents are still alive, I do not think of their spouse or sibling or child. My thoughts immediately go to their mother. Their poor mother.
Time trudges on. By some cruel blessing, those of us who make it through this, begin to bandage this wound that won’t heal. We get used to it being there. We begin to accept how it has changed us, handicapped us, and we keeping going forward into our seemingly endless days. But we are mile markers and meaning makers now. And, as my husband says, “everyday’s a holiday”, meaning I miss you everyday but most especially on these days when we are all meant to come together. When we are meant to be joyous or memorialize or have fun. I have two shadows now. Mine and yours. Yours still in my arms doing all the things we do day to day, soon to be at my feet, up to my hip, someday arm around my shoulder. You are here with us and you are not here with us. And I mark and I make meaning until I don’t anymore. Until I have the experience that you have already had. That you are supposed to marvel at and fear and wonder about. That you should hold my hand through and be the one left here thinking, “I wonder what that was like for her.” That last breath, that last heart beat, these last moments, here in the arms of someone who loves me.