You have to learn something that you wish you didn’t have to learn: How to love somebody as if it’s not going to last because it’s not. The way we are trained to love. . . is we’re trained to love what’s lovable about it. You don’t love anybody until you love their end. You don’t love being married, until you love the end of the marriage, too. Because the marriage includes it’s end. Of course it does. Just as truly as getting born includes not breathing anymore. And that’s what you have to love. Not accept. Accept is too neutral. You have to love it. You have to say ‘yes’ to that.
I hope it’s not circumstance: steady diet of pain meds, lots of rest time alone without Vesta, not being able to drive so no bustling around from here to there, loved ones bringing me food and good company. I hope it’s a new layer instead.
I think a lot about acceptance. I first learned about it, in a preschool sort of way, after my early grieving time (which, as time goes by, begins to extend. Someday this moment, almost 21 months, will seem like the early time, too). I spent the first nine months after you died in utter disbelief and protesting your death. Time marched on as it does and even just the physical evidence of your absence: sleeping through the night, no diapers to change, no car seat to carry out to the car, no care for my baby needed, even with just that physical evidence, the acceptance, or at least understanding, started to sink in. There was a Harvey shaped hole in my life, in my days, and I began to accept that you were gone, that you had been here and that you weren’t coming back. Though my mind and my heart kept me from these very obvious and logical truths, it took time for them to sink in, for me to believe in them as true, for it to integrate into my experience.
Shock is a miracle when it comes to the process of grief and its acceptance. Shock allows us to process tiny bits of truth at a time. In the very beginning, it allows us to even have some moments of normalcy, where we feel like ourselves, we may be able to laugh and joke even. It give a buffer between our human-animal brains and our harsh, cruel reality. It subsides over weeks and months in small, bit sized increments, though it eases nothing. During the unraveling of shock, it feels like an elongated, torturous process as feelings become more intense, last longer, become increasingly debilitating. But the truth is if it all came at once, we would die from it. The truth of our situations would fall on us like anvils. So, shock after trauma allows us to step onto the path of acceptance.
Anything that changes our plans or our path takes time to accept and the acceptance is the key to feeling better, to finding some peace or at least to learning to adapt to our new lives. Even the smallest thing, like a looked forward to meal at a favorite restaurant that turns out to be closed unexpectedly. That takes us a minute or two to feel disappointed and sad and then to accept and choose another place to eat. From the very smallest to the very largest, like a dead child, we need time and space, we need emotional awareness, to be able to keep living, to adapt and maybe someday, to accept.
Acceptance doesn’t mean to forgive or to agree or to condone. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t have it another way in a heartbeat. It means that we come to a place on our journey, in our lives, in one particular moment and we see what has happened, what has transpired, who is here and who is gone, who has left and who has stayed, and we let that be. And we eek out the “at least”s and the “Thank God for”s that got us through, that we still have now. Acceptance allows us to stand up again in our lives. To take all of it with us as we step forward into whatever is next.
I have a suitcase with me that I am filling with the things I accept or am coming to accept. Somethings stay in there now, like you are dead and you are never coming back. Somethings, I take out and look at for awhile and then hesitatingly put back in, like I will never birth another baby. Somethings, I put in, take out, put in again, try to rearrange in there but they just don’t fit yet, like, what happened to that man I loved? There is an order there. Some are heavier and harder to hold, take longer to get in there, enter in layers. But the acceptance comes with time and the looking at the things and the putting them down for awhile and the doing it all over again. It’s not truly linear but the events closer to me, the ones newest to the grip and slow release of shock, those are the ones that hang around more on the outside.
Acceptance is the inevitable result of our love. Whether we hold it with a grudge or forgiveness or resistance it becomes the goal, the end game, the last step. I receive glimpses of it. Usually when I am dancing but also in ordinary moments, where I feel the integration of my losses: bereaved mother, infertile woman, ex-wife, in my very cells and I move right with it, I bring it all with me into the next phases, the next seasons, the next impulses and intuitions and choices. Moments when it is not uncomfortable at all but what it, forming who I am now. I hate when my experience boils down to age old cliches like “it is what it is”, “live each moment as your last”, “all we have is now” because usually the teller of these truths I suspect doesn’t get it all the way. Treats them like cliches, like they are attainable ways of living, like those phrases or even the practice of them will get them through tragedy and trauma. These are for later. Or at least the accepting of them are.
As I lay on the operating table and the stark white room buzzed with people covered in blue paper and cloth, the women around me spoke to me. The smiled and kept it light. I was already on a calming medicine that made my mind fuzzy. I lifted my tattooed arm and one of the nurses said, “Oh look! Her babies on her arm! How beautiful!” and another one or too responded in kind. I wondered if they all had read my chart, if they all knew about Harvey or not and then a different nurse came to put the oxygen mask over my face. I began to sob. Half paralyzed, I could only lay there feeling the typewriter contractions of my chest and the warm tears down my face as I wept. “Oh honey, it’s going to be okay.” they comforted. “Take some deep breaths.” And I sobbed and sobbed and someone put her hand on my shoulder and I wondered again if they knew. Did they know I was not crying out of fear but of finalization? Did they know I wept for my body, for my tubes, for my empty, broken womb? Did they know that I cry all the time and that these were the last tears of this chapter? This chapter of my life that is the aftermath of Harvey, this chapter of my life that was my normal and healthy ability to fall in love and create another human, the chapter that had been my potential my whole life up until now, up until 20 months ago? Did they know these were the tears to release the one person who I had my babies with, that the taking of the tubes were also some extraction of the two of us, too? As I cried my way into the darkness of anesthesia, did they know that they were my last tears of resistance and my first of acceptance?
That’s why I say I hope that it’s not circumstantial. I hope it’s not pain meds every four hours and days alone in bed with time to write and to think and to step more firmly into acceptance. It is what it is for me. It is what it is for Vesta. It is what it is for your dad and his new love. There is no changing any of it. There is just moving with it. There is just packing it up into my suitcase whenever I can and bringing it along with me. There’s the opening of the case and the showing of it to people I need to tell, who have heard it time and time again and who have new ears for the pitfalls along my journey. There will be new things that come that I will be certain will never fit into my suitcase. That are too awkward, cumbersome, heavy to ever have room in there for. That I will be convinced are impossible to live with, let alone accept. But these, too will fit, eventually. Or I’ll get a bigger bag if I have to. Those things will come along and this moment of relative peace, of ruminating over acceptance, will seem folly and it will be: foolish, rose-colored folly. Until I come back around again.
Today, I watch this movie, Griefwalker, on Netflix, which I have been meaning to see since I learned of it shortly after you died. The man, Stephen Jenkinson, says “Accept is too neutral. You have to love it.” “It” being the inevitable end. That if we are to truly, fully and completely love another, an experience, even ourselves, we must embrace and fall in love with the whole: the birth, the life, the death. He says we bring our children into this world to die. There is no escaping that. We pretend we are bringing them in to live, and we are, to live, to be alive, to experience, to be, to learn, to grow, to discover, to ache, to yearn, to love and also, inevitably, to die. Life is a death sentence and we bring our children into the wholeness of life, we bring ourselves into it. It starts to feel obvious even as it is startling. My friends who are able and have children after they lose a child are very anxious. The illusion that they are safe or spared is lifted. Often their anxiety comes from a fear that what happened to their dead child will happen again to the next one. Sometimes, there is a sigh of relief after the new baby lives past his/her siblings age or stage when the other child died. I have not had the experience of a subsequent pregnancy and live birth and I have no intention of devaluing the very real fear that comes with a sibling, nor do I devalue the true bravery it takes to risk your heart again when you know the exact intensity, severity and dimesion of what it feels like to have it shattered by loss. But I also believe that to be born is a risk, to be alive is a risk. Children die at every age. Surviving birth garauntess nothing. Because Vesta survived her birth and the last five years does not garauntee that she will live longer than I will, that she will grow to a ripe, old age. After listening to this man, I see that it’s not just a risk, being born, it’s an unflinching fact that we all face, that we all come to], our deaths and the deaths of those we love the most. And so can we love their deaths? Is there a place beyond even the acceptance that I am beginning to feel? Can I enter the marriage aware of and in love with its end? Can I bear my children and love the ugly, the impossible, the inevitable end of them? Not yet, I cannot. Acceptance is not neutral for me yet. I can not yet commit to loving the end of the things I find so exceedingly precious to me. Recently, I have found myself living for Vesta. I am rebuilding my life and rediscovering myself and developing new, uncharted parts of myself and yet, I am quite sure should Vesta die, that I would quickly follow suit by my own hand. In the last week, facing a surgery that I feared I would die during, I realized, that is no way to live. I have to learn to live for myself again. I have wondered how I might get there, to a place where I can imagine I would stay alive without my daughter. And then I was given this key. This insight into loving the whole of it. Allowing the paranthesis of birth and death to make everything between deeper, more meaningful, precious and sacred. Just as I begin to explore how deeply I can sink into acceptance, I am invited to not just accept the reality of life and its end but to expect it, to embrace it, to love the whole of it. I felt it at the Bat Mitzvah. I cried through most of it because I could feel the fleetingness of the occasion, of the moment. I could feel both how incredible it was to be there and how fragile at the same time. I was in love with the whole experience.
I don’t know that acceptance is neutral, though. It feels like a red, hot fire right now. It feels like the life line that pulls me through my days, weeks, months and years. It feels like the pathway to making my life more bearable, providing greater and more frequent moments of peace and ease, regardless of what has happened and what is happening. I can lean into it, I can trust it, I have lived the unthinkable process of love and loss and grief of my child and I have come to accept that which is unacceptable. I have lowered my daily bar to getting out of bed in the morning. If I do that, everything else is gravy because this one loss, just you Harvey, outside of fertility and my marriage, my plans and my self-image, just you being gone makes it a miracle everyday that I get out of bed. That any of us do. Any and all reactions to a loss like this are valid in my opinion. Any and all.
People, including myself, look for the gifts I will bring into the world because you died and how I have reacted to it. Be it through massage or writing or supporting other loss families or whatever I go on to do. But I am here to say that all of it, any of it, are less than consolation prizes. I’d remove the gifts, the blessings, the work that helps others to have you back. I’d do it in an instant. That I am changed, that I am deepening, that I am coming into my own in a way I never knew humanly possibly, all of it, since it is at the cost of you, will never be worth it. But my suitcase. My suitcase full of regret and pain and circumstances and poor choices and uncontrollable events and anger and grief and fear that are accepted or becoming so, that I can live with. That I can pick up and carry with me and keep working on. That is the work that honors you. That is what helps to make sense of how my world stopped and yet time keeps moving forward, pulling me with it, forcing me at times, flowing with me at others. That I have learned that time and introspection and wailing and laughing will bring with it acceptance and some peace, that I can manage. That I have learned just today that there is another place to go, a radical, passionate, all-encompassing place of true, whole love of it all, that is what will honor you, son. That is something that is not tinged with your absence. That is what your absence, your death, your life, my love for you, have brought to me that I find has some value. Acceptance and eventually love. Finding the path to feeling human again, to becoming more human than I imagine is possible, that is a gift I readily, gratefully and fully accept from you. Somehow, there is no magical thinking around my suitcase of acceptance. There is no, “well, I’d trade it all in to have him back” hung on my every thought about it. Because it connects me to you, like this bridge of love and grief that connects us from Earth to wherever you are. Because it’s something I can take out and show people, something I can open in the darkest of nights and feel like there has been some purpose, some meaning and an endless embrace in this whole, huge mess.