Will you become a full citizen of vulnerability, loss and disappearance, which you have no choice about?
Three years, boy. Three years.
How is that even possible? What you would have been through in these years. Just the beginning but you would have learned to nurse or take a bottle or both. You would have felt the sunlight and the rain, the cold and the heat. You would have touched grass. Laughed and smiled. Started eating food. Learned to roll over, crawl, walk, run. Speak. You would have thousands of words by now.
There are several families in Vesta’s class with kids your age. I see what you would be, what you would be doing, in a general sense. I see inevitable milestones, averages. Not your particular timeline, abilities, personality, quirks. Not what kind of eater you would be. Not how in your body or in your head you’d be. Not how well or terribly you sleep. Not the books and toys and activities that you’d love and prefer. Not the sweet smell of your dirty hair. Not your details and particulars. I see you there in these other children who are about your age and I see you starkly not there. Every day.
It has been three lifetimes and these three years have blown past me. I find myself waking up on a new level at this anniversary, looking around and taking stock.
I have worked my ass off to get where I am. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in therapy, three different therapists. An incredible amount of bodywork: massage, acupuncture, chiropractic and energy work. I have worked with shamans to heal our spiritual connection and understand my own soul’s journey. I went to my support group twice a month for a year and only stopped that because your dad moved out and I didn’t have any one to watch your sister at night so I couldn’t go anymore. And my focused shifted to the grief and heartbreak of the loss of my marriage. I’ve had countless conversations with many, many grieving parents. Some of whom have become close friends, always united in our loss, always with a keen understanding of the terrain of each other’s path. I have written over one hundred blog posts, the story of your birth, begun a book. I have stood in front of two audiences and told my story. I went on a healing retreat with other bereaved mothers and a writer’s workshop in which both the leader and half a dozen others in the class had lost children. I have written and am producing a performance and visual art piece based on our story. I have danced and done yoga and gone swimming and walking and hiking. I have cried more tears than I ever thought possible. I have taken medications and supplements and your placenta and am doing work with my brain to rewire it out of its traumatized, anxious state. I have answered unanswerable questions. Grappled with this crazy, hypocritical, ironic state of humanness. I have found joy again. And hope. And love. After all of this, I have returned to my body and to my life, more fully than I ever imagined I’d be able.
That’s the thing about this. I never thought I’d get back to myself, smile authentically, feel single emotions again. It was all consuming, my grief at your loss. It colored everything in bitter sweetness. It made me hateful and angry and vengeful, experiencing thoughts and emotions I thought I was incapable of. That made me feel inhuman.
One does not “get over” the loss of a child. That is true. But it gets easier. It gets better. Breath by breath, step by step, I am able to recover from wounds that won’t heal. I am not only able to live with these wounds turned scars, not just tolerate and live with the pain but accept them, allow them, integrate them into who I am, who I am becoming now.
Harvey, I accept that you died. I accept that you are not coming back. I accept that I will live the rest of my life without you. I have come to accept the most unacceptable, the most impossible of circumstances. And I marvel. It doesn’t seem to be something that is acceptable, something that can be intergrated but I have done it, I am doing it. As much as I have enjoyed moments of pure and simple joy again, I also now enjoy moments of pure and simple grief. I don’t spend time with kids your age and come home ruined on a variety of levels anymore. I just miss you, you and only you. I am jealous that other families get to have all of their children, get to have their almost three year olds and I have twinges of hatred toward them and anger at the naïveté their lives have granted them but it doesn’t take me out. I can see it now for what it is. Just thoughts, just feelings, which now pass, leaving me with only my grief for you. For your details and particulars. For the Harvey shaped hole that will always exist in my life.
I don’t want anymore children anymore. I have accepted my infertility. I have embraced the end of my marriage. When I see these families, I even think that I couldn’t imagine having a three year old now. The idea of another baby, going through all of the stages and sleeplessness and imbalance and fear and lack of autonomy that accompanies parenthood, is extremely off putting to me now. And even that, son. Even that, I accept. I chide myself at these thoughts because they sound a little too close to gratitude that you are dead for my comfort. But I soon notice that it’s not gratitude, but another indication of my acceptance. I wanted you. I wanted to care for you. I wanted to be the exhausted, worried, begrudging parent we all are a little bit. I wanted to be the mom that raised you, got to know you, guided you, learned from you, not buried you. I understand now that not wanting another child doesn’t mean I didn’t want you or wouldn’t instantly change everything to have you back. It just means that I am okay. I am okay without you, without my fertility, without my husband and the family and path we planned. I still don’t know how that is possible, but here it is, in the flesh.
It’s possible because I’ve gone broke trying to feel better and get back on my feet. Get functional and then way past functional. It’s possible because I have the most incredible community of friends and family, students and clients, coworkers and colleagues, acquaintances and soul mates in all of human history. You know what happens when babies die? Friendships die, too. Family relationships fall apart. You know how many friends and family I have lost? Zero. You know how many I have gained? Dozens. The support and love and encouragement I have received is unprecedented. Even through the ugliest parts of my grief, through my sharing torturous details on my blog that even I can no longer read through, people loved me. I asked them to look at exactly the things they don’t want to look at and they did. They cried with me and hugged me and held my hand and walked beside me and held me up when I couldn’t walk on my own. The sent me messages and letter and presents and donation cards. They still do. I demanded people remember and acknowledge and they compassionately, thoughtfully and lovingly did and still do.
After you died, I thought I would never say that I was lucky again. I had shit luck, the worst kind of luck there is because my baby died. But now I count myself among the luckiest people on the planet, because in the worst of experiences I survived. Thanks to my community, my close friends and family, other bereaved parents, professionals, authors, musicians and sheer force of will.
I didn’t kill myself because I had a daughter and parents who I would just be transferring my burden to. Not healing anything, not stopping anything, not ending pain. Just giving it to the people I love the most. And so I stayed. And then after awhile, I realized I couldn’t depend on them to keep me alive, especially your sister. That, too, becomes a burden. Being the people that someone else is staying alive for. And so, I went about the business of trying to figure out what keeps me alive. And it turns out, that’s about a million things. It’s dancing and community and sunshine and laughter and falling in love again and drinking too much with my best friend and trying to figure out what the fuck this whole being a human animal means and never being fully able to.
I am not healed nor will I ever fully heal. But I don’t want to be anyone else anymore except myself. My broken, scar tissued, resurrected, stronger, weaker, braver, more afraid self. I came to a point with my grief that I didn’t want to be the person I was before you died. I didn’t want the naïveté back after awhile. I didn’t want the self righteousness I once held so dear. Like I had some truths. Like there was only black and white. And now I have come to a place where I don’t want to be the person who I was when I realized that. She was filled with blood curdling anxiety, always waiting for the next tragedy she was sure was just around the corner. She was hateful and angry and irritable and sad and lost all of the time. Now, that I can feel grateful again, lucky, joyful, at ease in many moments, aware of life’s fragility and our hardiness through it, now I want to be the person I am becoming. The person I am becoming because you were here and because you died and because I had to figure out how to live without you. I want to be the person I am becoming who has gotten through the worst thing that can happen and several quick succession, subsequent traumas. I want to be the person I will become who embraces and accepts the true nature of this life: both its joys and sorrows, it’s grief and hopes, it’s fears and dreams, alive in the life force and human will to not only survive but to evolve and grow and learn and become better. I want to be the person who sees that love and support are our one and only true life line. Who appreciates it when it’s received and who gives of it freely. I want to become the people who got me through, to others. I want to be the people who said I jnderstand your pain or I don’t understand your pain and I’m going to sit here with you while you’re in it. Because of you, my beautiful, perfectly-formed, dead son, I will become, I am becoming, I am the best, truest form of myself.
I am no longer even living for you. I am no longer trying to create some legacy for you, though it’s happening anyway. I am not living my life in your name. I am living my life in my name. And you are informing all of it. They way you have transformed me means that you will be in everything I do, every interaction, every piece of art, everything and anything I contribute to this crazy world.
I can’t live without you and I don’t have to. I have to live without your body, your physical presence but I will never live one day of my life without you. Not one day.
You are three. And I am three. Let’s begin. Again.