I recently found myself immersed in the wonderful world of “Stranger Things”, my evenings spent with Netflix, streaming a welcome escape from everyday life. It’s a brilliant show in many ways, but I think what I connected with the most was the concept of “the Upside Down”: a world which looks like our world, but is different somehow; a parallel universe of sorts; one that you can disappear into without warning; one which seems to offer no way out.
Like Alice’s Wonderland and Clara’s Nutcracker journey, I too have tumbled into a world that was both familiar and unrecognizable all at once. I can even remember the feeling of falling, of the ground opening up below my hospital bed as I left the life I knew and plunged into this new world, the one in which I bear the title of Bereaved Mother.
I remember leaving the hospital on that chilly April evening without my baby girl and gazing up at the sky, expecting it to look different, for everything inside of me had changed. I was bewildered, unable to comprehend how it could all look just as it did two days earlier when I walked through those same doors carrying a healthy baby. How could so much change in such a short time and there be no visible mark in the sky? And yet as I took those first tentative steps away from her birthplace, I began to see how my little girl had changed everything. I was seeing the world through my new mother eyes, with their filter of deep grief, and it was all different. At first, things appeared darker, scarier, as fear took a hold of my heart, squeezing it tightly and making it hard to breathe. I saw danger everywhere. For when the worst thing imaginable has happened, there is no escape, no way to still believe “it won’t happen to me”.
My Upside Down was filled with people, wonderful friends reaching out, searching for the me they thought they knew. It was filled with incredible kindness, generosity, and compassion, but somehow those gestures couldn’t quite reach me as if they were unable to penetrate the strange thick air that enveloped me. The same air that made it so hard to breathe.
The days crawled by and I began to adjust to my new reality. I slowly figured out how to breathe the new air without choking with tears, and how to move through the physical pain, as my body began to heal from her birth. I started to cautiously explore my new surroundings, seeking comfort from their familiarity instead of distrust in their failure to change along with me. And as my eyes slowly opened wider to my world without Maeve, I began to see flickers of light penetrating the darkness. The light was in the loyal, kind hearts of those who waited patiently for a glimmer of the friend they once knew to reemerge. The light was in the kindness of strangers who spoke my baby’s name. The light was in the community of loss, as it gently enveloped another new member, holding my hand tightly when the loneliness threatened to consume me. And with that light came breathtaking beauty as I searched for my little girl, for signs that she was still with me. My eyes began to attune to signs of love; to butterflies, rainbows and golden sunsets; to lone flowers bringing color into the grey. And gradually my upside down world became brighter, perhaps even more beautiful than before.
I still have moments when I wish I could escape the Upside Down. I still long for someone to reach in and pull me back into that old, safe reality. But I know I no longer belong there. For I was irrevocably changed that April night and this, here, is where I am meant to be. My heart forever is broken, my arms forever reaching for the one I had to leave behind. And so here I will stay, watching and waiting for those flickers of light, using them to guide my way through this upside down life of love and loss.
Photo: Jess McCormack