I vividly remember those emotions. The day after day despair and loneliness.
In those days, I had the distinct sense of everyone else moving forward, living their lives into a brighter, happier future, disappearing along a light and bright stream, with their easy-breezy lives while I was stuck in my darkness, dizzy with the speed of people passing by me.
Their lives streamed past me at a pace that was crazy fast, relative to the endless, stagnate and inescapable stillness, lost in the misery of my life as a bereaved mum.
I would like to think that I looked forward far enough to wonder what life would be like in ten years, but honestly, in those first few years, I was lost in the current of my misery, paddling around and around in the inescapable and sometimes disorienting darkness – this cave of unknown grief that the river of life had unwillingly propelled me into.
No. In those early days, there was no life in the future.
I was not asking what life would be like in ten years’ time. I didn’t think about next week and barely even thought about tomorrow.
There was certainly no life on the other side of the death of my baby.
Not for me.
I had new emotions, things I had never experienced before.
And new experiences in old relationships.
For months my husband and I lived parallel lives. One night I roamed our neighborhood, howling at the darkened sky, the finality and reality of death, forever separation from one I loved, sinking in.
My gentle-hearted husband sat at home and wondered where I was. Not my body, but my mind.
That was peak grief.
Then as I began to recover, ever so slowly, my husband began his descent into wrestling with the great injustice of premature death.
Other relationships withered, now barely a husk of what they were once. Still, other relationships became characterized by the knowledge that someone I love simply cannot and will not understand me ever again in the way I once thought they could.
A decade has now passed. I have emerged from the dark cave of pregnancy loss grief.
I cannot tell you when it happened, only that it did. From the numb and anxious I have moved into emotional responses that seem more long term.
To my shame, since emerging from the dark, I have discovered that I am capable of envy on a scale that humiliates me, and that I never thought was possible.
Who knew that it was possible to envy another loss parent.
The death of my child wrenched a dream and a vision for the future from me. For me, the whole world changed.
For those close to me the fact of my loss was just that – some piece of information. My baby had been invisible to them, and so the loss impacted them little.
Their responses, their reactions, the extension of love and grace toward me reflected that invisibility and minimal impact.
Don’t misunderstand. There were flowers and cards, but the slow walking alongside that I so desperately needed never happened.
Carried along in the bright light and apparently easy current, the lives of my friends and peers continued.
From a distance, I observed that when faced with the visible, tangible loss of a child who was visible and tangible, the support was also tangible.
And so I met envy in a way that I had never known it.
To wish I was that loss mother, instead of me. To know the long term support that she had known, instead of the great cavern which opened between me and my peers as I was left behind.
I have learned over time to hate my body. So desperately let down by my body on the day that my baby died, my life has been altered, choices wrenched from me.
There still is not a week that goes by where I look at a baby and think to myself, “I could have loved, nurtured, mothered so many more children.”
Don’t misunderstand. I love my living children. But the choice to have more was ripped from me as a consequence of pregnancy loss.
So much trauma is caused by the involuntary removal of choice.
And I have learned to live with loneliness. This is no longer the loneliness of staring out from the dark cave full of invisible horrors and sharp and dangerous rocks to run into, looking into the sunlight as my friends cruise past.
No. This is a new loneliness.
This is the loneliness of again being in the sunbathed stream, but knowing that the cave of horrors exists.
To know happiness again is one of life’s blessings. I am truly grateful to have found my way out of the darkness.
Yet some of the cave came with me.
Sometimes still the water splashes a scratch, or the bright sunlight catches my eye, and these things hurtle me back to the memories of the cave.
It is knowing that I can never again be naive, but having to allow other people the luxury of their innocence.
It is having the date, the hour, the minute by minute account of events seared into my memory, so strongly that, even as I approach the tenth anniversary of my son’s death, I know that my body will betray me in the days leading up to it.
That no matter how much I let go, as the sun rises on that day I will be transported back in time. Unwillingly, involuntarily, scenes of that day will play in my mind.
To know that, by the time I wake on the anniversary day, I already had been in hospital for hours, to smell the toast and be reminded of being wheeled on my bed past the nurses kitchen, where they chatted and made breakfast, as I was wheeled to a tiny dark room where I would desperately beg the technician to try again, to do everything possible to find my sons heartbeat, which even I could see plainly was no longer there.
To look westward at the setting sun, just as I did when I delivered my baby many years ago.
But more than that, to remember these things alone. For a day to be back in that darkness, knowing that in all the world.
In time only a mother remembers these things. Alone again, completely alone as I remember and love my child in the memory that remains.
Perhaps burying a child has taught me that I’m a terrible person. Perhaps that is true for the parts of my character which loss has unearthed.
Yet in the past decade the same loss that has revealed my worst parts has also allowed for the polishing of my better parts.
I have discovered that those nearest me do not need to understand every single thing I have ever been through to still love me. It is unfair to expect it, and expecting it creates unrealistic expectations, which lead to unnecessary pain.
I can love those who love me by allowing them to not understand. This is good and healthy. One day maybe they also will give me this grace.
After all, no one has set out to not love me.
Love is complex, and nothing shows me this more clearly than attempting to love a child I can never again hold. I can accept love even when it is wildly incomplete, and graciously receive love from those who genuinely offer it.
Yesterday at my daughter’s ballet recital I wept while watching from the wings as she swept around the stage. This seems to be customary now, as I watch her leap and twirl.
I cannot say that I would have been an emotionless mother, however, the great loss of one child has greatly increased my love and enjoyment of my living children.
How fabulous is it to watch a child enjoy themselves, challenge themselves, express themselves, to grow and mature? While many days are challenging in parts, the joy my children bring is such brightness to me.
Where the darks were ever so dark, the light is that much brighter.
I want to avoid being ‘that person,’ but the truth is, when all else failed, Jesus did not.
The first Christmas was unbearable, Mary with her miracle son, and me without a miracle at all, feeling betrayed on all sides.
That first Christmas where I tearfully scoffed as the words were read that Jesus understood all our human emotions, experiences, challenges, betrayals, disappointments.
In time, however, this scoffing has been replaced with peace. The only place where I have been reliably, unashamedly able to express my fear, anger, and envy, has been in the lap of Jesus.
Never have I been more convinced of Jesus goodness than as I have sheepishly, tearfully whispered to my heavenly father ‘Nobody understands.’
That has not changed peoples’ understanding of me, but mine of them, as the response returns: ‘They don’t need to understand you for me to love you.’
Where I remember my son alone, I remember that I am not forgotten by the God who knows my name.
I cannot answer the questions about where God was when I was in premature labor or why he allowed it to happen at all.
I do accept that Jesus wasn’t on vacation or worse, playing with my life. We have grown closer these past ten years.
3612 days have passed.
Eventually I have counted not in days, where I could hardly breathe, but only weeks, when crippling anxiety would lurk around corners and mug me for the threads of sanity that I held.
Then months, where the happy news of other pregnancies would darken my spirit, and now not even years, where I still wonder ‘why me?’
It is a decade.
Forevermore that one fateful moment will be referred to in terms of how many lots of ten years have passed.
I no longer look like the weary 100-year-old version of myself, but just me, seasoned with time, wise and more cautious. Now capable of looking with stillness at the past, and wondering about the future.
What will the next ten years look like?
I am hoping that this decade brings more grace, more growth and that my memory of my precious first child remains with me, a useful and instructive moment so that I can love those around me better.