I don’t have a lot of experience with grief.
Today, one month after Sebastian’s death, I have been reading about the experiences of other “babylost” parents on two websites, glow in the woods and Unspoken Grief. There is a lot I relate to in the words of these bereaved mothers and fathers.
I’ve also been reading the book we were given at the hospital after Sebastian’s birth, called Empty Cradle, Broken Heart. It discusses the way you might feel and what is “normal” to go through after you lose a baby, through miscarriage, interrupted pregnancy, stillbirth, or infant death. It basically says that no matter what you are feeling, you are entitled to it. Grieving a baby is hard, and everyone who has to do it will do so differently.
One of the biggest topics the author addresses is Anger. Many mothers feel rage – at the universe or God or fate, for bringing them this misfortune. Others are furious at medical staff, or other people involved with their pregnancy or birth, people they blame for the death (sometimes genuinely, sometimes temporarily as a coping mechanism).
During the conversation when I first told my older sister that her second nephew had died, she said something that struck me as incredibly sad: “I live my life perpetually expecting things to go wrong, so I’ll be prepared when they do… but it doesn’t really work. I’m still not prepared.”
The idea of always expecting the worst seems like a tragedy in itself. But I’ve realized that I have, in a certain way, been doing the same thing for a long time.
I can’t remember a time when I was unaware of tragedy. (Growing up Quaker, one tends to develop a social conscience early.) When I was a kid, I worried about endangered species and starving children. I was full of fascinated horror over the Titanic disaster, my heart ached over burning rainforest, and I cried over Anne Frank’s plight. I knew that there were people in the world who lost their whole families in epidemics, famines, floods, earthquakes, and wars.
Personally, I had a very happy childhood, and my adulthood has really been pretty charmed too, up to now. In a way, I’ve been waiting for the bad luck to hit.
Hold on. I’ve always thought of myself as an optimist, but this sounds like I might be the opposite. I realize that the older I get, and the more people I know who have dealt with tragedy directly, the more I’ve been expecting my turn. I mean, nobody gets off scot-free, right? When my first son was born, he seemed almost too good to be true. I understood at once what moms say about having your heart suddenly outside your body. Part of me was – and is – afraid that this couldn’t possibly last, that I couldn’t deserve such an amazing, perfect child. So far, I haven’t lost a parent or a sibling or a best friend. Neither has Sean. We have been healthy and employed and able-bodied. We have each other and our son.
We were due for some tribulations.
If this sounds irreverent or dispassionate, it’s neither. I have often asked myself if it’s actually possible to go through life like this – as in, Do I really get to keep everyone I love until they get old? Well, is anyone that lucky? That doesn’t seem likely. I’m pretty sure shit happens to everyone. People lose loved ones far too young. People get diseases and injuries that put them and their families through immense pain. People suffer heartbreak and terror and abuse at the hands of others – others who have usually suffered the same things. There are so many sources of anguish; how can we expect avoid them all?
I have figured out a fundamental difference between me and many other grieving parents. This epiphany makes me feel fortunate, thankful – and also confused, and maybe somehow inadequate. Because I am not angry. I am sad, but suddenly I see that sadness is a much less ragged wound than angry sadness.
I once went through a memorable stretch of grief that included a lot of anger, and it was, in a way, much worse than this has been (so far). I lost my appetite and my enthusiasm. I would wake up at 3 a.m. and be unable to sleep any more, no matter how exhausted I was. I would feel claustrophobic and sick and find it hard to breathe. It was scary and lonely, and it made it hard to put my grief behind me.
When Sebastian died, I was afraid I would experience that same horror. I waited for it to descend… but it didn’t. I have had only a little sleeplessness, and not the heavy, walls-closing-in kind. My appetite has been fine. I do not blame God or destiny or my midwife or the doctors or nurses. I know everyone did their best… and everyone has to deal with heartbreak. This one is ours. I don’t know why I am able to accept this, but I am grateful for whatever threads in my life wove together to protect me from anger right now.
So, if angry is how I am not, the question follows (and has been asked many times): how am I?
That’s a tough one. It will have to be for another post.