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I’ve been away from here for a while now. By “here”, I don’t just mean my blog. I mean my grief too. For all my big talk about how I was not going to avoid or hide it from anyone, myself included, I feel like that is what I have done the last few months. To be honest, the place we moved is so nice, and we are doing so well, and are so happy, that I think I simply didn’t want any sadness to intrude upon it.
And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’m at a point in this life that I don’t need to deal with it so often, and there is just less of it to deal with. I suppose deep down I knew all along that this is where I would get to. I was adamant about trudging through the pits of my despair early on, so it wouldn’t take as long to climb back out. Nevertheless, it is almost as scary to admit how good I’m doing now, as it was to admit how bad I was doing then. Because I was so “in your face” about how I was never going to let go of Eliana or her memory, I’m sensitive now to even the appearance that I’m now doing so.
The truth is, life does (except for the most tragic of the bereaved) go on. We may not like it. We may fight it. We may scream and curse and weep. But it does about as much good as trying to stop the wind. The rest of the world keeps right on going as though we never lost our children, and our own lives keep right on plugging along too, whether we want them to or not.
I figured that some people who follow my story were probably curious about what we did on the one year anniversary of Eliana’s death. I have heard and read so many beautiful things that parents have done on those days. I wish I could say that I have an equally beautiful story to share. Instead, I’ll share the truth.
I have a yahoo group to notify people of events done in memory of Eliana. I asked the people on it to each light a candle at the time of her death, and to take a picture of it for me, which I could then post on her memorial. I had just moved out of state and was all alone on this day, and it felt like a way to connect with people who love us, despite how far away we were. I wanted to spend a quiet day at home, and light our candles at the same time.
We ended up spending most of the day doing errands. At an hour before the time the candles were to be lit, do you know where I was? Sitting, contemplating, crying, talking, or getting ready? No, I was at Home Depot. It was one of those trips that you think will only take a few minutes. At twenty minutes ’til I was really starting to get stressed out. At fifteen ’til I told my husband I didn’t care what we were doing, we could do it later.
We got to our house with five minutes to spare. I grabbed some of the things from her cabinet, laid them out on our buffet, and lit her candle. Over the next half hour or so, we added more things, cut some fresh roses for bouquets, the girls drew pictures, and we lit more candles. Our little grouping got quite large, and ended up being really pretty. We sat and talked about her, recalled funny and sweet memories, and I spent time on her memorial crying. It ended up being an okay day.
But still, the fact that I almost missed it really upset me. How could I almost miss such an important moment for whatever it was we were doing at Home Depot? I decided that day that I was not going to write about it. How embarrassing! And how pitiful compared to the other things I’ve done in her memory that I am rather proud to have done. Ugh, I don’t want to admit that not only did I not have the time or energy to do some grand gesture, but that I barely managed to achieve a meager one.
A few days ago I changed my mind. When I started this blog, I did so with the hope that baring my soul would perhaps help other grieving parents by letting them know they are not alone, and possibly open the eyes of those who have not experienced the death of a child. Above all else, I wanted it to be REAL. Well, what could be more real than the fact that, despite it being the anniversary of our daughter’s death, this was the only day my husband had off work, and there were things that had to be done and just couldn’t be put off? I’m not willing to sugar coat my real life now any more than I was willing to sugar coat my raw grief then.
It’s good that we can put some things on hold temporarily in order to deal with the excruciating work of grief. I think it’s good to throw ourselves into the pit if it will help facilitate our eventual climb back out. But it’s also good that real life gets in the way after a while. There are still dishes that need to be washed, yards that need to be mowed, and errands that need to be run. Real life forces us to start living again, even if shallowly at first.
So there it is: what we did that day, and really, what we’ve been doing since you last heard from me. Living life-some happy, some sad, a lot of average. I was wrong about how I’ve been dealing with my grief. I haven’t been avoiding it. It has simply changed shape and I didn’t recognize it. I haven’t let her go. It just doesn’t hurt as bad to hold on. Welcome back to the real life of a real bereaved mom.
One year ago, on February 15th, at 3:27 in the afternoon, Eliana Meredith entered our world. She was beautiful, and soft, and perfect, and an utter joy to me. As I sit here now, one year later, I hardly know what to say, or think. It is still so unbelievable to me that it all actually happened, or that it has been this long already. As much as I grieve and agonize over her death, though, I will never regret her birth. Even in my sadness, I will still celebrate her life. If my pain is the price of having been able to love her, no matter how briefly, then I will gladly pay it.
When I was pregnant with her I watched Steel Magnolias-I know, call me crazy. The line that stuck with me, that still sticks with me, is “I’d rather have five minutes of wonderful than a whole lifetime of nothing special.” I would rather have had my two months with Eliana, than to have never known her at all. It hurts that she’s gone. It hurts unimaginably, sometimes unbearably, but she was worth it. And now, one year later, sitting here without her and crying even while I write this, I can say that February 15th is a good day, a happy day. It was the day I met my precious Eliana, and that will always be something to celebrate.
Happy birthday, little one. I love you always. -Mommy
Every year we drive North to go play in the snow. Right now I’m recovering from this year’s trip. It’s a long drive, and during part of it I was sitting there just thinking about things. It occurred to me that I felt okay. As a matter of fact, I felt pretty good. My husband and I were getting along. The kids were excited to get there and play. My close friends were with us and sharing the fun. I had snacked for the last hour and my tummy was happy. I just sat there for a few moments in sheer wonder that I could feel this “okay.” And then I had to turn my face to the window because the tears started streaming down.
The crying didn’t last long, but it is a good example of how a bereaved parent can be so happy and so sad at the very same time. I wouldn’t trade my tentative feelings of normal for the utter despair I had in the beginning (and that still hits occasionally), but even the sense of normalcy seems surreal. How can anything be good, or happy, or okay, or normal, when my baby is dead? Even when I’m sitting there thinking about how nice it is to feel good, part of me is saying “I don’t really feel okay, do I? Do I really feel good? How is that possible?” It’s enough to make a person feel crazy.
So how can anything be good again when my baby is dead? I guess the only answer is …..that sometimes it just is. In the beginning I didn’t believe it was possible. Even while feeling it now, it seems strange and unbelievable. But it’s there nonetheless. I didn’t ask for it. For a while I didn’t even want it. It seemed like a betrayal that I might feel happy again without her. Guilt rending as it may be, though, I am grateful for it.
Her death and my grief don’t feel like the heavy chains they once were. Now they feel more like an old injury. There is an ugly scar, a dull ache I don’t notice all the time, and at times it acts up and is incredibly painful and debilitating. But I don’t feel constantly enslaved now. I’m not crippled under the weight, or chained to one spot, unable to move forward. Sometimes, even with my injuries, I can feel good.
I guess I need to give myself just as much permission to be happy as I do to immerse myself in the sorrow. I can agonize over the death of my precious child even while loving and caring for my family, and I can joyfully live my life, thankful for all the blessings in it, even while missing my Eliana terribly. Smiling and crying at the same time isn’t crazy, even if it might look that way to others. It’s just another step of this road of grief. I’ll keep allowing myself to smile, even if it makes me cry, because they are both okay.
I know for myself and a lot of other bereaved parents, that sometimes it’s very hard to be thankful for anything. The magnitude of our loss seems to overshadow everything else. It blinds us to the good things that might be right in front of us. No wonder, since what we have lost is a precious, longed for, loved child of our wombs and hearts. What is there to be thankful for when a child has died? Life seems to be a dichotomy: happy or sad, smiling or crying, thankful or thankless. If feels like there is no middle ground, and that we will spend the rest of our lives grieving as hard as we do in the beginning.
As more time passes, though, it is becoming easier to gives thanks for what I have, while still mourning for my sweet Eliana who is no longer here. I have come to understand that opposing emotions are rarely mutually exclusive. I can smile through my tears, laugh even in my sadness, and see beauty even through the pain. So, on this first Thanksgiving without my baby, I would like to share some things that I am thankful for.
I am thankful that Eliana has given me the courage to speak up, when before I would have stayed silent.
I am thankful that losing her has given me the wisdom to be quiet and just listen, when before I would have said something totally unhelpful, or even worse, have avoided the person because I just didn’t know what to say.
I am thankful that it will always be impossible now to take my other children for granted, since I know what it’s like to lose one of them.
I am thankful that I know how badly this hurts, so I can be more compassionate to others in pain.
I am thankful that so many people have received help because of Eliana-much needed items at the hospital, love and support from MISS after losing a child, food from the food bank, and the encouragement that they are not alone.
I am thankful that I now know what my priorities in life are.
I am thankful for all the people who surrounded me with love and support during the most horrible time of my life.
I am thankful for all the people who continue to help me on this journey, long after the majority believe I should be over it.
I am thankful for all the ways I have to remember my child that most people never had: photographs, hand and foot prints, an online memorial site, scrapbooks, and video clips.
I am thankful for this blog, where I can share my feelings with friends and strangers alike.
I am thankful for the month I had with Eliana at home, for the month I had with her in the hospital, and for the time I had with her after they took her off the machines.
I am thankful that I now know what I’m willing to die for, and that death is less scary, because I will get to join her.
I am thankful for all the people who have cried with me over Eliana, people who let my little girl into their hearts and allowed themselves to feel the pain of her absence.
I am thankful that at any given moment, people at the hospital, children at a school, someone across the world at their computer, or a friend right down the road, might be thinking about my baby or saying her name.
I am thankful that I was able to see, hear, feel, smell, hold, and love Eliana before she died.
I am thankful that I have a God big enough to handle my anger and fears.
I am thankful for the depth of my sorrow, because it is a testament to the depth of my love, and I’m thankful for joy, because that is also a testament to the depth of my love.
I am thankful that the moments of deepest despair do not last forever.
I am thankful that I had the joy of knowing such a sweet, gentle, and brave little person, my precious Eliana.
Wishing you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving, and if it can’t be happy yet, then I wish you the comfort of knowing that the pain will not always be quite this bad. I know that is hard to believe in the beginning. But that is something else I’m thankful for: that all the people who said that to me turned out to be right, even though I didn’t believe them at the time either. Love to all of you, Deanna