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I wrote most of this in February, but couldn’t finish it for some reason, so I didn’t post it at the time. Anyway, here it is, late, but still the actual emotions I was feeling on Eliana’s second birthday.
It has been two years today since Eliana died. It seems crazy to say that-crazy that it ever happened, crazy that it has gone by so fast, and crazy that I survived it. There were many times I would have eagerly chosen to actually go crazy. I told someone early on that I desperately wished I could just lose my mind, and be locked up somewhere, and to not have to think about what had happened or feel the pain of it. Apparently one cannot choose to be insane, though, as my brain and heart stayed firmly planted in excruciating reality.
So now, two years later, I suppose I’m happy that I stayed sane. I made it through. I am still making it through. Most days are pretty easy. Today was a little rougher than most. I thought I was doing so well. I thought about her frequently throughout the day, but stayed pretty calm. Then tonight I just lost it. That’s fine, I’ve been overdue for a good cry and a trip through Eliana’s memorial. I think it’s cleansing in a way. Embracing the pain when it’s unavoidable seems to make it slip away easier afterward.
In that vein, I’ve been thinking about those last days with her, the last hours, the last minutes-the pain of what was. I’ve also been thinking about how she would have been two right now, about the same age as Rebeckah was at that time, and that she might have been looking forward to another sibling being born any day now-all the pain of what wasn’t. And I’ve been thinking of those things that I’ve forgotten, or are fuzzy by now. I can’t remember any of the words the doctor said when he came to tell me she wasn’t going to make it. I can’t remember if I was standing up or sitting down. I can’t remember what I ate the night she died. I can’t remember who was with me when she had her CT scan done. I don’t suppose any of that really matters, but it bothers me just the same. How much more will I forget?
I do remember, though, the feel of her snuggled up next to me when she nursed. I remember the feel of her tiny hand in mine. I remember how silky soft her hair felt on my cheek. I hope the really important stuff stays with me forever. I find that the picture images in my head are extremely unclear, but the physical feelings are embedded deeply. I’m grateful that I can close my eyes and instantly bring up the feeling of her sleeping next to me.
Grieving is a rather crazy business even when you’re not crazy. I write letters to someone who’s not here. I put my deepest feelings out there for total strangers to scrutinize, in the hope that it will help someone. I pour out huge amounts of words, all because of someone who never spoke a single one. I see butterflies that other people don’t. Sometimes it seems like the craziest thing of all though, was that I was able to keep going, even when I wanted to curl up and die too.
When a child dies, there is so, so much that doesn’t make sense. The one thing that does, and the one thing that will last, even beyond the pain, is love. There is so much of it! It threatens to burst out of my chest when I think of her. I hear it pouring out in the letters from other parents living without their precious babies. It plasters the virtual walls of the grief forums. It comes choking out of the mouths at the support groups. It echos down the hallways of the hospitals. When you’re new to the grief, all you feel is the pain, but with a little distance, a little perspective, you can begin to see that it is all love. If we didn’t love so much, we wouldn’t grieve so hard, or so long. If that seems crazy to those who have never been through it, so be it. I’d rather be called crazy (or just plain wrong) than to give up any of the love I have for my child, even if that love is disguised as grief in the beginning. How crazy would that be?
I hate that even now, a year later, I am still struck dumb by the “last times.” In the beginning it was expected that there would be lots of them. “The last time I drove was the day I took her to the hospital.” “The last time I was at this friend’s house for dinner I was holding her.” “The last time I sat at our dining room table I was nursing her.” “The last time I slept in this bed, she was sleeping next to me.”
It happened less as time went on, as each one of them was realized, cried over, and recovered from. They would still creep up occasionally, less frequent and less expected. “The last time I watched this movie we were in the hospital and I was watching a stupid movie instead of holding her.” “The last time I talked to this person, I was still pregnant with her, and now I have to explain to someone else how drastically things can change in just a few months.”
Even now, it still happens once in a while. Today I decided to order from a company I used to do business with. I went back through my old invoices to jog my memory about what I might want to get. Then it hit me. The last time I did an order was just a couple months after Eliana died-during that time I was walking around like a zombie half the time and crying hysterically the other half.
It seems strange to me now that I was doing something so mundane as ordering food. I don’t remember eating. I guess this is proof that I fed my kids at least. I can’t even begin to imagine how I pulled it together enough to either make a decision about what food to buy or to actually purchase it. I certainly did not feel very functional or even okay. Did I look like I was functional or doing okay?
Going back a few orders I found the ones I placed right before she was born. I bought all that stuff in preparation for having a new baby. I stocked up on essentials so I wouldn’t need to go to the store for a while afterward. I made ready for life with a baby that I wasn’t going to get to keep. I have a whole trail of sadness, neatly disguised as food orders.
And then this whole line of thinking leads me to the really important stuff. The last time I held her. The last time I saw her smile. The last time, the last time. Most people record their baby’s firsts. I can only recite the lasts. The last time she took a breath, and the last time I was able to hope for miracles. The last time my baby looked into my eyes, the last time I saw her face, and the last time I looked at the world unclouded by grief.
I think most of all I yearn for the last time that both she and I were whole, and for the time when we both will be again. Someday, hopefully a long time from now, it will be a relief to know that I’ve cried for the last time over missing my Eliana.
I’m in love. No, don’t call my husband please. The object of my affection is no threat to him. I’m in love with the rainbow baby. The day he was born I held him for …. about eight hours. Do you think that’s excessive? It was hard at first to be sure. I cried on the way to the hospital. I cried walking in. I cried in the elevator. I cried when I got to the room, and when I first held him. So much fear and joy and sadness and wonder, all tangled up together.
The worst part, though, was after the nurse gave him a bath. He was crying, so I went over and held his hand and stroked his head. Then it hit me forcibly that this was the same thing I used to do with Eliana-same overhead warmer, same hand holding and head stroking, same whispering that everything would be okay. It was like a knife in my heart, an instant transport back to those horrible, endless days and nights at her bedside. I stood there sobbing, onto my shoes instead of onto him, though. He was upset enough over the bath already. What a lucky little thing, too young to know that sometimes everything is not okay, not even close to okay.
The next day I was thinking about him, and musing about the fact that he is the first child besides our three girls that I have ever bonded with ….and then the panic set in. I’m moving! What in the world was I thinking? Why didn’t it occur to me beforehand that I would have to leave him? That if I allowed myself to love him, my heart would feel it as another loss? Should I have held back, built a nice safe wall to protect me from any more pain? Was I so anxious to love a baby again that I was foolish to do so with one I won’t even get to see very often? Should I have kept a tighter reign on my emotions? How did I not realize this until after I fell in love with him?
Interesting questions to be sure, but all a little too late. I love this baby, and it already hurts to think about leaving him. I don’t know why I’ve never had (or really tried to make) a connection with the other kids I could have been “Auntie” to, but I was finally ready to try it. Unfortunately, it seems I won’t get the chance now. When I said I wanted to love him from a distance, I didn’t mean from a whole state away. Any emotional distance I thought I was going to have went out the window the first time I held him. What do I do now? I’m in love with the rainbow baby, but I won’t get to see him grow up either.
I’m moving. Soon and far. The wanderlust side of myself is reveling in the change and the new adventure of it all. The sentimental side, however, is crying rivers of tears inside my head and heart. All three of our children were born in this house. That fact alone could have kept me content here for the rest of my life. There is a certain old-time appeal to the idea of birthing and raising our children here, and growing old and dying here. It is not going to happen that way now.
Since Eliana only lived two months, there are very few physical ties to this world. One is our house. The other is the hospital. She was born and lived one month at our house. She lived one month and died at the hospital. Now I am leaving both behind. I’m also leaving my friend’s mom’s house, where Eliana made one of just two social outings. My other friend’s apartment is here, the place of her second social event. The doctor’s office I took her to is here. The urgent care we went to is here. The funeral home, the last place I ever held her, is here. Every place she ever was, is here, and I’m leaving.
I won’t be able to drive down the street, and pass any of these locations anymore. I won’t be able to go visit the nurses at her hospital and chat for a few minutes with someone who actually knew her. I won’t be able to sit in my recliner, or lay down in bed, and close my eyes and relive the moments when she was right there in that exact spot with me. I suppose to someone who has never lost a child that might seem like a good thing. To anyone who has, though, we know that part of getting through this depends on clinging to whatever memories we have of our children, because that is all we will ever have of them. There will never be any new ones.
I’m also leaving the only people who are witnesses that my child existed. People here saw her. They held her. They came to the house, to the hospital, and to the funeral. To them, she is more than just a picture on a wall. She is a person. I’m moving away from all the people who care about my baby, or about me. I’m leaving the only people who know me and love me enough to support me in all the things I do in Eliana’s memory, the things I need to do to survive this life without her.
Her birthday is going to be the last day I see most of the people I know. How could the day be any sadder? Two months after that I will be in a new place nearly alone on the one year anniversary of her death. The only thing I can think of that is worse than dealing with my child’s death, is trying to deal with it alone. I’m scared of how hard it is going to be.
I will still have her urn, and her pictures, and stuffed animals, and everything else that was hers, and that I’ve collected since she died. It just isn’t the same, though. It feels as though her essence or spirit is here, and I’m leaving. It is somewhat ridiculous, as I do not believe that at all, but that is how it feels. I’m aware that feelings sometimes have little to do with reality, but knowing that does not stop how much it hurts to be leaving this place-leaving it without her.
I’m moving, but a part of me, a part of my heart, will always remain here, in the bedroom of this house where my sweet baby took her first breath, and in that hospital room where she took her last. I may have to move, but I will never move on.
Happy New Year. What does that mean to me now? That at some arbitrary division of days I’m supposed to feel like I can just start over fresh? That since I have a new calendar I can forget whatever happened during the time the old one hung on my wall? Much like someone who moves to a new place to outrun their problems, I find that mine have followed me here. I’m still the exact same bereaved mom today in 2009 that I was yesterday in 2008.
I started thinking yesterday about what I was doing at this time last year. I was eight months pregnant, getting big and heavy and uncomfortable. I was torn between being desperate for the baby to come out, and terrified of how I was going to handle three kids once she was here. I was seeing my midwife, and chiropractor, and cleaning obsessively. I checked and double-checked my lists, and made double batches of food to freeze for later. You know, all the normal things an eight months preggo woman does. And the only thought that comes to mind with these mental pictures is “normal.” It was all so normal.
It’s like watching a horror movie. You hear the music start to change, you see the character heading toward danger, and you want to yell at them. You want to warn them about what’s lurking around the corner. You know what’s going to happen, and you want to scream for them to stop and go the other way. But they can’t hear you. The script is written, the scene has been shot, and there is nothing you can do to change the way it’s going to play out. You can only sit on the edge of your chair, biting your nails, waiting for the ax to fall.
The excitement, love, fear, drama, and pain of Eliana’s life and death have been carved into time, unchangeable, unerasable, uncorrectable. She’s a part of history now, instead of a part of our world. Screaming to the unsuspecting, naive woman of last year is utterly pointless. Trying to warn her of the impending disaster won’t change anything. Just like the new calendar on my wall doesn’t change anything.
Every day now is an anniversary of a day last year when I was looking forward to Eliana’s birth, instead of mourning her death. That wonderful time when I actually fretted over something so minor as how to fit two toddlers and a nursing baby on my lap all at once for story time. Before I knew that I should be on my face giving thanks for the gift of having them here in the first place, because they can be taken so suddenly. Oh, to be that clueless woman again.
So it’s a new year, but it’s the same old life. Full of the same sorrows and regrets of the last eight months, and the ugly reality that being wished a happy new year doesn’t mean it will be so. I can hope, but I no longer expect. I don’t really know if that is good or bad, but I do know that it makes me very sad. The woman from one year ago now walks around with an invisible broken heart. The show is over, and it was definitely a tear-jerker.
I was going through some of my old files a couple days ago, and I found this. I do not know who wrote it, so unfortunately I cannot give them credit. I’ll write more of my thoughts at the bottom, so you can read this first.
TO MY CHILD:
Just for this morning, I am going to smile when I
see your face and laugh when I feel like crying.
Just for this morning, I will let you choose what
you want to wear, and smile and say how perfect it is.
Just for this morning, I am going to step over the
laundry, and pick you up and take you to the park to play.
Just for this morning, I will leave the dishes in
the sink, and let you teach me how to put that puzzle
of yours together.
Just for this afternoon, I will unplug the telephone
and keep the computer off, and sit with you in the
backyard and blow bubbles.
Just for this afternoon, I will not yell once,
not even a tiny grumble when you scream and whine
for the ice cream truck, and I will buy you one
if he comes by.
Just for this afternoon, I won't worry about what
you are going to be when you grow up, or second guess
every decision I have made where you are concerned.
Just for this afternoon, I will let you help me bake
cookies, and I won't stand over you trying to fix them.
Just for this afternoon, I will take us to
McDonald's and buy us both a Happy Meal so you
can have both toys.
Just for this evening, I will hold you in my arms
and tell you a story about how you were born and
how much I love you.
Just for this evening, I will let you splash in the
tub and not get angry.
Just for this evening, I will let you stay up late
while we sit on the porch and count all the stars.
Just for this evening, I will snuggle beside you for
hours, and miss my favorite TV shows.
Just for this evening when I run my finger through
your hair as you pray, I will simply be grateful
that God has given me the greatest gift ever given.
I will think about the mothers and fathers who are
searching for their missing children, the mothers
and fathers who are visiting their children's graves
instead of their bedrooms, and mothers and fathers
who are in hospital rooms watching their children
suffer senselessly, and screaming inside that they
can't handle it anymore.
And when I kiss you good night I will hold you a
little tighter, a little longer. It is then, that
I will thank God for you, and ask him for nothing,
except one more day.............
I remember reading this years ago, and it always made me cry. The strange thing is, I didn’t shed a single tear when I read it this time. I don’t have to wonder in terror about how that would feel if it happened to me. It already has. I’ve experienced all the regrets, should haves, what ifs, fears, and pain, and grief. I live with it every day. Reading about it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t gone through it doesn’t seem to affect me now. I guess I’ve wept enough over the actual event that I don’t need to weep over the possibility of it happening. Imagination is much gentler than reality.
As if I wasn’t already having enough fun with all this, now I’m starting to have nightmares. And they’re not even about her. I would understand, and be able to deal with, and almost welcome, having dreams about Eliana. But I’m having them about my other kids. Horrible, scary dreams about them being hurt or killed, such as people breaking into our house while we’re sleeping or a nuclear explosion.
This morning it was me and them at a theme park of all things, on a volcanic island. Of course the volcano erupted, so I was running, running with my two kids, trying to outrace the lava. We were doing a pretty good job until somehow the effect of the volcano blowing caused a tidal wave/flood from the other direction. It was coming so fast there was nothing we could do. I woke up, managed to calm myself down, then drifted back to sleep, into the same spot in the dream. This time it wasn’t coming so fast, so we started running back the other way, trying to find the highest spot. We used the service “ladder?” on the biggest roller coaster and climbed to the top. A helicopter saw us and came down to get us. For whatever reason it couldn’t quite come down far enough, and had nothing to throw out to us, so I had to try to lift my daughter into it. She slipped, and fell to the ground. I had to try to get my second daughter into it, and then myself, after having just basically dropped the first one to her death. Not to be outdone, my brain went through it a third time. This time there was no helicopter, and the water got so high we all died anyway, even from the top of the roller coaster. In the dream, as I watched the water coming toward us, I prayed that He wouldn’t let my kids suffer. Then I woke up…again. I decided not to find out what scenario number four would be, so I got up. Half the time I can’t sleep, and when I do, I’m waking up three and four times a night with stuff like this. It’s exhausting.
I know that these kinds of nightmares are just ripe with possible interpretations. As interesting as it is for me to glean what I can from them, I do wish my mind would just find a better way of working through all the stuff up there. I can’t imagine a perpetual lack of sleep is going to be all that helpful for my health, or my journey through this grief. This is not healing, it’s annoying. Dealing with the (real) death of one child is hard enough without having to deal with the (dreamtime) deaths of the remaining two. Ugh. When will it be enough?
Anyway, here’s my super-quick dream analysis on myself.
#1-nothing I can do, just give up, we all die (what I rejected)
#2-do everything I can to save them, despite my best efforts one dies, have to keep functioning in order to save the one that’s left, have to save myself so I can keep taking care of her (what I’m doing)
#3-even when I give my best effort there’s nothing else I can do to save any of us, think my kids will probably suffer despite my prayer, we all die (what I fear)
And on that depressing note, I think I’ll stop, since I once again don’t seem to have much of a point. Except that even now, eight months after her death, I am still finding new ways that this whole thing just sucks. I miss my baby. And I miss the old me that didn’t have nightmares about whether the other two were going to die horrible deaths that I couldn’t do anything about. And I miss being able to take sleep for granted. I’m so tired of all of this.
So, my whole family has a cold right now. Those of you who know Eliana’s story probably remember this, but for those who don’t know, the very first step of this journey into h**l was…you guessed it-our whole family coming down with a cold. So many times in the last few days I’ve been talking to someone and said those exact words. “Our whole family has a cold.” It sounds so innocent, inconvenient at worst, but I feel the vise of grief squeeze my heart every time the words slip out of my mouth. What I thought was just a little cold started the downward spiral that eventually resulted in my baby dying.
The cold bug seems to have hit me the worst this time. I mentioned to my husband that I might end up sleeping in the recliner tonight because my nose is so stuffy that my head feels like it’s going to explode. As soon as I said it I almost collapsed on the floor in a heap. I just wanted to scream and cry until I couldn’t cry any more. This time practicality won out and I settled for a few tears. My nose is so stuffy it hurts to cry.
The reason I was so upset, though, is because that’s how Eliana and I spent our last week at home. Her poor little nose was clogged up too, so we spent our nights and nap times propped up in the recliner with pillows and a cushy blanket. She could breathe a lot easier being upright on my chest than she could on her back. Even though we were all sick, it is one of my favorite memories. I love that we got to snuggle and nurse and rock and sleep. I love that I have the picture in my head of us all cozy and safe and warm. And I love that I had that much time with her before our world got turned upside down.
As soon as I thought about sleeping in the recliner, I immediately realized that the last time I slept there, I was holding Eliana. I figured if I did sleep there I’d end up taking out her blanket and teddy bear and crying myself to sleep, and I got so scared; scared that I wouldn’t be able to stop the tears, scared that the physical re-creation of those tender moments would send me back into the pit, scared to let go the tenuous grasp I have on feeling somewhat okay.
Grief is sometimes a silent predator. It strikes when I least expect it, and am least equipped to deal with it. Out of the blue, it pounces, and tries to devour me. I know by now that it won’t succeed, but that doesn’t stop the pain that I feel while I wrestle with it. I still have the urge to run, but I know it wouldn’t do any good. Grief is an impatient opponent, and it waits for no one. I must face it or it will follow me wherever I go.
It’s time now to go sleep, and since my nose has not miraculously cleared up, I know where I’m headed. What used to be just a recliner is now a place of danger, fear, sadness, joy, tenderness, love, and heartbreak. I don’t know which emotion will win this time, but at least I have a blankie and teddy to help me through the fight.
Note: Just thought I’d add this humorous update on my night. Grief had some stiff competition last night…from my husband’s snoring. =) I was sitting there trying to go to sleep and couldn’t because he was so loud. Frustration over that won out over the sadness. I had taken the same blanket that Eliana and I used out of the hall closet and used that to wrap up. I just basked in the memories of holding her under that same blanket, but didn’t break down like I expected. That doesn’t mean that tonight it won’t happen exactly as I feared, but for last night, I got a break.
I was sitting in a waiting area of sorts a few days ago, while my kids were in a class. From that vantage point, I could look into the room where my children were, and also see the pool outside. A few other people were sitting there too, and none of them seemed to know anybody else. So when the man nearest to me started talking, I wasn’t really sure who he was addressing. Maybe all of us. Maybe just himself. I don’t know, but his words struck me like a blow to my chest. He said “Do you see that woman in the wheelchair getting into the pool? That is courage.”
I agreed with him, but my mind started going in a different direction, as it often does these days. I am a classic example of a person displaying what is called “the narcissism of grief.” I have the uncanny ability to take the most unrelated topics, and morph them into something about the death of my daughter, and the grief resulting from it. That day was no different.
Like the woman we saw through the window, I suffer from a handicap, something that cripples me and makes me less than whole. My condition makes life harder, more painful. It makes the seemingly simple tasks almost more than I can handle sometimes. People look at me funny. Some just don’t care that I hurt. Some wish I would go away so they don’t have to think about my situation. I wonder why this happened to me. I wonder why this should have to happen to anyone. I wonder about my ability to go on, to keep struggling with this burden thrust upon me, unchosen, unwanted, and unending.
But I still choose to live. I choose to try and make some meaning out of this suffering. I choose to keep fighting-against my own feelings of futility, against rude or thoughtless behavior from people who don’t understand and maybe don’t care to, against a world that would rather pretend that infant death doesn’t happen, even if it means abandoning the parents who are going through it.
So, symbolically speaking, I choose to get into the pool. Even though it hurts me to do it and hurts others to watch it. Even though it exposes my weakness, and makes me more vulnerable. Even though it forces me to ask for help, and admit how needy I am. And even though I run the risk of slipping, of going under and coming up sputtering, maybe again and again.
There is no right way to get into a pool. There is only the act of doing it, despite the fear of drowning during the attempts. I, and the many, many people I know who have lost children, are doing exactly that. We may not be diving in, but we end up in the water eventually. And as that unnamed man so eloquently stated that day, “That is courage.”