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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?
Right after Eliana died I was understandably desperate for a baby in my arms. I thought, and cried, and agonized over trying again right away. Some to whom I looked for advice said it would be a huge mistake, that I needed time to heal first. Others, mainly moms who did have another child soon after losing one, said it could be incredibly healing to have another baby as a comfort for the loss. I put it off, and procrastinated, and deliberated so long that I made a decision by default.
I also realized that I would not be able to handle the knowledge that a new baby would only be there because Eliana was not. My hat is off to all the women who handle it beautifully. I just knew that I wouldn’t. In the end, I decided to wait until at least the same amount of time had passed as there was between the other kids. That meant that according to my timeline, I was free to try around August.
Now, five months later, I am still paralyzed in fear over the very idea of it. I want a baby, of course. What I don’t want is the nine months of terror over the possibility of losing it. Knowing that one minute, day, or month of time could mean the difference between a healthy child and one that will die and destroy me with grief leaves me frozen, unable to move forward, and trapped by indecision. What if we pick the wrong moment? So again, I keep putting it off, and sit here wondering how long I can keep this up.
I’m not ancient, but I’m not getting any younger either. I know the chances of birth defects go up the longer I wait, and the chances of conceiving go down. It’s going on two years now since she came and went. Is it possible that another two years could come and go just as quickly and just as babyless because I’m too scared to take the chance?
I don’t know how to do this. I didn’t know how to make it through my grief. I don’t know how to make it through my fear. I don’t know how to make it through a pregnancy without going crazy. And I hate, hate, hate that the only way is to just do it. Here’s me having a conversation with Nike: Them-“Just do it.” Me-“I can’t. I haven’t planned it out yet, and I can’t predict the outcome. I’d rather not do it, thanks.”
I of all people realize that grief and healing are a lifelong journey, not a destination or a goal. I’m not going to wake up one morning and be “okay” or “ready.” But it sure would be nice to feel a little bit more ready than I do right now. How long would I have to wait though? I’ve already been waiting a long time. Would that feeling of readiness ever actually materialize?
I am scared. I’m just so very scared because I know what it’s like to lose my child. Part of me says to just trust God.
But that’s what I did the last time.
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
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.
By: Gwen Flowers
It doesn’t fit me very well,
But it matters not, you see.
Because most people do not want
To see the real me.
It’s much too painful for them.
So they avert their eyes.
Their platitudes are only words
that I’ve come to despise.
They can’t bear to confront it.
They don’t know what to say.
They think if I ignore it,
The pain will go away.
But I cannot ignore it.
It is too deep and real.
And those who’ve never lived it
Just don’t know how I feel.
No one wants to face it
When a baby dies.
They quickly try to hush
A grieving mother’s cries.
They say I should be moving on.
They don’t know what they ask.
So, to spare their feelings,
I put on the mask.
People frequently say things to me, that perhaps they truly believe are going to comfort me, or perhaps they truly don’t think before they speak. Either way, I’d like to dispel another myth. Here it is. The fact that I have living children does not make up for the one that is dead. The fact that I can have another baby does not make up for the one that is dead. The only thing these statements say to me is that the people who speak them really have no clue what they are talking about.
When someone makes one of these remarks, my first thought is usually something along the lines of “Okay, then how about you stick one of your hands out here and we’ll chop it off. Sure, it will hurt a little at first, but you should be able to get over it quickly because you do still have another hand, right? As a matter of fact, after some arbitrary amount of time (determined by me, not you) I do not want to hear you ever mention that you are having a difficult time dealing with the loss of your hand. Don’t ask me for help. You just need to be strong. No complaining. That will just tell me that you are ungrateful for the hand you have left. And would you mind terribly keeping your stump hidden? Looking at it makes me uncomfortable. Hey, where are you going?”
Do you see my point? Nobody would use that kind of reasoning when talking about their hands. Why in the world would that kind of logic apply to one of my children? Bottom line-it doesn’t. It doesn’t apply at all. It is faulty reasoning.
I love my living children. If I am lucky enough to be able to have another baby, I will love that child too. I love them so much it hurts. I love them more than my life itself. But they do not make up, could not ever make up, for my Eliana not being here. They are not machine parts, easily interchangeable. They are people. They are my children. I cannot swap one for another, and in doing so, somehow patch the hole in my heart. The Eliana size hole is there to stay. It cannot be filled with anything, or anyone else. I could have twenty more children, and I would still grieve for my precious baby.
I miss her, will always miss her, much as I suspect you would miss one of your hands (or one of your children) if you happened to lose one of them. That which is precious cannot be replaced. It would be foolish to try. And it is foolish to ask me to do so.
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.”
This poem was written three and a half months after losing Eliana. I wrote it not only for me, but for all my friends who are grieving their losses, whether it be dreams, or illusions, or children. I am so sorry for our pain. I wish things were different.
by Deanna Parish
My yearbook tells the story
of the dreams that we all dreamed
of dating and true love and weddings
and happiness that seemed
to be just around the corner
just waiting for us to find.
We knew it would take effort
but it would be worth it. We didn’t mind.
We all moved on. We settled down
with our men and with our babies.
As teenagers how could we have known
that as adults we’d realize maybe
we should have been more realistic.
We should have seen the light.
Sometimes dreams just don’t come true
no matter how hard you fight
because men still cheat and money runs out
and babies sometimes die
and no matter how long and hard we question it
we will never understand why.
We’re left to grieve and hurt and cry
and just try to muddle along
wondering how the story in my yearbook
could have turned out to be so wrong.
(Note: The questions have already started, so I need to specify that I am not referring to my husband cheating. It has, however, happened to people I love. The pain and grief they feel is no less real or horrible than my own. This poem is a lament for all of our dreams that have died, regardless of their nature.)
Once upon a time, there lived a woman. Her life was pretty typical-no evil stepmothers to be found anywhere. She had a husband, 3 beautiful daughters, a home, and family and friends who loved her. She also had the typical problems-not enough money and not enough time to go around. For the most part though, she was content to just be at home with her girls. She held on to all the typical hopes-get ahead in life, raise wonderful children, spend a happy lifetime with her husband, and help out others when she could. She didn’t really need a fairy godmother. Things were okay as they were.
Then one day her baby died. The woman’s whole world came crashing down, crushing her under the weight of her agony. There was no happy ending for her. Prince Charming was not going to rescue her from the prison of unbearable aching. Nobody was going to wave a magic wand and make it all go away. The only one to ride off into the sunset was her child, and she was left there to grieve and try to survive the pain. And the woman sadly realized that fairy tales were just that – fairy tales. The end.
Running around our house is a cat named Lilly. Sadly enough for him, he’s male. You can blame the discrepancy between the cat’s name and it’s gender on my foo foo 4 year old. In Elisabeth’s world, all things good are female. If it can’t wear pink, what good is it?? She tells me she does not like boys. Well, except Daddy…. And her friend Adam…. And her friend Michael…. And…. well, you get the point. Soooo, despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise, she continues to insist that Lilly is a girl. I’m not quite ready to show her the physical proof just yet, so for better or worse, Lilly he will remain.
But back to the point of this post. Eliana and Lilly spent part of their babyhood together. When I put Eliana in the bouncy, he would climb in there, curl up next to Eliana, and start purring. It seemed to comfort both of them, and they would usually fall asleep like that. It was one of the sweetest things I think I’ve ever seen. As a matter of fact, Eliana would not sleep in the bouncy unless Lilly was lying in there with her.
The night I came home from the hospital without Eliana I started to walk in the front door, and the first thing I saw was this cat. I lost it. I couldn’t even walk in the house. I ran back out into the front yard sobbing. I had a really hard time even looking at Lilly for a while afterwards. It seemed so unfair. The stupid cat got to live, but my baby didn’t. He will get to grow up, but my baby never will.
As the days passed, the cat became kind of a comfort to me. I would look at him, and know that Eliana had, in some vague sort of way, loved him. He gave her warmth and contact and companionship during those few times I actually put her down. They were buddies. It’s very important to me to try to hold onto anything and everything that Eliana ever touched. He both hurts me and helps me, and I will never be able to part with him.
A couple days ago, I sat down for a few minutes, and Lilly was stretched out there. I picked him up, something I haven’t done very often since losing Eliana. Being Elisabeth’s cat, he is well-trained in the ability to lie in your arms belly up, just like a baby, and look perfectly happy while doing so. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, trying to pretend, trying to remember what it felt like to have her in my arms.
I lost it again. I started crying, couldn’t stop, and ended up in the bathroom for a while. It wouldn’t have been so bad, if not for the fact that we had quite a few people over at the time. They, unfortunately, have experienced the same kind of loss that I have, so I guess it wasn’t hugely shocking for them when I came back out all tear-stained and hoarse. They understand just how horrible this feels. Most people, thankfully, never will.
This is what I mean by the “others”. My world is divided into two types of people now. There are those who have experienced the loss of a child, and those who have not. As much as someone may love me, as much as they may want to try to comfort me, as much as they want to say the right thing, have the right words, the others will always be hindered by their complete lack of knowledge of what this really feels like.
When I was in the hospital, I thought a lot about how I would feel if Eliana died. I thought I knew. I thought I had answers. I thought I went through all the scenarios. But the truth is, that absolutely nothing, no amount of thinking or planning or wondering, could have prepared me for the brutal reality of what this actually feels like. Nothing. And there is absolutely no way that the others could possibly understand what I am going through, no matter how sincerely they try to imagine what it would feel like if it happened to them.
The others are able to forget Eliana for a few minutes, hours, or days at a time. I can’t. She is like a filter that I see the world through now, and she colors everything I see. The others are able enjoy their children, and not feel conflicted by joy and jealousy. I love my girls, but why can’t Eliana grow up to do the things they’re doing right now? The others are able to live their lives without hurting so bad death seems like a better alternative. How can anyone survive this much pain? And my guess is that the others are able to hold their cats without crying all over them. I, apparently, cannot.
I wish the others would just stop, and close their mouths back up, before they tell me that they understand how I feel. Because they don’t. And I hope they never do. I really hope for their sakes that they get to remain as clueless about this endless aching as Lilly is. But at least Lilly doesn’t try to tell me he knows how I feel. He just sits with me and lets me cry. Why can’t the others figure out how to do this?