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The Mask
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 it400
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.

I took my kids to something the other day. When I walked in there were two other moms already there. One of them was hugely pregnant, and the second one had a little girl in a stroller, who looked to be about 7 months old.

I sat down and they were of course talking about pregnancy and babies and all things related. The baby was babbling and cooing and being incredibly cute and endearing. It was all a little hard to listen to, but I was doing okay. Until one of the kids walked over to the baby and said “Hi, Eliana”. And then the other kids joined in, saying Eliana this and Eliana that. I spent the next half hour or so with tears in my eyes, a hitch in my throat, and fighting desperately not to break down completely.

I got through it, though, the whole 2 hours of it. Even when she crawled over to our group and started undoing the puzzle my kids were working on. Even when she crawled underneath my table and was about to pull herself up using my legs. Even when she started crying and I thought my heart was going to break again. It was so hard, but I got through it.

I guess this is a sign of healing. I must be stronger than I was at first, because I was able to stay, and not walk right back out the door. A couple months ago I probably would have done just that. I managed to wait until that night to give in to my grief. My scar tissue if getting thicker, and I’m both thankful and upset at the same time. Part of me rebels from the thought that I’m getting “better.” It feels like I’m betraying her when I’m not as sad, or sad as often, or as long as at first. Part of me doesn’t want to really live or really be happy, because she can’t be alive and happy with me. Survivor guilt.

Nevertheless, as time goes by, there are more moments of okay or good than there are of bad or horrible. And the bad and horrible times are more tolerable, because I know that I will get through them. I know that the next time I run into an Eliana, or a baby that looks like mine, that awful tearing in my soul will not last forever. I will survive, and I will live, because that is what will honor her. Not by pretending I’m fine, but by being true to my feelings, all of them, the good and the bad. She deserves my tears, and she deserves my smiles, and I will do both, for her.

I saw part of Four Weddings and a Funeral a couple days ago. The poem that was read had me in tears. I wanted to share the last verse with you. I think it really gets across the feeling of despair caused by losing someone you love. If you want to read the whole poem online it’s called Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I’ve said it many times, and I’m never really sure whether anyone believes me, but the best gifts I’ve received since the death of our daughter have been the tears of those who care enough to shed them. Family, friends, nurses, casual acquaintances, even complete strangers have wept with us, and for us, and for our baby girl. Anyone can send a card. Anyone can mouth the appropriate words. Anyone can do the job that they are being paid to do. But only those who truly care can truly cry with us. I have been amazed and humbled, blessed and strengthened by the depth of emotion displayed by those around us, sometimes from the most unexpected places. Losing Eliana may have ripped away my delusions of the world’s fairness, but it has restored in abundance my faith in people.

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