Sunday, February 26, 2012

In Your Face


Two months after A was born, my cousins who live out-of-state gave birth to a son. They also have a toddler daughter at home. My aunt recently spent a few weeks with them; meeting her grandson for the first time. She returned home this past week, just in time for my grandmother’s 81st birthday dinner. I happened to sit next to this particular aunt. She brought out an envelope of snapshots from their recent visit and asked if we’d like to see them. Rather than taking them to the other side of the table, or beginning with someone else, she handed them directly to me. *sigh*

I love my cousins and hold nothing against them personally, but I was already worn down by the big gathering. After flipping through them, I passed ‘em along, took a deep breath and regrouped…until I noticed a large foam board sitting next to Grandma’s chair at the head of the table. On the board were two huge, blown-up photos of the out-of-town 2-year-old and newborn boy. My gut wretched, my eyes burned, I felt dizzy. Because her grandchildren could not physically be here for the celebration, my aunt brought this poster of their images. What about A?! He can’t be here. He’s missing! Why doesn’t anyone acknowledge that he’s not here and should be? How strange would they look at me if I brought a giant, blown-up photo of A to all the family gatherings?

One of my fears when this newborn baby was coming so soon after A died was that this baby too would be a boy. You see, on this side of the family we have 4 great-granddaughters…until A. He was the first great-grandson and I was immensely proud of that. I was afraid that if out-of-town baby was also a boy, he would eclipse A and A’s place in the family.

On top of all this, another set of cousins just announced they’re expecting (gender unknown as of yet). They were also at Grandma’s dinner. These cousins live locally and I won’t be able to avoid them or their children as easily as I can the out-of-towners. Plus I know they feel guilty and uncomfortable around E and I, which only feeds my anxiety and insecurity. How effing cruel that this wonderfully huge extended family that I’ve always found supportive is suddenly such horrible company to be in.

I held it together until we hit the door of the restaurant, then the tears flowed. I didn’t want to damper the celebration, I didn’t want attention on Grandma’s day and I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad.
My entire extended family has been supportive since the day A was born. I know my aunt did not do these things maliciously. She just didn’t think about how they’d affect me. How I can expect everyone to stop and put me first before making any decisions or saying anything out loud? I can’t. I don’t like resenting my loved ones or their children. It’s a dreadful feeling.  

It’s days later and I’m still upset by it. Surely this won’t be the last insensitive thing someone does or says to me. I just didn’t expect it from my own family.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Photos


I finally worked up the courage and energy to bring some of A’s photos into work. The small company I work for was enthusiastic and supportive throughout my pregnancy and continues to be so in this unthinkable aftermath. But I was still hesitant to share his photos. I felt protective not only of my son, but of E and my family. Some of the pictures are very intimate. Also, I was concerned about how others would react; as evidenced by the public “controversy” of the Duggar’s recent loss and Rick Santorum acknowledging details of his son’s death after living only 2-hours.

As a solution, I selected only 6 photos to bring to work. This way folks didn’t feel obligated to thumb through the entire album and I could still feel like I was protecting the privacy of my family.

There’s a group of friends at work who had been asking to see A’s photos they were a given, but I didn’t want everyone to feel pressured to look at them if they weren’t comfortable. So I went around to those who had requested but did not approach coworkers I was unsure about. What I quickly learned was that many people were waiting for me to reach out. They were trying to be respectful toward me and here I was avoiding them in trying to prevent them from feeling uncomfortable! I had to be the one to initiate it; many colleagues were not going to come seeking me out, asking to see A's pictures.

After that realization sunk in, I ran around nearly the entire office and spread the sunshine of my effing adorable son. Many people cried, some smiled the entire time; I received lots of hugs. Only one person was befuddled when I mentioned I had photos of A and would he like to see them. He didn’t realize we would have pictures; but he looked them over just the same and even asked questions!

I feel as though the experience of sharing A’s photos has really opened up the minds of some of my coworkers. My big-boss, the guy whose name is on the business, hasn’t come over to view them yet, but he did share the story of his first child who died around 4 ½ months gestation. Hopefully, he’ll stop by my desk in the near future.

Overall it was a positive experience. I was quite happy and definitely proud to show off my little guy. Given the reactions I received, I'm more apt to consider sharing his photos with others again. 

On a side note, the last couple weeks have been really dark for me. Prior to then, I had been feeling relatively well; having many okay days. But lately it’s like I’ve regressed back to those early days. Just yesterday I sobbed into E’s shoulder that I don’t want to do this anymore. This was a common refrain for me in the immediate weeks following A’s death. I don’t want this life without A, I don’t want to struggle each day, I don’t want to have unpredictable mood swings, I don’t want to be broken, I don’t want to be a bereaved parent, I don’t want any of this!

I wish I could hit the ESC button and end this alternate reality in Griefland like a computer game. Abort! Abandon ship! I quit! Or if some higher power could reach down into Griefland Dr. Suess-style-Horton-Hears-a-Who-style and pluck me up and out of here. *sigh*

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Anger


It’s been dark, gray and stormy in Griefland lately. A few weeks ago the massage therapist noted some anger build up in my body. She sensed I had been coping with the sadness and longing well enough but not so much with the anger. She sensed it up in my shoulders and moving all the way down to my hands, ready to be released. Perhaps scribbling; screaming; breaking glass.

I think I’m fairly demonstrative but I have always had difficulty expressing anger. I’m not a yeller or a stomper or a door slammer. I don’t know what to do with anger so I usually stuff it down inside until one day it explodes – usually in the form of tears.

Trusting the massage therapist, I brainstormed where I could break glass. In the backyard? Too public. In the basement? Too messy.

I don’t mind cleaning up after myself but glass shards can fly really far. Pragmatic, analytical me was still pondering the logistics of how and where to break glass weeks later when intense waves of anger starting rolling through me. Naturally I tried to put a lid on it. When that didn’t work I cried. Still the anger did not dissipate. It was so overwhelming I had to leave work early for fear of doing or saying something I would regret.

Arriving home I was held together by a mere thread having used up all of my patience and energy already. I grabbed a wooden folding chair, a plastic file box, a metal pole and safety goggles (I said I was pragmatic). Down to the basement before my husband or the lower tenant arrived home and smash went the file box. I was crying before I even landed the first blow. Through the tears and gasps for breath I screamed. Screamed a blood-curdling howl that would have sent the neighbors running to dial 911. I’ve never heard myself make such a noise. I picked up the folding chair WWF-style and hurled it toward the ground. I kept screaming and swinging and crying and bellowing. She was right, I did need to get this gunk out.

Except I was smashing it on the ground, not another person.

I didn’t feel better instantly. I think there’s a lot more anger that needs to be expelled. But it was somewhat refreshing to access that crap; to tap into the primordial wounded animal inside. That loud, wailing that came hurtling out from the deepest depths of my soul.

I’m not sure if this is the “Anger” phase of Kubler-Ross’s grief theory but I do know I will remember to utilize this tactic in the future regarding anger that derives from any source. Just another lesson from my beautiful son. Thank you A for teaching me a healthy way to deal with anger; it is something I never knew how to do my whole life until you prodded me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Layers


There are many layers to my grief. It is much more complicated than death alone. A, is our first child. From the moment we decided to try to get pregnant, I immediately began imagining our future as a family. Even during the high-risk first trimester, I couldn’t help but think of names, nursery d├ęcor, watching E interact as a father, taking 4-generation photos with our child and our grandparents, etc.

First and foremost, I am mourning the loss of my son. However, I am also grieving other losses in addition to A. I was terribly excited to be a Mom – to nurse, nurture and bond with my child. And although I am still a mother, I’m mourning the loss of actively mothering.

I’m mourning the loss of being a family. A was born in October and we were supposed to have our first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family. Both E and I were looking forward to lazy Sundays together, all three of us, maybe going for a stroll, maybe both of my guys napping together on the couch.

I’m mourning the loss of the future I had imagined. We were to have our first child in our arms now and another one a couple years from now and hopefully an additional one or two more. A, was going to be the firstborn, the big brother. We were going to lead the normal (not idyllic - normal) existence of a young family. I wanted that lifestyle desperately. I wanted to be buried in laundry, sleep-deprived and covered in spit-up. I wanted my priorities to turn upside down and worry more about which day care to use instead of how to divvy up vacation days this year.

I wanted to watch my parents in their new role as grandparents, immensely proud and overjoyed. Observe the entire extended family assimilate our new little one into the flock.

I mourn the loss of everything I wanted to show A. All of the important and not-so-important things I was going to teach him; good manners, silly songs, bad jokes, spelling words. The countless things to wonder at in this world: This is what a hyacinth smells like. This is what a polar bear looks like. This is what pancakes taste like. This is what sand feels like. The list is endless.

So I grieve not just for my son and his life that will not be, but also for all of the plans, expectations and hopes associated with having a child, especially our first child.