I'm having a bad day. Tomorrow will be worse and for some stupid reason I made a doctor's appointment right smack in the middle of it. I'll probably walk in there and they'll want to know my medical history (first appointment with a new primary caregiver) which of course will include Josie, and I'll lose it.
So here I vent in an attempt to get some of this stuff out of my head...
Back in the glorious days of childhood; back in the days of magical thinking; back in the days of believing that people could come back to life; that bad things wouldn't happen if you just behaved well; that there were far-away fantasy lands in which giants roamed through the autumn leaves and everyone grew up...
I remember confidently telling my dad that if I grew up to be beautiful like Marilyn Monroe, then no bad guys would shoot me because I'd be too pretty to kill. I was about nine - he told me that no, bad guys would kill me regardless. He was right, of course. One of many push-pins that attached my psyche firmly to the walls of reality.
In so many ways, losing Josie threw me back to childhood myself. Back to the time of wonderment at everything, simply because I survived too. I'd been reborn and had to re-learn everything I'd ever known. In many ways, that is magical, that survival and the ensuing "different" that it makes you. In other ways it's alienating though.
This year will be the first year I've ever spent alone since Josie died. I will drive, alone, out to her grave before dawn and get out of the car and sit on the ground and cry. And watch the sun come up.
In one aspect, Josie's third birthday makes me want to crumple into a heap. In another, it makes me so angry that I want to smash everything up into thousands of pieces. This time of year is always bad. I want to shout "it's so f*cking unfair - I've had it!" It makes me want to say the following things, selfish or pedantic as they might be:
"All I ever wanted was a family, but then she dies and absolutely everything fall apart irreconcilably. Nothing happens for any friggin' reason. It's all bullsh*t."
"I was hard to understand before, already had enough to tell people that would put them off me completely. Now this too? Don't want to re-tell my story any more, want to live in a damn cave for the rest of my life. It's all crap and I'm so tired. So tired. So exhausted. So weak. So done."
"I don't want this burden any more; don't want to hold it up by myself and can't ask anyone else to help me. So lonely. Everything is useless. Alone, inside the high walls of my mind which have doors I won't come near enough to open because I'm too scared of the stuff people will see inside...so what's the point?"
"Everything just goes away. Emotions are poured out, hearts are opened and still, everything just goes away. Sometimes, I hate loving."
"I want to smash all the cups and the plates in my house and throw everything I own out of the window but instead, here I sit because I can't scare my beautiful living daughter. I have to pretend to be a normal person so that she will be okay."
"I'm so angry. I'm so hurt. I'm so hurt. I'm so hurt. I'm so hurt."
"When will I wake up? Please can I wake up now. This is a really long bad dream now. I've had enough now. I want to wake up and be four again, when everything was okay."
I'm broken, glad nobody else is here because I'm sure they wouldn't be able to handle me like this. No makeup, no airs and graces, just a woman in a puddle of tears. I wouldn't go near me if I were anyone else.
Now the tiredness has set in. I'll be really really glad when tomorrow is done. I feel really sick. Sorry if this entry sounds self-centered - I suppose it is really, since it's all about how I'm feeling. Bella is sweetly sleeping, looking like a little angel so it's just me here. I'm so glad she's alive - I'm so blessed with her.
"It was only one hour ago, it was all so different..."
The first line from Peter Gabriel's "I Grieve" to which a link is below. I remember thinking that after Josie died. Racing into the sunrise, knowing in my heart she was gone and unable to do anything about it. Leaving the shreds of youthful innocence behind us as we sped down the freeway. All gone; never to be recaptured.
I think we hang on to the hours, the days, the minutes...since...because they make that event, that life, everything real. A few tiny bones in the ground that we can't see any more doesn't help. A big piece of stone over them, and soil - these things don't help, but remembering in minutes, hours, days, months, years - like a thread... That's all we have now. It's almost obsessive compulsive but it's a part of me that won't go away - and probably shouldn't. I map the passage of time after each of my children was born; one living here with me, the other stardust, as Joni Mitchell so beautifully puts it.
"We are stardust...we are golden...and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden..."
The day of the bath, today. That day I decided to have a relaxing bath in the fall sunshine because I knew it would be the last time I'd get the opportunity to do that. The day sticks out in my memory because it was also the first time I felt what I thought was a contraction but really wasn't - that pain that comes when something is going wrong with the placenta. I had no idea. I think I told people I'd had a strong contraction. There I was in the bath with Clannad playing on the laptop, candles burning and so on...
(Incidentally, I spent a lot of time in labor with Bella in the bath both at home and in the hospital. Funny how I threw myself into conquering my fears by repeating what had happened, in a similar fashion.)
You know that feeling you always got when you were little and you broke something valuable? That sinking feeling - you knew you were in trouble? Times that by about a thousand and it's one facet of how it feels to be the parent left behind.
I am going to curl up on the sofa now with a blanket and some hot chocolate...Bella is already sleeping. Down into the underworld I go for the third year - but not alone, because there are parents out there who know or can empathize with this. Thank you for remaining with me in my tired, aching, exhausted state that I get into this time of year.
Warning: there may be a little profanity here. I'm just going to write it as I think it, so hopefully you'll understand and won't be offended.
It's that time of year again - the run up to what would have been Josie's third birthday. When people said this wouldn't get any easier year after year, they weren't wrong. My mum - or Mutti, as we call her - still cries every time she visits my brother Finn's grave. He would have been 25 on September 22nd.
This time three years ago, I would have been washing and folding baby clothes. I still have visions of them laying out on the floor in piles of tops; onesies; little pants; little tiny socks. I took pictures, which will of course now haunt me forever.
May I just take this opportunity to say how utterly crap it is to have a dead child? It just doesn't go away - not even slightly. Nothing can make it better really - you just have to tend to the wounds when they surface, which they frequently do. You have to adopt coping mechanisms for the sadness like someone with a heart condition who has to carry pills around. God, it's so frikken crippling, it really is.
The real kicker is the fact that so many people who lose children then get to watch their families fall apart at the seams afterward. They get to watch people previously doing well go back to the booze and lose everything in the process - their children too. Some days it's hard to get going even slightly. Some days I wish I could just win a little on the lottery, even though I don't play it - just so that I could sit completely still on bad days and do nothing at all. Nothing at all.
The messed up thing is that after you lose a child, about 97% of the world's population doesn't understand you any more. I'm so aware of my own mortality nowadays that it's stupid - maybe long ago when infant death rates were higher, the support would be there - the understanding. With the advent of wonderful new medical procedures and interventions that understanding and the willingness to talk about babies and children dying has gone away. So you end up as this person just floating free of all the rest of the people, utterly knowing that everything could be taken away at any given moment. If people found you hard to "get" before, trust me, you'll really be a mystery after you lose a child. It's really fucking lonely in here.
Like I've said before, dying isn't hard - it's easy. It's not as painful as you might think either because the body takes over and pumps all this pain relieving stuff through your veins. Even when you're bleeding to death, you can comfortably remain in denial until the blood all comes out on the floor and then you just look, surprised, thinking "gosh, that was all inside me a minute ago - I'm probably fucked now." So don't be afraid, people - don't be afraid to die. To quote Kevin Kline from the wonderful French Kiss, "I promise you, if we crash, you won't feel a thing."
It's that time of year I find myself transported back in time to the weeks before Josie died. In stunning clarity, I sit behind the wheel of a Dodge Magnum thinking "I really shouldn't be driving this pregnant - it's so uncomfortable!" Frank Sinatra is playing on the stereo and I have McDonalds on the passenger seat because it's the most frequently found restaurant up and down I-35 and I was too hungry to wait. They have a special going on with the Chicken Tenders. I'm wearing a maternity top with a tie at the waist - it's very pretty and made out of some slippery artificial material which slides around on my belly. My feet are hot and a bit swollen in my flat shoes. Endless phone calls stress me out; I'm fighting a losing battle at work.
Sure, I could go and be diagnosed with PTSD - after all, the flashbacks are extremely upsetting, random and interfere with my life. But what good would that do? I'd be labeled incurable. I'll just stick with what I have: an intense desire to go back in time and pull the car over, stop, somehow change everything.
I miss you, Josie. I wanted you. I love you still. I wish you weren't dead. I will never forget holding you in my arms, all 6lb 6oz of you - you were so beautiful. If I could have died instead of you, I would have - in a heartbeat. You would have done a better job at life than me - of that I have no doubt.
It's been two and a half years now since Josie left. She died, and the "me" I am today was born out of a completely annihilated wasteland of psyche into what I can only describe as a shell of a body, bereft of its former soul and its child. If that sounds harsh, so be it - I felt like a useless bag of flesh and bones after Josie died. My mind was in pieces on the floor and there I was, scrabbling like a mortally wounded animal, trying to scoop up pieces of myself from muddy, bloody substrate. It was useless of course. I sat there psychologically against a wall, gathering up the ingredients of wits out of the air. People rolled helpful things toward me as I waited in the quarantine of despair and madness.
What that experience did to me was cut me to the quick. Even after I'd stuck myself back together again, there were huge pieces I never found. I stuffed the holes with plastic bags and paper, taping the gaps shut in an effort to keep the wind out of my bones until new parts of me formed to fill the spaces. The layers of pretense that covered me before were gone. They never came back either.
Nowadays I am a raw human being. Take me to the deep forest and dump me there: I'd find a way to survive. I've slowed down. My eyes are open to everything; my ears hear it all. I'm fifty percent prey, fifty percent predator and one hundred percent alive. Through the monotony of a boring day, I find things I've never seen before like a little child.
All my life, I've felt things deeply - strongly: that's been me, all along. But now I admit the emotions I feel to myself and let myself really feel them rather than trying to escape or distract myself with other things. Pain is like a huge crevasse in the earth to me: sometimes it's like being carved in half length ways. My fibers strain for one another across the gap, trying to protect the heart inside. Joy is like a bubble in which I float, full up with laughter and magnificence. Exuberance takes flight and I'm flung across vast distances like an eagle.
The love I have for my child is fierce and without limit - I would die for her in a second without a thought and I've felt this way since well before she was born. It's a wonderful feeling.
Falling in love with another person is different: it is like a dance between the two people, alternating between coyness and pursuing, one to the other. One steps up - the other steps away with a choreographed grace older than the sands of time. They play, snatching little pieces of armor off each other as they go - distracting with glances and smiles. But one day, under the right circumstances, one person turns in the dance to find the other standing directly in front of them. The defenses are down: it's go time. And as they look into each other's eyes, which really are the doorways to the soul, neither one looks away and a mutual realization strikes. Hearts stop beating for a moment...then they both fall off that high place into a completely new world.
They're big, these emotions. But how exciting this is: to be alive. I'm glad I am alive. We may all be made of stardust, but we're certainly lucky incarnations of it to be able to exist like this, in a sensory state. We are like the fingers of the universe, reaching out. What is the meaning of life? Maybe it's what you make it, when you let go and stop worrying about what the meaning of life is...
Attempting to work effectively today has been hampered by a number of things within me that I feel I need to write first. I think the writers among you know what I mean when I say that there are times where you can't push out the "official" stuff because there are a bunch of proverbial sheep scattered about the proverbial road.
You're trying to get the car of work down the road.
There are sheep in the way.
They say "bbaaaaaaah!"
You say "Oh come on, move - MOVE!"
But, they're there, demanding to be recognized: demanding to be carried off the road one by one - daring you to ignore them (running over them would simply damage the proverbial car and cause work to suffer so that wouldn't be an option). Translating of course, can be difficult. Some days, all I want to do is sit there and say "bbaaaaah" like some semi-vegetative, over-sized, half dead sea slug. Some days, all the watery optimism in me is pressed out, as though I am a sponge. Then it's all hands on deck, trying to soak it back up before too much is permanently lost and has to be gleaned once more from other sources...
Lately though, I've felt alternately hopeful for new beginnings and then completely incompatible with everything, including myself. It's an extremely confusing state to be in, I can tell you. I crave stability. I can do all sorts of crazy, interesting things from a stable "base" but without one, I feel a little bit like one of those thin creepers that wind around trees and fences and other little plants. I need to change forms - evolve.
Bella is evolving too - thickly caught in the stranger anxiety that'll keep her safe; cutting teeth all over the place; beginning to walk more and more; discovering independence but worried that mama will run away and leave... It's got to be confusing for her as well. I muddle through each day trying to do my best to be a good mom, not really knowing if what I'm doing is "by the book" - just mostly instinctive. Instinctive and progressively more introverted, too, as I am aware that the responsibility will probably always just rest with me. I try not to think about that too much, because it makes me sad.
Sometimes, I sit here with my elbow on the table and stare through the screen, letting everything just slide for perhaps five, maybe ten minutes. I hear the cars go by on the road outside and the noise of the house settling; icicles falling off the roof; floorboards cracking as they move over long-placed nails in joints and timbers. I let my consciousness drift over to the other side of my desk and it sits there, regrading me with curiosity as if to say "are you a sad person, Jay? Are you that sad person sitting there?"
I'm not a sad person though. It's much more complex than that. Underneath, I am the long scar left after a potentially fatal wound has healed - the one people look at and whisper about because they're taken aback by it. When you peel the layers off, that's what I am. My optimism is only part of me - it's real, but it's like veneer. I choose to wear it on the outside because it's just better that way. I think I'm okay with it for the most part.
The thing is, I suppose, what bothers me is the possibility that what has happened in the course of my life has left me too...complicated (?) to really love. The outside is just fine, but it's not the whole of me, nor would I be happy with anyone ever assuming it was. I do wonder though, whether it's just too much trouble - too much to ask of anyone to actually deal with all of me. I wouldn't even know where to start anyway. Without trying to sound insecure (this is a different kettle of fish) perhaps what has changed is that before, as anyone with self esteem, I felt that doing my best would be enough and that I could give someone else a gift, of me. Now I almost feel as though that gift has changed into a burden.
As though I've been fired and am sitting here alone little a piece of hot pottery on a board, fresh from the kiln.
If that makes it sound as though I am completely depressed, don't be fooled - that I am not! I'm just doing a little soul searching. A little thinking out loud. I'm not the only one with these kinds of thoughts, I know. It's nice to write them down sometimes: get those sheep out of the road.
Well, here we are in February 2011! In some ways it's amazing how quickly time flies - scary even, when you consider that once, you sat there thinking that there were so many decades in front of you to pursue any opportunities you might want to. Now it's all about thinking ahead and planning a little so that things don't totally fall apart at a moment's notice. It's all "grown up" stuff now.
So, what is being a grown up all about anyway? It's a difficult thing to really capture succinctly in a sentence or two. Actually I'm not going far enough there - it's impossible! That's probably why I keep a blog and not a spreadsheet of little quotes...
I suppose the easiest way to quantify it would be to compare me now with me at the age of eighteen and see what fits, and what doesn't. Like clothing. I weigh about 17lb more than I did at eighteen; thankfully some of that is in the "good" places... So needless to say, most of the pants from back then are now being worn by someone else or, probably more likely, decorating the inside of a landfill. Similarly, the contents of my brain are completely different now than they were then, so points of view, tolerance, understanding - it's all different.
At eighteen, I was still escaping from the primordial slime that accompanied me as a new person in the world. It had been rough so far - that is very true - but I'd only just picked myself up after shooting out into the brave new world at the age of sixteen. I ate pasta for pretty much six months straight - so much so that one day, I boiled a pot and sat looking at it because I just couldn't eat any more damn noodles! Thankfully my taste for Italian food has returned with a vengeance, but other things haven't.
Developmentally, things becomes more complex the longer you live - if you let them, though some people are afraid to learn and remain very much on the simpler sideline during their earthly existences. If you open up your mind, however, and let the fear flow in along with everything else then a myriad of meaning begins to reveal itself. Like an oil painting, the bare bones of the piece are there as you approach adulthood but it can take quite a while to get even the under-painting done. Then of course, you have the details and the many layers to go as well. Maybe the finishing touches would be Nirvana. I don't know.
People's lives can be so very different from one another though - some have the good fortune to coast through without a hitch (rare!) whereas others have a pretty normal mixture of ups and downs. You've got a sliding scale from the benign to the interesting. Some people spend years in a seemingly endless assault course being battered half to death by other people or themselves. Some completely give up and die at their own hands - I had a great friend who did this back in 2008, and the hole that event left was immeasurable.
Others completely turn their lives around, no matter what's happened. I think they're probably some of the bravest people in the world because they're fighting a one-person battle against a number of different fronts, including their past deeds, their impulses, un-supportive people and often, tremendous guilt as well. To rise up like that takes a huge amount of positive strength, so in many ways it's got to be the ultimate indication of a good soul. The war takes place mostly internally, but it's an unwillingness to go down with the light that ultimately saves the day.
In so many ways, perhaps being a grown up is the realization that we all have so much more power that we believe we have, to do good things. To change things around us for the better and create something incredible that will last so much longer than us. When we're young, it's night or it's day. As we grow into matriarchs and patriarchs, we slowly begin to realize that the dawn and the dusk have a huge effect on the passage of time and what is to come. So even if we are afraid, we sit down and watch. And we let the light open our hearts to love, since we're all delicate regardless of our defenses...
I haven't written here for a while - not because I am forgetting, but because life has enveloped me like it sometimes does, casting its goose down over me at night as I dream of things I forget as soon as I wake, and sweeping me along like a feather in the daylight hours.
I feel I should write here more though, now, because there's something I never did tell you when it happened. It wasn't the right time, and for a while I was in denial of it. A long time. Then, I was in denial of being in denial. Now here I am, and I'm treading a path that is both new and a little bit frightening.
The thing is, people grieve differently. At the beginning of our journeys through this pain of losing a child, we all come together - we wounded parents and families. We stumble blindly ahead through the dark. Someone shut everything off - clinging to each other was all we had, so that's what we did. Groping blindly for the edge of a pit, we supported one another and sometimes even dragged one another along until we were in twilight and could continue on a little more steadily. We saw stars and imagined our little ones somewhere out there, beyond the reach of our aching arms and vacuum hearts.
Then of course, there were choices to be made. Sink into a mire of depression; start to administer blame; remain in a mentally vegetative state for an unspecified amount of time or begin to have hope that things would lift. People do, you know, throw things around in moments of terrible sadness - literally and figuratively. I remember on Halloween night of 2008, crying so uncontrollably that I went out into the living room and took two Percocet as a means of calming myself down. I passed out and woke up at four o'clock in the morning because the sound of my own breathing had awoken me.
Maybe I came through the way I did because I refused to become depressed. I'd been there before and never wanted to go there again. So I threw out shards of light - like missiles - everywhere I could - I roamed the world with every ounce of my available energy channeled into healing and hope. Others feel that is idealistic - I've been told to take my rose-tinted glasses off on more than one occasion. But who can say I'm wearing any, really? It's just a point of view - and it's even available to those who have lost a child.
Still others begin to hate the world and everything in it. They get angry with everything. They continue to apportion blame because for them, the grieving process has become stuck for one reason or another. I'm not talking about real blame - individual circumstances are different - but blame to try to heal their hearts when really, that won't help. Angry blame. Hateful feelings toward individuals - particularly positive individuals. Deep, huge pain within themselves. It's a double tragedy in so many ways.
Sometimes, the two halves of a couple who have lost a child end up at polar opposites of the grieving spectrum. Sometimes, everything breaks down.
It's not a lack or an over-abundance of God, or religion in general. It's no good going to church on a Sunday if you want to explode out of the roof at any given moment. It's useless, praying, if you are dreadfully angry with the entity you're praying to - peace is nowhere in sight.
It's very easy to rip your reality apart if you're angry - furious even. You can reach out with the hands that once stroked the heads of your wife and children and tear the fabric of your existence apart. You can fuel it all with alcohol. You can shout at the ones you love. You can hide away in a hole with a bottle of liquor, away from everyone, until they are all gone, your eyes glowing with tears and a raging, unbearably bitter fire. You can blame the woman you love, telling her things would have been different had she been in hospital, when both of you and the doctors know that isn't true.
She would have died no matter where I was, H. There would only have been three minutes to get her out if they'd even noticed. It took them eight minutes to get in there even under the emergency circumstances. I'm so sorry she died, H. It wasn't my fault. I wasn't your fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. I'd give anything to have her back, H, but she's not coming back and everything else is sliding away like sand into the ocean. Please, stop now. Come back to your children, who need you.
The list goes on. The children cry. The woman co-exists. The situation is desperate. Long evenings are spent alone in separate places. Fear, terrible loneliness, darkness and desperate heartbreak coat all the surfaces in the house like thick, heavy dust. The scent of tragedy permeates everything, even when there's bread in the oven and perfume in the air. Both parents grieve, each differently. They are both hollowed out and dreadfully sad, but cannot reach one another across a deep chasm.
They don't understand each other any more. One cannot deal with the other. One on the attack; the other on the defense. One strives to die; the other to go on and survive. There are the children, in the middle of this tragedy of epic proportions, being subjected to the whole ordeal at the most formative time of their lives. So much love, but nobody knew what to do.
Something had to change. And it did - last April. All the good intentions had come pouring out across the garage floor, or been eaten up by the emotional rescue missions every day: the cleaning up of literal and proverbial messes. I'd shed enough tears to fill the Olympic Stadium by the time I left. I can't get any more specific really, since I don't want to deliberately cause other people pain, no matter how I have been treated. Two wrongs never make a right - except for in mathematical circumstances, of course...
So here I am, admitting to it all. I couldn't make it better. I could not control it; I could not rescue it; I could not mother it; I could not love it into healing. But I tried very hard, and my love was true.
In April, therefore, I will have been a single mother for a year. I've been very fortunate to have the support and the love of dear friends and family - and so, of course, has Bella. We're not the only family broken by a tragedy - we're just one of many, unfortunately.
I continue to hope for the best for all of us, and hope for healing and strength and joy - happy days ahead. Perhaps 2011 will show us a few new doors to tread through. A lifetime goes by very quickly, and you never know when your last day might be, so it's important to live as well as possible. It's all about the continuity of life. It's all about spreading a legacy that casts a glow around as big an area as possible.
I think we are all more interlinked than we imagine, not less.
H, if you ever want to know what you didn't want to know before, I've written it all down for you here. It's all here, every ounce of it - my heart and soul, split open and scattered across these posts. I hope that you read this, one day.
With that, I leave you a picture of my little rainbow girl, on her first birthday - what a milestone. I am grateful for every single second of every single day of her life. You can bet I am.