Thursday, April 1, 2010

Unfathomable Grief

Is it good to revisit a tragedy in the past? Is it good to reopen wounds, to check if they've really been healed? To see if there is a new perspective to be appreciated?

I have no idea. I am SO fortunate. I am SO blessed. I have never lived through any such tragedy for which God didn't give me the strength to handle it. I have lost my grandparents, but I never really knew them at all and they were very old, so they'd lived full lives. (In retrospect, it is not a tragedy but it is really unfortunate that I never got to know them better). I was never abused. I was never poor. I have friends. I have love. I have my faith.

But still. You can have all those things and still have tragedy.

When I started blogging almost 2 years ago, I stumbled upon Loralee's blog. She lost a son to SIDS 8 years ago. Reading her story brings up so many emotions in me. I'm so interested in how she dealt with her pain. I want to know what she was thinking, how it affected her family, how she gets through every minute of every day without completely breaking down in tears. Reading her story is not entertainment. It's education. I hope it's teaching me something about myself.

Because, you see, 21 years ago, I lost my niece to SIDS. And I don't know if I've really dealt with it yet. It was November, 1989. My parents had gone to Florida for a few weeks to visit friends. I was a senior in High School, and (I think) it was a Saturday afternoon. I was just about to leave to go out with a friend, when I get a call on the phone. My sister's friend tells me that they've just taken Claire to the hospital because she wasn't breathing. My sister and Brother-in-law were already on their way there. I couldn't understand this. I was so young and so immature. Why would the baby stop breathing? Was she choking on something? Is this just a condition that will get corrected once they get to the hospital?

When I got there, I waited. And waited. And finally my brother-in-law came into the waiting room, and burst into tears. I have never seen him cry before that or since. No words needed to be spoken. We all knew what that meant. Claire was one week shy of being 4 months old.

I suck at grief. I don't know how to handle it and I don't know what to do around people who are experiencing it. I want to comfort them, but I know I can't say anything that will help. I want them to NOT BE SAD. Although getting through the sadness is a way to heal, it also makes me fidget in my chair. I want things to be sunshine! and rainbows! and smiley faces!

After that, I didn't talk about it to my sister. I tried to steer clear of anything about babies, or anything mentioning Claire's name, or anything sad. I didn't want her to cry. I didn't want her to miss Claire. I didn't know what to do. I felt terribly inadequate because I had never been a mother, so I didn't know what she was going through. I was smart enough to know that I couldn't relate to her.

Now, as I stare into the face of my beautiful 4-month-old daughter, my heart is heavy for my sister. I have no idea how she got through losing Claire. I want to ask her but, still, I don't want to make her sad. I don't want to make her relive old memories. I want her to know how much we all loved Claire and that we miss her too.

Every time I put Violet to sleep, I think of Claire. Every time I place her in the crib, she does this strange (but comforting) thing: she looks up at me and holds onto me, with her little fist gripping my shirt sleeve. She looks at me like, "Don't leave. Just stay here and we'll stare into each other's eyes." She never cries, but I feel like she's communicating with me. And then I think of Claire. I wonder if this will be the last time I see Violet awake. I wonder what it was like, the last time my sister saw Claire awake. And I wonder, how do you get to a point where you don't think about it every day? How do you get to a point where you don't cry? At what point do you stop telling people, "I have four children, but I lost one" and instead just tell people, "I have 3 children"?

I think typing all this out is my way of dealing with the grief of losing Claire. It's not like I'm mourning the loss of a child I spent so much time with or anything, because she was only alive for 4 months and I was a typical high-schooler at the time: self-involved, thought family was a pain, yada yada yada. It's just weird because I've always had a really horrible memory, even worse now that I've had kids, and I don't have that many memories of Claire. But I know who Claire was and I know what she meant to my sister. She meant the same thing that Violet means to me. And the thought of losing Violet is just unfathomable.

And, it's easy for me to say, "I would find a way to go on. I would get depressed but I would get through it. I'd have to - for my family's sake!" But, know what? That shoe is not on my foot. I don't know how I'd handle it. I'd love to say I'd be all strong and stable and I'd be the glue that holds the family together. In reality, though, I'm not really the glue type. I'm more the WD-40 type that makes all the falling apart so much easier. I don't know what kind of person I'd become if I lost my child.

I am certain of one thing: I would blame myself. Even if it had nothing to do with me, I would still blame myself, in the way that I blame myself for all things with my kids. I am their mother, I am the main person responsible for their upbringing. Even if they make their own choices, I was the one who shaped them and raised them and nurtured them and their choices are like my choices. I praise the good ones and I flinch at the bad ones. So, if I lost a child, I'm sure I'd tell myself, "I should have breastfed longer" or "I should have used different bedding" or "I should have bought the video baby monitor" or "I should have fed our whole family all-natural and all-organic". I'd make sure to pick apart every parenting choice I've ever made, and say that I should have done it the other way. Because, I think, blaming myself would make SOMEONE responsible. I don't know if I could handle it to think that sometimes we just lose our beautiful babies for no good reason at all. Just because. It just happens. No.

And really, in that very sad and very tragic way, Loralee is not so unique. Neither is my sister. Many many parents have been robbed of their child by SIDS or cancer or a drunk driver or any number of unfair circumstances. And so I ask myself, how do they do it? How do they cope? I can't imagine their strength. But, what do I know? Maybe it's not so much strength as much as it is simply getting through every day, every hour, every minute, and forcing yourself to go on. Forcing yourself to not cry. Forcing yourself to not throw up. Forcing yourself to just smile quietly when you want to just scream at the top of your lungs, then go cry in bed all day.

I don't know if it's morbid that I'm curious about this. Maybe it's like watching a car wreck on the highway: we're interested, but not so much that we'd like to be intimately involved in the situation ourselves. I just realize that I have it so good that I'm living a life of waiting for the other shoe to drop, ya know? I mean, I complain about my husband. I have kids who occasionally I want to send back. My van is on it's last wheels. But really? I've got it so good. I've got love. I've got family. I've got friends. I have my faith.

I feel like it's all hanging in the balance.



Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

grief is a strange thing. Everyone copes differently. What works for one doesn't for another. Moving on is even harder. Read my blog today.

Love you!


(PS. I feel like it was a Friday night for some reason. I don't remember going to church the next day. I remember how strange it was for me to be there. I will never forget that.)

Foursons said...

I have never lost a child (PTL) but I have a feeling that after all this time your sister might be comforted by you asking about Claire. The fact that you remember her and want to talk about her helps keep her alive. Her memory is not forgotten. I could be completely wrong, but I just feel like it might be a blessing to get to talk about her daughter.

Melissa said...

I am on the other side of your question, but not entirely. My son has not died of cancer, I have not lost him, but I in the trenches of it. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer at 19 months old. He is 3 now, and is walking past me bald, and with a backpack containing a home IV pump. He relapsed, immediately after he finished his chemotherapy. We are now, hopefully, nearing the end of his last cycle of this harsher more aggressive chemotherapy. This week is a chemo week, 2 more chemo weeks to go.

You don't really have a choice to be in the situation, no one asked me if I wanted Josh to have cancer, but what you do with it, the path you choose out of it, that defines you. It is your choice. The people whom I have met on the this journey, the ones who are struggling, are the ones still clinging to normal, still trying to get back to life BD, before diagnosis.

And I think that applies to any situation, once it's happened, you can't undo it, you can't go back. Trying to, mentally, that will tear you apart. You have to move forward, even if its one painful burning breath at a time. You do that till the pain dulls, and then you take the next step till you can do that, and it never goes away, it never stops hurting, but you learn to integrate it, to make it part of you, whether it becomes a strength or a bitterness, that depends on the person.

Gigi said...

That was my biggest fear when Man-Child was small (still is if the truth be told). I'd be like you - blaming myself (like I don't do that enough as it is).

Jennifer said...

The other day when I read Loralee's post about going to the hospital all I could think was, "that could be me." Just if a few things were changed, a little difference here or there and the same thing could happen to me or to you or to anyone. And like you, I have no idea how I would cope.

Aunt Crazy said...

I too have found myself obsessed with these thoughts. I became nearly addicted to Carepages and Caringbridge journals. I couldn't stop reading. I think it made me feel grateful for my family, my life, but at the same time I felt like I had to keep reading, keep checking, to try and LEARN what if felt like to be a helpless parent. I finally had to stop reading, and it was hard, but you know what I realized is this...we are all helpless parents. We have little control over what actually happens with our kids. So, while some of us don't feel the grief others feel, we all still feel so helpless as parents sometimes.

anymommy said...

Such hard questions. I know why your mind goes there. I do the same thing, I look at my children and I think about friends, IRL and on line, who have lost children the same age and I don't know how they lived. I can't imagine surviving the pain.

I bet your sister would like to talk about Claire, at least her life and her happy memories. I hope you have a chance to ask her.

Kimmie said...

I'm browsing by a little while behind... always behind. But I hope your sister read what you wrote and you spoke of Claire together. I am 14 years past losing my child to stillbirth at term and people seldom speak of her if at all. I sometimes say I have three children but one died at term. Most of the time I say I have two. Recently a teacher at the elementary school experienced a stillbirth and I cried for hours. For days. It was torrential storms of tears for I now know what I lost because I am raising two children (8 and 11). There are a few people who ask about how it is, how I am, and I am grateful. So I hope you ask and say you pray for her peace.