Monday, July 21, 2008

How do you do it?

This question came in on my e-mail yesterday, from a babylost mama only three months into her journey. I can answer it in only two sentences.

I know everyone's path is different, but I was wondering if there was anything in particular that helped you grieve and yet be able to see the beauty in life and the beauty Charlotte brought you?

1. I loved her so much.
2. I was really, really sad.

Oh, how I loved my baby girl. There was everything that seemed perfect and right about her, from the way she looked, to how she felt in my arms, to how I imagined she would fit into our family: an eldest daughter, just like I was. There was so much peace around her tiny, still form, and there was more love than I had ever imagined possible coursing through me, making my heart beat and my lungs breathe and my brain keep going even though parts of me wanted to just shut down. She had brought me so much joy, such intense anticipation, I had felt such passion.
And now?
It often frightens me to say this, but there were many, many days in those early months where I truly did want, in essence, to die. I felt so awfully useless and so bereft of my only purpose; I couldn't imagine that my gaping wound would ever begin to close. It felt overwhelming to be engulfed in such anguish, I couldn't believe that every day, for the rest of my life, I would have to wake up and she would still be gone.
But I loved her so much, and she was so peaceful and perfect, and I so wanted to be her mother. So I decided I had to live for her. I could see I had precisely two choices ahead of me: STOP or GO. I chose go. I held my baby's spirt up high, close to my heart, and I just went.
Two weeks after she died, I put on some music, Richard Shindell's Spring. I danced to the upbeat, sweet fiddle music enthusiastically in my dining room. I danced because I wanted her to see what I might have been like, the joy she would have experienced with me. I didn't want her to know me as this morose, melancholy person who laid around crying and blowing my nose without cessation. I wanted her to see me. I was acting, truly acting, I did not feel the joy, but I walked my body through dancing, and I thought about the love that I felt for my daughter, and it moved my arms and legs and body and I whirled around the dining room, my hair flying about my head, the tears streaming down my cheeks, and I hoped that she was watching me. I had wanted to be a good mother to her, and so I took this, and I used this desire to try to be the kind of person I would want her to see. I wanted her to see the good parts of me, too. I was driven by love.

But here is the other side of it, how I think I mastered the art of grieving well, and it is this: I was very, very, very sad for a long, long time.
For four months, I did not leave my house very much at all, I hardly saw anyone, and I felt absolutely bereaved all the time. I know this concerned a lot of people around me. They saw me deep in a pit of despair, and could not fathom that all of this time mulling over what had happened was actually good, hard work. This was what I consider to be the one good piece of having my first child die: although I was now bereft of not just my child, but also my motherhood, I now had all day and all night long to nurse my wounds, uninterrupted. I had absolutely nobody else to consider except my needs, and what I wanted to do, which was to miss my baby. I felt her absence keenly. I noticed her not being there with every breath I took. I missed her with every ounce of my being. I was hardly ever distracted from this. It hurt a lot. There were times where I felt tempted to escape, for relief, but I knew that come September, school would start, and I would have a distraction for seven hours a day, so I let myself do it, I felt the agony of loss, and it burned a hole in my heart that cut so deep that it felt safe to begin to rebuild.
As I did rebuild, I was awfully public about my grief, speaking often about Charlotte and all that was missing in my life. Going back to work, and walking through the motions of being a regular person again felt so counter-intuitive, and I almost felt constantly as if I needed to justify what I was doing, to clarify that I was, also, grieving. So I did. I allowed myself to stay in that category of grieving mother, of a person bereft of the only thing that mattered to her. I made sure I knew that they all knew it, in a gentle and open way. I wore her photo around my neck, I spoke her name, referred to my pregnancy. The sadness paved the way. It was good to have felt it.

These are the two things that radiate from me, when I see my journey so far as a whole: I could not let my daughter's love be defined by her loss, by the sadness, but I had to let her be defined by joy, and beauty, and hope. And somehow, by sitting back on my heels and feeling that terrible pain that was the result of her loss, it allowed me to take the time to figure out how to let her life bring peace to me somehow.

And it has.


Meg said...

Wow. That was beautiful. What a gift your words are to people who are in the same situation. How generous of you to share these feeling with the rest of us.

rebecca said...

Your story resonates with me and helps me while I search for the light from this dark place. Thank you...

Janya said...

what a gift that you are such an open and available resource to others.

were people there for you (who were babylost) when Charlotte passed? i don't think blogging was as big back then...were you able to read the diaries of other babylost moms?

Jen said...

This is so powerful, Carol. I am immeasurably moved by your capturing the vast dimensions of profound grief, and by your recognition of how essential it is to fully own and feel that sadness as part of your wholeness, hand-in-hand with your deep capacity for joy! Your words are a blessing to the world.

Sara said...

This image of you dancing, hair and tears streaming, is lovely and heart wrenching. It stuck with me yesterday; I saw it so vividly like a movie.

I met you fairly early in my grieving and you gave me such hope. Part of it was that you were further down the road than I was. Far enough that you seemed to not be drowning anymore, but not so far that getting to where you were seemed unattainable. But what really struck me was that Charlotte seemed so simply a part of your life. You speak of her, your children speak of her. She is. I was really struggling at that point to figure out how Henry would continue to be part of my life and my family, how he could be part of our family to brothers and sisters who would come after him, who would never see him, never play with him, never truly meet him. While other people told me that we would keep Henry alive, that we would tell stories and show pictures, that it would work somehow, I saw you do it and it seemed possible. As the days ticked by, and he seemed further and further away from me, I wanted to know that I could keep part of him here, not just for me, but for others. Thank you.

Heather said...

I just want to say how beautiful your writing is. Your description of your first few months of grief sounds exactly like where I am right now. Thank you for validating that.