In the very early days, I avoided the mailbox. This was because I rarely got out of bed. Hell, I was barely functioning. Brushing my teeth, showering, eating, and maybe taking a walk was all I could hope to accomplish. Besides, I already knew what was in the mailbox… So I let others bring in the cards.
Mark or my mother in law stacked piles of sympathy cards on our kitchen island. I’d enter the kitchen in my usual zombie-like state, sit down, read each card, and methodically pass them to Mark as I finished reading. “So sweet”, I’d mutter at some of them – the more unexpected ones.
Mark prefers to read each word on every card, even the words written by Hallmark. He’s sentimental like that – one who stands in the card aisle agonizing over which card to choose. “Why aren’t you reading these?” he’d ask (I was passing them too quickly for his liking).
“I am,” I’d respond, annoyed.
The truth is, I wasn’t reading them. There’s only so many ways Hallmark can say “I’m sorry for the loss of your child.” And there’s only so many cards even manufactured by Hallmark to say just that. Cards began to look familiar.
Look, there’s the bright white card with the whimsical green grass and the yellow butterflies… Again.
We’d suffered a tragedy so horrible, we were receiving the same cards over and over again – all the child loss sympathy cards the card aisles had to offer in July. The written words were similar too… “I’m so sorry. There are no words. I cannot imagine your pain. Praying for you. Call anytime.”
So yes, I stopped reading them. I was annoyed, angry even, that this was my life – opening sympathy cards, condolences for the death of my child.
But I also felt so loved. Because the alternative is even worse – no sympathy cards. I was so thankful for every act of kindness. And one thing I never stopped reading was the signatures. Those signatures will be etched in my heart forever. Because they thought of us. They thought of Matthew.
The inevitable reality post-tragedy is that the expressions of sympathy eventually dwindle, until the day comes when the mailbox is filled only with the usual shit. The world moves on. It’s been about 12 weeks, and I check the mail again. If I see a card, I’m okay, excited even, to open it. I want to know who is still thinking of Matthew.
Last Thursday morning I checked the mailbox (Wednesday’s mail) as I headed out for a morning run. There were two cards, but one wasn’t a sympathy card. I could see through the thin envelope and then noted the return address. My heart skipped a beat, or two. This was the piece of mail I had hoped my friend would have the good sense not to send me. But here it was – the birth announcement for her baby boy. Her first too. I’d been due a month after her, but I guessed she’d actually had her baby about a month after Matthew died. I didn’t open it.
NOTE: This is when the story becomes a bit (gasp) rude and begins to take on the tone of a T-Swift song, written about an ex-lover, post break up. There are some expletives, because I was pissed, and I won’t apologize for it. I won’t make a habit of turning my blog into a place where I speak negatively about friends, but here, I feel like a higher level of compassion was warranted.
The bereavement nurse at the hospital was correct when she spoke of the dreaded “new normal” and how I’d find it. I’ve noticed I’m functioning a little better despite my loss, rather than not functioning because of it. It’s all slowly becoming woven into the fabric of who I am. I’m not always thinking about Matthew, yet somehow I am always thinking precisely about him. Tears aren’t always flowing, but they are never too far from the surface. Mark calls this compartmentalizing, and he says I’m getting better at it. I suppose I am, but compartmentalization be damned, I had just received the biggest reminder of my parallel universe – the one where Matthew lives, and I’m sending his birth announcements.
Through the envelope, I could see a big “13” in the middle of the card. Her baby had arrived on a “13” – on the one month anniversary of Matthew’s death. I had correctly assumed her baby arrived safely (I mean, I’d probably be the first person anyone would call if their baby didn’t arrive safely given the tragedy I’d just experienced – that’s how it works, amiright?), and I was happy for her, or let’s just be honest… I knew I should be happy, and I wouldn’t wish the tragedy I’d experienced on my worst enemy.
However, I was hoping to not know this specific information. At least, not yet. And now it was too late, and I could never unknow this. I could never unknow that on day 13 of every month, I’m mourning my loss – crying, walking cemeteries, while she’s celebrating – taking cute onesie photos.
I shoved it back into the mailbox and headed out for my run. My mind raced.
She was living my parallel universe and mailed an announcement to tell me so – what in the hell was she thinking?!?! A birth announcement, with a “13” on it, mailed to me just 10 weeks after my son’s death, on a 13 – the saddest day of my pathetic life. How could someone be so cruel?
I ran, faster than usual (I’m super slow, so we’re talking 15 minute mile pace upped to 12 minute mile pace).
I would never talk to her again. Ever. She’d be left to guess what I thought of this gesture. No. The anger would eat me alive. I’d tell her just what I thought of this. I crafted a text in my mind:
“Dear _____, I got your birth announcement. Congratu-fucking-lations. Did you know Matthew died on July 13? Did you actually think it’d be a good idea to send me a picture of your baby to remind me that he lived, and oh yeah, mine died? Because it wasn’t. So I threw your shitty announcement in the trash can. I don’t think we’ll be friends anymore, because you’re self-centered beyond belief…”
I rewrote and revised the angry text in my mind for the remainder of my run. I had to say something. But I’d open the card before texting. I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there’d be a note included explaining that we’ve been friends for so long, so she just felt really compelled to share her good news. The note would explain how she’d agonized over whether to send this to me, and that she was so sorry if she made the wrong decision in doing so.
I arrived home, grabbed the mail, entered the house, and opened the announcement. No such note. And now I had seen the entire announcement in all its glory. It was all the information I didn’t want to know, including a picture of her baby in his Halloween costume.
Didn’t she realize I’d pictured Matthew in his own adorable Halloween costume?
I burst into tears and started my text. But it had to be nice. This was my friend, for whom I should be happy. So I wrote:
Hi there, I got your birth announcement. Congratulations. I am truly happy for you guys. I had assumed everything had gone well, and I am so happy for you that it did. It’s truly a miracle when it does.
I also wanted to thank you for your card and support for the walk.
Also, because I’m into feeling and communicating my feelings these days (therapists say it’s healthy), I must say, finding the birth announcement in my mailbox with a large number 13 in the center of it 10 weeks after the loss of my first son on the July 13 was a dagger to the heart. I don’t know if you thought of how hard it would be for me to receive it… Well, it was pretty excruciating to say the least.
Also, I am happy for you that your son did not have red hair. I know that was a major concern. Matthew had auburn hair. Good thing I happen to think it was beautiful.
I hope our friendship can survive this honesty. Some will, and some won’t. Some of those things are yet to be revealed. I know for friendships to survive I’ll have to eventually better equip myself to deal with triggers and celebrate with others. But 10 weeks is still very raw… And on the flip side, I’m now one of those difficult people, at least temporarily, who requires a heightened level of sensitivity. Thankfully, I already know there’s at least one or two friends who haven’t run from that. But again, the rest is unwritten, and everything now is different. I’ve accepted that.
Proud of my ability to tone down the snark, I went ahead and hit “send”.
Much to my surprise, her reply was nice. Apologetic even. I still don’t know how I feel about all of the details of it, but I feel better knowing I spoke my piece.
I honestly don’t know if our friendship will survive. I don’t know how two people whose paths match up nearly identically and then suddenly diverge so severely can remain friends, especially if the resulting feelings are compounded by acts perceived to be insensitive. It’s possible, I suppose. But it will change. And there will be complicated feelings, mostly on my part. And it will take time. And can our friendship survive the time it may take? She says she’ll be there when I’m ready. But it could be years.
And I know what you’re thinking. After she reads this, she sure as hell won’t be my friend. She’s unlikely to find it. She doesn’t live in my world, and I don’t live in hers.
Do you have someone in your life living your exact parallel universe? Has it been difficult to remain friends? Has this person acted in ways you perceive to be insensitive? If so, do you think your relationship will survive? Leave a comment.