Yesterday was New Year’s Day, and we went to the church we’ve been visiting, but we were 45 minutes late (by accident, but really, it was kind of a blessing), and then Joel fell asleep, and we wanted him to keep napping, so we drove through a buffalo farm, and there was a baby buffalo breastfeeding, so it kind of reminded me of myself, and the buffalo farm involved narrow roads with huge drop offs a la Colorado, except the cliffs were markedly less high (like feet versus thousands of feet), so I feared Mark would drive off the road, so I texted Mark’s sister’s husband, a paramedic-in-training who regularly sees fatal crashes, and asked, “Would you ever trust Mark to drive you through Colorado?” And he was like, “Is there a parachute in the car?” And I was like, “Oh, shit.”
And then we got home, and we were playing with Joel, enamored that he was sitting unassisted pretty damn competently, when we heard a knock on the door. So, of course, Howie assumed it was Fedex and went berserk, and I assumed we were about to be victims of an armed robbery. But Mark went to answer the door anyway, because he doesn’t consider it masculine to play into my armed robbery fear.
And in the door waltzed our plumber, and this didn’t alleviate my fears one bit, because the guy who robbed us in my childhood was one of our former contractors. So I started to scold Mark in my mind, “Like you dumb f*#%. You let him in. Our new security system won’t help us now.” (For Christmas, we purchased ourselves a security system, because every time I’m home alone with Joel I feel extra vulnerable – like what if someone comes in and I’m nursing him and I can’t fight? And also, I’m prone to periods of involuntary loss of consciousness (seizures), so it may be advisable for me to wear one of those necklaces, much like an elderly person on the brink of moving into assisted living facility might wear, so if I feel so inclined I can quickly hit the button to phone the authorities. An added bonus of this system is that any time a door is opened, it shouts which door over the speakers like, “LAUNDRY ROOM DOOR OPEN!!!” which seems like a crucial feature.)
But it seemed Mr. Plumber’s visit was actually expected, so Mark walked him downstairs so they could attempt to locate a shower drain pipe that was apparently inadvertently buried under our concrete floor. (Mark has taken the positive news related to my career as an invitation to plan the spending of my bonus as well as my next six month’s income. He wants to finish our basement. But I remind him that my boss’s increased generosity in regards to my flexibility guarantees neither my success nor my continued employment.)
After about 15 minutes, Mark and Mr. Plumber returned to our living room, where I continued to play with Joel, and Mr. Plumber’s attention, of course, turned to us, and a feeling of dread washed over me, as I contemplated what it might mean to encounter someone for the first time in two point five years – someone who, until now, didn’t know about Joel, let alone Matthew.
So our conversation proceeded much like this…
Mr. Plumber – So what’s his name?
Me – Joel.
Mr. Plumber – How old?
Me – 5 months.
Mr. Plumber – I have five grandchildren. Let’s see – one is five, one is four, one is three, one is 11 months, and one of them is arriving on January 16. And they’re all boys!
Me – Oh, how great… That’s so neat…
Mr. Plumber – Yeah! So how’s he sleeping?
Me – Pretty well…
Mr. Plumber – Life changes a lot, doesn’t it?
Me – Yep.
Mr. Plumber – Like your life has changed so much, right?
Me – Yep. So much…
(Mark and I exchange knowing glances.)
Mark – Yeah… Life has changed more than we could have ever imagined… Joel is actually our second child… Our first child, Matthew, died unexpectedly, in July of 2015…
Mr. Plumber – Oh, unexpectedly? So he died of SIDS?
Me – No, he died during week 33 of my pregnancy. I went to the hospital one day, and for 13 hours they assured me he would be fine, but his heartbeat eventually flat-lined, and they performed an emergency C-section, and he was born alive, but they couldn’t bring him back…
Mr. Plumber – I’m sorry. How awful. People think I’m this tough guy… My wife’s cousin’s baby died from SIDS, and I couldn’t even enter the funeral home. I just couldn’t do it. I mean, I have five children. I kept thinking that what if… It’s just too painful. So… I mean… I know how you feel…
(We stand there, open-mouthed, speechless, as Mr. Plumber eventually changes the subject, before Mr. Plumber finally leaves.)
And later I stewed so much over this conversation for so many reasons, but mostly just for two…
And before I list said reasons, I’ll pause to address those thinking, “She brings it on herself by telling everyone her child died.” To those thinking this, I suggest you reserve judgment and first try to imagine losing your child and then having to pretend he never existed for the sake of others’ comfort. It only hurts me, and it isn’t worth it, so I don’t do it.
So back to why I was stewing…
First, how nice must it be to have the choice to “not enter the funeral home because it’s too painful for you to imagine a similar tragedy happening to you.” How fucking nice. But some aren’t so lucky – not everyone gets this choice. And how selfish this is – like this person couldn’t put his hypothetical fear aside for like 20 minutes to support someone who’s completely shattered because she is ACTUALLY living through the unimaginable? And why he would tell us, people who’ve been through something similar, this story, I’m not sure, though I’m guessing it had to do with the fact that he, and most, are just so stinking awkward.
Second, I’ve noticed lately that I’m still super enraged and bitter (shocker!) about not only losing Matthew but also that something THIS awful (like one of the worst things in the world) happened to me, to my family, to us. Sure, I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am thankful, but anytime I become too thankful, I put myself in check, reminding myself, “Christine, one of your children is dead.”
And it’s true, no matter how “good” life becomes, I’ve still been through one of the worst things – something that cannot be undone and is “too painful for some to imagine.” (Side note – I very appreciate those why try, and there are some who do.) And yes, there are other horrific things, even worse things (like losing your entire family or being kidnapped by ISIS… maybe…), but losing a child ranks up there with the very worst of it.
And I resent it. 18 months later, I’m still constantly asking, “Why me? Why us? Why my Matthew?” And though I realize this isn’t necessarily productive, I can’t help but do it. And also, though I’m aware of the, “Why not me?” counterargument, this isn’t helping me. Not in the slightest.
And I know there are no answers as to why. And there will never be any answers. And I’ll have to stop engaging in this line of thinking at some point in time, or at least attempt to engage in it less frequently.
But right now, I’m just not there yet. I’m still screaming, “Why me?!?!” I resent being the one whose baby died, the one who experienced the unimaginable, the one who has to live a (presumably) long life without one of her children.
I still walk around cursing the unfairness of it all, and conversations like the one I had with Mr. Plumber only make me curse it more.