Erased (warning: this may be incoherent)

Ughhhhh, I’m supposed to be working on budget stuff, but I had a therapy appointment at 7:00am, and it was so extra draining, which usually catches me by surprise, as I’m already pretty drained and also accustomed to talking about Matthew and my issues, but my therapist has a talent for asking me questions that dig deep and reduce me to tears and heaving sobs almost immediately. Also, I learned that my therapist used to be a stockbroker, which isn’t contributing to my emotional reaction, but it does blow my mind. So I feel like I need to process some of this here before I actually go about my day – like when I spew things onto the internet I can function better…

I told him about Saturday’s party and about how difficult it was/is to see most people from my past.

“Why do you think this is?” he asked.

“I don’t know…” I pondered hard, “I mean, can you tell me? You see other patients. Have you heard this before?”

In short, he explained that my reaction seems a bit unique.

But later he noted, actually in a slightly different context, “It sounds as though, in many ways, Matthew’s death has also been the death of you.”

Well this hit me like a ton of bricks, because, all along I’ve been intellectually aware of the dangers of letting the literal death of my son become the figurative death of me. And yet, I have to admit, I think he’s right.

Much of our current therapy focuses on me beginning to envision the type of parent who I want to be (mostly as it relates to my living children), beyond day-to-day safety and survival on which I’m currently focused (and have been for quite some time now). But doing this requires me to envision a future. A future in which all of us survive in the long-term, and this is so incredibly challenging for me, because I remember a time when I did this…

But he insists that if I’m able to picture something more for myself (and my family), even if I don’t entirely mentally buy into it, there might be enough incentive for me to change some behaviors, and then potentially, down the road, changes in my state of mind could follow, ultimately leading to a better life – not one free from grief, but one more functional, free from some of my current depression and anxiety.

He acknowledges that this is a tall order seeing how I’m starting from scratch – I have no way to look back at myself as any sort of benchmark of how I’d like to parent a living child, because my introduction to parenthood was death. So I need to, with the help of him and others, construct an image out of thin air, which hasn’t been easy for me. (See above re: envisioning a future and how this is a beyond-tough exercise for me.)

But also I kind of think it isn’t easy for the same reasons that seeing those from my past isn’t easy. I truly feel like my pre 07.13.15 identity has been erased. My memories of who I used to be, the parent I wanted to be once upon a time, are incredibly foggy. I remember that when I walked out of the hospital on 07.15.15 I felt as though I had died, and I think in a sense this was true as it felt like I had to relearn everything including how to stand up and get into a car and brush my teeth.

Eventually, I became more functional, resumed a few friendships, went back to work, etc., but in some ways, in each day since, it feels almost as though I, this woman erased, was taken, my memories wiped clean. Then I was forced to watch a highlight reel of my life, as if someone were saying, “This is who you used to be,” and then I was plopped back into this world with people expecting me to be her again. And many times I just feel like such an imposter. Like some people think I’m her, but I know I’m not. In fact, I don’t know who I am at all.

It’s as though my current existence came to be only a few years ago, which is a weird feeling. I imagine normal almost-33-year-olds benefit from feeling as though they have 32+ years of a contiguous past from which to draw. Of course I do have memories of my childhood and even later and have continued some relationships as well as my career (for now), which makes this only the more confusing to explain…

Does any of this make any sense at all? Does anyone feel this? No? Okay.

18 thoughts on “Erased (warning: this may be incoherent)

  1. Love your words, Christine. I can’t say I know exactly how you feel– do any of us really experience the same aftermath from loss? There are days when I feel that I am the same person as before Claire, which usually results in guilt. But at the same time, my brain processes are completely different now. Less naive, for sure. A little bitter at times. Sometimes I think maybe the death of Claire wasn’t as traumatic as experiencing stillbirth. We knew in pregnancy she would have health concerns when she was born and I also have a “reason” for her death (her lung disease). There are times I feel grateful for those “reasons” because they put my mind at ease. And I so wish you could have that, but unfortunately that’s your ugly reality. I hope that you find pieces of your old self, or at least have the chance to reinvent who Christine is. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. “I can’t say I know exactly how you feel– do any of us really experience the same aftermath from loss?” Isn’t this the truth. This is something I say/think all of the time too. I think it’s why grief can feel so isolating. We have so much in common and thank goodness there are others who we can walk along this path with (although I’m so sorry so many have experienced such heartbreak), but, at the end of the day, each of our paths and the way we experience them are infinitely different for infinite reasons, so we walk together and we walk alone simultaneously, which makes it extra tough sometimes. Love to you. xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I felt as though I died the day Sullivan did as well. I’m not the same person. I struggle with how the people in my life before his death view me now. I don’t want them to see the old me. I want them to see the me that is missing my baby boy everyday. Life after a child’s death is the hardest thing to experience and live through. We know too much of what can happen. To feel safe again feels almost impossible. This world is scary. Anyway, I relate so much to you. ❤

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  3. I don’t see how someone can experience such trauma and not be changed. I am definitely different since losing Corva. I do feel like a part of me died. I mean, it did. Literally, right? She was part me and part my husband and she died so part of me died. I actually don’t think what you describe is abnormal for a loss parent. I think you could print out a million (at least 10) examples from blogs and internet sites portraying how normal you are. Dwight D Eisenhower said this: “There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.” And then there’s this one, from Stephanie Paige Cole: “I don’t think most people truly understand how much is lost when a baby dies. You don’t just lose a baby, you lose the 1 and 2 and 10 and 16-year-old she would have become. You lose Christmas mornings and loose teeth and the first days of school. You just lose it all.” Of course, I do have prior experience parenting a living child–but only until age 4. Now I’m navigating parenting a living 4 year-old and a non-living baby? daughter? 6 month old? So certainly, Corva’s death has affected my parenting skills? abilities? concepts? Of course you have changed, you can’t not be a different person after losing Matthew.

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    1. Those quotes are so fitting. Thanks for sharing. And I agree that this can’t leave you unchanged. I think my therapist knows this too but perhaps thinks it’s “a bit unique” to be so triggered by the mere sight of people from my past absent of all other “normal” triggers (one of them wasn’t married, no kids), even two plus years later… I don’t know – maybe I didn’t explain myself well to him, or he misinterpreted me, or he’s incorrect here, or I didn’t explain well in my post. But yes, definitely common to be irreparably changed or triggered by things like groups and families… Also, I see what you’re saying about even though you had a parenting a living child reference point perhaps people in this position still feel that’s been completely obliterated, and this is totally valid.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am catching up and reading posts out of order, but I just wanted to give big hugs. I can’t say I know exactly what you feel, but I feel like I can identify with some of it. I feel like so much of me died with Theo, and I sometimes have a hard time recognizing myself now. Like I’ll do or say something and it surprises me and I’ll think “Is this the me now?”.

    Mostly just wanted to give hugs and say I’ve been thinking about you. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I didn’t die the day Amanda did, but a part of me did. I’m not the person I was before. I’m depressed, anxious, angry.. All those steps they tell us about at the same time. Our maybe just hit random. I have to make a new me. Hope your sonogram goes well. Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I feel all of this too. They come and go at random, sometimes it seems all at once. I think it’s normal. Hopefully as time continues to pass they soften a bit, but they never go away. Hugs to you too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The one thing I forgot to say, you aren’t unique as your doctor says. You’re grieving mother. I experience many of the same emotions as you.


  6. “In short, he explained that my reaction seems a bit unique.”

    I find this surprising. It’s very common for people who have been through trauma to strongly react to triggers. For other types of trauma, like in war veterans or sexually abused people, the triggers will be only here and there (some fourth of July fireworks; a friendly touch that takes them back to the abuse scene). But for us the triggers are children, families, growth, time passing – the triggers are literally everywhere. How could a party where you’re expected to be cheerful (while you are very definitely bogged down by thoughts of death at the same time) not be incredibly difficult to navigate? It’s socially unacceptable to talk about the thing that’s on your mind, so it’s up to you, the trauma victim, to cater to everyone else’s need for superficial chit-chat. It’s incredibly isolating, and incredibly hard.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You make some great points, and I agree with all of them. I was surprised that he implied my reaction was unique, and I’m not sure I agree it was either, which maybe I should have elaborated more on this in my post…

      Perhaps I was just describing my experience to him in a unique way… I know he’s aware of how triggers work and what some of mine are… So when I was speaking to him, I didn’t focus on the group situation or the presence of children and families (obvious triggers that we discuss frequently)… Instead I said something new about how disturbing it is to me to merely see people from my past, even absent of normal triggers… I think he thinks that although I’ll remain forever changed, I should be able to make some movement (progress) in this area… Like maybe the situation should be uncomfortable to me, but his goal for me is that I shouldn’t feel the urge to sprint off into the woods in tears every single time. That maybe this is a “stuck point” for me. (It definitely is, if we’re going to call it this…)

      But also, perhaps the aspects of this party can’t be separated, as I (and he) were trying to do… Perhaps it was just all around triggering and PTSD inducing, and there’s no saying, “It was this, but not that, and some of this, but not that.” Maybe it was one big cluster fuck and my reaction was entirely typical. I think this is why it’s all so difficult and therapy doesn’t always really work. There’s a lot to be unpacked, and so much commonality between grief and PTSD experiences, but also everyone is each a bit unique. I hope somehow we can continue to make “progress” even though I know I’ll never be the same and I think feel like, forever, that a huge part of me, or all of me, died with Matthew.

      Thanks so much for your comment. xoxo

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I hear you.

        I think it’s hard to see people from the past because you’ve been through something life-changing that is uncommunicable. And you keep being reminded how wide the gulf is between the current you and the people who supposedly know you. And that’s because stillbirth is so taboo.

        People will constantly say or do things to upset you, because they have no clue what stillbirth is like. And they have no clue because it’s normal to shut down and not talk about it. And what you (and by you I mean we) need is for someone to take over and take care of us and intuit our needs and cocoon us instead of doing things that open up our wounds again and again.

        I’m sure lots of people would be more accommodating if the extent of our trauma was general knowledge. But even in the psychology literature, it isn’t. That’s why it’s hard to find a therapist exactly for your needs – the people studying trauma don’t learn about stillbirth. The people studying about grief don’t go as much into trauma (and even don’t go much into stillbirth either, there is no good knowledge out there about typical development After).

        In case it’s not coming through – I’m super pissed at my profession.

        I also worry about this gap between me and those who knew me from before. I really need them to continue knowing me, I don’t want to be forever immersed in the baby loss world so that this critical part of me will find an outlet but still remain unacceptable among my old friends. I think, if what happened to me was well known, well understood, and fully accepted, that it would be easier to integrate my loss into my identity, instead of feeling split between two identities.

        (It’s good to be talking about this; thanks for prompting it with you blog post.)

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I have a difficult time with people I knew before Rayna died that I haven’t seen much since. I find them to be a HUGE reminder of what life could have (should have) been. A reminder of my naiveté. A reminder of the ways some of these people didn’t show up for us after she died. While each of us navigate this loss and parenting after loss journey differently, I don’t think your reaction to the party is unique. I definitely continue to avoid some of those types of situations.

    Liked by 2 people

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