It’s been a while since I’ve written…
This is for a number of reasons: a) since quitting my job I’ve felt the need to take a long hiatus from computers (I guess over 10 years of working on a computer nearly daily was enough for a lifetime for me?), b) I’ve been busy trying to figure out this stay at home mom life, c) I’ve been exhausted (aren’t we all?), d) with time grief becomes more complex, and I’ve found it increasingly difficult to articulate my feelings, e) in recent months, accurate or not, I’ve felt more judgment from others about the feelings I do share, and while I try not to care, this sometimes makes me feel shame or question myself or feel self-conscious or lose confidence in my abilities to effectively express myself, f) I feel I’ve become less talented with writing (not that I ever had great talent), but as time adds layers of experiences and feelings, I just find writing to be more challenging, g) a myriad of other reasons less significant (in other words mostly just life)…
But I want to make a more concerted effort to write. I miss writing (but not computers), and I miss actively engaging in this wordpress community… (Also, as a side note, if my hiatus from computers has resulted in a delinquent email response to you, I apologize, and I’ll try to write back soon!)
Anyway, because I haven’t written in a couple of months, and because I haven’t done a right where I am post since 8 months post-loss, I decided to restart my writing with this summary of right where I am; 3 years, 5 months, 18 days later. It’ll be difficult to capture it all, but I’ll try to make it relatively all-encompassing as well as succinct.
Big picture, here’s where I am: I now have two living boys, one who is nearly two and a half and one who just turned one. I try to talk to them about their older brother but I feel like I often fail. I recently quit my job to stay at home with my two living boys, a decision I likely would have made regardless of whether I lost a child, but one that will always feel tied to Matthew’s death. I don’t miss accounting. After Matthew died, I lost contact with nearly all of my friends (and some family) – some I perceived as unsupportive, and others I pushed away. In almost all cases, we’ve never reconnected. I’ve made several new friends who’ve helped me to survive this. Our immediate families have been amazingly supportive so most of these relationships are still strong. I’m still married and actually just celebrated my 11th anniversary. I’m still alive. I make these seemingly obvious statements, because, I’ve learned, that after experiencing a loss like this, none of these things I’ve listed are a given.
The above are the physical facts, but it sometimes seems nearly impossible to describe the feelings, my mental state – the intricacies of everything.
Just hours after Matthew died, the bereavement nurse arranged for a fellow baby loss mom to come visit me in the hospital, as I’d never personally known anyone who had suddenly lost their healthy baby. I remember asking this baby loss mom, “Are you happy now?” as if there could ever be an answer to this question. And then in the days and weeks and months following, I scoured the internet looking for blog posts that might also attempt to answer this question – could I ever be happy again, or would I be destined for a life of misery? So of course, in this kind of post, it stands to reason that somewhere out there someone could be looking for me to answer this very question, right?
Am I happy now?
First and foremost, I must say, I’ve only recently arrived to a point where I can even begin to ponder the answer to such a question. For the better part of the last nearly three and a half years I’ve existed in pure survival mode, sometimes unable to function to the point where family members have had to come help me care for my living kids as a combination of grief and anxiety and PTSD have often rendered me incapacitated, so, mostly, I am just exhausted. Some days I feel exactly like the spider (Charlotte) from Charlotte’s Web – “I won’t be returning back to the farm, Wilbur…” *she retreats to a corner and goes to sleep forever*
(My ability to function more consistently now can be credited to a combination of the passage of more time, eliminating some responsibility (my full-time job), and talk and cognitive behavioral therapy with a therapist skilled in treating PTSD.)
But am I happy now?
Happy is a strange word, and, technically speaking (and I don’t think everyone would agree with me here) is one that doesn’t even apply to my new life, at least not in the way that my pre-loss self, or my fresh, post-loss self, the one who used this word with my visitor, would have understood it.
So in the way that I previously defined the word, no, I am not happy now. The sadness I feel from Matthew’s death ensures that, for me, there is no longer any such thing as categorical joy or happiness.
That said (and this is a thought I’ve shared at support group before, and I don’t know whether it is encouraging or discouraging, but I do find it to be realistic), in the months and years following Matthew’s death, and this remains true to this day, I have felt both more joy/happiness and more pain, than I could have ever imagined in the earliest days.
And what I mean by this is, in the earliest days, I never could have envisioned that anything good would come my way ever again, or that I would go onto feel such joy and happiness and gratefulness and appreciation for said unforeseeable good things or that I’d *gasp* be able to laugh at something. And yet, I do experience these positive emotions, usually on the daily. But, of course, on the flip side, I also never could have envisioned, in detail, the many ways in which my life would fall apart, and continue to fall apart, in the days and months and years following either.
So I guess my answer depends on how you define happiness and how into semantics you are. I’d say, “No I’m not categorically happy, but I experience a lot of happiness. But I also still experience a lot of hard emotions too that coexist with the happiness, which prevent me from being categorically happy.”
Some people perceive me as happy now though… In recent months I’ve received a few comments from random people, “You look great. This is the best we’ve seen you look in a long time. Nice to see you happy again.” It’s weird (almost insulting?) to hear these comments because Matthew’s death will never be less sad to me than it was the day he died, so part of me wants to scream at these well-intentioned commenters, “Can’t you see this?! How dare you judge! You didn’t see me cry myself to sleep every night during that particularly hard week in September!”
But I think I must radiate more “happiness” these days (which isn’t saying a lot). It feels like a betrayal, but I try to remind myself that it’s evolutionarily inevitable. Forever staying in the state of the most intense grief of the early days would result in death to us grievers, so, basically, although time does not heal all wounds, the impossible weight of the loss is carried like the heaviest backpack in the world, and, eventually, the backpack doesn’t become any less heavy, but we become more accustomed to carrying it (we have to be to survive), so we develop capacity to experience happiness along with the grief and then people speak the, “Nice to see you happy again!” comments.
I continue to struggle to socialize and relate to other parents who’ve not lost a child, and I’m less likely to be friends with a person who I learn has a living three year old or three living boys. I try to compartmentalize my grief away for the sake of my living children (I don’t want my social anxiety to affect their opportunity to be exposed to people), but it often leaves me exhausted later.
I’m to the point, though, where I think my social skills have been repaired enough so that I *can* interact with others and they *can* perceive me as normal-ish (unless I forget that I’m not at support group and accidentally disclose that I have a dead child with similar emotion to what I might show if I were announcing I just bought a new sweater off the sale rack while everyone’s faces crumble in horror – yes, this happened), and this is not something I could claim a year ago.
But, though I’m used to carrying the grief now, and many of the ugly emotions aren’t as intense, almost daily there are a few moments that stab me in the heart. The sadness I feel when my two living boys are laughing together and then there’s a pause… Would his laughter have filled that void? The guilt I feel when I pass his picture in the hallway… He was beautiful and healthy, and I let him die. The shame I feel when I run into someone from my past… If I tell them my child died, they’ll know I’m the biggest failure of a mother. The anger I feel upon hearing a conversation about the difficulties of having living children close in age… Just be happy they’re alive, damn it.
And then there’s days like Christmas, when we open presents with our two living kids, and the room is filled with joy and laughter and smiles and shrieks and flying wrapping paper, and then afterwards we sneak off to the cemetery where I lay on the cold, hard ground and cry hysterically and apologize over and over and the ache of wondering who he’d be and imagining how much he might have enjoyed Christmas this year feels like it might just kill me right then and there, and it doesn’t feel an ounce less excruciatingly painful than the day he died or that first Christmas of 2015 when our only child was the one in the cemetery. And then we drive home and carry on with the day as though it is normal. It is now, I guess.
And it’s why I feel the most happiness and gratefulness for what’s still here and simultaneously why I will never feel pure happiness again because of all that’s lost. It’s something no one can truly fathom or understand, unless they’ve lived it. But it’s a life I’ve come to know and one worth living, too.
Also, how much does New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day suck for the bereaved? Answer: Very much. A new year mostly just signifies the start of another year without them.