Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ebb and flow

When I first started this post, some two and a half weeks ago now, its title was "Fuuuuuuuck." It was an apt description of the wave of grief that had slammed into me, unexpected in its full-throttled intensity. Those days the missing was intense. Physical. Heavy.

I don't really know why. It came on just as Monkey and the Cub were each recovering from a major case of non-overlapping sickies (though I think it started for each of them with a common, in both senses of the word, cold) and JD slightly more than half way through his business trip to half a word away.

While they were sick, clingy and miserable I hugged, comforted, took temperatures, dispensed medications, and even ran to work for a couple of hours each of the three days the nanny was at our house. My work suffered, but I regarded the ever-growing pile of brick wall deadlines being bulldozed towards the winter break with resigned calm. I had zen.

I was also acutely aware that one of my children was missing. Is missing. Will always be missing. But that is sort of an everyday background hum kind of awareness. It's there, and it colors, but it does not encroach, it does not overwhelm. It is an awareness of sitting on the couch, holding the baby to me with one arm, and the first grader with another, both of them sick and in need of the mommy fix, knowing that as a result that coffee fix I need is a long way off, and yet feeling decidedly uncrowded. Feeling in my bones the outline of the one I never did, never will get to comfort, feeling, with my body and my soul, exactly where he would fit.

I learned to swim when I was little. I remember going to my swim class at six, and I was pretty good by then, so the lessons must've started at five or so. Before that I know that my dad taught me. I have pieces here and there, but no coherent memories of learning piece by piece. But I also watched and helped him teach my sister a couple of years later, and that is why I know that it had to be him who taught me to lie on the water. I remember him telling Adelynne to trust it, telling her that the ocean will support her body if she just relaxes and nixes the flailing. I remember him explaining to me why this is such an important thing to learn.

If I may be so bold as to speak for my sister, it has served us well, that skill. Once you learn how to make like a starfish and float, among other things, you have a resting place on any beach. It even comes with built in earmuffs (natch). And if you can do that face down and are not opposed to the feel of snorkel in your mouth, many an underwater wonder are yours for the looking. Relax, don't fight it, it will carry you. It works great even with a mild wave going-- you just get rocked a little and carried gently.

That's what that everyday feeling is like-- the ocean under me. I am aware of, but not generally bothered by it. And it's a long way from the rather opposite one that overtook me just as it became clear that both sickies were in retreat-- the feeling of being picked up by a wave only to be violently thrown against a seawall. Complete, of course, with a rinse and a repeat. I felt like I was drowning in grief.

I don't know why it happened just then. I am wondering if it wasn't that doing as much as they needed for the two children who are here underscored just how little, nothing really, I get to do for the one who is not. But ultimately it doesn't matter why. It happened, like it has happened a number of times before, like I am sure it will happen time and time again in the future.

[I hasten to add here that of course my life with the Cub is better than it was before him. Of course. Richer, more colorful, more joyous, more tender, filled once more with wonder. But he is not a bandaid, nor a fancy laser surgery even. This is not about him.]

This fall has been full of subtle and not very much reminders of two years ago. The trapeze. When I first saw it, it looked both intimidating and enticing in its otherness. I wanted to try it, but I couldn't-- I was pregnant with A. JD talking about a conference he was forgoing this year causing me to remember going there with him two years before, right after the big ultrasound, trying to get used to the idea that the baby was a boy, trying not to freak out about it.

This year I wore flip flops on December 1st, just as I did two years before. Then it was because my feet had swelled, and it was very warm out. This year it was because it wasn't terribly cold, and because due to thyroid weirdshit (it's a term of art-- look it up) I can tolerate cold even better than my normal abnormally high tolerance. Last year on December 1st we were pretty well snowed under, and I was reminding JD where we were the year before.

I wonder if the slowroll of memories isn't because last fall was all about being stuck, waiting, waiting some more, and a whole lot of RE trouble. But it doesn't matter, does it? It just is.

The December we are having is some kind of a weird mix of the two before it-- less snowed under than last year, and with a thorough thaw following the storms that left our deck buried, but much better endowed in the snow department than two years back. Monkey remembers that, by the way-- she remembers that it didn't snow much the winter her brother died.

My December, too, has been mixed. By the time JD was back from his trip I was doing better. I could breathe, for one. I've had a bad day or three since, and more bad hours thrown into otherwise fine days. I know that part of it is about today and tomorrow marking not just the end of the calendar year, but also our 23 monthaversary, the gateway into the final month of the second year. The second anniversary is looming. Not as intimidating as the first, but clearly not a day at the park. I can already feel the kind of hard that January will be. I will have a lot to say, if the words don't get stuck in my throat.


Miryam (mama o' the matrices) said...

black, cold waves of water. I remember those.

I've never thought of this sort of thing as being baggage - baggage you haul along and bump and get dusty and lose in airports. This just - quietly - colors the world around it, sometimes rippling underfoot. Patient.

But I think I'll hold on to your merrily pragmatic starfish, instead. Mine's orange.

And I'll be listening (reading) this month...

Hope's Mama said...

I'll be listening (reading) along, too.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...


luna said...

lovely post, julia. something about the way those anniversaries lie in wait and sneak up and assault us, I'll never get used to it I think. but somehow the anticipation is the worst part. aside from the gaping hole, of course.

Tash said...

I, too, am starting to get the occasional larger wave and I really think it's seasonal -- the anticipation of what lies ahead, and how much I really detest the frozen days of winter anymore. All they do is remind me of a small series of days within.

Mrs. Spit said...

I'll be listening.

CLC said...

Beautiful post Julia. I think sometimes we fool ourselves, especially when we have too mnay "good days" in a row. I think sometimes that I am truly healing, and then I am caught so off guard when the grief comes flooding back. And the realization that the grief never goes away, even if it disappears every now and then, is quite overwhelming.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, as always, Julia.

The grief will always just be there, however, I hope the crashes into the seawall hit with less intensity.

Catherine said...

When the grief is all there is, it feels like you're drowning. But when you learn to float it is all the more terrifying...because you can bob along in calm waters for a while until the next awful wave hits...and it always does. Just hang in there and remember that the anticipation of these anniversary dates is often worse than the actual days themselves. {{{hugs}}}

Happy New Year to you and your entire family.

missing_one said...

Julia, thank you so much for this post.
I typed more words, but kept erasing them, not quite ready to send them into cyberspace...so just thank you

Magpie said...

I'd like to have a cup of coffee and give you a hug. We have your back. Yes?

Beth said...

Julia, I've been wanting to respond to this precious post, but sometimes, my tongue sticks to the roof for my mouth.

Everyone is different, of course. We don't all experience grief in the same manner. We don't all need to hear the same things, from those who have walked this path before us. But if there was one thing I wish someone would have told me, in the early years after my daughter died it is this: it doesn't go away. Not ever. I wish someone had said: You will never stop missing her. It will never stop hurting. There will be days, years from now, when it will hit you as if it has only just occurred.

It sounds dreadfully pessimistic: what do you mean, you don't get past it? Maybe some folks do. Though I've not met one, yet. My grandmother, fifty years on, still ached over the babies who didn't make it to be little siblings to my mother and uncle, just as much as ever.

And I, over twenty years on from my little Stephanie ... I miss her with a gawdawful ache that doesn't ever, ever go away. Sometimes it sifts away through the sand, to settle down near the bottoms. But it's always here. The horror of her death; the emptiness in my family. My firstborn. My first child to die.

I have learned, oh so slowly, to give over to these unexpected onslaughts of grief and longing. I've learned that they really aren't so unexpected, after all.

I'm wishing you a peaceful, joyous New Year. Apologies for the lengthy comment.

~ Beth

ms. G said...

As usual, Julia, this is an excellent post. Your description of the grief was right on.

k@lakly said...

I don't think I ever really grasped the finality of forever until my baby died.
Isn't awful to even try to put to words the feeling of the emptyness when your holding the fullness of the the new life? You did it beautifuly tho, truly.

Thinking of you and A., and the cub and all that the coming days mean.

MrsAmandaMqn said...

I'm usually a lurker but I had to comment this time because I was in tears reading this beautiful post. I wish you had all three there with you on the couch too.

c. said...

I remember one of the parents at our monthly infant loss meeting comparing her grief to a whale in the ocean. How a whale will swim unseen, unnoticed for miles and miles and then out of nowhere, surface, big, strong, present. That is her grief she explained, massive like that whale, and yet it surfaces when you least expect it. I was reminded of this when you wrote about swimming and starfish and water. I quite like the way you've described it.

Hoping next month is gentle with you, Julia.

zarqa said...

Feeling in my bones the outline of the one I never did, never will get to comfort, feeling, with my body and my soul, exactly where he would fit.

Beautifully said and so, so true.